VWS Field Day 2017

Photo of VWS field day site including multiple operating positions.
Antennas set up at VWS Field Day 2017: the mobile-mounted VHF station (left) and multiband hexbeam HF station (right).

Over the summer, I managed to get back to Virginia just in time for ARRL Field Day with the Vienna Wireless Society. The trip itself wore me down – I had just spent a few weeks in the US, returned to Madagacar for a week (just long enough to get back on local time), and then back to the US for Field Day. However, because my brain was still on East Africa Time, I was unusually perky for the midnight to 8 am shift on 80m.

Our best year yet

Our numbers were just compiled and reviewed at the last club meeting; a really polished analysis is available online.  This year we did much better than last year; this year’s score of 12,302 points blew past the club’s 2009 all time record of 10,958 as a class 4A station. We essentially doubled the QSO count from the prior year, with all four stations pulling hard through the night to keep up the rate.

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2017 PODXS 31 Flavors Contest

The psk31 amateur radio contestFor a change, I have stayed put in Madagascar for a few weeks in a row, and on the weekends, I have taken part in a few contests: the PODXS 070 Club’s 31 Flavors digital contest, and two CW contests: JIDX and CQMM. In this post, I rant on about what it is like to work psk31 from Madagascar and then review my experience in this year’s 31 flavors amateur radio contest.

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States and Provinces versus number of bands worked.

Conditions over the previous week have been good, so I decided to put in an effort on the ARRL INT DX CW contest this weekend. I knew from experience that I would not be able to work around the clock since the US and Canada are not typically in range in the morning, so I anticipated being able to get some sleep from about 4 am through early afternoon, which was fine with me. Reviewing recent logs and VOACAP predictions, I mapped out propagation paths and figured where I would point the hexbeam, and more or less stuck to that plan. Over the course of the contest, I put in about 23 hours in the chair.

I was effectively limited to three bands: 15m, 20m, and 40m. Ten was almost uniformly dead, and my 40m loop is very inefficient on 80m. Bands faded in and out more or less as predicted including some good spans of working the west coast on long path in the afternoons.

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CQ WW SSB 2016

zonesConditions were up and down over the weekend, but not so bad as I had expected. At times, I could hear, but not be heard with 100W, so again a bit more power would have been helpful. I was probably on the air for about 24 hours out of the contest period, but did use some spotting assistance, so I won’t enter in the classic category this year. Tactically, that puts me at a disadvantage, but since this was a casual operation, I’m not too concerned about score.

I am aware of one other station from Zone 39 operating in the context, FR4NT. If cluster spots are any indication, he did a great job, with long runs particularly into Europe.

I ended up working 94 DXCC entities, some of them new to me. Through the magic of an excel spreadsheet, here they are: Aland Islands, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Aruba, Asiatic Russia, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belarus, Belgium, Bonaire, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Canary Is., Cape Verde, China, Corsica, Crete, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, East Malaysia, England, Estonia, Ethiopia, European Russia, Federal Republic of Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Guam, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Isle of Man, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kaliningrad, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Madeira Is., Malta, Martinique, Mexico, Micronesia, Montenegro, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Reunion Island, Romania, Sardinia, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Senegal, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, US Virgin Islands, USA, Wales, West Malaysia, and Zimbabwe.

Prep for CQ WW SSB

zone39I should be able to put CQ zone 39 back on the air this weekend, at least for part of the CQ WW SSB contest. I’ve had a ton of travel and a few other projects over the last few months, and have been off the air except for portable operations outside Madagascar. Timing is good this weekend, though, for me to get on the air as 5R8SV from the house in Antananarivo.

I think the ionosphere may have taken my inactivity as a personal affront, because it seems to have tanked. Not having really paid much attention to propagation conditions for a couple months, I am stunned by how far the averaged sunspot number has plummeted (to 12!).

I just ran some simulations for the upcoming weekend, and 100W with a hexbeam may be marginal for Europe, much less the US. I hope some of the higher bands will pop open here and there, but I am not expecting much.

