After a week of meetings in Washington, I arrived in San Francisco for a meeting on gastrointestinal cancer that is held every year about this time. In the previous week, I had thought about where I might operate if weather were good and decided on Mount Davidson, the highest elevation within the City of San Francisco, and a SOTA peak (W6/NC-423). I got into town the day before meetings and the forecast was good, so took a bus to the park entrance. For reference, the bus stop is at the intersections of Dalewood Way and Lansdale Avenue. I have to admit that the bus did a lot of the work, as the park entrance itself it at considerable elevation. From that entrance, there is a clear trail right up to the summit. The trail was in good shape, but a bit slippery since it had rained the day before.
There is a sign near the base of the trail that specifies that the very top of the mountain is not owned by the city, but owned privately (but nonetheless is accessible by the public). I worked from a park bench in that area, throwing my end-fedz antenna over a eucalyptus tree just to the west of the bench.
I went in the afternoon, which I thought would give me the best chance of reaching the US East Coast on 20m and perhaps working regionally on 40m. It was a week day and propagation was a little down, and I ended up with about fifteen contacts, which ranged from K6EL’s booming signal from a neighboring hill out to New York. Again, contacts spread evenly between 40m and 20m, with only K6EL hearing my call on 10m. I had meant to try 2m, but left the antenna in the hotel room.
I came down the mountain when it got dark, and while it was a fun adventure to take the bus to the mountain, I dialed up an Uber car when I got to the trail head and was back in the city 20 minutes later. The QSOs have been logged into the SOTA database, but upload to LOTW will again have to await my return to Antananarivo next week.
Here’s a picture from the peak facing North. I like this picture, because I can see my operating positions from previous visits to San Francisco: Buena Vista Park and Twin Peaks.
I thought I would be lucky if I had time to activate one summit on my visit to San Francisco, but morning meetings left my afternoons free, so I activated Mt Davidson (NC-423) as planned but also worked in Richardson East Benchmark (NC-407). Yesterday, thanks to a monstrous amount of snow that shut down airports on the US east coast, I found myself with an extra day in San Francisco. After reviewing maps, reports from other activators and a quick look at weather, I chose to visit NC-432, Chabot 2 Benchmark (what does that mean, benchmark? Why are all these peaks called Benchmark? Is that a west coast thing?).
One of my main criteria for choosing this peak, like the others I visited on this trip, was that it would be accessible by public transportation: I took the BART underground from near my hotel (Powell Station), green line towards Daly City, stopping at Bay Fair. From the bus terminal at that station, I caught the 89 “counter-clockwise”. The bus runs only hourly on the weekends, so I had a bit of a wait. I took the bus to the Juvenile Justice Center, about ten minutes away. I suppose you could walk, but the route crosses a major interstate (580) and there’s more walking to come, so I thought it was worth the $2.10 fare.
Having worked Mount Davidson, the highest point in San Francisco (283m), the only way to get more altitude (“excelsior!”) was to leave the city. I set my sights on Richardson East Benchmark (339m) in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, just north across the Golden Gate bridge from the city.
After spending the morning in meetings, I again checked the weather forecast. Although it had been drizzling all morning, the lowest probability of precipitation occurred in the afternoon, so I packed my bags and took the 70 bus north from 5th and Mission. The timing worked out just right, by the time the bus got to the destination, rain had stopped.
The most convenient entrance to the park is at the park and ride station, “Spencer Avenue Bus Pad”. Google Maps suggested taking one of the North bound buses, e.g, the 70 or the 4, northward past the stop and then coming back southward on another bus since the trail head is on the southbound side of the bus pad. This is not necessary, as you can walk from one side of the bus pad to the other through an underpass. This shaves off a lot of time and some extra bus fare.
There is a sign near the entrance, the morning sun trail. Stairs lead upward from that point, and the morning sun trail joins with other trails that circle the peak. The stairs wind back and forth a bit, but are not too steep. I did find the upper portion of the stairs slippery since it had rained earlier in the day and the stairs were covered with organic detritus (i.e., dead leaves).
At the top of the stairs, there is a scenic lookout, which includes a bench. The peak itself is visible from there, topped with commercial radio antennas. I ended up climbing most of the way up, but wanted to keep some distance to those antennas. Again, my antenna plan consisted of throwing the 10/20/40 end-feds into a tree.
