The move back to the US will happen at the end of July, but I will need to pack up most of the equipment in the next few weeks. So, with time remaining, I’ve been thinking about I can get done with less and less equipment — I think the answer is 17 meters.
After I took the hexbeam down, sanded it, painted it and packed it away, I still had a G450 rotor on my hands, so I thought I would try my hand at satellite operation. Over last weekend, I literally lashed together a satellite station — the rotor platform is held to the roof with taut line hitches.
Our house isn’t ideally situated for satellite operation — particularly to the south where some tall pine trees blot out the sky, but in the other directions, the antenna can see down to about ten or fifteen degrees above the horizon.
I arrived back in Madagascar late in the evening last week after a brief vacation in Réunion. The next morning, I fired up the rig to see what was going on in the CQ WW WPX SSB contest and rotated the hexbeam towards Japan. The rotor control showed movement through about the first ten degrees, and then it froze. I backed off, tried jiggering it back and forth a bit, thinking that perhaps it was just sticking, but gave up after a few seconds because I didn’t want to strain the motor. I walked out back…
… And it was clear why the antenna wasn’t rotating, about a meter and half below the base of the hex beam, the mast had a kink of about 20 degrees, and the hexbeam was lopsided, brushing against a nearby tree. After surviving four cyclone seasons, it appears that the last one of this season, Eliakim, took its toll.
My LNR precision trail-friendly end-fed halfwave antenna has been my go to antenna for SOTA and other field operations for several years. It is compact, easy to deploy in a tree or on a telescoping mast, and it gets good signal reports. Unfortunately, after many years of use and substantial abuse, the antenna broke on my last trip. When I got back, I put it back together, almost good as new.
This storm is already intense and predicted to hit the north-east side of the island tomorrow morning with hurricane force. For the last three years, we have been lucky with storms tracking to one side or the other of the QTH, but the track for this one cuts straight down the center of the island and should pass near the capital city, Antananarivo. The prediction has been consistent and is now close enough to be sure that we will experience some rough weather in the next few days.
To that end, for the first time, I have lowered the hex beam antenna. I collapsed down the telescoping sections of the heavy duty 10m spiderbeam mast and threw some additional guy lines over the central plate to which the arms attach. The wooden support beam goes two meters into the ground and is surrounded by buried concrete, so I am not worried about the base, but I do expect the fiberglass arms to be battered about. I considered dismounting the whole antenna, but that would have required more manpower than I have readily available, so it will have to ride out the storm.
Over the last two weeks, I have traveled in South Africa and Botswana, primarily on business, but with a little time set aside for radio fun. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive regulatory clearance to operate in Botswana in time for the trip, so I left the radio in my suitcase there (despite the bilateral agreement on amateur radio between the US and Botswana, to operate, US hams need to file with BOCRA, which takes some time). However, in South Africa, I operated from Pretoria and Cape Town, visited a local ham club, and activated a SOTA peak.
While I would prefer to activate less common SOTA peaks, when traveling I often need to consider what is in range of public transportation. Table Mountain is a 50 Rand ride on Uber from downtown Cape Town and is also a stop on some hop-on/hop-off bus tours. Two hanging cable cars run from the base of the mountain to its top. There is a long path up as well, but as I was lugging more equipment than usual, I decided to take the cable car, which was something like 250 Rand round trip (about $20; pricey, but it is, after all, a tourist attraction).
The rainy season runs from about November and sometime up to March, with peak cyclone activity at the height of summer, January and February. As a preventative measure, my next door neighbor trimmed one of the trees along our property line. I had some ropes in that tree to support a G5RV and when he gave me the heads up that crews would be whacking away at limbs, I thought it best to bring down the antenna. The G5RV never really hung high enough to work well and it stretched over the house, which may have added to noise, so I didn’t mind taking it down. Last week, I put up a new full wavelength 40m delta loop as a replacement.
I went with the delta loop because there is one large pine tree at the edge of the property and I was able to shoot a line over it with a wrist rocket. The lower corners are supported with guy lines from a telephone pole and another tree to each side of my house. The antenna is fed at the middle of the base, which is just at the edge of my roof, which makes it convenient to access. I had brought back a 50m roll of heavy duty green wire from Sotabeams in the UK. I have to remark that working with this very compliant wire was a pleasure after having made wire from household wire that loves to coil in the past.
