These two summits are fairly near each other, making them an obvious pair for a dual activation. The higher of the two is Mt Tumorrama and there is a communications installation on the top, consisting of a compound containing a small building, a tower, lots of antennas and at times some spurious signals can be heard on HF bands, most likely to be from inverters for the heating and cooling system.
I drove out to this area via the Brindabella Rd. It is about an hour and a half to Mt Tumorrama from Canberra.
The activity this time was mainly on HF, with a bunch of contacts with VK2/3/4 and ZL1(BYZ) on 80m and 40m CW, finally a 2m FM contact back into Canberra with VK1AD.
Moving on to Tumorrama Hill, I drove around to the western side of the hill and parked as high as I could, on the side of a fire trail. Walking up to hillside through low bushes, the silence of the forest is only punctuated by bird calls. A very pleasant place to be.
The HF gear was set up again and this time it was CW only, on 80 and 40m. No 2m contacts were logged. Again vk2/3/4/5/7, ZL1/2/3.
I drove home on the Brindabella Rd, descending from about 1100m to the Goodradigbee River then climbing back up to “Picadilly Circus” where Brindabella Rd, Mt Franklin Rd and Two Sticks Rd meet, then driving back into Canberra via Uriarra Crossing over the Murrumbidgee River.
I built up the Pixie kit, having bought it a year ago or more, just to see how it worked and intended to try it out on a SOTA activation.
Being invited to accompany Andrew VK1AD to Mt Marulan for a return visit, having done the same in December 2018, I decided to take the Pixie along to see if it could make even one contact with 40m conditions as dicey as they are at present.
I set up the station to use the Pixie, with the ZS6BKW doublet fed through an Elecraft T1 tuner and the choke balun recently built. (Did I write about that? Maybe not.)
I listened for a minute or two on the Pixie’s 7023 khz and could hear VK2ARZ calling CQ with a very high offset frequency, my guess was that he was on 7025 so would not hear me operating on 7023. The Pixie’s receiver is a direct conversion receiver without any inherent selectivity so if my ears had 10 khz frequency response I would have heard stations out to that offset in both directions, ie. higher and lower in actual frequency, eg. A signal on 7013 would produce a 10 khz frequency difference so the 10 khz would be coming through the receiver, as would a 7033 khz signal also produce a 10 khz audio frequency. My 69 year old ears don’t have that bandwidth any more, they have an inbuilt low pass filter. 🙂
So I spotted myself on Sotawatch using the vk port-a-log software on the android tablet, called CQ using the little blue hand key, listened, then called again. A big signal loomed in the earbuds and it sounded like a bug being used. Was it Steve VK7CW, yes, it certainly was, after the call letters marched across my ears and I logged the contact using the tablet. What strength was he? I didn’t know, sounded pretty good so I gave him 579. Received 559 in reply, not bad for half a watt. Steve said he was running an FT817 at 5 watts out. Monster power.
Three more contacts, regulars John VK4TJ in Toowoomba, Peter VK3PF in Churchill Victoria, and finally Paul VK3HN from Melbourne made it into the Pixie log and I’d qualified the summit in 11 minutes using a Pixie half watt, two transistor + one IC transceiver, that had cost me $9 for the kit.
In between the contacts I could hear some weak signals and I wondered how strong they were, perhaps they were others who I wasn’t hearing well enough to copy. So after completing the 4th contact and calling another CQ just to be sure I had worked all who were there, I transferred the antenna to the KX3 and had a better listen to the weak signals. They were weak on that radio too, and I think they were dx stations, probably US operators in a contest of some kind.
The rest of the activation was fairly straightforward using the KX3 and the same doublet antenna, some contacts on 80m, most on 40m, the Shires contest was running so I had to look up my shire, I quoted GM2 (Goulburn Mulwaree) so I hoped that was correct.
Edit: updated image links following migration of blog to WordPress.
After a failed activation of this reserve a few weeks earlier I wanted to get some contacts for this reserve into the log. The QRP Club’s QRP Hours contest on 22nd October 2017 seemed like a nice opportunity.