I did remember this time to bring the VHF antenna and I tried putting out a call on the 2m calling frequency at the start and end of operation, but heard nothing. My business band was 20 meters, with 35 contacts. I was working two a minute for a while. I only had two contacts on 40m, which seemed alive with activity, but mostly QRO, so I might have been buried in the noise.
Some of the activity might be attributable to a comment that NF1R added on sota spotting network, that the peak was not only a SOTA peak, but also NPOTA RC11. I hadn’t realized that when I chose the location, but when I enter the contacts into LOTW, I’ll be sure to use the NPOTA unit number so chasers get NPOTA credit as well. The SOTA contacts have already been entered, but I’ll need to get home to update LOTW.
Best DX to the east was NY (preparing for a blizzard), FL and TX to the south, a good showing for Canadian stations (ON, QC, and BC), and westward, HI.
I 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.
I was in Vienna on a business trip, but I had some time on Sunday to put the portable station on the air using my Austrian guest license, OE1ZJW.
At the Vienna radio club meeting, OE1VFW gave me two invaluable pieces of advice. The first was where to shop for electronics: Conrads. Their megastores in Vienna carry consumer electronics, hardware and tools, and hobby electronics like arduinos, raspberry pis, various kits, parts, project boxes, etc. I was able to restock a few items that I needed back in Madagascar. The other bit of wisdom: where to operate.
If I had lived in Vienna for a few years, I probably would have eventually come to the same conclusion: Cobenzl. It is elevated and far from any noise sources. I have rarely heard background so low. I could hear signals that would not even budget the S meter.
Just outside the city on the North side there is a wine-producing area known as Grinzing. From the Heiligenstadt Bahnhof, the 38A bus runs through this region and up to a park. Near the bus stop, there are restaurants and public bathrooms, so this is civilized sort of “field” trip. Behind these facilities, however, is a large public field.
Three years ago, I paid a visit to Lamb’s Knoll Summit in Maryland (as detailed on this very blog). At that time, I went up the Appalachian Trail to the summit with a handheld to test my VX8GR handheld and a 70cm hand-held yagi. I verified that I could hit the VWS 2 meter and 70 cm repeaters in Virginia even with the Comet SRH320A antenna, a short whip. I also checked out possible operating positions and access paths with the intent of returning at some point for a SOTA activation. I also verified that from the summit I had good cellular connectivity and could hit a bunch of APRS digipeaters. Today I returned with my FT817 and activated the peak, W3/WE-007.
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.
Living in Madagascar, I have enjoyed operating from a sought after DXCC entity; little did I suspect the same would be true on my recent trip to Europe. I packed along the FT817 on a trip to Nice, France, where I attended a business meeting. I had picked a hotel with an open 8th floor deck and hoped to string up the end-fed to operate in the evening. On the way out the door, my wife asked me, “so I don’t suppose you’ll have any time to visit Monaco, while you’re there?” I have to admit that I hadn’t really thought about it, but as soon as she mentioned it, the gears began turning. I had meetings in Nice and Lyon, but some free time on Saturday before flying out. On the way to the airport, I double checked that Monaco was a signatory to the CEPT convention.
This may be my last region two field day for a while, as plans are rapidly coming together for the move to Madagascar in August. I’m not writing off the possibility of field day next year as I know that I’ll be stateside in June for the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in early June, and there are some other meetings during the month that could reasonably keep me here. Also, I might throw in a bit of leave time since I’ll probably be wiped out after field day and want a day or two to cool off before heading back to Antananarivo. In any event, this was a good chance to shake down some of the equipment that I will be bringing with me, particularly the hexbeam antenna from K4KIO.
As usual, field day planning started far in advance of the event. This year’s field day czar, Regis KF4PIY introduced a few innovations into this year’s FD, the most visible of which was tighter clustering of the stations. In the past, we spread over a large field near the entrance to Burke Lake Park, with some of the stations “down the hill” and some up. Having been “down the hill”, I can attest to the perception that it is better to be “up the hill” both from an antenna perspective and in terms of being nearer to the food and bulk of the social gathering. The obvious concern was that tighter clustering would lead to more interference. However, after a few antenna pow-wows, the band captains were happy the proposed layout and our RF gurus were reasonably confident that it would all work.
