Ego loqui ad viros super montes

Month: January, 2014

Australia Day DX

Australia Day is a celebration of the foundation of our nation. Depending on your view, it’s either a day to get excited about all things Australian, like having a barbeque in the park or smacking the English in the cricket, or it’s a day to mourn the arrival of white Europeans and the subsequent destruction and dilution of one of the longest and oldest cultures in the world. Being South African by birth, I tend to sit somewhere in the middle, hating watching Australia win anything in the cricket, but liking the country I live in. In any case, Australia Day is merely an excuse to exercise our right to use the AX prefix instead of VK, and, with the blessing of the family, I was able to head up a mountain, kids and wife in tow, and try to work DX from the top of a mountain. A sort of AX/DX moment, to borrow one of our more famous bands.

In the spirit of AC/DC – oops, AX/DX – it’s a long way to the top just to set up a dipole. Mt Macedon is about an hour and a half from my house, and the kids were difficult to wrangle into the car in time to meet my 0700 UTC alert. By the time we arrived, it was closer to 0730, and I had to walk down Francis Road to clear the activation zone. GPS heights are notoriously inaccurate, and Androzic seemed yet again to increase my elevation as I descended. I turned back once I was reasonable sure I was clear of the activation zone, and double checked the map when I got home. Just outside, but outside nonetheless! Once I started climbing back up, my elevation started to descend again, so I no longer trust Androzic. (I’ve never really trusted GPS heights either, for what it’s worth)

Once I was back, I set up in the picnic area with the family around, but had no end of trouble getting my squid pole stable. In the end, I had to jam it in, tie off one end of the dipole to a fence, then use the other end to straighten it up and put tension on again. I expected it to fall down during the night, but it held for the whole time. In any event, it had added plenty of time to my set up time, and I was almost 50 minutes late by the time I got on air.

The station

The station

I started on 40m on 7085 kHz, largely to make sure of the activation, and worked 15 people in 15 minutes. I started with Bernard VK2IB/3 on VK3/VE-019 for a S2S. All of the callers were very strong, with a good mix of VK1, VK2, VK3 and VK5, all at least 57, most 59. I had to check to see if I had the pre-amp on, but no, all genuine reports. I also worked Andrew VK1DA on Mt Ainslie, VK1/AC-040 for another S2S and an Andrew-to-Andrew contact. I was actually very pleased to work AC-040, as I can now look at my chaser uniques and have a sequence from AC-033 up to AC-043 inclusive. Not really important, but important to a number nerd like me. If anyone wants to activate AC-032 (and 028, 029 and 030) I and my OCD would be grateful…

I switched to 20m and worked Adam VK2YK first before the pileup started. I heard a muffled sound like “VKGolfZeroDeltaMmmFLimaAX3zrssssssh”. I processed the VK as if it were local, and the Golf Zero as Golf Oscar, before it suddenly dawned on me that Golf Zero was a country prefix. I called for the G0 station, and Don G0RQL came back with a 55 report both ways. As a new ham, I haven’t had much DX experience (a ZL and OH9XX from Mt Buninyong), so it was good to add another DXCC entity to the list. I added another shortly after with Mike DJ5AV (54 received, 59 sent), and then Austria with Franz OE7FMH, who received me 58 and sent a 59 signal my way. This was unbelievably good after the last effort, and probably a good thing I’d turned up late as Europe was clearly open on 20m 🙂

A string of VKs followed, with Matt VK2DAG, and John VK6NU. I’ve been trying to work VK6 for a while, so it was good to grab one of the two chasers there, but Mike VK6MB couldn’t hear me unfortunately. Next time, Mike, next time! I also worked Paul VK2KTT again who had forgotten he’d worked me on 40m earlier, before adding a new entity from Quique EA1DFP.

Glenn VK3YY grabbed me after arriving home from his summits earlier in the day, before plenty more DX. First was Marko OH9XX for a second contact and then Rudolf HB9MKV. Both reported my signal down low (44 and 41 respectively), suggesting the band was closing a little into the more easterly parts of Europe. I also got a second German contact with Tom DL1DVE and then got a call from Colin G4UXH when disaster struck.

