Category Archives: Amateur Radio

Four Snowy Mt summits in summer 2015

VK2/SM-053

As I had some time off work in January I planned a SOTA expedition to activate some summits in the Snowy Mountains region, where there are plenty of high value summits to choose from.  I planned to activate several summits on the first day and one major trip on the next day.

The first summit activated was the unnamed VK2/SM-053 which is east of the Thredbo road.  Others have described it and its location, it is easy enough to find and can be driven up, though the top section of the road has been damaged by roadworks and recent heavy rain.   I parked my car on the road near the top and walked to a suitable point where I could see a good location for my radio and a nearby stump that the mast could be attached to.  The multiband dipole was soon set up and I was able to qualify the summit within a few minutes of getting on air, on both SSB and CW on 40m.   Nothing was heard or worked on 20m and that band sounded quite dead.  20 contacts made on 40m.

VK2/SM-014 The Cascades

Driving towards Thredbo afterwards, a thunderstorm passed overhead with heavy rain and I wondered how the weather would be when I reached the next parking spot.  The storm passed and soon even the rain stopped, so by the time I reached the parking area at Dead Horse Gap, about 10km past Thredbo, the sky was clear of rain clouds and I was able to get my bike out of the car and get moving towards the Cascades.  This summit is to the south of the Thredbo river, but the path along the north side of the river takes you the first 2km of the trip.  Then you cross the river either on the steel bridge.  There is also a road crossing intended for forest maintenance vehicles.  I decided against riding through the water, it was about 150 to 200mm deep at that point but flowing quite quickly.   After crossing the river, you follow the track up towards the hill.  I left my bike near the river and walked the next 2km without it.  It would have made the return trip much faster if I had pushed the bike up to a higher point.

Having reached the highest point on the fire trail/maintenance track at about 2km past the river crossing, it was easy to walk upwards towards the summit through the bushland.  Taking care to look out for unfriendly wildlife, I passed the first set of (huge) rocks and my GPS was already indicating that I had entered the top 20m contour so I had to be in the activation zone then.  I found a suitable rock to set up my gear on, only later noticing that there was a huge dead eucalyptus tree nearby.  Fortunately nothing unpleasant happened but I should have chosen a safer place to sit.  Those old trees are called “widow-makers” for good reason.

After making the first dozen contacts on 40m ssb, I moved to CW and made more contacts, as part of my aim to qualify each summit I activate on ssb and CW.  Signals incoming were ok but the reports I was receiving were well down on the usual level.  After moving back to the ssb mode I made more contacts and while talking with Matt VK1MA I told him my antenna seemed to have a fault, and while saying that my gaze went up the pole to where the coaxial cable feedline connected to the antenna wires.  I could see one of the antenna wires sticking out into free space and knew I had found the problem.  I pulled the mast down, reattached the wire to its binding post and raised the mast again.  Matt then reported my signal level had raised from s6 to s9.  So I owe all previous contacts my apologies for the low signal, all due to not checking the antenna properly.  The same problem was probably affecting signal levels on the previous summit too.

After moving to 20m I made a good contact with Peter VK4JD, who was much stronger on 20m than he had been on 40.  Then a contact with John VK6NU and another with John on CW on 14062.  I heard a few European stations calling me on CW but none of them responded to my replies, so were apparently calling blind, on the basis of the Sotawatch spot.  No contacts occurred from these blind calls.  I wonder how often they work.

By then it was just after 7pm local time and I needed to pack up and leave, to avoid making too much of the return trip in darkness.  It took about 45mins to walk back to my bike, so perhaps it was more than 2km.  From that point it was a fairly quick ride back to the car, passing a few brumbies on the way.

I arrived back at Jindabyne just after 9pm.

 VK2/SM-001 Mt Kosciuszko

I arrived at Charlotte Pass at about 9:45 am, somewhat later than planned.  With the squid pole attached to the crossbar of my bike, I rode the first 4.5km then pushed the bike up the steeper sections past Seaman’s Hut and up to Rawson’s Gap where there are public toilets and bike racks.  Bikes are not permitted past that point.

It took me about 2 hours to cover the 7.6km from CP to Rawson’s Gap.   I had to walk about 4km of this, slowly, as parts of it were too steep for my bike.  I may have been able to ride more of this section with a lower geared bike. Mine is a general purpose road bike with 21 gears and no spring suspension. The gears and tyres are not really suitable for this kind of “road”.