By virtue of the position of supports, the antenna slopes from bottom to top towards the south, a bit more vertical than horizontal. Since I am feeding it from the bottom, the antenna polarization should be horizontal, but I believe that the sloping should add some directivity towards the North. I had considered feeding it up one side and using a quarter-wave of 75 ohm coax to transform the expected 100-ohm feed point impedance, but it would have been awkward to support a feedpoint at that position given what I had to work with.
I initially cut the antenna to a literal full wavelength, 299.8/7.1 * 1.05, where 1.05 was the fudge factor supplied in the ARRL antenna handbook. Initially, the resonant point was 6.9 Mhz, so I shortened the antenna in a few iterations, arriving at the intended 7.1 Mhz, where there was no reactive component and the resistive component was about 65 ohms — close enough to 50 for me to be happy to feed directly with 9913F7 coax and not worry about vSWR.
From the shack, the antenna works great with no tuner across 40m, but I don’t have a lot of experience at this point with regard to how the antenna performs. It is much louder on 40m than the hex beam, but most of the time that loudness is merely more noise thanks to the environment around the station.
Propagation has been abysmal, so it’s time to hang out in garage and work on projects. One catch: the garage PC gave up the ghost about a month ago. The Windows 7 computer had been functioning for a few months as a wifi repeater that let me use other wireless devices in the garage. Unfortunately, it looks like a power spike may have taken out the motherboard. I have retired that PC, and came up with a replacement: a linksys wrt54gs router reflashed with DD-WRT firmware and hardware modifications to add a cantenna.
Last week I made a video about putting up the hex beam, and now that I have the video editing software, I made one about the wifi repeater bridge project. Making video is somewhat addictive, so I think there are more on the way. I have a ways to go in terms of production quality – maybe Christmas will bring a better video-capable camera.
On the subject of videos, my home club, the Vienna Wireless Society, is now posting videos of presentations made at the club.
TL;DR? See the video on youtube.
My greatest limitation up to this point has been my antenna. For a few months, I worked QRP with the end-fed LNR 40/20/10, and it did a great job, although it wasn’t up very high. Putting up a G5RV allowed me to run 100W when my main shipment arrived, but the antenna was not ideal for my location – in particular, the twin-lead feed line, which is a radiating part of the antenna, came down low over the metal roof of my house and I had to tie it off to the side to keep it from detuning. Now, however, I have a “real” antenna up: the K4KIO hexbeam is mounted on heavy duty spiderbeam 10m mast, which sits atop a Yaesu G450 rotor.
It is effectively a two-element antenna on each band (6, 10, 12, 15, 17 and 20 meters), but each band is resonant and I do benefit from directivity, particularly in terms of noise reduction. I am hearing better from every direction, but particularly Asia. I’d write more in praise of the antenna, but I’m too eager to actually get on the air and use it…
I have been posting small interim updates on the station’s QRZ site, and as they get stale, I’m moving them over to the blog for the record. Here are updates from last October through the beginning of this month:
June 21 2015: You know the drill — I had much more travel in April and May than I would have thought possible. The hexbeam? No, still not up. I’ve done a lot of metal work for the supports for the rotor and thrust bearing, but I won’t mount them until later this year. I’ll back back in the US from later this week (just in time for Field Day) through the beginning of August. I’ve updated all my online logs and sent an update to Phil, my QSL manager.
9 April 2015: I am in Madagascar for April except for the third week, when I’ll be in South Africa (so maybe you will hear a call from ZS/AI4SV at some point). I am trying to take advantage of the existing propagation while I can. I’ve had some contacts with VK/ZL in the last few days on 10m, including a few on voice. The highlight of my week, though, was tossing out a call on six meters and having a train of replies from around the Mediterranean: Italy, Malta, Jordan, Israel and several others. The K3 limits to about 70w using my G5RV antenna, which is certainly not ideal for 6m operation anyhow. I’ve been talking about putting up the hex beam for quite a while, hopefully I’ll get it done this month.
