Category Archives: field and portable

John Moyle Memorial National Field Day contest March 2015

As in past years I operated in this event at Mt Ginini in two ways.  On VHF/UHF bands I used my standard equipment powered by a Honda EU20i generator, with 100w output on 2m/6m, 75w on 70cm and 10w on 23cm.  On HF bands I ran 10w from battery power, to be SOTA compliant.

I started the site setup at 5pm Friday night, setting up the tent and the HF antennas.  Two squid poles supported these antennas.  One was a linked dipole for the HF bands from 40 to 10m.  The other antenna was a quarter wave vertical with elevated radials for 20m.

HF dipole
HF dipole
The vertical antenna for 20m uses this junction box as the termination of the coaxial feedline, the vertical element above it and three radials each a quarter wave long attached to the binding posts on the sides of the plastic box. This is usually carried up to SOTA summits so needs to be light.


The VHF/UHF antennas were erected on Saturday morning.  Matt VK1MA and Glen VK1XX arrived to perform some maintenance work on the tower for the repeaters run by the Canberra Region Amateur Radio Club.  When I was ready to lift my antennas they were ready to help and fortunately I only needed to adjust the guy ropes.

VHF/UHF antennas being assembled prior to attaching feedlines
VHF/UHF antennas being assembled prior to attaching feedlines
VHF/UHF antennas being assembled prior to attaching feedlines
VHF/UHF antennas being assembled prior to attaching feedlines

On VHF the band conditions seemed ok, with the VK3RGL beacons on 144.530 and 432.530 were both received with reasonable signals.  Towards Sydney the beacons on 144.420 and 432.420 were weak but detectable.  Propagation in the north east direction (Sydney and up the NSW coastline roughly) remained ordinary for the weekend.

By the late afternoon, I had logged a small number of contacts on 40m and on the VHF/UHF bands.  There were a few other field stations, the most prominent on VHF being VK3ER and VK3KQ and I could work both on 6m/2m/70cm without much trouble.  The 23cm signals were detectable but only workable on peaks of the fading always present on that band.

In the hour before sunset I was working some 20m CW contacts as a SOTA portable, conditions did not seem too good on 20m towards Europe but I made a handful of contacts with Europeans and some Australians.  The planned ssb activations in Europe were basically inaudible, though with some imagination I could hear faint voices and stations calling them.  When you cannot really hear the chasers you know it will be hard to work the activators.

Returning to the VHF/UHF bands I had some good contacts into the area west of Melbourne, then heard VK5SR in the Mount Gambier area with a big signal.  Contacts with VK5SR were made on 144 and 432, but no signals heard on 1296.  Contacts were made at much increased signal levels with VK3KQ and VK3ER on 1296 as well as the three lower bands.  VK5RX was worked also on 144, a much more westerly contact in the PF95 grid.

I made a recording of an hour of the vhfuhf contacts on Saturday evening and it is published on dropbox.  The link is and when listening to the signals from vk5sr on 144 and 432, remember that those signals are from a station 777 km away. VK3KQ was at a distance of about 500 km. 

During the recording you will hear a contact with vk3er on 1296 where they were so strong with their dish on my direction that I thought they were a local. Then I could hear vk3er at a distance of 460 odd km on 1296 even while they were beaming to Mt Gambier with their their dish 120 degrees off my direction. Conditions were unusually good! Following the contacts with vk3er on 1296 and 50 mhz there was a contact made on 1296 with vk3kq after several tries using 432 for liaison. There was an unsuccessful attempt, another set of dits used as a beacon, then finally a successful contact on ssb.  

By about 10pm the wind had increased in strength and it seemed unlikely there would be any new contacts made. I didn’t plan to operate after midnight to make contacts in the next 3 hour period so I closed down for the night, lowering both antenna masts so as to protect the antennas from the wind.  Having seen stakes almost completely ripped out of the rocky ground by gusty winds in past events, I didn’t want to risk damage to the antennas, the tent or the operator!

