M&M Rounds: FD2011

From my perspective as the captain of the 80/20/10 cw station, field day was a success. We had fun, made contacts, and nothing really went wrong. There’s always room for improvement, though, so looking forward to next year’s event, here are some thoughts…

What worked:

  1. We had a very useful meeting a couple weeks ahead of FD to talk about antennas. We took the general plan laid out by the scouting committee and added some details and enhancements, trying to lock down where all of the supplies would come from, and how we’d go about setting up the station. Most of the people who came to that meeting participated in the setup and operation of the station. A short pre-FD team meeting is something I’d repeat.
  2. We didn’t use inline bandpass filters, but I didn’t hear any complaints about interference, and we barely had any interference, even when we were working 20m at the same time as the SSB station.
  3. Having a mast to support antennas near the station worked out well. The only lesson for next time is to balance the load in all directions so it doesn’t bend like a wet noodle.
  4. Shade. It was a hot day, and being in the shadow of a big tree helped.
  5. Lines in trees. Having the antenna plan in hand, we are able to shoot lines into appropriate trees even before we had all the equipment on hand and enough people to raise the mast.
  6. The headphone breakout box was very helpful. We had at least two sets of headphones plugged in, plus the external speaker so onlookers could see what was going on.
  7. We made use of all keying modes — via computer, paddles, and straight key. All should be enabled in future operations.
  8. We went across the road with antennas. This worked out okay, with the actual crossing accomplished quickly, someone in the road to direct traffic, and someone to climb the tree on the far side to tie the antenna up out of the reach of park users. We managed the tree climbing part, but next year a ladder would be a good idea.
  9. LAN. We were at the very limit of the available CAT5 cable. We had no problems at all with the LAN.
  10. Logistics: We had no problems with parking, toilets, etc. Food was phenomenal.

What didn’t work:

  1. The B2000 is not a great radio for S&P. It lacks a nice big knob. Next time, I’d use the Ten Tec Omni VII as the main station and leave the reserve radio in the car.
  2. Folding chairs. The folding chairs were good, but a bit low relative to the table. I’m not sure what the solution is — lower tables, higher chairs? Also, next time: some lawn chairs so we can stretch out.
  3. Sleeping arrangements. Next time, I’ll bring a separate tent for overnight camping, plus an extra sleeping bag and perhaps an air mattress.
  4. Spotting radio. We had two radios set up, but consistent with operating as a 4A, we used on only for listening. We had hoped to use the receive-only radio for marking the band map to make S&P more effective, but found that by the time we switched bands, many of the stations had disappeared (either QSYd or were lost due to changing propagation conditions).
  5. Beetles. Not sure what to do about them — we may have to live with them.

Lessons learned:

  1. Even when everything is working right, the generator pauses every now and then, for instance, when it refuels. Not a problem for the laptops, but it caught me mid-QSO a couple times. Byron wasn’t affected. Why? Because he had a powergate on his radio, with a back-up battery. Even a small 12V battery can provide enough power to finish the QSO. The other advantage of the powergate is that the battery is charging when it isn’t in use.
  2. A thermos of hot coffee would be a welcome addition.
  3. N1MM: At one point, N1MM refused to key the rig because it saw that another station on the network was calling CQ. This was because the log was set up for “single station”, and was quickly corrected.
  4. The 40/15 cw station was operated primarily by seasoned operators, which is entirely appropriate since it is the workhorse band for cw. Many of the operators of our station operated at lower speed or were not as familiar with contesting. Both in terms of fun and preparation for future contests, this was very worth doing. In strategic terms, though, thought could be given to running a fifth station for those times when another higher speed operator is available. This would be particularly useful during the next few years with higher solar flux, when 10m might be open. For most of the contest, we could have worked both 10m and 20m. The fifth station could also serve as “swing” considering that our antennas also would have worked 40 or 15m. The main constraint would be the number of cw operators.
  5. Bring lots of rope early in the day. A couple long ones, e.g., 300+ feet, a bunch of 200 foot, and the rest can be 100 feet. At a minimum, the tower itself requires four guy ropes, plus additional ropes to haul up each antenna.
  6. Next year, we should put signs outside each tent to identify the station, e.g. “80/20/10m CW tent”.
  7. The tents are big enough to accomodate two tables plus operators. Next year, even if we don’t have a second radio in the tent, we should set up a second table for stuff. This will keep food, drinks, etc., away from the operating position.
  8. It was a hot day. Whoever arrives early should bring some water, as it takes a while for the food/drink area to get set up.
  9. Scheduling. There are a limited number of cw operators, and some operators require a mentor to ride shotgun. We were off the air from 3:30 to about 6:30 am on Saturday morning. Ideally, we would recruit additional operators to provide shorter shifts and reserve someone to cover the early morning hours.
  10. Tags. I’m not sure everyone got back their own ropes and other odds and ends. Chances are that one rope is as good as another, but if we had some self-adhesive tags, we could label stuff as it is unpacked, and be sure that everyone gets their own stuff back.