Suddenly, the radio stopped, a few power relays started clicking and it looked like I’d exhausted my battery. I’d have believed this too had I not had a voltage monitor on the LiFePO4 battery showing healthy voltage. I tried a few different things, getting annoyed, knowing Colin was there for the contacting. Eventually, I worked out there was something wrong with the pseudo-jury-rigged connection between the battery and the radio, so I removed the pseudo- prefix and jury rigged up a connection with duct tape. It worked. Colin was still waiting, and we successfully completed the QSO. I also worked Swa (Francois) ON5SWA in Belgium for another unique DXCC entity, before finishing with Nev VK5WG.

Jury rigged power

Jury rigged power

I intended to QSY to 15m to give Mike VK6MB another go, and maybe some JP DX, but I noticed my wife was sitting in the car with the kids already, and decided to pack things up at that point. I’d asked for an hour, and gotten almost exactly that. It took a long time to pack up to undo all the stuff I’d done during set up.

Once packed up, I quickly checked out the lookout and the memorial cross. There’s a long history around the cross, and for me it tends to revolve around friends who live in the area driving up there as youths and generally being delinquent as all youths try to be. Despite that, I’d never seen it up close, and it was very impressive in the setting sunlight.

The summit cairn

The summit cairn

A peacock on top of a water tank.

A peacock on top of a water tank.

Panoramic view from memorial cross

Panoramic view from memorial cross

The memorial cross, in fading sunlight.

The memorial cross, in fading sunlight.

Major Mitchell lookout, sunset.

Major Mitchell lookout, sunset.

All up, I worked 31 stations, 15 on 40m, and 16 on 20m, with UK, Germany, Austria, Spain, Finland, Switzerland and Belgium, as well as VK6 (DX!). I was extremely happy with the outcome, and thanks to all those who woke early to work me from afar. I think Phil G4OBK was the furthest I worked, but I haven’t sat down and worked it all out yet. Hopefully SOTA Mapping will help with that.

The AX prefix was hard to use, with my tongue’s muscle memory more than once choking out “VK..AX3” as my callsign, but it is a privilege to live in Australia, even if you disagree with many of the current policies of the government (I was a political refugee once). It’s a privilege to live in a country where you can disagree with the government, and while I don’t buy the rhetoric about Australia being the best place to live, or the “love it or leave” or “f**k off we’re full” fundamentalist nationalism that occasional rears its head, there’s plenty of worse places to live. So Happy Australia Day everyone, and I’ll try to work the AX prefix on ANZAC Day, where we can debate the navigational skills of the Royal Navy in and around the Dardenelles 😉

Bradypodidae’s newest species

I think Flanders and Swann put it best: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjBoIqy7xbc

I started the day on 975 points, with a number of activations planned that would take me close to or past Sloth level. I started with Greg VK2FGJW on ST-001 Mt Cowangerong. This was a new summit for Greg as he’d activated his intended AC-021 the day before. This gave me 8 points instead of 4, which was a good way to start. I then worked Marshall VK3MRG on VK3/VC-032 “Near Balt Camp” for 4 more points, and after lunch, Andrew VK1DA on Mt Ginini for another 8 points. This meant 995 points, which pretty much guaranteed slothdom on the next contact.

It didn’t quite work out that way, with Marshall being my next contact, 4 points from Mt Warrenheip. It was nice to complete this summit; twice activated, but never chased before. This took me to 999 points. 5 points from being a sloth and Marshall delivered a 4 pointer! Tantalisingly close.

I stayed close to the radio, polishing up another telescope mirror before I heard Marshall working Bernard VK2IB on VK3/VE-014 for a Summit-to-summit. He QSY’d down 5, and I called in. He responded quickly; I was number 4 for him, to qualify the summit. He was point 1000 for me (plus the other 9 to take it to 1009), and with it, Slothdom!

I finished the day with Marshall on Mt Buninyong, Greg on Black Mountain VK1/AC-042, Al VK1RX and Andrew VK1NAM on Bimberi Peak VK1/AC-001 and Paul VK5PAS on Mt Gawler (VK3/SE-013). In total, 1026 points, which would also take me past the binary sloth (1024 points).