I set out from Yass about 45 minutes before the contest start as I had a good idea of where I would operate. On site I found I had to be satisfied with a sloping site and I put up the usual linked dipole with all links connected, giving 40m operation. I decided to use the MTR3B CW transceiver for the CW section of the event and use the FT817 for the SSB section.
The MTR3B transceiver’s principal characteristic is its compact size and low power usage in particular on receive mode where it is about 40 milliamps, about 1/10th of the FT817.
However the inability to conveniently and rapidly browse across the band looking for other stations calling CQ is a limitation for contesting I had not really considered before. Nevertheless I persisted with it to try and find a way to use it best. I had not yet used the Direct Frequency Entry function and I really needed that, so I could jump back to a starting frequency. Also I had not recorded anything in any of the text memories. So during the contest I opened the LNR website and read the instructions for storing text into one of the memories. The obvious thing to have recorded for quick playback is the CQ call. So at least I achieved that during this event!
During the CW section I made 5 contacts but of those only one was within VK2 and that was with Mike VK2IG, who with partner Helen VK2FENG was portable in another WWFF nature reserve, not far away from me, but far enough to sound distant. No AGC or even AF gain control on the MTR3 – I have a volume control in the ear buds lead. Other contacts were with VK3, 4 and 5. There was no “normal” NVIS propagation. Very pleased to have worked Warren VK3BYD/5 somewhere in the middle of South Australia, and Grant VK4JAZ who was operating from home in Brisbane. QRP is a combination of frustration and achievements.
After a half hour or so, I got a reminder that I was operating in a nature reserve, in the form of a sudden downpour of rain that became hail for about 10 minutes. Fortunately I had suspected rain was imminent and had erected the “sun shelter” shortly after the start of the event. But the slope of the operating location meant icy rainwater was running downhill and under my seat, a small foam sleeve sold for protecting computer tablets and small laptops. Before long the whole site was wet and cold and my clothing was drenched from the waist down.
The SSB section commenced at 0600 UTC (5pm local) and after working Helen VK2FENG nearby, Laurie VK5LJ and a few more, I ran out of potential contacts.
At that point, a lull in the rain seemed to have arrived so I decided packing up and leaving would be prudent.
Half an hour later I was enjoying a very welcome warm shower at home.
Fortunately my log is not important for the QRP Hours contest other than a check log, as I am the contest manager. I’m glad I was able to add a contact to a few other logs and in the process I did activate the WWFF park, though with insufficient contacts to qualify for any activation points. That’s ok, this park is near to my home and I will return, hopefully in dry weather.
The Wyong field day is a major hamfest held at Wyong every February, with equipment exhibition and sales, a flea market for used equipment sales, a seminar room and supported by food and refreshments.
I have visited this event every year of the last 10 and have usually looked at the new equipment, passed through the flea market, sometimes buying something unique and desirable (such as the 3 element 6m yagi I bought one year) but mostly just catching up with friends who I often see only at this event. Some I never hear on the radio these days but they turn up at Wyong in February.
Having decided in advance to activate several summits on the way to Wyong, Andrew VK1AD (ex VK1NAM) and I set out from Yass at about 9am and reached the parking area in the vicinity of VK2/SY-002 Riley’s mountain at about 12:30, having stopped for coffee on the Hume Highway.
The walk from the carpark to the summit was signposted as 2.6km each way or 5.2 km for the round trip. The track through the forest was in good condition and the forest was green and healthy, with chirping birds the only sound breaking the peace apart from the noise of our boots on the gravel and dirt track. After about 30-40 mins steady walk we found a sign pointing left labelled “Riley’s Lookout”. Taking the side path we were soon standing high above the Nepean River enjoying the view of the forest and river.
Considering where to set up our radio gear to activate this rather nice location, we decided to walk the 50m or so back to the main track and set up there, using the sign as a support for the antenna pole. In no time we had the antenna up in the air, the radio connected to the antenna and power and the microphone and key paddle plugged in.
We posted spots on SOTAWATCH to be sure chasers and other activators looking out for S2S contacts knew we were on the air and where to find our signals. A good session of contacts ensued with reasonable signals into Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, as well as some closer contacts in various parts of New South Wales.