IARU Worldwide HF Championship 2011

a map of the world divided into ITU zones
ITU zones

The International Amateur Radio Union is a worldwide advocacy organization for amateur radio, and national-level organizations like ARRL are themselves members of the IARU. The union does not make international rules like the ITU, but it does lobby on the international level on behalf of radio amateurs.

Yesterday, I took part in a contest run by the IARU, which was as good a chance as any to hop on the air and start making contacts. The exchange for this contest was very simple: most stations gave their ITU zone. The only exceptions to this were official stations of the IARU itself and its member organizations. American hams are used to listening to transmissions from W1AW, the official station of the ARRL, but in this contest, it was a treat to work W1AW (well, actually the station identified as W1AW/6). Some of the abbreviations for the other member organizations were familiar like RAC (Canada), RSGB (UK), REF (France), and UBA (Belgium), but some were new to me.

Like most contests, I chose to enter this one as cw-only, single operator, low power. This is probably the best category given my limited antenna. Some of the stations were speed demons and required some extra listening to get it right. I have the impression that there were fewer “entry level” operators in this contest.

Propagation was poor during the contest. The SFI was in the mid-80s, and  a high velocity stream from a coronal hole had created unsettled conditions from the beginning of the contest on Saturday morning. I had a couple contacts on 10m, but the band was generally useless. Fifteen was fairly limited, but 20 was strong. During the day time, 40m was useless due to noise, but when 20m faded around 9 pm, 40 cleared up and took the load. I stuck with it until around 1am, making a last pass on 80m.

I had started on Saturday morning, but missed the middle of the day due to the meeting of the NIH amateur radio club and some shopping. Overall, I made 208 contacts and got a reasonable number of multiplier points from the IARU member stations. My list of countries worked included: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Canary Islands, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, European Russia, Finland, France,  Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Turks & Caicos Islands, Ukraine, USA, Venezuela, and Virgin Islands.


A two-wheel trailer with two cross-polarized antennas mounted on an az-el rotor
Not every antenna was as cool as the satellite trailer

For Field Day 2011, the Vienna Wireless Society fielded four HF stations, plus a GOTA, a VHF and a satellite station. As mentioned previously on the blog, planning for the event had started months before, and picked up speed in May. Somewhere along the way, I ended up as captain for the 80/20 cw station, which was quite a learning experience, never having participated in a VWS field day prior to this one.

We had a pow-wow about antennas and rigs a couple nights before the event, but the plan continued to evolve until spud guns started puffing around 2 pm on field day (when antennas were allowed to be erected). The centerpiece in our antenna arrangement was a 40-foot galvanized pole. To the west, an alpha-delta DX-EE was hung between a tree and the pole. To the east, an 80m OCF dipole was hung, with the long end crossing the road and suspended from a high tree. We were able to adjust the tension so those two antennas more or less balanced each other. To the north, we hung a home-made 40/20/15/10 antenna, and about 12 feet behind it on separate lines, we suspended a 20m reflector. Having no antenna to the south, the pole bent a bit towards the north once we got it up.

A mast with many attached wires bends slightly to the north
Our overburdened mast

Raising the pole was an interesting affair, never having done this before. A stake was driven in at the base of the pole. Guy ropes were attached to the next-to-top-most ring. Two to the side of the antenna were set up as pivot points, with a forward and aft halyard as well. Carabiners were looped through the upper most ring to serve as pulleys for the antennas. The 20m reflector was drawn up through a large toroid knotted into the rope suspending the OCF. Consequently, when the whole thing was pulled up, it had about ten ropes hanging off it. Note to self: make sure that all the ends of every rope are either being held or are tied off. As soon as the mast went up, one rope went whizzing through the carabiner and the mast had to be lowered again to rethread it.

We checked each antenna with an analyzer and had to tweak the homebrew multiband, but once we got going, the antennas all worked really well. Mike K3MT started us off with some solar-powered contacts, powering Byron’s Ten Tec Omni VII from a lead acid battery that he had charged earlier. We then ran for quite a while on the Kenwood B2000.

