VHF/UHF Field day/contest Jan 14/15 2017

The VHF/UHF field day in January is one of my favourite events.  I have had some great surprises on these weekends.  I had no idea what to expect this time, though the weather was forecast as damp on Saturday and dry on Sunday.

I arrived on site around 6pm Friday night.  Along the route from Yass via the Mountain Creek Road I had noticed a lot of debris on the road, including some tree branches that had been broken off by high winds.  I didn’t realise a storm had gone through Canberra while I was driving to Mt Ginini, breaking trees and strewing debris all over suburban streets and bringing trees down over some of the arterial roads, leaving damage that would be visible for weeks afterwards.

This is how far I got setting up on Friday night. After this, the wind came up and the rain and sleet started.

The weather at the time was windy and when I tried to set up the tent it was clear that it would not survive that wind.  In the hope that it would clear away in a few hours, I decided to sit it out and stayed in the car.  By 9pm it was dark and I had to decide whether to  re-pack my tent and go back to Canberra for the night or hang on.  I decided to hang on.  It rained quite heavily for a while and the wind kept howling so once it was really dark, I felt there was no other option.

In the early morning it seemed to be better.  The wind was still there but didn’t seem so bad.  The rain had cleared.  But I hadn’t slept much.

I set about the job of assembling the antennas, the tent, the interconnections and generator.  By 12 noon, the contest start time, I was just about ready to roll.

432 MHz preamp cabling
144 MHz antenna
1296 MHz antenna – end mounted

 

The erected antennas looked very much like they have for the last 10 years so I didn’t take any new photos of them. The 2m, ;70cm and 23cm yagis on one mast and the 6m 3el yagi on another, both rotated from the base using KR400 rotators.  Feedlines: RG9B for 2m, CNT400 for 70cm and 23cm, RG213 or similar for 6m.

Here’s a pic of the antennas from a previous operation at Ginini.  A few configuration differences for the 70cm antenna but otherwise very similar this time.

VHF/UHF antennas on Mt Ginini

 

Once I got on the air, I found beacons from VK3 were very low, the Sydney beacons were almost undetectable and few portables outside the VK1 area.  Only VK2IO was heard initially, but one or two others did emerge later in the weekend.  VK1DSH, VK1RX, VK1RW, VK1MT and VK1AI were all out in the field, most of them on 50/144/432 and Dale was on 1296 as well.  We had a small number of home stations operating the bands too.

After working Gerard VK2IO (Mt Bindo near Oberon) I then worked Phil VK5AKK on both 144 and 432.  We tried 1296 too, but although I could hear a signal from his 100w, my 10w was too far down to make it a two way contact.  A digital mode would have worked.  hmm.  More power on my end would have helped too.  Double hmm.

The day progressed without any more surprising dx, and I found it hard to convince myself to stay awake after 9pm, having got very little sleep in the driver’s seat of the car on Friday night.

At 5:30 in the morning, there were good signals from the vk3 beacons, Sydney was a bit better too.  And I had a very good signal from the Mt Gambier beacon on 144.550 plus a weak signal from Mt Lofty on 144.450.  I hoped this indicated something of the contacts to be made in the following hours.

It did, partly.  VK5DK at Mt Gambier was worked, as was VK5PJ.  But conditions were not good enough to give us contacts on higher frequencies.

My surprise contact on Sunday morning was being called by Mike VK3BDL/7 at Flinders Island.  After working me on 144 and 432, Mike went on to work Chris VK2DO at Batemans Bay on 144, a contact which they were both very happy with.

Eventually the contest ended and I followed it up with a short period of activating Mt Ginini as a SOTA station, using the IC703 running from a LiFePO4 battery.  I had at 6am set up the 20m vertical in the hope of making an S2S with a US station who was looking for VK contacts.  I may have been a bit unlucky with conditions, or jut not spending enough time listening for the US signals.  No luck with S2S but did have a good contact with home station NS7P on CW.

The packing process took about 4 hours and I left the summit at 5pm.  A 2 hour trip back to Yass and a welcome shower and a cold drink when I got there.

The 6m beam seen in the foreground (in the shade, sorry) travels in a partially assembled state. The gamma match stays in place, but the extensions just come out of each element and it then is not much wider than the 2m beam and is narrow enough to be carried quite safely on the roof rack of the car.

Mostly packed up and ready to be loaded into the car and trailer. 2m and 70cm mast still to be disassembled.