From Rawson’s Gap to the top of Kosciuszko is about 1.4 km, climbing about 150m vertically over that distance.  Rawson’s is a common point where the track from Charlotte Pass and the track from the top of the Thredbo chairlift meet.  After a break there to lock my bike, detach the squid pole and get ready to walk, I set off up the final section of the ascent.

My first contact was made at 0218, the last was made at 0351.  I used 7mhz for nearly all contacts.  The 20m band was sounding almost dead. the only contact made on 20m was with VK4JD.  I also made a brief contact with VK2KVP in Murrumbateman via the VK1RGI repeater on Mt Ginini.  Other repeaters were heard while the 2m fm radio was scanning around all the memories.  John VK2YW was heard chatting to others in the Wagga area, the Albury repeater was heard a few times.

After leaving the summit I noticed the clouds to the north looked particularly dark and I knew there would be some rain on the trip back to Charlotte Pass.  I retrieved a jacket from my backpack as part of my preparations for the return trip by bike.

As it was all downhill for about 4km past Seaman’s Hut to the Snowy River bridge, then only a short section with a slight uphill slope, followed by about 4km of a gentle downhill slope, the return journey to CP took only about 30 mins.   A shower of rain with wind lasted for about half of that journey.  Back at the car,  I chatted with a friendly couple who had also just returned from Kosciuszko, one of them riding and the other running.  They took less than 3 hours for their entire return journey, but they didn’t have a radio to operate on the mountain!

It occurred to me later that as Thredbo is at about 1400m ASL and Kosciuszko is 2229, the vertical distance is 830m or so.  This is not much more than the vertical distance we climb for Mt Tennent in south Canberra, though it is lower altitudes (from about 620 to 1384, or 764m). For someone taking the chairlift at Thredbo, the distance required is reduced by about 200m, making the climb up Mt Tennent more difficult than the trip from Thredbo to Kosciuszko.

VK2/SM-068 The Peak

Over a coffee in Cooma on the morning of 22 Jan, I browsed the summit list and decided to check with Rod VK2TWR how to find this one.  He provided the directions and said my car would easily drive up the hill.

Located about half way between Cooma and Nimmitabel, this summit is reached via about 10km of dirt road, the last 300m being fairly rutted and rough, with many large thistles covering the track and adjacent land.  The turnoff is marked with a sign marked “The Peak” at 22 km from Cooma just after a sign indicating 90km to Bega.  There is a Telstra building and tower on the summit.

I parked near the building compound and climbed the final bit up to the trig point.  Attached the pole to the trig and operated on 40m ssb and cw, 20m produced contacts with VK5IS, VK4JD and VK5WG.  I didn’t qualify this on cw or on 20m, making contacts with only 3 unique callsigns on cw and only 3 contacts on 20m.

SOTA feeding frenzy 1st Jan 2015

Alerts published on Sotawatch late in December 2014 had given some indication of how many activators were planning to visit summits on the morning of 1st January 2015 and it looked like being a busy day.

To make best use of this opportunity, Andrew Moseley VK1NAM and I decided on Mt Tumanang, coded VK2/SM-049, south east of Canberra and south of Captains Flat. Neither of us had activated this summit before today so we were hoping to gain not only the S2S points from working other activators from this summit, but two sets of activator points, being 2014 in UTC prior to 11AM and 2015 afterwards.

The trip was planned and marked on Andrew’s GPS so we would have some knowledge of distances and some warning of major turns needed within the forest. I left home at about 6:15 to collect Andrew at 7:30. About an hour to the Cowangerong fire trail turnoff on Captains Flat Rd and in another hour we were parked on the fire trail at the foot of the ridge extending north west from the summit. The walk up to the summit was in typical southeastern Australian eucalyptus forest. The walk only took 20 minutes or so. We set up just to the east of the trig station and decided to set up one rig on 40m and the other on 20m. In addition we used the 40m antenna on 6m.

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After making several surprising contacts on 6m, one to Gerard VK2IO at Mt Eliot near Gosford NSW, and another to Paul VK1ATP at Booroomba Rocks VK1/AC-026, we ventured onto the 40m band to see how conditions were.

Prior to 0000 UTC each activator was keen to score as many s2s points as possible, so many chasers probably missed out on contacts during this period. Each cq call was greeted with several S2S responses and priority was given to S2S, as this is the day when activators are out there to fish for S2S and are keen to make best use of the time.

