I’m putting small updates on qrz.com and when I get a bunch, I’ll transfer them to the blog and add some pictures. I’ve set up the QRP station on the back porch, an FT-817 plus a memory keyer that is saving me a lot of work. I am running off SLA batteries, a workhorse 9Ah and two 2Ah batteries for when I’m recharging the 9Ah or when I’m more portable. The matching box end of the LNR 40/20/10 end-fed antenna is in a palm tree about 20 feet up, just next the the porch, and the other end is about 40 feet up, suspended from a tree branch with a water bottle counterweight.
18 August 2014: I am currently stateside and in the process of “packing out”. We’re moving to Madagascar for at least two and probably three years, so this is a big operation. A few boxes will go by air freight — practical stuff like pots (like pans, not variable resistors), dishes, linens, etc. Everything else will be surface shipped, including the radio equipment. I am hand-carrying my QRP radio, an FT817nd in my luggage but am very constrained by airline baggage requirements: the radio, an LNR 10/20/40 end-fed dipole, some coax, a 9Ah battery, palm paddles, and a charger. That’s it. So, if I’m faint at first, that’s why. The K3 and hexbeam are in the surface shipment, so I estimate that they’ll get there in about three to four months.
27 August 2014: I have arrived in Antananarivo and have strung up the 40/20/10 antenna from the house to a tree. I have only had a little time in the last two evenings to get on the air. My first contact was with ZS1X in South Africa – thanks Dirk. I seem to have relatively high background noise and when I’ve listened around 16:00 UTC on weekdays, haven’t heard a lot of activity. I know my QRP signal is making it to southern Africa, though, as Dirk heard it and it is also showing up on the reverse beacon network at V51YJ. Apologies if people are calling me and I can’t hear them. My antenna may not be in the best position to reduce noise, so perhaps I can improve on that in the future.
30 August 2014: My first weekend in Madagscar and the K-index is 4 and solar number is tanking. In the last few evenings, though, I have had a few good contacts with ops willing to dig down into the noise for my signal. On 10 and 20 meters, I’ve had cw qsos with England, Germany, Uraguay, and my neighborhood, 3B9FR on Rodriguez Island. I have heard a good number of signals from Russia, but haven’t managed to get a reply yet. On both 40m and 20m, I’ve heard strong psk31 signals and have been able to decode them with droidPSK on my phone, so that bodes well for future digital operations. 40m has me puzzled — in the early evening, the band is full of LSB, even down in what should be the CW section of the band according to Region 1 band plans. I’ve heard German, Portuguese, English and some other languages that I didn’t recognize. Most of the activity is above 7.060 Mhz. I’ve tried throwing out my call, but 5W into a low antenna isn’t going to cut it. I’m surprised how little CW I’m hearing on 40m, but maybe it’s due to local noise. I hope that having a higher and more directional antenna will help the situation, but it will still be a few months before those materials arrive. Meanwhile, I’m giving some thoughts to replace the radiating element of the 40/20/10 antenna with a half-wave wire cut for 15m. Looking at propagation predictions, 15m is in a sweet spot for working several areas with high densities of amateur radio operators. The trade off would be going from three band capability to one — I’ll probably wait on that until I feel I have done what I can with the current bands. Another option would elevating or re-orienting the antenna. I don’t have a lot of trees on my property, but my neighbors have some nice ones…
1 Sept 2014: Last evening was the SARL CW contest, which was convenient timing. The evening before the event, I had generated some point-to-point calculations from Capetown and Pretoria to get a general idea for propagation. I had input a solar number of 78, but the actual number was somewhat worse when the contest took place. Nonetheless, from the predictions, I could see that the contest hours, 13:00 – 16:30Z should be favorable for 20 and 40 meters. The contest also included 80m, but at present, I don’t have an antenna for that band, and even if I did, I don’t think I would have made it on five watts. That said, in the last hour of the contest I did hear substantial contest activity on 80m. Since the contest rules provide a bonus for working stations on all three bands, it would be nice to have 80m in play for the next one of these SARL contests.
|Propagation predictions for 5R8SV|
I started on 20m, where signals were strong from the beginning of the contest. It was refreshing to hear the band full of CW activity. Some of the stations were coming in at S9+20dB. I worked my way up and down the band and was pleased to get replies. After I thought that I had mined out everyone who was calling, I tried running a frequency, which I didn’t expect to be very effective given my lower power and limited antenna. However, for the first time since I set up the station in Madagascar, I got about eight replies to my calls. These contesters must have some sharp ears and good antennas. Overall, I worked 22 stations in about three hours, which I will consider a success given my set up.
I only have a Mac at present, so I’m running RUMlog as a logging program. I’d much prefer N1MM for a contest or other logging programs for general purpose logging, but RUMlog works well enough for the low rates that I am running and outputs ADIF files. So, my contest log is on the way to SARL and to my QSL manager as well.