 

Contacts made:  183 total.

Band totals:

  • 50 Mhz:  39
  • 144:   70
  • 432:  51
  • 1296: 22

Total points claimed under distance calculation rules: 55916

Points lost due to a wrong grid locator:  about 10.

Points lost due to not enough other portables:  500,000.

haha

 

Repairing RJ45 plugs on Icom mike leads

I have had problems with my Icom HM103 mike leads, caused by breaking the locking tab off the RJ45 plug.  This happens usually because the mike and lead are slightly tangled with other gear in my SOTA backpack, even though I use a plastic box to carry the small pieces like headphones, morse paddle, microphone and adaptors.

It also happened once before when I had the microphone of the IC706 stored in the central console of the car.  Pulling it out of where it was carried without due care for the plug  eventually damages it.

And without that little bit of plastic, the mike does not stay in the plug for very long.

Having broken the plugs on my IC703 mike and on the IC706 mike recently I decided to replace the plugs but add the shrouds or covers that protect the crucial locking tab.

The unprotected plug looks like this:

The plug with the protective shroud looks like this:

As a small issue found when re-terminating these plugs, I found that the shield connection was originally made using very small diameter heat-shrink or some other method of making the shield connection look like one of the other wires.  These plugs connect to the wires using connections that cut through the insulation.

I looked for heatshrink tubing that could be used for this purpose, but the smallest I had was labelled 1.5/0.8mm.  A shopping trip to my local computer/electronics parts agent in Yass produced no thinner option.  When compared with the existing wire, the diameter when shrunk was too large to fit into the slot of the connector.  So another method had to be found.

For the first mike I had cut the lead right at the point where the wire enters the plug body.  This created a problem with the shield connection and I had to try to form the shield into a narrow form so that it could slide into the appropriate slot.  After twisting it to create a spiral of multiple strands, it worked but I wished I had found a way to preserve the original insulation.   So when installing the second plug I didn’t cut the wire at the back of the connector, instead I cut the entire connector just behind the crimp point for the conductors.  That way I preserved as much as possible of the original shield wire assembly inside its insulation.

Cutting through the plastic plug body was simple enough but I did that in about 6 sections, ensuring that the wires were not damaged.

Result: a robust plug assembly on both my Icom microphone cables.

I am hoping this surgery will provide longer life for the plugs.

Footnote: I know blue shrouds don’t look right on these black cables and black radios.  But that does not worry me one bit.  And the mike is safe for children.

QRP challenge for 2017

My SOTA friend and collaborator Andrew Moseley VK1AD has proposed a QRP challenge for 2017.  He is going to aim to use 2.5w when activating summits during 2017.  

I have started to do the same and my activation at Mt Ginini on 27th December was made at 2.5w for SSB and 0.5w on CW.  I made about 20 contacts and although some chasers found lower signals a problem, I not only qualified the summit on several bands, I also qualified with CW at 0.5w.  One contact was with Steve VK7CW who also used an FT817 at 0.5w, the lowest power setting of the radio. 

The radio used was an FT817, powered by an internal LIPO 3S battery (windcamp).  I had a spare battery but it was not needed.  The 817 will not be as efficient in terms of output power/DC power consumed, as the bias current on the final amplifier stage will remain the same as it would be at 5w.  

A fringe benefit from using lower transmitted power is that battery life will be improved.  I had previously used the 817 with the internal battery at Mt Mundoonen on 26th December for a short activation.  I did not recharge the battery after that activation as it was only used for 5 contacts plus some listening.  After the Mt Ginini operation, the battery voltage according to the meter on the 817 was above 11v.  It can go down to 10v without any problem for the 817. 

Although we were on the downward slope of sunspot activity, making HF communications less certain, there are still sunspots and occasional sporadic E openings on HF bands.   

It will be interesting to see how the QRP challenge goes during 2017.  Progress reports will be made by both Andrew VK1AD and me.  

Mt Tantangera VK2/SM-024 activated on 10th December 2016

I was invited to join in an activation of Mt Tantangera by Andrew Moseley VK1AD, and was very pleased to be able to join him in this expedition.

Andrew collected me from my weekday accommodation in south Canberra at 7:30am on a brilliant summer’s day that Saturday morning.   We decided to take both our packs to give us the option of working on several bands simultaneously.