For the next two hours it was frantic on the 40m band all the way up to 7170 where we found it was possible to provide contacts for chasers, but only for a few contacts at a time until other activators found us and requested priority.

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Eventually we decided to move on to Mt Cowangerong, which we had passed on the way to Mt Tumanang. It took about an hour of quite slow travelling with 4WD-low engaged for some of the time. The erosion control humps on the road vary in size but some are big enough that you don’t really know what’s on the other side.

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The FJ Cruiser shown on top of an erosion barrier

 

 

The photo does not really show the size of the hump. See similar photos in the account by Mark VK1EM.  The FJ cruiser has plenty of clearance and is probably a little shorter than Mark’s Pajero so the angles of these erosion barriers did not pose any problem for us.

At Mt Cowangerong it was somewhat more subdued, though we still earned and handed out many S2S and chaser points.

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Andrew VK1NAM relaxing into some contacts at Mt Cowangerong

 

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VK1DA at Mt Cowangerong

Overall a great day for some SOTA operation on HF, some surprise contacts on 6m and fairly low conditions on 20m and above. While we did hear one VK6 station, signal levels were very low and we had no luck in being heard despite a sked lined up by VK5PAS.

I know some operators are not keen on these big activity days. But they create a big splash on an otherwise quiet band and give many people a chance to earn some new points, new unique summits worked and a boost to the S2S tally. I think my own S2S tally increased by over 270. Given that i was hoping to reach 1000 by the end of 2014 and was very pleased to do so (something that took almost 2 years to achieve)  I was stunned to see my S2S score rise by 27% on one day.

We wanted each of us to be able to make all the s2s contacts possible, so we needed the equipment to be closely located. That meant some interference between the two radios, both emitting wide band hash whenever transmitting. We will need to consider alternative layouts if we want to operate simultaneously in future. The obvious method is to separate the equipment widely and that would normally be the case with each of us using different bands. On other sites we have been able to operate on different bands with a separation of 20-30m and we know that other joint expeditions have managed to even operate on the opposite ends of the same band, one on ssb and one on cw.

Thanks again to Andrew VK1NAM for his guidance, navigation and good humour during the day.

SOTA updates and milestones

VK2 Update December 2014

The VK2 update was finally completed in time for 1st December. Even then, some summit name changes were not included in the final documentation sent to the SOTA management team for inclusion in the central website. This was my mistake but at least the approved summit position corrections and new summits are now available for use. The net increase was less than originally mooted, but we now have 1219 summits. Many have not yet been activated so there is still a chance to put your own flag on those.

My own activations in October-December were Bobbara Mt, Mt Coree, Devils Peak, Webbs Ridge, Tuggeranong Hill, Mt Ginini, Mt Stromlo, Mt Mundoonen (twice), Livingstone Hill and Mt Taylor.

Bobbara Mt, vk2/ST-044 11th October

This is a few km west of Binalong and is easy to reach. There is a gate to the cow pasture where there is an access road (for approved vehicles only). The walk uphill is easy enough and like others, I cut the corner and walked up a worn path used by animals rather than going the long way round. Up top is an Airservices Australia radar and various other services, none of which were a problem to me. Bowning Hill near Yass was visible on the horizon. The town of Binalong is visible down in the valley nearby. I operated from the eastern side of the hill, hoping for good conditions on 20m long path to EU. It was not so good.

Mt Coree VK1/AC-023 25th October

This mountain is visible from many parts of Canberra on the western edge of the ACT. It has steep slopes on all sides and the access road has been repaired by adding rather large rocks to the road, which your tyres crunch as you pass over. On top is a fire tower and various other radio services. I set up on the trig. The wind was strong and I configured the linked dipole to provide a slight bias in the wind direction so that the squid pole had some support. All except one contact were on 7 MHz, the other contact was on 21 MHz with Andrew VK1NAM as a test.

 

One end of the linked dipole, showing the re-installed antenna mounting pole.
One end of the linked dipole, showing the re-installed antenna mounting pole.