I woke at about 5am and was very cold, having packed the wrong sleeping bag.  It was about 4C that morning which was an improvement over the 2C of Saturday morning, however I warmed up in the car for 20 mins before raising the antennas and getting the station back on the air.  A few field stations were ready for contacts prior to 6am but despite trying to work them all before 6 on all bands, a few contacts were missed.  Due to the 3 hour time blocks used in this contest it is possible to make contacts in each 3 hour time block, at any time.  After the initial flurry of contacts with VK3ER VK3KQ and VK2WG it was time to check the beacons especially looking for VK5 beacons given the good conditions into VK5 the night before.  Some of the VK3 beacons were audible, the VK3RGL were good signals on 144 and 432 but the Mt Gambier VK5RSE beacon was not heard.  However the VK5VF beacon close to Adelaide was a good signal so I started making CQ calls beaming to Adelaide on 144.150.  During the next few hours several VK5 contacts were made on 144 and 432, with a marginal contact made on 1296 with VK5PJ.  Jeff VK5GF joined in the fun and his signal remained good for  several hours.  The VK5 signals were still good after 9AM so we were able to make several contacts for the field day log at these excellent signal levels.

Near Wagga the VK2WG club station was also making contacts into VK5 on 144 and some on 432, though signal levels were markedly lower than those received at Mt Ginini’s altitude of just over  1700m.  John VK2YW was operating the VHF station there and he has since commented that he wants to get onto 1296 after hearing of the contacts made there.

Operating desk, transceivers, microphones, morse paddles, power supplies and rotator controls.

IMGP1472 IMGP1475 IMGP1477

Antennas for 144, 432 and 1296 MHz on the foreground mast, with the 3 element beam for 50 MHz on the mast to the rear.
Antennas for 144, 432 and 1296 MHz on the foreground mast, with the 3 element beam for 50 MHz on the mast to the rear.

I think this event was my most successful field day from a VHF/UHF perspective.  The conditions on 144 and 432 were above their usual level but the results on 1296 were my best ever.   The vhf and uhf bands are a lot of fun in these great conditions.

SOTA activation at SprIng Hill NSW

After battling the rain the previous Sunday at Mt Stromlo, I looked forward to this activation at Spring Hill.

I was encouraged by the contacts made from Mt Stromlo on vhf bands and on 23cm so I wanted to try that again from Spring Hill,  which is a few km north of Hall on the Northern edge of the ACT.

Access to the site needs to be arranged beforehand. I had texted the owner Phil but had not received a reply so before entering the land I phoned him to check. He said he had seen my text, there was no problem and he wished me a pleasant walk.  I think in the past I have spoken to him several days prior to the site visit, then as requested I have texted him to let him know I was on the hill.

At the road level there was a very mild breeze, but the further I climbed the higher the  wind became. When I reached the point where the track is exposed to the east the wind blew my hat off and continued to rise. At the top it was hard to stand up so I decided to operate from the lee side of the compound where there was some concrete and a steel mesh fence and almost no wind, though the acoustic noise created by the wind on the tower and dishes was quite loud.

The vhf and UHF antennas went up first and I made contacts on 50, 144,  432 and 1294 fm. I didn’t make enough contacts on 1294 to qualify the summit but the contact down south to Jayson vk1ja was a good distance and signal levels were quite good. The mobile whip worked well in horizontal mode. S2S contacts were made on 52, 146 and 439 MHz with Andrew VK1NAM on Mt Majura.

For 50/52 MHz I used a wire dipole supported by the squid pole.  Later I took that antenna down and set up the 40m antenna to make a handful of contacts before I had to pack up and head back down.  I closed down at 8pm 0900 UTC, took about 10mins to pack the gear and arrived back at the car at about 8:50.

The track is steep in sections and has many loose rocks, making the downhill walk quite slow and tricky.  Anyone planning to walk down in the dark needs a headlamp for safety.

Gippstech Trek

A long weekend travelling from Canberra to Morwell and Churchill, Victoria, via Mt Delegate VK3/VG-034, Goonmirk Rocks VK3/VG-048 and returning via Mitchell River NP, Lind NP and Coopracambra NP.

For this year’s trip to the Gippstech conference in Churchill, Victoria, I travelled with my brother Chris VK1DO and had selected several SOTA summits for activations on the southerly leg of the trip. I used the IC703 for all radio activations, powered by a 4200 mAH LiFe battery. The battery was recharged after two activations.