I’m probably leaving out of a few people, but as I recall, quite a few people tried their hands either calling or running on 20m including Sheila and Mel, Hap, Dave, Deapesh, Ray (Albers), Kevin and a ham who was new to the area, Leon.

Hap and Sheila work a contact on cw
Hap logs and Sheila works the straight key on a cw QSO

A couple days before FD, the solar flux was edging into the low hundreds, but there were some low grade solar disturbances. The ionosphere calmed down just in time for field day, and propagation was great. Ten meters was open throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Although the voice stations continued to work 10m into the late evening, I switched to 20m to take advantage of our “2 element beam” westward. While others continued to work 20m, I did a survey of 80m on the Ten Tec, and 80m also sounded good. At some point after midnight, we switched over to 80m and went up and down the band a few times. Deapesh and I wrapped up at 3:30am, but were relieved by Byron and Hap early on Saturday, as they continued to work 80m before the sun was up.

80m faded in mid-morning, and we were back to 20m for the rest of the event. On Saturday, there wasn’t much activity on 10m, and solar flux was already on its way down. Ron came by later in the day and worked as my logger, which was a real luxury. We lined them up and knocked them down in a solid run, which was satisfying.

Tear down went quickly, and I think I ended up with all the right equipment at the end. A few items need to make it back to their owners at the next meeting.

Some photos from Field Day, from… Linda (AC4LT) and Bernie (N4JDF)

Next post: What worked, and what I’d do differently next time for field day.

Field Day Antenna Plans

aerial photo of the field day site with antenna and ropes superimposed
80/20cw is at lower, righthand corner

Several of the people involved in planning for the VWS field day event came over to my house on Wednesday evening to brainstorm about antennas and setup for the 80/20cw station. By the end of the evening, we had run through quite a few possible configurations, some fancier than others, but in the end we decided to use two dipole antennas. I’ve updated the map showing the layout. Ian’s Buckmaster OCF dipole will run roughly East/West, between ropes suspended from the tree at the top of the hill next to the 80/20 SSB station, and to a tree across the road on the other end.  To help support the antenna, a 40′ double-guyed pole will be positioned near the 80/20cw tent. The same pole will also support one end of a multiband dipole oriented more or less North/South. Between the two antennas, we should have broad coverage (10-80m on the OCF, and 40/20/15/10 on the multiband).

At the station, we’ll have two radios, but only one will be used for transmit (according to the 2011 FD rules, class is determined by number of transmitters). Byron has made available his TenTec Argo VII transceiver, which I believe has been used in previous years as well. At the other position, we will have Jim Nagle’s ICOM 7000. If we have adequate staffing, the other radio can spot, populating the band map, while the other runs a frequency. After the bandmap is full, the second position can efficiently S&P the marked sites, while the other position marks another band.  Since all the band map information is shared on the LAN, we could also mark spots on 40/15, if desired.

I’m still looking for some CW operators for the 80/20cw station — if interested, sign up online or email me.

VWS Field Day 2011: 80/20 Station Planning

It’s about two weeks until Field Day. I’m captain of the 80/20 cw station, and I’m trying to pull together plans for the station. The club has done this event many times in the past, and there is plenty of experience to tap into, which is good, since this is my first time running anything at Field Day. Pete K6BFA is the top boss for the event, but there are a large number of people involved in logistics. A large chunk of the planning took place last month during a walk-through at the site, Burke Lake Park (see map of proposed station locations and antenna deployment). Due to work commitments, I was out of the area on that day, and on every weekend since then. Earlier today, I had a chance to scope out the site for myself. Tomorrow night, I’ve invited people who have signed up to work the station during the contest plus a few members of the planning committee over to my house to talk about antennas for the 80/20cw station, but I wanted to get the lay of the land before the meeting.

The present plan is relatively limited — to run a long wire antenna from a mast near the 80/20 station to a tall tree. It sounds like this would be reasonable for the 80m, although maybe not optimally high near the station end. I’m not sure it would work well for 20m. We have a number of other antennas available to us, plus a push-up 40-foot mast. Also, the station is near the spider beam, which is designated for the ssb station, but perhaps could be shared (?). In pow-wowing about antennas tomorrow night, my goals are:

  1. Put up a single and reliable antenna so we are ready to go when FD starts.
  2. Not interfere with the other stations.
  3. Lay out a strategy for best use of our resources at different times during FD.
  4. Incorporate any experimental suggestions that are not likely to interfere with #1-3.