Canberra in the distance, Cotter dam (raised recently) visible
Canberra in the distance, Cotter dam (raised recently) visible

Squid pole bending to the east
Squid pole bending to the east

Trig legs with fire tower.  note the lack of vegetation and the clear view to the nearby VK2 summits that are worth many more points
Trig legs with fire tower. note the lack of vegetation and the clear view to the nearby VK2 summits that are worth many more points

The operations desk at Mt Coree
The operations desk at Mt Coree

Devil’s Peak VK2/ST-003 and Webb’s ridge VK2/ST-005, 31 Oct and 1 Nov.

These summits are both just to the west of the ACT/NSW (VK1/VK2) border. Devil’s peak is a bush bash of several km taking 30-40 mins. Webb’s ridge has a fire trail going over the top of it.
I accompanied Al VK1RX on this trip and we eventually made the minimum number of contacts required on Webb’s Ridge before packing up in the face of oncoming thunderstorms. We also saw a young snake on Devil’s peak, probably an eastern brown snake. We did not discuss it with the snake.
Used Al’s IC706 on hf and Al’s HT on vhf.

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Tuggeranong Hill VK1/AC-038 on 13 Nov

This hill is readily accessed via Callister Cres at the top of the suburb of Theodore. 20 ssb contacts made. IC703.

VK1DA pictured in his natural environment, on a hill with a radio
VK1DA pictured in his natural environment, on a hill with a radio

Mt Ginini VK1/AC-008 on 21 Nov

While on the mountain for the VHF UHF Spring Field day, I set up my SOTA gear and antennas, using battery power for SOTA compliance. 58 ssb contacts and 7 on cw using the 20m band. The weather conditions for this visit were quite ok. Rig used: IC703 at 10w output. 20m contacts using quarter wave vertical with elevated radials.

Mt Stromlo VK1/AC-043 on 9 Dec

This activation was partly to support an activation by Andrew VK1NAM on Mt Taylor. He was aiming to boost the QSO count for Mt Taylor above 1000 and knowing he was going to be there, I saw it as a chance to give him some contacts and to gain an extra S2S point. 15 contacts including VK1NAM on several bands and a JA on 20m cw.

Mt Mundoonen VK2/ST-053 on 12 Dec 2014

This was one of the recent additions to the VK2 summit list and it is also only about 15 mins travel from my place in Yass. Andrew VK1NAM invited me to join in an activation and I readily agreed once I had sorted out the timing for family events later in the day. I operated nearly all on CW for this activation, with a few 2m FM contacts and one ssb S2S contact with Gerard VK2IO.

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Livingstone Hill VK2/SM-093

This summit is just off the Monaro highway to the west, near the village of Michelago (some years ago I overheard a pilot requesting approach clearance for Canberra Airport, reporting his location as abeam Michaelangelo – suppose he thought the map had a typo).

Made 23 contacts including 4 on cw. My keyer was faulty – later traced to the cable having been damaged by repeated winding the cable around the key for transit. Much amusement for the chasers from my low quality sending, but we got the message through. To add to the fun, just as I was about to go to CW and make a few contacts with CW chasers, it started raining. If you are not prepared for rain, you worry about damage to the radio apart from personal discomfort. I need to carry suitable clothing and also make arrangements for the radio.

Mt Taylor Vk1/AC-037 on 18 Dec 2014

With Mt Taylor requiring 46 contacts to break the 1000 QSO tally, I thought I would help the cause by activating this one, thinking of making 20 or so contacts. After I alerted via sotawatch, Andrew VK1NAM circulated a suggestion on the VK1 SOTA mailing list suggesting everyone try to work me on every band possible. So eventually I had contacts on 2m fm, 10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 30, 40 and 80m on this occasion and in fact got 47 contacts, breaking the 1k goal and there was still enough light to walk down the hill afterwards. Saw some elaborate Xmas decorations on houses in Kambah, the suburb just south of the mountain.

Also on this activation I hastily packed my gas powered soldering iron so as to repair the keyer paddle cable. However after cutting off the last 100mm where I thought the problem was, I found that reterminating it resulted in no improvement. There must have been intermittent shorting of the dot and dash lines to the shield of the cable. I always use shielded cable for the paddle, after an earlier keyer failed miserably on 10m and 6m due to RF affecting it. So I regretfully had to cancel ideas of running CW contacts on this activation.

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Mt Mundoonen VK2/ST-053 on 21 Dec 2014

As I had already activated this summit in the current calendar year, I would get no activation points for this one, but I had seen that my S2S score was about 960 and I only needed 40 more points to reach 1000 S2S points. With several activations posted on sotawatch I thought this was too good an opportunity to miss. Even if I only made 20 or 30 it was mean an easier target for the next activation. I used the FT817 for this activation, with the repaired paddle cable now operating perfectly.