One of the contacts made was with Marek OK1BIL/VK2 who was operating at Mt Alexandra with Compton, VK2HRX. We met Marek at Wyong the next day and had a good chat with him.
Leaving Riley’s mountain after about an hour of operation, we headed northwards to the Great Western Highway and then towards Sydney, onto the Newcastle freeway and eventually turned off the highway near Ourimba, to reach Mt Elliott VK2/HU-093. Again this was a very pleasant and easy place to operate from, with picnic tables, expanses of grass inviting sevevral poles supporting antennas. Here we used a 20m quarter wave vertical on one pole and a linked dipole on the other. On 20m we made a few CW contacts into Europe and some into other parts of Australia. Conditions were not good enough on 20m to make long distance SSB/voice contacts.
Shortly before sundown we closed down and made our way to Wyong where we had booked accomodation for the night (two months earlier, or more). We had a meal and some cool drinks at Panarotti’s at Tuggerah Westfield.
In the morning I woke early and decided to observe the International Space Station’s pass which was almost directly overhead. I lost sight of it to the northeast when it was over New Caledonia according to the tracker. It was brighter than most other things in the sky apart from the moon.
At the Field Day there was a good collection of second hand goods for sale in the flea market, some new items but it was strangely quiet in the corner where one of the larger traders usually is found. At the VHF seminar, some discussion about the rules for VHF/UHF contests prompted me to make some unplanned comments about operating practices in these events, specifically about the practice of callinq CQ, making all contacts and listening all on 144.150, which many field and home stations appear to do. A straw poll of those present revealed that while a number of people operated in that event, only a small number of them had made contacts into VK1, only 250km away from the Sydney area. I suggested that this was due to being stuck on the calling frequency and it would help everyone to make more contacts, make more points in the contest and increase activity if they could move to other parts of the band during these events. Let’s see whether a direct appeal to the operators has the desired effect. I wish the contest rules did not specify a calling frequency.
We departed Wyong at about 12 noon and headed homeward. After a lunch break at Pheasants Nest we continued to the turnoff for Mt Wanganderry, VK2/IL-003. Setting up there we were able to make contacts on 40m using SSB and CW, we did try 20m without any success. This was a new summit for us both.
I hoped this activation would allow me to add some new unique callsigns to my stations worked list for the 10m part of the 6m/10m challenge. I used three new pieces of equipment for this activation.
First, the antenna. I thought my inverted Vee dipole could be improved upon for long distance contacts (DX), so I cut a quarter wave vertical with 4 radials as a trial antenna. It seemed to work very well and I heard and worked stations in Japan and the USA without much difficulty despite using 5 watts from the FT817.
The base of the main vertical element was at about 1.5m above ground, with the radials sloping down to ground level but insulated off the ground by small lengths of hootchie cord. The main radiator element was taped to the squid pole. It was actually the lower half of the 20m vertical I have used for several activations on that band. I simply cut it at half its length, then crimped a set of spade lugs onto each half. Thus, a linked vertical. I should probably do the same for the radials.
Signals from some of the Japanese and US stations were indicating s9 on the strength meter of the 817. What I found was that it was necessary to call the louder stations, sometimes several times, to make contacts. I did have a “run” of about 5 contacts on 28.052 where I called cq for about 15 to 20 minutes at one stage. But to really attract attention you need a big signal and mine certainly wasn’t big.
The second new piece of equipment was a sun shelter, kindly bought for me by my wife, who worried that I would get badly burned sitting in the sun on hilltops.
And the third new item for this activation was the guying kit that Adan VK1FJAW made for me, complete with 3D printed guying ring that sits right on the top of the first segment of the Haverford 7m squid pole. With guys about 2m in length, the pole was as stable as if it was tied to a fence or a steel stake. I’m very pleased with that one, Adan!
After working about 25 stations on 10m CW I decided to take a break from the pressure of the contest speed (about 22 wpm in my case but some of them were running somewhat faster). I pulled down the squid pole to put up the usual linked dipole set to 40m. Then I found I was almost the only SOTA portable on the air, apart from Greg VK1AI who I could barely hear. The parks weekend was in full flight, with a dozen or more portables workable at various locations around NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
After the break on 40m ssb I decided to have a final listen on 10m and after removing the 40m dipole and feedline, I made a few more contacts on 10m CW.