The route taken was through Tharwa, south of Canberra, along Boboyan road until it meets the Snowy Mountains Highway between Cooma and Adaminaby, but only a few km short of Adminaby.  The trip through the mountains took us past familiar scenery, Mount Tennant just after Tharwa, the Clear Range to our east, the turnoffs for the old Orroral Valley and Honeysuckle Creek tracking stations, including various SOTA summits like Booroomba Rocks, then past Boboyan Range and Pheasant Hill.

After 2 hours we arrived at the Rocky Plains camping ground.  We prepared for the walk to Mt Tantangera, adding sunscreen, hats, packs with water and food, antenna poles and navigation details.

Track up from Rocky Plains camp ground
Bush view to the side of the track
Track easy to follow
View to the south west while en route to Tantangera
bushland
Andrew VK1AD stops to take a photo too, sometimes!
A track marker showing 1km to the summit – a welcome sign

Many of the horse riders camp at Rocky plains and some even set up temporary areas for their horses to roam in, with temporary electric fencing.  The initial climb up to the saddle is steady and follows a bridle trail.  Some hoof marks are apparent in the soil as you climb upwards.  The condition of the soil was damp but firm.

On arrival at the summit, a very wide flat area, we found the trig point was ideal for attaching a pole to.  Initially we set up our equipment and antennas expecting we would be able to operate the two stations on different bands.  However I received wideband noise whenever Andrew’s FT857 was transmitting.  I decided to move my equipment about 30m away, assuming it was a proximity problem and a bit of spacing would help.

That did work ok, so it was then time to get onto the bands and hand out some reports.  The bands did not appear to be in good condition.  I made relatively few contacts considering the exotic nature of the summit and its SOTA value of 10 points for anyone making a contact.   I decided to use CW mainly so as to give the CW operators a contact, and I knew we would swap bands later so Andrew would be operating on 40m ssb.

I made one contact on 20m CW, then 6 on 40m CW.  One S2S contact was also made with Ian VK1DI at Booroomba Rocks on 2m.  One of the photos taken was of a March Fly (aka Horse Fly) of which there were many.

March Fly
Station setup (photo: Andrew VK1AD)
Lake Eucumbene in the distance

Thanks to Andrew for offering to share this activation.  While band conditions were less than ideal, we had a great day out in the snowy mountains region and enjoyed our walking and radio operation.

WWFF activations in the Canberra suburbs

Canberra is known to many as “the bush capital” and this means there are a lot of nature parks interspersed among the suburbs and hills.  The only National Park in the Australian Capital Territory is Namadgi, which is southwest of the city area, but there are several dozen other nature reserves.  Once they had been given VKFF numbers by the WWFF coordinator for Australia, it became a natural extension of my portable operations around Canberra to add the VKFF number of a park I was in while activating SOTA summits.

After activating Majura, Ainslie, Taylor, Isaacs Ridge and Tuggeranong as well as Namadgi NP many times due to the number of SOTA summits located in registered parks,  it seemed like a good idea to continue to activate parks in the spring weather we are now enjoying (November) between rain showers (it has been a very wet year).

In October and November to date I have activated Urambi Hills, McQuoids Hill, Cooleman Ridge, Farrer Ridge and Wanniassa Hills Nature Reserves, all in the Tuggeranong Valley or adjacent to it.  The next reserve activated was Mt Painter nature reserve.

All were easy to access, and for the hills you have the option of setting up anywhere within the reserve, not necessarily on the hilltop, though in several cases I was curious to look at the view from the top and did walk up anyway.   I was also using these activations as training exercises as I was acutely conscious of losing some of my fitness for SOTA walking due to various injuries during the year.

The operating position at Urambi Hills.  Photo taken by camera attached to the antenna pole at about 1.2m.

imgp2037s

At Tuggeranong Hill

imgp2011s

The nature park sign at McQuids Hill.

imgp2043s

Looking back down the hill from half way up.  Loose stones, take care here, especially downhill.

imgp2040s

 

Almost at the top, McQuoid’s Hillimgp2041s

Operating at Farrer Ridge Nature Reserve

imgp2079s

Lashing the pole to a fairly dead tree.  Using the branch to prevent the rope from slipping downwards, just as F1BLL calls me.

imgp2073s

Plenty of wildlife like this mother carrying a baby at Farrer Ridge

imgp2076s

I particularly enjoyed the walk up to Mt Wanniassa, which qualifies as a nature reserve but is not a SOTA Summit.  Nearby Isaacs Ridge is slightly higher.  But this is a nice mountain and has a great view.