It was very hot. I used the tarp (that I usually sit on) as a kind of poncho, but over my head. With a few surprises including a VK7 summit, Ian VK1DI on Bobbara and Andrew VK3BQ & wife Christine VK3FCEK on Mt Kosciuzsko I was delighted to find later that I had just edged over 1000 S2S points by the end of the activation. Another 1k goal reached.

I think the next worthwhile goal will be 1000 CW chaser points. Only 604 to go…

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SOTA VK2 1st anniversary September 2014

For the first anniversary of SOTA in VK2 (Australia – New South Wales), a weekend of VK2 SOTA activations is planned for the 6th and 7th September 2014.  The usual Sunday activations that are popular are made complicated for some by the coinciding Father’s Day on the first Sunday of September.  We might have to celebrate VK2 SOTA on the preceding Sunday in future.

In the past year VK2 has seen 728 activations of 228 summits.  Not a bad result for the first year.

About 250 extra summits are under review for addition to the VK2 Summits list.  This will fill in some gaps left by our initial survey in 2013.  Corrections to a few summit locations will also be made as well as summit name changes.   More details when the process is completed.

Mt Stromlo activation 30th May 2014

WIth mild autumn weather continuing it seemed wasteful not to activate one of the 1 point summits that’s so conveniently nearby the Canberra city area.  I was able to get away from work earlier than usual and made it to a suitable car park on Mt Stromlo.

This time I walked over to the northern part of the mountain, which is readily accessed from the area near the trig point.  Just walk down the gravel road and back up to the northern part of the summit.  The dip is only 7-10m max, so the northern area is within the activation zone.  Up there you will find plenty of places to mount antennas and even a park bench seat to operate from.  However there is a mountain bike trail passing nearby so take care not to set yourself up near that trail.  Antennas across that trail would be a danger to anyone on a bike so have a good look around and plan your operation with that in mind.

The main reason for using that part of the summit for SOTA activations is to get away from a noise source causing interference, which I and others have experienced at Stromlo.  It has been assumed to be from power lines with either faulty or contaminated insulators and it produces s7-s8 noise on 7 and 14 MHz.  It can make reception of weak signals quite difficult and is the opposite of what you want and expect on a summit.

On arrival at the site I found I had left the connector base for the 20m vertical at home so I put up the linked dipole.  It has links for 10, 15, 17, 20, 30m inside the 40m full length. I used automotive type spade connectors for the link connections. Open a link and the dipole is shortened.  Multi band, but requires partial collapse of the telescopic pole to get close enough to the link points for 10m-20m.

I made 4 contacts with European CW ops on 20m, so qualified the summit within about 15 mins of turning the radio on, spotting myself and calling cq two or three times. This was with the 5w from the FT817.  Signal reports indicated the signal was low, 429 up to 539.

I wanted to try an idea I had for adding 12m to this antenna without adding another link.  A short length of antenna wire with a spade connector was added to the 10m point, making it possible to use 12m as well as the existing bands.  The SWR appeared to be ok though some fine tuning may improve it.

I used SMS to contact Matt VK1MA to see if he could give me a contact on 12m.  He was in the middle of a phone call to another ham, so it was quite ok to crank up the radio to 12m and add another contact to our 12m challenge logs.

After all that I went back to 20m and looked for more contacts into EU.  It all sounded rather dead by now, an hour after sunset, so I went to 40m and called on 7090.  One contact with big signal levels into the Coffs Harbour area.  S9 both ways.

There is some interest from US chasers who want to work VK on 20 or 17m.  This may result in a lunch time activation or two, just to see what is possible.  For 17m I will look at making my 20m vertical into a linked type for the vertical element and possibly just add some suitable radials for 17m.

While I was onsite, about 2 hours, I saw about 20 or 30 mountain bike riders arrive near my operating position and then ride off down the trail, their bike and helmet-mounted lights turning night into day.

SOTA activation – Bullen Range – VK1/AC-033

Encouraged by unexpectedly warm autumn weather I decided that activating this readily accessed summit was a good way to spend Sunday morning on 25th May.