Thanks to all the activators who I’ve chased over the past six months or so. My first SOTA contact was Wayne VK3WAM on VK3/VN-014. It was also my first solo ham contact. I can remember being nervous at calling in and taking a bit of time to make the call. Once I did though, it kickstarted a great aspect of the hobby. I’ll also say thanks to Paul VK5PAS and Andrew VK1NAM for encouraging QRP chasing. A substantial percentage of my chases are now QRP; it’s the default setting, and I don’t think I’ve used more than 15W on any chase in a long time. You just have to be patient sometimes with the 100W+ stations that drown you out 🙂

Mt Warrenheip redux

With the children and wife off on a play date, and with Rod VK2TWR and Al VK1RX aiming a 40 point marathon, I decided I’d head up to Mt Warrenheip again to work some S2S. In addition, Andrew VK1NAM was on VK1/AC-036 with Greg VK2FGJW. I got away a little later than anticipated, but still managed to make it before UTC rollover. I was toting my usual gear, including a few new additional links to the 40/20m linked dipole to give me 15 and 12m.

Retrofitting a linked dipole isn’t a smart move, but I still managed to get things tuned reasonably well. This particular linked dipole started out as a 20m dipole, then had links added for 40m, which affected tuning a little on 20m, but the addition of the 15m and 12m links fixed up 20m tuning. The tuning for 15m is a little off, but still less than 1.5 across the entire band. 12m was spot on.

Meanwhile, back on Mt Warrenheip, I had set up at the same location I had the time before. I stretched out on the road, tied off one dipole leg to one of the communication tower’s access gates and the other to a tree, and got to work.

I worked Greg S2S first on 7090 kHz, then QSY’d up 5 to work 14 stations before the UTC rollover. There was the usual crowd of chasers, although mainly from external to VK3, which was a little surprising. There was one new chaser, Amanda VK3FQSO up in Wedderburn, and my signal made it as far as Newcastle and Matt VK2DAG.

After UTC, I worked 25 stations, including my first VK7 chase from VK7DIK. A QSY up to 20m found VK2JNG north of Armidale in NSW, but no VK6. I’d looked at the IPS website to see what the best frequency was predicted to be – 17m apparently. I tried 15m, but could not get into VK6. I did manage to get my first VK4 chase, Dave VK4OZY.
I also worked Tony VK3CAT for 10 points and Glenn VK3YY for 2 points summit to summit. Rather than dropping the linked dipole, I was still getting a decent enough signal using the 15m setting, so just worked them that way with reduced reports. Also on 15m was BD4CRZ, Zhu in China, but I wasn’t able to break through the pileup of JA stations. I could also hear a few, but no one else came back to work me.

Around this point in time, I did have to move my gear, as a maintenance tech for one of the dishes on the tower arrived to deal with a fault. A little more on that later.

Back down on 40m, Rod and Al finally made VK2/SM-010 after a long walk they hadn’t anticipated, so I worked them both for another 10 points of S2S action. While I was listening, they worked Gerard VK2IO who was 15 minutes away from his summit, so I decided to hang around to get some more points. By this stage it was 2pm and I was very hungry, so I was hoping it would be worth it. Waiting an extra half hour (= a SOTA “15 minutes from summit”) for 1 point would upset my stomach. Fortunately for me, it was 6 more valuable points.

In the end, I worked VK7 and VK4 for the first time from a summit, made my first QSO on 15m. I chased 32 points from the summit, more than I’d hoped, despite Rod and Al being delayed, thanks to Tony and Glenn. I also added a few new unique summits. The eventual S2S with Rod pushed me over 250 S2S points, and to 125 unique summits chased. I also pushed past 900 points chasing (now up to 947) so I’m in the home stretch now towards Sloth status.

As for the maintenance tech, he was there looking after a failed backbone microwave link on 18GHz. He got very interested when he discovered I was playing radio and we spent a bit of time dancing around when I started, what I was doing, what frequencies I was using etc, etc. Basically a thinly veiled attempt to blame me for his problems. He was polite and nice about it, but it took a little bit of time showing logs and frequencies to get him to drop the concerns.