Final 10m cw contact count was only 28. More power and an even better antenna next time!
I was listening on 14 MHz CW section on a Sunday morning around daybreak, trying to hear US SOTA activators who had been spotted on SOTAWATCH.ORG. Hearing nothing I tuned down the band to see whether there were any signals from anywhere. Propagation had been drastically affected by solar flares and magnetic storms, so the usual conditions had not been enjoyed for some weeks.
Finding some good strong signals from US callsigns handing out contest numbers I wondered what contest they were in. The CQ call was CQ CWO. The exchange appeared to be a sequence number and the operator’s name. I didn’t say “OK google” and ask a complicated question – must try that some time – but I did open up the contest calendar and look for a matching contest. Sure enough the CW Operators Club was running one of their events, the CW Open. Interesting format, three x four-hour time sessions. So I tried answering some CQs, got heard and logged a few contacts. My contacts were brief and most of the calls I made were heard.
After making a dozen contacts in the event, the rising sun was clearly closing down propagation at my end and signals from several of the east coast US operators had dropped from s8-9 earlier down to s3-4. So that was the end of the actual operating.
To submit my log for this event, I needed a log in the now standard Cabrillo format, which resembles a text file in a standardised format. As an aside, I am puzzled by the use of this format for contest log entires. An XML format would be much more flexible and would be simpler to produce from the logging software, given that most logging software also outputs an ADIF format for import into your station log. (Could also ask why ADIF is such an odd thing when XML would also have done the job much better…)
So back to the CWO website where they list a dozen or so potential software packages that will produce the necessary Cabrillo format output and also an ADIF file for my station log. I downloaded several programs and used one, GenLog, written by W3KM, to type my log using the “after contest” mode. Although the software provided for options to select date formats to match the preferences in the computer the output format seemed to get totally confused by my DD/MM/YY format and the Cabrillo file contained dates in the format YYYY/DD/MM instead of YYYY/MM/DD. My first upload attempt failed with the upload robot producing error messages about date formats. I stopped trying to tame the contest logger and simply edited the file useing Notepad++, making the dates all the right format and taking care not to leave gaps in the data lines. The next upload attempt was all OK, the robot was happy, so now I wait until the logs are processed and find out whether any other vk2 ops submitted logs.
The nice thing about those contests is the by far the majority of the operators are very competent, know how to handle QRM and mulitple callers, and are glad to have another entry in their log. The CW contesters are a good bunch of people. This was a bit of fun, taking advantage of a surprise bit of propagation to the East Coast and Central US on 14 MHz.
The exchange in the RD contest is a signal report in standard RS(T) format, followed by a 3 digit number indicating the number of years the operator has been licenced. This year it was 50 for me so I thought that was a good excuse to operate in the RD.
I decided to use CW only and use the IC703 at 5 watts output. This put me into the QRP/CW category.
The bands were ok for east coast contacts on 40m and 80m. I didn’t hear any VK6 on CW which was unusual. I did hear one on 20m but conditions were poor there and I was unable to make any contacts.
Total contact count was 100 on the RD logger screen but 99 in the summary – perhaps I confused it at some point when I backed out a contact that didn’t get completed.
If you have heard the intense activity at the CW end of the bands during contests, you might wonder how you could join in.
Assuming you have learned morse code and have used it already for ordinary contacts, how different are contests? In some ways they are easier – no need to chat about the weather, your rig or antenna, or even your name. To operate in almost any CW contest it is possible to figure out from listening to contacts under way what the exchange is and whether contacts are international, internal to certain countries but if you are in doubt about the rules look them up on sites such as the WIA contest page (for WIA sponsored contests within VK), or for international contests, the ARRL contest page or http://www.contesting.com/.