Recent blog postings by Andrew Moseley VK1NAM and Ian Sinclair VK1DI
had confirmed the access and even provided a GPS track to load into my GPS62S. It was hardly necessary though it is interesting to look at the contour lines and levels as you walk along this path and up the hills.

I left home at about 6:45 and arrived at the start of the walk at about 8 am. On the way up I counted six gates to negotiate, one of which had a chain latch to open but the rest had to be climbed over or through. They are multiplying as others mentioned five.

Much of the pathway would be readily ridden on a bike. It might be just as well to leave the bike at the foot of the final ascent because it is steep enough to be difficult on the way down.

The photos taken by Andrew Moseley and Ian Sinclair show the route and the scenery. At the summit, the log and the stumps provide luxurious lounge room standard SOTA operating bench. For once I didn’t sit on the ground and fight off the ants, though I did get a mosquito bite from something that looked like it needed to file a flight plan before taking off.

The FT817 with mike and cw paddle at the ready
The FT817 with mike and cw paddle at the ready

 

All the comforts of home, a table and a choice of chairs
All the comforts of home, a table and a choice of chairs
Southern view towards Castle Hill with Mt Tennent towering over it at the rear
Southern view towards Castle Hill with Mt Tennent towering over it at the rear

On the radio I put 48 contacts into the log, mainly on 7 MHz, but also on 146, 24, 28, 14 and 10 MHz.

Two contacts come in for a special mention. One was on 10.12 MHz with Peter VK3YE/m on the beach, literally barefoot (*) in ankle deep water, carrying the radio and a loop antenna. Signals were up to s9 from Peter but in a very short time went down to inaudible. A VK5 was also on the frequency but conditions dropped out so quickly I didn’t have time to get a report from him.

The second contact was incomplete because of battery problems at the other end. It was Paul VK1PAW who was using a recently built MST (Minimalist SSB Transmitter) on 20m. Unfortunately the battery problems prevented a contact being completed but I received an email from Paul explaining the problem. I really like the concept of the MST and want to build one myself. The power level of 5w is adequate for some remarkable contacts on 20m. I have proven that with the 817, working European stations several times, including some activators on summits themselves.

My audio recording was not successful due to low battery on the MP3 player I used to make the recording.  Another device to recharge before SOTA activations!  The recharge list is now:

  • 4200 mAH Main radio battery,
  • 2500 mAH backup battery
  • phone
  • GPS batteries
  • camera
  • video camera (optional, usually left at home)
  • mp3 player.

* radio joke. Barefoot normally means using a radio without any external power amplifier.  In this case the radio and the operator were barefoot.  😉

Meeting old friends on the radio

Recently I heard a signal on the radio that brought back many memories of past contacts and and QSL cards and photos exchanged.  It was Shin JA1NUT, who I have worked a number of times over the past 40 or more years.  He is a fine CW operator and is often heard on the 40m band.

I called him and he turned his directional antenna southwards from the USA direction and beamed his signal my way.  A directional antenna (aka Beam) on that band can be a very large antenna, with elements from 12 to 20m long on a boom of perhaps 10m.  I do not know what his current beam is for that band, but his equipment and antennas are working very well.  His signal was very strong here.  Our contact was made at about 22wpm on CW.

We exchanged signal reports, I told him we had last contacted under my VK1DA callsign and prior to that, under my V85DA callsign.  He immediately mentioned that he had my QSL cards, one of which had a photo of me when I first got my licence, at age 16.  He said he had a birthday approaching in May, for a somewhat higher number, and I told him I would be the same age in June.  This was very heartening – I have always known his signal and operating methods and it is rather nice to know we are so close in age as well as sharing an interest in amateur radio and in operating on CW (morse code).  He also mentioned his blog, nuttycellist, which I have added to my blogroll here.  Some insightful and reflective posts on his blog – far more than my own, I think.  Also his command of English is superb.  Many complex subjects are discussed there and explained in great detail.  My Japanese capability by comparison is very weak, I doubt if I can count up to 10!

It is a great pleasure and very reassuring to make contact with a distant friend after so long, and find that you both recall your past contacts.

This social aspect of ham radio is something that is very special.

Extract our contact
Extract from our contact, written on the left side of my log book

 

VHF/UHF Field day January 2014

I set up my usual station on Mt Ginini QF44JL for this event.

On 50 MHz, a TS670 and a HL66V amplifier producing 60w to a 3 el cushcraft yagi on a 4m mast.