As for the last three years, I was band captain for the non-40m CW station. Most of the equipment that went to field day had gone the previous year. The main rig was the Elecraft K3 with 200 and 450 Hz filters, my main CW rig at home. I brought along the microphone just in case, and that turned out to have been fortuitous, as we had plenty of opportunity to jump on bands that other stations were not working, scoring the only voice contacts for six and ten meters. I gathered the equipment over the course of a few days and queued it up in the front hall. The day before field day, it all got loaded into the car and carted out to Burke Lake Park. I had considered staying out at the park that night and did pitch a tent, but so many others overnighted at the park that I decided a good night’s rest in my own bed would be the smarter decision.
Essentially all of the antennas were pitched on the afternoon before field day including the hex beam. Leon NT8B had purchased an AB577 mast system at one of the winter hamfests in the area and we decided to combine it and the hex beam. Despite being the first deployment of both pieces of equipment, it went smoothly. The AB577 is an intimidating piece of gear; it is repurposed military gear and looks it. It is painted some official shade of matte olive drab and the five foot sections come in a rack that looks like a portable rocket launcher.
The rack itself becomes the bottom portion of the antenna and sections are fed into it and cranked up into position, with a joining clamp added between each section. The diameter of these sections is about five or six inches, but the sections themselves are much lighter than they appear; they can be easily lifted by one person. An adapter piece goes on the top, and its outer diameter is about two and quarter inches.
We decided to set up the mast at 45 feet, which required three layers of guying, with guys in three directions at each level. Cables, stakes, and clamps to tighten the lines are all part of the AB577 kit. The lines are all attached at the start, but do not play a significant role until the mast is up fifteen or twenty feet.
When we got the first couple sections of the mast in place, it was time to add the antenna. The hexbeam comes in an unexpectedly small box, about five feet long corresponding to the length of the longest spreader section. Each spreader consists of three telescoping fiberglass segments. Loops to retain the wire elements are already in place on these segments.
In addition to the long box that contains the spreaders and central support column, a smaller box also showed up at my door. This box contained the base plate which anchors all of the spreaders and the central column and when installed sits on top of the supporting mast. I had ordered elements for all possible bands, so 6, 10, 12, 15, 17, and 20 meters. The wires for these bands were also in the box, as were support strings, ferrite rings, heat shrink and instructions. The ferrite rings must be ordered according to the intended feed line, in my case RG213. The rings go over the coax near the feed point and are held in place with the shrink wrap. These ferrites function as a choke and keep RF off the feed line. Since 12 and 17 meters are not included in field day, I left them out of the set up this time.
Many hands made quick work of putting the hex beam together. Once we had read the instructions, it took less than fifteen minutes from crate to full assembly. It really is a dead simple antenna to put together because all of the attachment points are already set and the wires are cut to exactly the right length. For someone who never had a store-bought antenna before, this seemed almost like cheating, but I reminded myself that the next time I’d be doing this, I would be far away from the club and likely wouldn’t have as many helping hands.
We did run into one snag: the outer diameter of the support mast was about an inch wider than the than the flange on the antenna base plate. The sun was already low on the horizon at this point, but we were eager to find a solution that evening. I made a quick trip to Home Depot and picked up a two foot piece of one-inch black pipe, which is actually about 1 and quarter inches outer diameter. I also grabbed a bunch of U-clamps. Putting the whole thing together additionally involved a bunch of duct tape and two tent stakes that were hammered into shape as adapters.
By the time the sun set, we were convinced that our adapter was rigid. We set the hex beam down on the grass for the evening rather than attempt to attach it to the mast and raise it in suboptimal lighting.
The next morning, we were able to hand the antenna up to members on a ladder. They tightened the hex bolts on the hex beam’s flange, and the antenna stayed level. Additional sections of the AB577 were then added, and the antenna climbed skyward in five foot increments. Around twenty feet up, the guy lines began to have more and more importance. We had minders on each of the guy lines as well as spotters to assure that the tower was staying vertical in all planes. When the antenna was finally in position, the clamps on the end of each guy line were tightened.
Finally, the antenna reached 45 feet up, plus a bit for the extension. A quick check at 5W verified that the antenna was working, with responses up and down the east coast. An 80m dipole (the same one used in the Indiana QSO Party last year) was also erected to cover that band.
After the antennas were in place, the rest of the station was set up, based on the Elecraft K3 transceiver, N1MM running on a laptop, and trusty Bencher paddles.
The station remained in continuous operation from the start until the end of Field Day 2014, concentrating on 20m during the day and 80m in the evening and early morning. However, since we did not have a dedicated VHF station this year, on the morning of day two, we quickly ran the band on both voice and CW, chalking up about 10 local contacts. We also ran 10 meters when it was open. We started on voice and had a good run, but conditions were fading by the time we got to CW, so ironically, we made more contacts on voice than CW. We also had a chance to work on 15 meters for a while on day one, when the other CW station was doing good business on 40m. Although 15m and 40m are harmonically related, simultaneous operation did not result in interference.
A major difference from last year is that all four stations remained on the air around the clock; this is strongly reflected in our score for this year, which broke 10,000.
This weekend, I attended the GI Cancer Symposium in San Francisco. I had back-to-back meetings from Thursday through Saturday morning, and didn’t see the light of day for half a week. Due to the trip, I missed operating the NAQP SSB with the folks at VWS, but I did get in some VHF operating on Saturday afternoon.
When I was planning the trip, I had more or less written off operating, but then I noticed that this weekend was not only NAQP SSB, but the January ARRL VHF contest. I have only participated in one VHF contest in the past (the June VHF contest), so I wasn’t sure about the level of participation in this contest or how well I would do working portable and QRP, but given great weather and ideal local topology for VHF, I decided the night before I left to pack the FT-817 and some antennas.
On previous trips, I had worked HF from Buena Vista Park, and I knew that there is a bench with a good view of the arc from the Golden Gate Bridge to Oakland. However, the bench is a little off the path, there are trees here and there in the line of sight, and couldn’t think of a good way to mount the antenna. I wanted to travel light, so I wasn’t really keen to pack a tripod. After fiddling with Google Maps for a while, I decided that the observation point at Twin Peaks would be better. Twin Peaks are the second highest point in SF. The highest is point is not far away, Mount Davidson, which supports the Sutro Tower. I didn’t opt for Mount Davidson because I wasn’t sure how accessible it would be and also didn’t think it would be a great idea to operate VHF/UHF right under a giant television tower. From StreetView, I had scoped out the observation point (“Christmas Tree Point”) on Twin Peaks and saw a spot with a low metal railing next to a stone wall. It looked possible to fix the antenna to the fence on a stand-off and put the radio on the stone wall.
I packed a 1×2 piece of wood, a couple screws and a bit of PVC that I had previously used to wind coils. The PVC fit over the wood and became my azimuth rotor. The cut-out in the PVC was about the right size for the central axis of my arrow antenna. When I got to the site, I found that the StreetView was accurate and I dumped the gear at the junction of the wall and fence while it was clear of tourists. Every few minutes, a tour bus would arrive, mostly with foreign tourists, who watched with curiosity as I set up. I stopped a few times to pose for photos with them. I taped the wood to the fence with Gorilla tape, making spacers as needed from cardboard. I screwed some wood screws into the wood a couple inches below the top to prevent the PVC from sliding down. After assembling the arrow antenna, I put it into PVC slot and taped it into position. The radio, battery, mike and log book rested comfortably on the stone wall to the side of the fence, and I started operation on 2m.
I was able to pan the antenna more than 180 degrees, starting with the Pacific Ocean to the West of the Golden Gate Bridge, swinging North and then East, panning through downtown San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, and then South. I did not hit the Southwest because the top of Twin Peaks was behind me, as well as an antenna installation, mostly microwave. If I were to do this again, I might bring a tripod and climb to the top of Twin Peaks to have 360 degree coverage.
I was surprised that when I tuned around in the weak signal portion of the band (144.050-144.100 CW, 144.2-144.275 USB), that I did not hear stations working a frequency. Even odder, I heard no CW at all. All my contacts on 2m were made right on the SSB calling frequency, 144.2 Mhz. In the June contest, back in Virginia, I had heard a number of station calling on various frequencies, both CW and SSB. I thought it a reasonable chance that some one in San Francisco might be operating FM, so I rotate the antenna for vertical polarization. Again, sweeping from horizon to horizon, listening and calling on standard simplex frequencies (other than the national calling frequency, which is verboten), I didn’t hear any activity.