We left the Canberra area on time at about 7:15am and arrived at the Nimmitabel Pie Shop on time just after 9am. Powered by coffee and food we forged on to Mt Delegate where we were on air by 11:10 local time. 30 contacts were made on 40m by 11:46, followed by one contact on 20m with VK6MB.

The hut at Mt Delegate
The hut at Mt Delegate
Inside the hut.  Air conditioned.
Inside the hut. Air conditioned.

Leaving Mt Delegate we turned southwards at the T junction and headed to Bendoc, then to Goonmirk Rocks, by continuing southward along the Bendoc-Orbost road. This was a good gravel road and we made good time along it to the junction with Gunmark Road. The parking spot for Goonmirk Rocks is about 10km along Gunmark road, travelling east and south. Again this road is a reasonable gravel road in fair condition. We were travelling in a comfortable 2WD car.

At Goonmirk Rocks we parked near the gate on Coast Road (where the gate post had apparently been ripped out of the ground) and walked about 2km up to the operating position on the road next to the summit peak. It is a gentle slope and an easy walk.

Starting on 40m again, we logged 26 contacts followed by 4 on 20m, including VK5WG, VK6MB, s58AL and VK2KTT. This site is within the Errinundra NP, VKFF-158. See ParksNPeaks for details of SOTA summits/National Parks names/VKFF numbers. The raw data about each summit can be found on the tab labelled “Data tables”.

Left Goonmirk Rocks at 2:20, back at the car by about 2:40, then almost 2 hours on the continuously winding road to Orbost, where we stopped for refreshments. There is no point trying to make highway speeds on that one. Calling it the Bonang “Highway” is an example of country humour, I think.

The leg from Orbost to Morwell took about 2h45, travelling mostly at 100 km/h. The main towns passed are Bairnsdale, Sale and Traralgon.

The pub dinner at the Top Pub in Morwell has become a standard feature of the Gippstech weekend, with the usual BS sessions where tall tales are told about the DX worked, the DX just missed, the QRM that made it impossible to get the DX etc. Plus the food portions served are generous.

The Gippstech technical presentations started at 9:00 on Saturday morning in a lecture theatre at Federation University, Churchill (previously known as the Gippsland campus of Monash University Melbourne). Ably chaired by Peter Freeman VK3PF the sessions proceeded throughout the day, punctuated by coffee breaks, with some new and used equipment on display and for sale. The transverters designed by Graham vk3XDK were on display with the Eastern Zone club’s table offering printed and CD versions of past proceedings.

Following dinner on Saturday night and a morning of more technical presentations, a pizza lunch marked the end of the conference and after saying our farewells to the large number of friends we set off back up the highway. Due to overnight snow, the SOTA activations considered before the weekend were dropped in favour of activating Mitchell River National Park for both the VKFF award and for the Keith Roget Memorial National Parks award. I had discussed several possible National Parks with Peter VK3PF on Saturday night and on Sunday morning Peter kindly presented me with notes and Google trip instructions for three such parks. Thanks again, Peter.

Following those instructions we left the Princes highway between Sale and Bainsdale, drove about 25km up a sealed road, then about 5km on gravel to find the Mitchell River National Park. With the squid pole attached to a fence post and the radio on another fence post, we made 17 contacts on 40m.

The next morning after leaving Orbost we were travelling towards Cann River. The highway passes Lind National Park so it was dead easy to stop on the side of the highway, locate the antenna and radio inside the park and make 13 contacts on 40m. From Cann River travelling north on the Monaro Highway, the Coopracambra NP is located to the east of the highway and a short drive up the forest road took us to a T junction where there was ample space to stop and make another 17 contacts.

The activations of summits and national parks this weekend made a big difference to the road trip. I always enjoy a field operation, no matter how short or limited it is. The SOTA and National Parks angles add a motivation to it and having the stations worked say how much they appreciate the contacts is also rewarding, adding to the fun.

Equipment used: Icom IC703, 10 watts output. Antenna: linked dipole made using chopping board insulators, spade lugs and a BNC connector at the centre insulator. Power: LiFe (Lithium iron) battery pack 4200 mAH.