On 144 MHz, the IC910H 100w to an 8 el yagi at 6m agl.  On 432 MHz the IC910H 75w to a 16 el yagi at 4.5m agl with an icom mast head preamp 1.5m from the feedpoint.

On 1296 Mhz I had unfortunately not packed the pair of 18el yagis normally used.  As a token antenna to make some local contacts, I connected a 2m quarter wave vertical with about 3m of RG58 coax and laid that horizontally on the roof of the tent, bisecting the side and centre aluminium stressors that are part of the roof structure of my old Coleman tent.  This “antenna” gave me some local contacts on 1296 and with effort, a contact with vk2smc near Nimmitabel.

On Saturday I found conditions ordinary with no unusual contacts made.  On Sunday morning at 5AM local time I checked the usual beacons from Sydney, Mt Anakie in VK3, Mildura in VK3 and the Gippsland beacon, on both 144 and 432 where possible.  With the very calm conditions overnight I wondered if I would hear any beacons from further afield and checked the Mt Gambier beacon VK5RSE on 144.550 and the Adelaide beacon VK5VF on 144.450.  Both beacons were received at good strength, and during the following 5 hours both beacons remained audible, the Adelaide beacon being the strongest signal most of the time until it faded around 9AM, the Mt Gambier signal remaining audible but weak for a little longer. My log notes that VK5RSE was still audible at 2305 UTC, or 10AM local time. At that stage the Adelaide signal had vanished.  With these beacon signals received so well, how about making some contacts into those areas?

I then worked Bill VK5ACY at 1922 UTC (6:22 local) vk5LA at 1939, vk5AKK at 2006, VK5PO at 2008, VK5DK at 2109, all on 144MHz.  I also worked Vk5AKK on 432.

Much later at 2150 I was called by VK5PJ on 2m while beaming to Sydney direction (NE) and made a good contact with Peter on that band, followed by working him again on 432 MHz, still with the beams NE.  Turning the beams around to the west produced signal levels of S9+20 (indicated) which is a rare event on 70cm dx.  Peter asked whether I had 23cm and I told him that regrettably my real antennas were at home and all I had was a temporary lashup to make local contacts.  He was keen to try it given the unusually good propagation we had on 70cm.  We tried 23cm first with Peter running a series of dots, so I tuned for that signal on the Sub receiver on the IC910 and could tell him “yes I do hear that, I will send the same to you”…  and the outcome was a good 5 x 1 contact on SSB.

Back on our “liaison frequency” 432.160 where signals were still s9+ I told Peter what the antenna was.  “It’s a 2m quarter wave lying on the roof of my tent”.  He asked for a photo…I took the following photo immediately while still sitting at the desk talking with him.

Note the precise calibration of the angles.

horizontal 9/4 wave antenna
horizontal 9/4 wave antenna

Here is what it looked like from the outside.

Tent roof antenna
Tent roof antenna. Note the centre boom and the supporting spines all aluminium. the antenna received best signal on 1296 when at 45 degrees to those tent supports.  Adelaide is close to the direction of the centre boom.

I then asked him to run the beeper again so I could try to optimise the orientation or location of the antenna.  I tried vertical and horizontal polarisation in various orientations.  Eventually I returned the antenna to its original position where by good luck, the signal was best.  You would not read about it.

Later at 2223 I was encouraged to give this antenna a try working VK3ER where Peter VK3QI was keen to make the contact.  And yes it did work, even on ssb.  In the past we have made contacts with my real antennas but sometimes it has been quite difficult, cw-only.  Clearly propagation was unusually good between us.

A later attempt to hear or work Gordon VK3EJ at Cobram was unsuccessful.  Whatever atmospheric effect was allowing these longer distant signals to reach Mt Ginini was not active for the shorter distance to Cobram.

This is where the 1296 yagis would normally go… just below the 70cm yagi on the mast.

2m and 70cm antennas.
2m and 70cm antennas.

Summary: 145 or so contacts, some ordinary and a small number of extraordinary contacts, coinciding with very hot daytime weather and a calm morning.

Once again the beacons were a great indicator of the possibilities ahead.

As my brother Chris VK2DO pointed out, it looks like the many tickets purchased in the “field day lottery” over the past 20 years have finally paid off and I have certainly been rewarded with some great fortune this time.  If only I had my real antennas for 1296, and how about the higher bands?  Will never know, can only continue to take tickets in the lottery and hope it doesn’t take another 20 years to produce results.