9 March 2015: I got back to Madagascar in time to spend a few hours on ARRL DX SSB and worked about thirty stations, including the Washington, BC, and the Northwest Territories, but with a predominance in New England. Alaska continues to elude me. I’ll be in Madagascar until the 14th and then away for the rest of the month. I did manage to get the post for the hexbeam anchored two meters deep in the backyard, so when I get back, that will be the first project.
24 February 2015: Thanks to everyone who worked me this past weekend during the ARRL DX CW contest. I hadn’t really planned to participate in it, but suddenly it was Saturday, I was home, and I had a working antenna, so there you go. I was very pleased to get 496 contacts including some states and provinces that I hadn’t previously reached. Work on the hexbeam continues in the background — I just slapped another coat of paint on the support post.
10 February 2015: The G5RV has worked out well, and I have contacts on 10, 12, 17, 20, 30, and 40 meters on it. Again, my limiting factor is local electrical noise, which is very variable. At some point I may try noise cancelation with a local sense antenna.
1 February 2015: I hung the G5RV today and discovered that it barely fits on the property. The matching section comes down over the house, so rather than let it hang straight down, I pulled it to the side and suspended it from a tree branch to keep it away from the metal roof. I can only imagine what this does to the radiation pattern. I swept the antenna with an analyzer, and get < 3:1 on 80, 40, 20, 17, and 10 meters. I get high SWR on 30m, so I don’t expect to run that band, and I’ll have to see how the built-in tuner in the K3 does on the other bands. I hopped on 17m earlier this evening running 100W for the first time for this station. I ran 100+ contacts, so at least I know it is not a dummy load. I am hoping to try out the other bands after work in the coming week.
From my trip to the US last week, I did bring back the hex beam mast, so that longer term project can now move ahead as well. I also picked up a powergate, which provides battery backup. We have intermittent power losses and even if backup power comes on line, I found it awkward to be mid-QSO and lose power. If I was operating split, the K3 would forget the set up and I’d need to reprogram. Now, the radio switches seamlessly to battery until main power is restored. Finally, the TS-450SAT is now set up for digital operation. I had a couple PSK31 contacts last night and will try some more digimodes as time permits.
18 January 2014: In the US for a week of meetings: a couple days in Seattle and a couple in Washington, DC. I should be back in Madagascar at the very end of January. Barring any complications getting the spiderbeam mast through as luggage (Air France says it’s okay in terms of dimensions as a “second bag”), I’ll get to work on raising the hex beam, but this will entail digging a big hole, finding a suitable post, anchoring in concrete, etc. – I’ll get it up as soon as I can if weather cooperates. Meanwhile, I’ll try to put the G5RV in place. I’m also hoping to get a digimode radio on the air in February, so maybe you’ll soon hear strange sounds eminating from the Red Island.
29 December 2014: It has been a little more difficult to get things set up than anticipated for two reasons: 1) worked related travel; and 2) rainy season. It only rains a couple hours on certain days, but when it rains, it comes down hard. I had anticipated making a workshop in the garage, but the floor floods briefly when the rain pounds down. Consequently, project #1 has become raised flooring and shelving in the garage. While that will be an ongoing project for the next month, I’ve started setting up the shack indoors and have created an access route to bring feedlines into the shack. I have brought the coax from the LNR end-fed antenna into the shack and it is now hooked up to the K3. The antenna only handles 25W, but that’s 5x more than what I had before, so at least I am heading in the right direction.
26 November 2014: The station gear finally arrived last week. Due to work, I’ve just started unpacking it all. Now that I have tools and materials, I can start wiring up the house as needed. This is probably going to take a while since I’ll be away on business (and vacation) for much of December. When possible, I’ll continue to operate from the porch, perhaps with a bit more power using the K3. However, now that rainy season is upon us, it’s trickier to operate from that location. I’m hoping to upload everything to date to LOTW this week.