Mt McDonald VK1/AC-048 21 June 2014

This activation became possible on Saturday morning so I alerted for 1pm (0300 UTC), collected my radio and walking gear, then headed off along the road from Yass, across the Murrumbidgee and onto the Mountain Creek Road, along to the Uriarra homestead and east towards the Cotter. It was very foggy for most of the trip, even at that time of day. It is about an hour from Yass to the carpark next to Mt McDonald. The walk up to the summit took about 50 mins, via the formed road and all the way up the switchback for 4WD vehicles, no doubt a scramble up the hill under the power line would be a lot shorter, but after wet weather, of dubious safety and a lot steeper. I opted for the longer route.

After setting up a 3 el beam for 2m I was able to work Geoff VK2UL at Yass on 2m and 70cm, later with the dipole up I also worked him on 6m for the winter vhf field day. Signals were s9 both ways on the higher bands with a real antenna. Also Andrew VK1MBE was on Spring Hill just north of the ACT/NSW border VK2/ST-036 so I earned some chaser and s2s points. Moved onto 40m and made another 30 contacts, then to 20m where I made a cw contact into Czech republic with OK2PDT, an SSB contact with a mobile in Romania, YO6PSD, who listened for my callsign several times and copied it finally – a great effort for a mobile operator hearing a 5 watt signal from the other side of the world. Then I tried 18 MHz, with only one completed contact, N0OI on CW from California.

The temperature dropped at about 3pm and some darker clouds were approaching, so I packed up and walked back down, stopping to take some photos of the Cotter catchment, then some photos of the new Cotter dam from the roadside and the pedestrian bridge over the river. Compared to the old dam, the new one is more than twice the size, towering over the valley and completely dominating the downstream area, which is what dams should do.

Photo gallery from flickr, using Awesome Flickr Gallery Plugin.

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.  😉

John Moyle memorial field day contest 2014

Wind and rain were the winners and highlights of this event.

To avoid a late start I packed the car on Thursday night and I set off for mount Ginini after work on Friday afternoon. I arrived on site at about 7 pm and put up the tent and the 20m vertical. I had a chat with a few other hams that night and tested out the antenna. A strong contact with a ZL2JBR was particularly encouraging. On the ic703 with 10w output I received very good signal reports.

The second hf antenna, a linked dipole, was set up on Saturday morning. I heard a bleat from SOTAGOAT on the iPhone and found it was my SOTA buddy Andrew vk1nam operating at the south coast about 120-130km away announcing he was calling cq on 28.490. I dropped the dipole and removed the links at the 10m position and walked back to the tent to set the radio on the right frequency. Tuning across the band I found a number of USA stations at good strength. Ok so 10m was in good shape but I had VHF antennas to assemble so I started back out of the tent. Before moving far I had to return to the radio as there was a loud cq call heard from vk1nam on a SOTA peak at the south coast. We had a good contact that surprised us both.

I continued the assembly process with a few breaks to make some SOTA contacts on 40m with some of the regular chasers.

The VHF and uhf antennas went together normally though I had made it more difficult by assembling them on the downhill side of the slope from the mast position.

By the time I was ready to lift the mast up a team of radio club members had arrived Onsite to make adjustments to the repeaters onsite. I asked Matt vk1ma to help with the mast so it was soon up and working.

VHF conditions seemed poor. Signals from vk2rsy and vk3rgl beacons were ok on 144.420 and .530 but neither was at a good strength and their 432.4 signals were weak or unreadable.

The contest got under way at midday local time but the poor weather had obviously kept a lot of operators at home. Progress on VHF was very slow.

One vk3 portable in the voctorian high country was worked on 50, 144, 432 and 1296 MHz. A few others were heard but not worked. Towards Sydney there were several on air and later on Saturday vk1pwe was worked at Mt Coree about 30km north of my position.

Saturday evening approached and the repeater team paid me a visit before leaving for Canberra. They cheerfully told me the forecast was for very cold conditions and possibly snow overnight.

A session on 20m cw and Ssb netted about 35 SOTA contacts running the 703 on battery power. The vertical worked well.

Later some more contacts were made on the VHF bands but generally it seemed like the VHF scores would be very low.

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.