Mt Gingera on 1/1/2014

The first day of January has a special appeal to SOTA activators as it offers a chance to gain points for two years for the one activation.  To optimise the points available, a 10 point summit was preferred.  For the summits within VK1, the most accessible 10 point option is Mt Gingera, south of Mt Ginini by a few km and an access track along the side of the range.

Previous activations of Mt Gingera by Ian VK1DI and Andrew VK1NAM had indicated there was a 6km walk along the forestry road, followed by a 1km climb to the summit.  I decided to try using my pushbike for the road section, leaving the bike at the start of the climb.

As the summit is a very good VHF location I wanted to try 2m SSB contacts to the NSW south coast, Sydney area, operators in the Victorian alps, as well as the Canberra area.  To do that I decided to take a 3 element beam for 2m.  This was a beam I had built for direction finding competitions in the 1980s and had since used occasionally for portable operations.  All aluminium construction and unfortunately, not readily able to be dismanted.  I planned to attach the beam to my backpack while riding along the road, then to carry it by hand while climbing the hill.

That approach worked ok after some adjustments needed while walking the bike up some of the steeper sections of the road.  Hills that you don’t notice in a car can quickly add up to a lot of work on a bike.  Despite walking several sections, I still averaged 9km/h over the 6km which is double my walking speed so using the bike saved at least 30 mins, possibly more.

Having left the bike near the road at the foot of the path leading up to Gingera, I carried the beam in one hand up to the top, diverting around trees and bushes as required.  At the top I found a suitable location for the antennas and equipment on some huge rocks and got onto 2m ssb quickly, as I needed to qualify the summit with at least 4 contacts before 0000 UTC.  Having done that with contacts to VK1NAM at Tuggeranong Hill, VK2DO at Batemans Bay, VK1FJAW and VK1KW in north Canberra, VK3EJ in Cobram, I was able to take a pause and set up the HF antenna.  About 30 contacts in the log for the activation.

Photo Gallery:

VK1DA operating the radio
VK1DA operating the radio
mast held against the rock by some tension from an elastic strap
mast held against the rock by some tension from an elastic strap

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Ginini seen from near the top of Gingera
Ginini seen from near the top of Gingera
After racking the bike, this pic showed how I carried the squid pole, Al mast for 2m beam and the beam itself.
After racking the bike, this pic showed how I carried the squid pole, Al mast for 2m beam and the beam itself.

FT817 programming

I recently purchased a programming cable for use with the FT817. Plenty are advertised on eBay.

What I received:

  • a cable with plugs for the mini DIN plug for the CAT socket on the radio and a USB plug at the other end
  • A cd containing software

The USB plug is larger than a plain USB plug as usual for one of these USB-serial adaptors, as it contains the electronics to convert from USB to plain serial required by the radio.

The software on the cd included a driver for the USB adaptor and several other programs including a 2012 version of HRDeluxe, a digital modes utility and a few other programs. A specific program for the radio programming was not included.

The cd also included some “readme.txt” files and advice on how to work out which COM port was allocated to the adaptor, as most older software including HRD apparently is designed for COM ports rather than USB.

I installed the driver and it worked ok, revealing that COM9 had been allocated to the USB adaptor.

In HRD the only option appeared to be COM1. Same for a Yaesu programming utility written by a French radio amateur.  (817-mem from F5BUD.free.fr)

I opened the Windows control panel and found the details of the USB adaptor. In the tab revealing the com port allocated I double clicked (or right clicked?) the COM9 and was offered the option of changing it to another unallocated port. I chose COM1.

This still did not allow a connection to the FT817 to work. To see whether the USB hub needed to be restarted to get the new COM port to work, I unplugged and reinserted the USB adaptor cable.

Checking in control panel > device manager showed that the USB adaptor was now indicating COM1.

Launching the 817-mem Yaesu programming tool again, it now found the 817 on COM1 and I could then read the memory contents of the radio, save as csv, modify the csv with notepad++, then reload the csv and send it to the radio.

I set memory freqs for cw and Ssb frequencies on the hf bands and some net frequencies for VHF bands.

Programming the 817 direct using the front panel controls is quite feasible but having the memory channels saved externally is convenient. Also being able to clone and edit in an ordinary text editor is handy. Seeing the frequency and mode settings on a screen is better than having to scroll around them on the 817.