It occurs to me that I got ahead of myself with my last post about operating on six meters from Cyprus — I forgot to mention that about six weeks ago, I acquired a Cypriot callsign: 5B4APL. Up to this point, I had been operating as 5B/AI4SV, but in February I sat the licensing exam. The new callsign is not that much shorter, but it is much more appropriate since I will be based in Cyprus for at least the next two years. Many thanks to CARS (Cyprus Amateur Radio Society) for guidance on how to prepare for and take the exam. I think there were twelve of us who took the exam that day, and I’ve already met a couple of them on the air.
So, I have had the call sign for about six weeks and have been getting my money’s worth out of it: more than five thousand contacts so far. Yes, a lot of them have been on FT8 since my antenna situation is very limited at present, but so what? I’ve got more FT8 contacts than CW at the moment, which for me feels odd, but as I get more metal in the air, I am sure I will fill in other modes over time and it gives me a good sense of forward momentum as I bring the station online.
The State of the Shack
There are two operating positions in my station, plus a work bench. The main rig is a K3 bolstered by a KPA500 amplifier and KAT500 tuner. In fact, I rarely run power. It doesn’t really help me since my antennas have no gain to speak of and I am often limited by band plus local environmental noise. Also, most of my antennas would not handle the power. I did find the amplifier very helpful, though, in the Polish RTTY contest, where it allowed me to run a constant 100W at full duty cycle without stressing the power amplifier in my K3.
The other station is a B2000, the headless version of the TS-2000. I control it with a PC running Ham Radio Deluxe and use it mainly for VHF/UHF work, particularly satellites.
My antenna farm is not extensive, but it gets me on the air from 70 cm through 80 meters — just not very efficiently on some bands.
My best antenna is a 20m dipole, supported in the center by segmented carbon fiber rods. One arm of the antenna slopes just above the roof, the other slopes down to a corner of my backyard. Instead of guy lines, other antennas come off at right angles: a 10m dipole on one side and a long wire on the other.
At the other end of my postage stamp-size roof, I have a mini Tarheel 2 antenna clamped to the metal railing. This telescoping screwdriver antenna used to be on the back of my car. It can tune six meters through 80 meters. As mentioned in a previous post, I can’t believe how well it has done over the last month on six meters. However, it is limited in that it can only handle 50 watts and efficiency is very low at lower frequencies.
To improve performance at 30m and lower frequencies, I can attach the sloping wire that goes up to the carbon fiber mast. That wire terminates in an alligator clip. During the day, I attach it to the metal railing to keep it out of the way, but at night, I just clamp it onto the whip end of the screwdriver antenna and then adjust the antenna to give me minimal SWR. This trick has allowed me to get on 40 and 80 meters during contests, where I would otherwise not have the least chance of being heard.
Finally, I have mounted an Arrow-2 antenna at fixed 30-degree elevation on a rotor atop a short pole. It just peeks over the rooftop, but that’s good enough to work satellite down the horizon in essentially all directions. My most limiting factor is man made noise, which limits me in the daytime when I steer the antenna southward. My best guess is that someone in my neighborhood has a solar panel with poor EMC.
During the week, I spend most of my time either working on my computer or talking on teleconferences. The nice thing about FT8 is that I can bring up a remote chrome desktop in a window on my computer and make contacts while I’m doing other things. Often I just leave it on, percolating in the background either waiting for new DXCC entity to make a call or watching for an otherwise dead band to come to life.
On a couple of occasions, I’ve given the various flavors of the RSGB HOPE contests a whirl. I particularly appreciate the short format and the excellent feedback those events generated. The rest of my contest activity has been on weekends. I’ve entered a few national contests, mostly as a 20m only entrant, although I did go all band for the CQ WPX CW contest a couple weeks ago. I’m no threat to the well-equipped Cyprus contest stations, but at least in the WPX contest I felt like I was being helpful by handing out some 5B4 prefixes.
My overarching plan is to get a better main HF antenna up, step one in that plan is to get some kind of support structure in place. It doesn’t have been be huge, just enough to get some clearance above the roof. Some kind of mast that would accommodate my existing rotor and thrust bearing would be ideal, and I’d probably find some kind of not-too-big three element beam to go on top. With the solar cycle in the upswing, I think I could live with not having a great antenna for the lower frequency bands.
I do have a 5-element six-meter beam antenna sitting here in storage. I’m tempted to put that on top of the HF beam, but I guess I will have to see what sort of load the support structure and rotor arrangement can bear.
I would like to improve satellite operation, but I am not sure where to start. I’m mostly limited in terms of hearing, both due to signal strength and noise. A narrower beam width and higher gain would to some extent, but if I go too far in that direction I would need to add elevation control or perhaps switch in an omnidirectional antenna for overhead passes. Maybe an LNA at the antenna? I’m still not sufficiently experienced in this area to know what would help the most. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, I will of course continue portable operation as time and weather allow. There are still some unactivated SOTA peaks in Cyprus…