19 Oct 2014: A bit less activity in the last week or so due to business and travel, but still accruing the new DXCC entities as time permits. Some highlights include working my QSL manager G3SWH, Phil, a mobile station in Germany, DF4TD/M and a few stations in the Oceania DX contest. No change in equpment: the main station gear is still on the way, probably delayed a couple weeks by the Air France strike at the end of September. I’ve had some discussions with a local engineering company about putting up a “pylône de télécommunications” to support the hexbeam and G450A rotor, so that project is also cooking in the background.
I’m back in the US for about a month, part vacation, part work. Stop one was field day with the Vienna Wireless Society at Burke Lake Park in Virginia. After that, I joined the family first in New Jersey and now in Montauk, New York. I’ll be in Montauk through around July 12th and then back and forth a bit to Washington, DC. I have a week of work, from July 20 to July 27 in Bethesda, and then the last few days in Indianapolis to attend GenCon.
Field Day was as always enjoyable, but this year particularly wet. I arrived less than 48 hours before the event, so I was still on Madagascar time, which helped with the late night operating. On the Thursday before field day, I was driving all over the place to catch up on shopping, including a visit to Ham Radio Outlet in Woodbridge, VA. On the way back, I passed the field day site and noted that a huge tree had been chopped down. This tree is right in the middle of the field day site and was traditionally used for antennas in the past. It had a number of dead branches last year (I’m not blaming RF) and the park authorities decided that it represented a hazard. Consequently, the antenna plan needed some rearrangement.
On the Friday of field day weekend, I showed up around noon to Lee’s (KD4RE) house to see if I could help with antennas. He was in charge of both food and antennas, but had simulated some designs in the previous week, so I followed his drawings and put together wire and PVC spreaders for a 20 meter and 40 meter vertically polarized delta loop. In the past, we’ve had some issues with interstation interference, so the idea was to cross polarize the various antennas where possible. The 40m was used by the 40m SSB station and the 20m by the GOTA.
Antenna deployment was slowed by heavy rains on Friday. In areas near the park, roads flooded, rivers overflowed, and our simulated deployment came nearer and nearer to being an actual deployment. We got most of the antennas in place including a huge 40m moxon, but left the hex beam and spider beams just above ground level because we were worried about wind. Additionally, we were liberal in the use of plastic sheeting to supplement the weatherproofing of our tents, particularly the network operations tent, which already had equipment in it on Friday.
The next morning was sunnier, but the fields (and our shoes) were saturated with water. The antennas went up, with extra care to secure ground guys to either very large stakes or other fixed objects that would hold in the muddy soil. By the start of the event, 14.00h, the four HF stations were ready to go. In addition, we had the GOTA, a VHF/UHF and a satellite station in the field. GOTA attendance was somewhat down due to weather, which cut down on foot traffic through the park. We did not succeed in the satellite contact; we heard the ISS APRS beacon, but no one was operating from the station. Otherwise, the timing of the couple of operational FM birds was not favorable. Almost all of the contacts made were HF, although we did get in a little 6m activity at the end.
Field Day was successful in a number of ways: as always, a large club turn out despite the weather. There were many new (to me) faces at this year’s event, so that bodes well for the general health of the club. At least one CW and one SSB station stayed on the air around the clock. Finally, the club maintained its tradition of gourmet food — amazing steak, pulled pork, chicken, beans, potato salad, hamburgers, hot dogs, eggs, sausages. No one went hungry and the calorie/QSO ratio remained strongly positive.
After FD, I drove up to Montauk, threw a rope in the trees and set up shop on an elevated porch with my FT817. I tested the set up in the Canada Day event on July 1st. In an about three hour period, I logged 51 QSOs, mostly CW, but seven were SSB. For provinces, I got ON, QC, MB, BC, SK, NL, NB, and NS. Since everyone can work everyone in the event, I also picked up a few stations from even further over the pole: Belarus, Ukraine, Czech Republic and Slovenia. A 5Ah battery lasted the whole operating period, as I was mostly S&P, although I did get a handful of replies to CQs.
Since then, I’ve operated sporadically, both CW and voice. I had forgotten how useful 40m is, since that band is next to useless at my QTH in Madagascar due both to noise and lack of close-in stations. In the last few nights, though, I’ve had very clear contacts to the west coast on 40m.