I don’t think he expected me to understand how his systems worked, including pointing out things like given the capacity of the link, the IF needed to be in the 100s of MHz, not the 10s, and the fact his problems started at 9:30, and I didn’t pitch up until 10:30. I work in IT support too, so I understand a reasonable amount about the troubleshooting process. By the end of it, he’d come around to my way of thinking, but it did make me late home, to my wife’s annoyance. It does show the value of keeping accurate logs. He had no right to inspect my log, but he could also have made my life difficult as he’d heard my callsign and calling CQ. A bit of courtesy and accurate logs kept him on side. Oh, and showing I wasn’t a complete mug at this “support” game.

As I was leaving, some of his colleagues turned up, and I have a suspicion he was trying to blame me as much to solve his problem as to avoid having to climb the tower. The younger of the two who’d just arrived was putting on climbing harnesses as I disappeared around the corner.

Why conditions suck

Sunspot group AR1944 on the Sun. Canon 60D, fl 250mm, 1/3200s, f/14, ISO100 through Baader Solar Film (Visual)

Sunspot group AR1944 on the Sun.
Canon 60D, 1/3200s, f/14, ISO100 through Baader Solar Film (Visual)

Took this photo from my backyard yesterday of the Sun and Sunspot group AR1944. This group has sent a number of flares and CMEs that has affected HF performance. The main blotch is about three times the size of Earth.

This photo was taken using special equipment (Baader Solar Film) designed to make it safe to view the sun. Don’t go pointing the camera at the sun without it. If I get around to it, I might try take some photos using my telescope, although that’s a tougher proposition as I need to sort out its secondary mirror

Slaying the Dragon

The past few days of SOTA have been crazy, to say the least. After the excellent activation from VK3/VC-032, where I’d picked up a ton of S2S points to go with the 4 points for the activation, I noticed I was on 97 unique summits. The many activations on New Years Eve saw Tony VK3CAT become number 100 for unique summits, and by the end of New Years Eve, I was on 674 points, having been on 488 only 9 days prior.

I woke up fairly early on New Year’s morning, despite having made it to midnight, and decided it was a travesty that I hadn’t successfully activated Flinders Peak during 2013. The closest peak and a lowly 1 pointer. If I wanted to rectify the situation, I had until 11am to get up the mountain and get set up. Light rain was falling at that point in time, and I figured if I did get out there, it wouldn’t be comfortable. But, still, it was a travesty, so I asked the wife, got permission to spend a few hours up there and went and packed up my stuff, but not before working Gregory VK2FGJW for another point, to take me to 675 points.

I arrived about 10am to an almost empty car park, and grabbed my gear and started to climb. The first few steps were taken at a brisk pace, like I would normally do, but it rapidly slowed down as I realised I had probably more than 10kg on my back for a change. By halfway up the mountain, I was starting to wonder if I wasn’t going to have a heart attack or stroke out before I reached the top. I stopped twice to rehydrate and rest the legs. New Year’s Resolution: get fit and a get a trail-ready HF radio.

Given my troubles activating this summit last time, I was beginning to wonder if this summit was cursed; my Moby Dick as such. I reached the top and found an empty summit. This should be a good thing, but that had happened last time, and a superstitious man would be concerned. I’m not superstitious (although I try not to walk under black cats and I try not to work any day with a ‘Y’ in it), but I can’t say I wasn’t concerned.

The wind was blowing strongly, and I chose to set up on the seat on the summit. I figured there’d be little traffic on the mountain before about 12, as most people would be sleeping in, and I was largely right. A few family groups that came up and climbed the observation deck before descending again was about all I saw until right towards the end. The wind was making setting up more difficult than normal and the squid pole descended once or twice before I had the dipole setup. I had loosely wrapped the feedline around the chair to stop it flapping in the breeze, but after the squid pole dropped the second time, I neglected to pay attention to it, raised the pole, and watched the feedline drop clean out of the BNC connector as the line jammed on the chair.

The station on the chair

The station on the chair

A superstitious man at this point would be certain that the mountain was angry with him. I, thankfully, am an engineer, and with a pocket knife equipped with a screwdriver, I was able to reattach the BNC connector, and, by turning the feedline around, kept the weak end at the radio and the strong connector up in the air. I got on air about 10:26am.