imgp2084 imgp2085 imgp2086 imgp2088 imgp2089 imgp2091 imgp2096 imgp2098

After these southside nature reserves I looked at the map and decided that a northside reserve was next.  Mt Painter is a hill to the south of the suburb of Cook in the Belconnen area.  It was many years since I visited this hill and it was an easy walk up from a roadside park, past the water reservoirs and to this bench with a view of Black Mountain and the lake.imgp2106s imgp2107s

 

On most of these activations I made at least 10 contacts in about an hour, using 40 and 20m bands on SSB and CW.  I was hoping for more dx contacts on 20m CW but conditions have been depressed, so it is even more difficult than usual for a 10 watt signal to get all the way around the earth.

Gerard, F1BLL did call me on most of these activations and even when very few others seemed to hear me in Europe, he heard and called me. Thanks Gerard, very nice to have your consistent signal on nearly all of my recent activations.

Another Gerard, VK2IO, attempted contacts with me from Sydney on many of these activations but the radio conditions simply didn’t give us a chance of making a contact via the very high ionosphere.

Equipment used on activations: Icom IC703 at 10w output.

Antennas:

  • linked dipole capable of operating on any band from 40m to 10m
  • vertical antenna for 20m, 5m vertical and three 5m radials, tuned to 14.200
  • antennas supported on a 7m telescopic fibreglass pole.

As all the nature reserves are intended for public use, there is no requirement to get permission to enter and use them.

 

Pheasant Hill, sota vk1/ac-021, south of Canberra

After activating Boboyan Range successfully the week before, I wanted to grab a few winter bonus points before they ended.  Pheasant Hill is located west of the Boboyan Road, almost at the southern border of the ACT(VK1) with NSW (VK2) in southeastern Australia.  It is in ecalytpus forest country and is 1455m above sea level.

So on this Saturday morning I drove along Boboyan road to the parking area of Brayshaw’s hut (dating back a hundred years or more) and hiked westward through the forest with the sounds of nature around me.
About 20 minutes in you pass this sign

Map and information about the area
Map and information about the area

After turning to the north and heading up the hill the forest is thicker in places.

img_0326
Forest views

 

img_0325
Path faintly visible

Finally I reached the summit area and found a suitable clearing with a handy tree stump for one of my poles.

I used one pole for the linked dipole which can be used on any of the 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 12 or 10 metre bands.  The other pole supported the 6m vertical and a 2m dipole offset from the pole on a short length of 19mm PVC conduit.

Vhf antennas
Vhf antennas

Conditions on the bands were not bad. I made 4 contacts into New Zealand (ZL) on 20m, several “local” contacts on 2m FM back into Canberra using the dipole mounted at about 3m above ground.  Only one contact on 6m, with VK1MA.

img_0327
Radio and camera operator

Originally in our sota summit list this one was named Pleasant hill, but that was corrected later.  As Ian VK1DI remarked after first activating this summit, it is indeed a pleasant hill.
I was tempted to stay there longer but the wind was rising and I didn’t want to be caught in rain. So after about 2 hours I packed up and headed home.

Approaching Brayshaw's Hit from the west
Approaching Brayshaw’s Hit from the west
One of the direction markers close up
One of the direction markers close up


Summary:

Contacts:

Band Contacts
50 MHz 1
144 MHz 6
432 MHz 1
7 MHz 17
14 MHz 5
21 MHz 1

Walking distance: it took me about 45 mins to reach the summit from the car park.  The return trip was a bit faster.

Permissions: not required – it’s in the Namadgi National Park and day trips are automatically OK.

Round trip from southern Canberra – about 120 km.

Short activation at Mt Gillamatong vk2/st-034

A surprise invitation to a trip over to Braidwood with a bonus of “you can walk up that hill if you like” resulted in a short activation on Monday 24th October.

The climb up the eastern slope is always interesting, it presents a 3 dimensional challenge of not only climbing the bit in front of you, but also getting you to a place that will be easier to keep on climbing with a minimum of blockage by trees, rocks etc.  The rocks are big ones.

Eventually I arrived at the summit and found a clear area near one of the compounds containing an apparently disused dish staring pointlessly at a position in the sky.

I had enough time for a handful of contacts on 40m ssb and then packed up and headed down to where my patient wife was happily reading a book.

Amateur Radio, Computing and other activities of Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH