Ego loqui ad viros super montes

Month: July, 2014

VK1 SOTA Party

The word went out a week or two ago from Andrew VK1NAM that the second annual VK1 SOTA party was going to run on the 27th of July. I initially had plans for that day that would have limited my involvement to idle chasing, but when those fell through during the week, I entered the fraught world of negotiation to join in as an activator.

The choices were limited for me. I needed somewhere close so I could get there pre-UTC, and I’d already activated most of the close ones this year, other than Mt Buninyong. I’d been saving that one for a family dinner and some SOTA DX later in the year (similar to last year), but ultimately, it was sacrificed for the greater good of a ton of summit to summit opportunities.

The kids had wangled their way into a sleepover at their grandparents, leaving me with a completely free morning. My wife wanted some time to herself, so I told her I’d be home around lunch time, and headed off just prior to 8am. About halfway there, the fuel light came on in the car, but that merely posed a challenge rather than a warning. On the way, I had views of Buninyong shrouded in light mist, which lifted about half the time. I drove to the top of Mt Buninyong, then walked out of the activation zone and back up to the top.

I set up with the radio under the pergola thing, with the squid pole attached to a picnic table nearby and strung off to a tree and another chair. Equipment was the FT-857D and linked dipole, with a 4.2Ah LiFePo4 battery providing the power. I used 5W consistently throughout the day, other than a brief spell at the end.

The shack

The shack

My suspicions that it was going to be cold at the top of Buninyong were borne out. I had gloves on, although I had to take them off because you can’t work Velcro cable ties with woollen gloves, no matter how hard you try. I spent a lot of the morning shivering a lot, and was very grateful for the public toilets on top of Mt Buninyong, as the cold weather was impacting my, ahem, comfort.

It only took about 10 minutes to set up and scanning the bands, I found Nick VK3ANL first on Mt Wombat (VK3/VU-002) for a S2S, then up 5 was Dave VK5NQP in Sandy Creek CP, his contribution to the VK1 SOTA party. Mark VK1EM followed from Mt Stromlo VK1/AC-043, and then John VK5BJE on Mt Lofty VK5/SE-005.

Peter VK3PF was my first non-portable contact, followed by Ron VK3AFW on Mt Macedon for another S2S. Another Peter VK3FPSR was non-portable, and then consecutive summit S2S’ with Tony VK3CAT on Flinders Peak (VK3/VC-030), and Mike VK3XL on Arthurs Seat (VK3/VC-031). My run of summit to summits came to a brief end here, with my first VK2 station, Matt VK2DAG and my only VK7 contact, Scott VK7NWT.

More S2S came from Glenn on Mt Donna Buang (VK3/VC-002) and Andrew VK1MBE, portable in Queensland on Tallai Range VK4/SE-094. This was my first chase of a VK4 summit, a region I’d already qualified as an activator.

By now the action was starting to hot up, Andrew VK1NAM starting with my missing VK1/AC-032 consecutive summit (much appreciated!) and then Al VK1RX on Mt Tennant VK1/AC-025. At about this point, I went chasing a few S2S, finding Brian VK3MCD chatting with Allen VK3HRA from Mt Hotham VK3/VE-006 for a 10 point chase. I also gave Allen a quick report, his schedule being unable to find him on top of a hill.

I settled down again on a frequency and worked Matt VK1MA from VK1/AC-042 and another Andrew-to-Andrew with VK2FAJG on VK1/AC-038. Just prior to UTC, I went hunting again, and worked Gerard VK2IO on VK2/CT-082, and finally Ian VK1DI 2 minutes to UTC rollover on Mt Coree VK1/AC-023. Gerard’s summit took me to 1999 chaser points, making Ian’s contact the one that took me over double sloth!

After UTC, things went nuts. I had found another clear frequency and the mountains came to me. It is an unusual thing to encounter a situation where a “Summit to Summit” call results in a dog pile of unintelligible calls and the best you can do is pull a chaser callsign out of the air. Still, Andrew VK2FAJG and Ron VK3AFW went back into the log for S2S, and then Larry VK5LY waited patiently while Andrew VK1NAM busted the pileup with an “Andrew to Andrew” call.

Later in the day, I worked VK4IL on VK4/SE-035 for my second VK4 summit, and a unique, qualifying the VK4 region for me for Mountain Hunter in the space of 51 minutes. I also added Robbie VK3EK on VK3/VT-041 and Rob VK2QR on VK2/ST-006, plus getting second contacts from Mark VK1EM, Nick VK3ANL, Mike VK3XL, Ian VK1DI, Tony VK3CAT, Matt VK1MA and John VK5BJE.

I decided to head up to 20m at that point, and just as I got back to the radio having dropped the links for 20m, I noticed a spot for Scott VK2SWD on VK2/CT-019. I dropped one end of the dipole, reset the link, and then tried to break the pileup. Surprisingly, it worked, even with a slightly higher SWR than I would have liked.

I moved onto 20m proper shortly after that, adding a S2S with Andrew VK1MBE/4 again, and then Gerard, just a fraction too close and end on to my dipole. I gave him a 21 and I was 90% certain he’d given me a 51 and QSLed my acknowledgement. That was S2S number 32 for the day. Ernie VK3DET also came up on 20m to give me a report. This was the third contact from Ernie, located in Ballarat, and despite my constant pleading for him to bring up a heater, he never appeared…

I finished with Dave VK4DD as my second VK4 contact, and then, noting that Mike VK6MB had spotted that he couldn’t hear me, decided to think about packing up. I put out a final call, and who should come back to me, but Mike himself, adding VK6 to the mix. I packed up after that, and headed home.

In total, I worked 70 QSOs, from VK1 through to VK7, almost double my previous best, and 32 S2S contacts for 112 S2S points. I broke 2000 points as a chaser, added 8 uniques on the summit (and 2 more when I got home), as well as 10 Andrew to Andrew contacts. In short, the most fun I’ve had on a summit with my pants on. I almost made it home without having to fill the fuel tank on the car, but eventually chickened out at Meredith. Thanks to Andrew VK1NAM for the organising of the day. Looking forward to the next SOTA party!

Turning a 6m squid pole into a 4m squid pole

The other day, I placed an order at Haverfords for a couple of heavy duty squid poles, one 6m and the other 7m. The 7m pole was as a back up for my existing pole (and to amortize the shipping costs over more than one pole). The 6m pole was chosen as I had an idea, and I didn’t want to waste any more money than necessary if it turned out I was mistaken.

One of the more common approaches to antenna deployments in Australia is the squid pole/linked dipole or squid pole/EFHW combination. It combines the ability to get the antenna at a reasonable height, without the compromise of a loaded vertical antenna. The only drawback with the squid poles we tend to use (sourced from Haverfords – get a 7m heavy duty one) is the fact they are too big to really travel well, being about 1.2m long when collapsed.

I have travelled to VK4 with a squid pole, which had to go into oversized luggage. Despite the best taping, the rubber bung in the end was lost, and in general it’s a pain in the backside to carry the thing around the airport taking it to oversized luggage, etc. What would be great would be about 50-65 cm in length travel squidpole that still gave you at least 4-5m of height.

Now, my idea, concocted in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep, was that I could take an existing squid pole, cut each section in half, remove a little bit for the telescopic sections, and voila, I’d have a slightly less than 6m pole, that fitted into my checked luggage. The basis for this theory was the idea that each pole tapers at the same amount, so it should be easy enough to move the position of the friction locks half way up.

Turns out I was wrong.

A collapsed pole expanded?

A collapsed pole expanded?

As might be visible in the above image, all of the sections of the pole can be removed by unscrewing the bottom cap, and tipping them out the bottom. What also might be visible (apart from the mess on my shed floor) is that actually, not all segments taper as much as the rest. In fact, the bottom sections don’t taper much at all.

This makes logical sense – certainly far more logic than the idea of a perfectly conical taper my sleep deprived brain had concocted. The bigger lower sections provide more strength, and so are much thicker, and it is really only the top two sections that have any significant taper. I didn’t notice this until after I’d made the first cut, of course.

The first section – the top one, was hacked in half – two sections of 550mm – with a hacksaw, and fed into each other. Success! It left a section of about 1m in length when telescoped. A loss of 10cm for a halving in the size of the pole seems a good tradeoff.

The next section wasn’t so good. It did work, in that the top section did push through about 40cm of the one above that, for about 1400mm of pole, but the lower section hardly had any give at all. In fact, the taper really wasn’t there. The two sections, 550mm each, telescoped to about 650mm. Hardly a good gain, and the point at which I realised I’d miscalculated.

I continued, as I’d already hacked the pole in half, working my way down the sections. In some cases, I simply threw one of the sections away, and, using duct tape, thickened the bottom section until the friction lock would work. By the time I’d finished, I’d thrown out three sections of the pole, and the total length was about 3.2m. In short, I’d lost half the height, and probably most of the performance.

I left it for the night, and came back the next day. I noticed the sections I’d thrown away fitted together nicely, for a 1.5m pole or thereabouts, when it dawned on me I could get some more height that way. These sections, 550mm in length, are kept separate to the main pole, but slide over the top, adding another metre or so to the length of the pole, but more importantly, they add a significant amount of rigidity to the whole affair, effectively double-walling some of the lower sections.

Pole length, about 3950mm.  The random power cable wasn't noticed until upload

Pole length, about 3950mm. The random power cable wasn’t noticed until upload

In the end, the pole was about 50mm shy of 4m, but the aim, to get a pole that fitted into checked lugged (or carry-on, for that matter) was achieved. Total length, bung inserted, is a fraction over 600mm, split into two sections. I am, of course, aware of the 4.7m pole that can be sourced from Europe, but I cannot see how it would be cheaper than the 30 odd dollars spent on this one.

Finished poles, collapsed

Finished poles, collapsed

I have yet to test the pole in anger – it may simply collapse in a shocking display of contempt for my ideas, but I will be sure to update the post once I’ve had a chance to.