I wish that I had spotted myself on SOTAwatch as I might have made contact with Wayne VK3WAM working CW from VK3/VT-009. I had a list of stations that had alerted and worked out there was about 50 S2S points on offer; Wayne’s was 10 of those, which I missed. Instead, I dropped in on 7090 with Joe VK3YSP and Julie VK3FOWL on Mt Disappointment VK3/VC-014 for a Summit to Summit that I hadn’t expected. Joe and I spoke a bit about the mountain being angry and he suggested a sacrifice. There was a distinct lack of goats (both SOTA and the natural kind) and also virgins at the top of the summit. I suggested a burnt offering of some description until Joe pointed out the fact it was probably a fire ban day.

They kindly left the frequency to me, and I continued to work summit to summits as it seemed all of SOTA was out on mountains. I finally got a few chasers in the log, but by rollover time, I’d done 10 S2S contacts, including a three way Andrew-to-Andrew S2S contact with Andrews VK3BQ/2 and VK1NAM. Contacts included Phil VK2FPJR, Marshall VK3MRG, Allen VK3HRA, Ron VK3AFW, Ian VK5CZ, Tony VK3CAT and Rod VK2TWR.

After rollover, things slowed down a bit. Joe quite rightly got a bit shirty about me hogging his frequency so I relinquished it and went hunting for more S2Ss. I ended up working 11 post rollover. Most of those were duplicates from before, except that I missed working Phil VK2FPJR and Allen VK3HRA, but I added in 3 new ones, courtesy of Ian VK1DI, Al VK1RX/2 and Matt VK2DAG. All up, I worked 139 points worth of S2S, more than the 75 I’d informally set as my goal based on what had been alerted. This took me past 800 chaser points.

The contact with Matt was quite opportune. I jumped on 20m and was about to call “Is this frequency in use?” when the radio lit up with “CQ SOTA” from Matt. Matt was on a 10-pointer that I had no hope of working on 40m, but he was an easy copy on 20m. I QSYed up 10 but couldn’t place a spot, because by then we’d broken SOTAwatch from our sheer amount of activations (or at least, that’s what I want to think). I had no one come back to my CQ, so had a bit of a play around on 15m to see what I could hear. Another couple of JA stations, but with higher SWR on the dipole, I didn’t bother trying.

I switched back to 20m, called CQ a few times until the squid pole decided to collapse again, which I took as a sign it was time to pack up. I adopted a “That was meant to happen” look as I pulled the dipole down and no one who was on the now busier summit made a comment. An old bloke asked if I what I had was a ham radio and we chatted SOTA for a bit. Another guy overheard us and joined in the chat. Both were amazed I might be able to hear someone in Japan, but such is the knowledge of radio these days. A young girl asked a few questions too, having never seen a radio before. The innocence of youth, hey?

After I got home, I worked Rod VK2TWR on a few of his summits, and Andrew VK3BQ/2 as well. The latter was impressive to me as Andrew was only 1 and 1 to me, rising out of deep QSB and the noise floor, but we completed a contact, 11 to 3 and 1. Thanks for the persistence, Andrew! Rod’s two summits were 10 points, Andrew’s was 8 and I worked Wayne using CW for another point. I tried to work VK1DA on AC-008, but missed him by a small margin. I finished the day on 847 points, working 172 points for the day!

There were another 10 points on offer in the morning (VK2FGJW on Mt Stromlo, VK2YK on Mt Taylor and VK3YSP on Donna Buang), so I am now on 857 points. This is a nice number, as I’m contemplating an FT-857D as a more trail friendly radio. It weighs about half what the Icom does and has 100W out, which the 817 doesn’t, should I wish to try DX again from a summit. I think I’ll also put together a 12/15/17m linked dipole too to give me a few more band options up the summit.

All up, a great couple of days, including, most importantly, the slaying of the Flinders Peak ‘dragon’, 100 unique summits, plus a ton of chaser points with less than 150 to go to Sloth status. I’m rapidly appreciating the wisdom that the best place to chase is from the top of a mountain.

Melbourne from afar

Melbourne from afar

From left to right, Mt Anakie, Mt Buninyong and Mt Warrenheip.

From left to right, Mt Anakie, Mt Buninyong and Mt Warrenheip, in the haze

My view from the chair

My view from the chair, out to Geelong.