I tried the same thing on 70cm and contacted about the same number of stations as on two meters. Again, my only contacts were SSB at the calling frequency, 432.1 Mhz. I had to check the contest rules to reassure myself that CW was permitted, and it was — just no one doing it. I am not sure why I had so few contacts on 2m and 70cm despite having what I thought was an excellent location. I can’t say from experience if the January contest is less popular than the June one, or if perhaps there are regional differences in the popularity of the contest, with East-coasters that much more active on these bands.
In the June contest, I had parked my car on a tall parking garage and my antennas were my trunk-mounted 2m/70cm vertical and my mini-Tarheel tuned for 6m. Although these antennas were suboptimal given their limited efficiency and vertical polarization, I had some power behind them: 100W on 2m and 6m, and I believe 50W on 70cm. I had much less power this past week, running 5W, but I assumed that the two mountain-top yagis, would put out comparable EIRP to the mobile rig, albeit in a directional pattern. I assumed that the beam antennas would also be great for scanning the horizon for both strong and weaker signals.
I noticed that all of the SSB stations SSB sounded strong. This would make more sense if I had been operating FM, but I expected to hear a range of SSB signal strengths from scratchy to booming. I realize that my QRP signal might not have sounded similarly strong to them, but I can’t account for not hearing some stations that were softer, unless my background noise level was higher than I appreciated. I suppose that being on a hill surrounded by other antennas might have had some negative effect on reception, but I don’t think this is the case. I would really doubt that this could affect CW so much that I wouldn’t have heard even one signal. I noted that many of the stations that I did work indicated that they had what I’d consider to be elaborate VHF set ups: large permanent, rotatable antennas, high power, and so on, so I am wondering if these stations are just used to working only strong signal stations.
After a while, I disassembled the arrow antenna and wandered a bit further up the hill towards a pine tree. The night before leaving for SFO, I had made a 6m dipole using the usual formula. I didn’t have time to test it, but just coiled it up and chucked it in my luggage. I threw a couple ropes about 15 feet up in to the tree (about the length of my coax) and suspended the antenna horizontally, roughly east-west so it could be broadside to downtown San Francisco. The computer bag that had contained everything became my seat. Again, I hit a number of stations on 50.125, the CW calling frequency, but only heard a couple more up around 50.135 and 50.140. I was determined to bag at least one CW contact, which I did, KJ6M. I’m not sure if he was in the contest or just scanning by the CW portion of the band, but I’m glad he was listening.
I got excited at one point that I had broken out of local area when one station on 6m indicated a QTH of Nevada. I thought maybe 6 meters was opening up and tried to figure out, with my limited recall of Western US geography, what sort of propagation would land a 6m signal in Nevada. The more I thought about it, the less it made sense, particularly since the station had a W6 call. When I got back to the hotel that evening, it made more sense: Novato, California. Not as far as I had hoped. Nonetheless, I had two contacts at a range typical range: a 6m contact at 143 miles and, more surprisingly, a 2m contact of 137 miles.
Since I got out of my conference around noon and had to go back to the hotel to change, grab a quick bite and collect the radio equipment, I splurged for a cab ride up the mountain because I was concerned about the amount of daylight I’d have for operating. It felt like I was cheating, but this wasn’t a SOTA activation, my time table, and the fact that I have limited familiarity with getting around in San Francisco. As the cab dropped me near the summit, he asked how I’d get down, and I indicated that I’d figure something out. I was sorely tempted to just blend in with a tour bus crown and head back down the mountain, but after plugging away for a few hours, I still had enough light to walk down the mountain (much easier in that direction) and take a bus to Castro, where I was able to hop on one of the Market Street trams, which I rode just about to the front door of my hotel. The $2.00 return trip made me feel better about taking a cab on the outbound leg.
Without the 6m opening, I made a lot fewer contacts in this contest than I had in June. So, plans for future VHF contests? Yes, probably, depending how busy I am in June. Working the contest from Skyline drive and combining a gain antenna with the higher power output from the car’s transceiver sounds like a winning combination.