Once you know enough about the rules, how do you join in? Do you just call CQ TEST on an “empty” frequency? I’d suggest in most cases it is best to start out by finding someone who is either calling cq or is working a number of stations in a “run”. In that case you will call that station using only your own callsign, sent once only. If you get a QRZ? you either call again once, or if you think there is QRM or your signal will be weak, give your call twice. Using full break-in can be helpful because it lets you hear the other stations calling and most importantly it lets you hear your target answering another station. You can’t do anything about that – in many contests VK is a long way from the centre of the activity so you have to put up with not being heard every time. Particularly in Europe, but also within Asian or US contests there is a lot of QRM and a lot of very strong signals to compete with. You have to persist and you have to be clever in your choice of frequency and your timing.
Here are some more detailed tips.
Do lots of listening to contest operators to learn what is done.
Initially it helps to have a pre-written sheet of standard exchanges visible so you can send from the sheet instead of trying to do it out of your head.
It is usual to send only your own callsign when answering a CQ
Use break-in techniques rather than “callsign de callsign” at each end of your transmission. So after receivingVk1DA 599234 599234 BK
You reply R UR 559056 559056 BK
the reply will be R TU and possibly a pause, in which you can reply TU
after which the station you worked will call CQ or QRZ? and as he/she “owns” the frequency, you now QSY and look for another station to call.
In a quiet or slow event there is time to send 73 and stuff but don’t bother in a dx event.
If signals are strong, twice is enough for calls or numbers. Change to suit the situation. Watch for clues that you are not being copied well – the station you call gets your call wrong, or asks for repeats using AGN or just plain ?
The simplest reply requesting a repeat of a number or call is NR AGN PSE or for a callsign, QRZ?.
For callsigns it sometimes works to send VK5? BK but there is always someone who is not a VK5 and is convinced you want them to call again, making it tough for the real VK5 to make the contact.
You need a cw filter – SSB bandwidth is too wide for a cw contest
Send no faster than the station you are calling.
If called by a station at a slower speed, slow down to his speed.
Send no faster than the speed you can copy. (hint: practice)
If you are operating at 15 wpm and callers persist in calling you at 25 or higher, use QRZ? or a CQ to convince them to remember their manners. A lot of contesters use computers or computer keyboards but this is no excuse for poor on-air procedure.
Send no faster than you can send accurately
You will hear stations sending callsigns at one speed but sending the exchange like 59905 or even part of it, at twice the speed. As if that saves them any real time! The number of milliseconds saved by sending that at 40 wpm but running everything else at 25 is so small, it isn’t worth it. I don’t recommend this practice.
QRP stations and beginners at cw contesting are always better off using the “search & pounce” technique than trying to set up a run, where you sit on a frequency and have dozens or hundreds of contacts with the rest of the world calling you, unless you have outstanding signals and the right conditions. Or unless you ARE the DX.
In a pileup for a wanted station try to call on a freq between other callers. This means knowing your exact tx freq as heard by the other op. This is what a separate receiver and transmitter used to be so valuable for. Modern rigs match your tx frequency with the sidetone so turning BK off momentarily and tapping a dit or two will let you hear your effective tx frequency. Less modern radios have a sidetone that is nothing like the frequency offset of your radio. You need to use a monitor receiver or another receiver and practice getting the frequency offset right.
If the dx is operating split, listen for whoever he is working and what the pack is doing. If they are all on 7015.125 you need to be 200-400 hz off the pack either up or down in frequency. This takes planning and experimentation, so you may think this will waste time, but since calling endlessly on the same frequency as 100 others won’t work at all, it is better to let a few contacts go by while you tune in to the way the wanted station is operating, where he is listening and getting your transmit frequency right before calling.
Logging is usually by computer now but if you are using a key to send you will be moving your hand between keyboard and key. If logging on paper it is a smart move to learn to send with one hand and log with the other. I never learned this well enough for a contest but I still log two contacts per minute in a good contest. Very few vk contests run at this pace for more than the first 15 minutes.
Your antenna is the most important part of your station in contests.
The pc based program MorseRunner is good contest practice with some fun options. The vk contests don’t use that cipher format but it still gives you practice at copying callsigns with qrm, qrm and an occasional lid calling cw on top of your contact. All good fun. And if you google “morse runner” you find others have not only used it but added other software to interact with it. A useful comment noted on one site: run it slightly faster than your comfortable speed. If you ever want to increase your speed you have to be scrambling, not comfortable.
No doubt this list can be expanded forever but I hope it’s of use.