I just looked at conditions over on solarham and hope that the choppiness of the last few days will settle down for the weekend. We’ll see!

storms-hoI should be in Madagascar in a few weeks, but I’m not sure whether I’ll be at home in Antananarivo or in the northern part of the country. There’s a chance I’ll be in Nosy Be, if so, I might be operating that contest QRP portable. While lower power might be a challenge under these conditions, Nosy Be is on NW corner of the island, and surrounded by salt water, so maybe worth a shot.

NAQP-CW from W2

IMG_20160109_203053I started in 2016 in Mauritius, but since getting a temporary license there requires a few months lead time, I wasn’t able to operate from there. I had about two days on the ground in Madagascar, and then packed again for the US for meetings in DC and San Francisco. This time, the FT817 came along and saw some use.

The night after I arrived, I rented a car and drove up to visit my parents in New Jersey. It was the weekend of the winter NAQP-CW contest, so when I got there I threw my end-fedz 10/20/40m into a tree, suspended the matchbox from another tree about 3 meters up, and ran the coax into the kitchen since it was chilly and drizzling out.

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The other side of the wall


I got back from a trip on Friday, woke up at a reasonably leisurely hour on Saturday and thought it would be fun to test the waters of the big CW contest going on. Almost immediately, I was drawn in and didn’t leave the chair for another seven hours. Since the CQ WW DX contest is based on zones and there just aren’t many contesters in my zone (39), it was very flattering to be the object of desire for the rest of the world, but being on this side of the DX wall is quite different from what I’m used to.

At the best of times, I was working three calls a minute in a jedi mind-trance, but that of course was not typical. There were plenty of times where I was dialing around, trying to get noticed with my 100W and two-element antenna. However, the converse was also a challenge – sometimes I would be plugging away at a good rate and then all hell would break loose. Somewhere, someone had spotted me and suddenly I would find myself lying on the space shuttle launch pad, looking up at the main engines sparking to life, while trying to hear a song playing on someone’s ipod on the flight deck. The experience of operating into a solid wall of callers added some new perspectives…

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¡SSB en fuego!

This past weekend was the CQ WW SSB contest — one of the big ones. I usually have a vague idea about the approach of a contest and decide whether to take part on Friday of the contest weekend, but I had marked this one on the calendar ahead of time and was prepared. Aside from setting up everything and working a bit of SSB earlier in the week, I spent some time looking at propagation and figuring out where to point the antenna at different times of day to hit both areas with high densities of hams (NA, EU, Japan), but also beam heading that would cover the most DXCC entities, the multiplier for this contest.

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Field Day 2015. The 40m CW tent and its plastic cocoon. In the background: a ground-hugging hexbeam awaiting better weather for extension.

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.

Oh noes. That was the antenna tree.

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.

A LeeCAD rendering of the 20m delta loop.

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.

The girls on vacation. AI4SV/MM.

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.




If North America were a toroid, one could pass the windings through the Dakotas.

Having recently put up the G5RV, I gave the ARRL DX CW contest a shot this past weekend. The antenna is up only about 10m and is not resonant on 15m, but it has performed well on 10 and 20m in the past. On the first night, 10m was very quiet, but activity on 20m was brisk, particularly in the early morning hours when I was working two calls per minute.

In principle, 10m should have been open starting the in mid-afternoon on Sunday, but it was slow until around dinner time. Again, 20m was my main band, despite having mostly mined it out the previous day. I managed to get a few contacts on 15m, and even fewer on 40m, where local noise was a problem.

I didn’t stay in the chair the full time, even when I had favorable North American windows. I had to disconnect the antenna for some time due to thunderstorms on Saturday afternoon and on Sunday evening I had a guest in town and went out for dinner. Still, I am happy with the number of contacts I made given my conditions.

I worked a few states that I hadn’t such as Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware, West Virginia, Nevada and Wyoming — hopefully, those stations will QSL via LOTW. I heard a North Dakota station, but barely, and he was drowning in a pile up. Maybe I’ll take another shot when Sweepstakes or some other convenient contest rolls around and I have the hexbeam up.

My final tally:

Band QSOs Mults
40m 7 4
20m 418 52
15m 18 13
10m 56 26