Chasing Uniques, Awards, and 40m DX

This past week hasn’t been too great, despite having a week off work. The main cause is basically a muscle strain caused by a combination of not warming up properly and going for a 90% serve first up during the weekend’s tennis match. The result was a serve that barely made the net, an involuntary moan, and an increasingly proppy back throughout the day. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have played the remaining three sets, but then I wasn’t expecting to be barely able to walk on Sunday. A visit to the doctor on Monday got me a certificate for the week off, and some industrial strength painkillers and muscle relaxants.

The plus side to this was that there were a few activators out and about on Monday and Tuesday, on quite a few uniques (for me, at least). A hobble out to the shack in return for a few points and some uniques was worth the dull ache in the back. Thanks Doc!

The first activator was Phil VK2JDL on VK2/CT-001, with 58s both ways. This was not a unique, although I struggled my way through the QSO. Turns out the muscle relaxant is Valium. Weeeee! Luckily, the drowsiness seemed to pass by the time Scott VK2AET came up on VK2/NT-002, a new unique and 10 points to boot. This took me to 225 uniques and 1834 points. The challenge is on – will I make 250 uniques or 2000 points first?

The next day promised at least 2 uniques, and 4 activations. I started with Russ, VK2BJP/3 on VK3/VE-093 (non-unique) while the wife was dropping the kids off at school. I took two painkillers as per the prescription, and once she got back, had myself a nice shower. I got out of the shower, and felt a little light-headed. I came to on the floor trying to work out why I was mentally listening to Sweet Child of Mine. My conscious self took a fraction of a second longer to work out I was on the bathroom floor, while my unconscious self continued to rock to Slash’s sweet riffs for another few seconds.

My wife was at least around to help me and (sort of) catch me, so no major damage done, but a phone call to the ambulance service and a discussion with the nurse there turned out I’d taken too much of the painkillers (despite the prescription). On the plus side, I survived my first drug overdose. Very rock and roll. It might also explain the Guns ‘n’ Roses backing track, although that might also be a window into my musical soul. The rest of the day was out to chasing as it was deemed appropriate to sleep off the remainder of the dosage.

I woke up early today, aiming to catch Nick VK3ANL in the Sydney Harbour NP for VKFF purposes. I turned onto 7.144kHz, his planned operating frequency and caught the tail end of Andrew VK1NAM working Lou IK6CWQ. I cranked the power, and, after a bit of back and forth and good perseverance on Lou’s part, I worked him with my signal 55 into Central Italy, off about 50W into my low dipole. Lou was using 500W and a 2 element beam, for a 59 signal. This is my first ever 40m DX, and 15,000 km is a good way to start 😉

I dropped down to 7090 kHz, which is my radio’s default frequency, and there was Nick calling CQ, so I came back to him, worked the reference, and hobbled back inside. It was a great start to the morning, and certainly better than yesterday’s opening.

In other news, my certificates for Mountain Hunter Bronze and Mountain Explorer Bronze arrived, as well as a Bronze certificate for the SANPCPA awards scheme courtesy of Paul VK5PAS. The SANPCPA awards are particularly good quality, so I will be trying hard to get the next level.

Mountain Hunter and Mountain Explorer awards

Mountain Hunter and Mountain Explorer awards

Mt Cowley – VK3/VC-022 / VKFF-405 – 22 JUN 2014

As a family, we decided that we’d take the kids for a nice walk around Lake Elizabeth in the Great Otway National Park. This is a good walk for kids – about 4km in total, and 15 minutes or so out of Forrest township. Lake Elizabeth was formed in 1952 after a landslide blocked part of the Barwon river near the West Barwon reservoir. It is now an easy 30 minute or less walk to the edge of the lake from the car park, and about a 90 minute walk around the entire lake. The kids loved it, but afterwards asked to go into Lorne to play on a playground there, and I’d asked and received a tentative yes to activating Mt Cowley (VK3/VC-022), the highest point in the Otways. My wife grabbed a newspaper and looked after the kids, and I grabbed the radio and headed out to Mt Cowley.

I followed the instructions left by Peter VK3PF on the SOTAWatch website, driving past Erskine Falls and then out onto the Mt Sabine – Benwerrin Road. This is a nice dirt road, and somewhat slippery from the rain that had been around earlier in the day. Despite the temptation to hoon around, it was probably a little too slippery for my liking, and I made it to Mt Cowley without being too silly. A walk out and back into the activation zone, and I set up with the squid pole attached to a Telstra pole, and tied off the ends of the dipole to a tree and to a fence near the communications tower.

I started off with a S2S with Marshall VK3MRG on Bill Head VK3/VN-004 for 8 points, and then worked 6 more contacts (including 2 Andrew-to-Andrews) before Ian VK1DI/2 gave me another 8 points from Mt Cowangerong VK2/ST-001. Another 8 QSOs followed before the rain became a bit too much to bear, and I packed up, for a total of 16 QSOs in about 15 minutes.

The kids were still enjoying themselves on the monkey bars when I got back, and the wife still had half the paper to read, so I wasn’t too late either! No photos unfortunately, as I felt I was rushed, and then the rain started.