I went to the site of the 80/20 station, and spun around, capturing the landscape around the site with my cell phone’s camera. The site is a bit lower then the surrounding area, and there is a slight grade upwards to the west. I am initially facing west. At 0:03 seconds, facing the non-40SSB. At 0:06, facing 40/15SSB support tree. At 0:09, facing the tall tree planned to support? the 80/20. Another potential support tree is masked in background at around 0:11 seconds.

I also took some still photos, thinking about trees that might make good antenna supports. Starting with the current plan, there is a really tall oak tree just across the road to the East, in the direction of the minigolf course. We could use a 40 foot mast towards the station end to give it some height. I counted 132 paces over to the tree, so something like 130 meters. A view towards the big oakAccording to the layout picture on google maps, the antenna is about 160 feet, and the support rope about 185 feet (but considerably longer in practice, since it has to go up to the top of the tree and the antenna wire will slope upwards, so not all of its run will contribute to the horizontal distance).

The advantage of this layout is that it should be dead simple to set up. An ICOM AH-4 antenna tuner would be at the tent, tied to a ground, and the single long wire would run up to the mast and then over to the tree.

A number of people have volunteers other antennas for the effort as well, including Ian N0IMB’s Buckmaster OCF dipole, my G5RV, or Byron W4SSY’s 80/20 fan dipole. Of these, the fan dipole may be the most attractive because it is resonant, and perhaps to least likely to interfere with other nearby stations. The difficulty with these antennas is getting the feed point near the 80/20 station.


There is another large tree to the South of the large oak, pictured above. On the aerial, the tree is just west of the run of three smaller trees near the road:Another large tree



A large tree at the top of a slight gradeThe other end of a dipole could be suspended from the large tree just up the hill from the station. According to the site layout, this tree would also support an antenna for the non-40 ssb station. The tree could be used to support a rope, so the two antennas would not be so near each other. Additionally, the two antennas would be near right angles to each other. This end of the antenna would also be near the spiderpole, though, so perhaps that would be a problem.

A view across the field towards the taller trees in the eastLooking eastward from the site of the non-40 ssb station, the “long wire” tree is to the left, and the tree proposed as the other end of the dipole is on the right in the background. Closer, the trees on the right are the site for the 80/20 cw station, so the dipole would run in a straight line past the station, requiring a 50-100 foot feedline if we played it right with the ropes on each end.

In addition to these antennas, Byron has volunteers the use of his 20-meter Moxon, which has been used several previous times at Field Day. John K4US has also made available a 40 foot push-up mast. We’ll have to figure out how to best use all of this equipment tomorrow night.

Guess I should get some soda and chips for tomorrow night…

QTH Cambridge

Two HR yagi antennas on teh roof at MIT
Yagis over Cambridge

I spent this weekend in Cambridge — not the one in the UK, the one in Massachusetts. I was there primarily for work, and spent many hours attending meetings in hotels, but I also had some fun. My hotel was right at the Kendall/MIT stop, and I had a good view of the campus from high up. I didn’t bring a radio  — there wouldn’t have been much point considering the state of the ionosphere after a solar flare towards the end of last week —  but I did spot a nice antenna from my hotel room window and trotted over to investigate. I assume this multiband HF Yagi belongs to the MIT Radio Society, which is one of (if not the) oldest college stations in the country.

On Friday, I had some time before meetings started, so I walked over to the MIT museum. I spent about three hours there, mostly entranced by the kinetic art exhibit — like Calder, but more gears and motors. I easily could have spent twice as long. I didn’t think the robotics exhibit would be so interesting, but with the actual prototypes on display, you could look under them, around them, see how they were put together, etc. They also had a huge exhibit on technology developed by alums from the Institute, including technological breakthroughs such as transistors, vacuum tube-switched magnetic core memory, even mechanical integration machines.

I had hoped to run into some of the IF crowd, but I was a day early for the monthly PR-IF meeting, and my flight times were too tight to make Sunday’s Grue Street meeting. Next time.

While I didn’t get any IF written on this trip, I did spend a lot of time in planes and airports, so I did finish the character sheets for RileyCon 15. I also worked on the rough draft of the main event. This is going to be a busy month for both me (talk at Cold Spring Harbor, running the 80/20 CW station for Field Day) and Mark (usual lab work plus five grants cooking on the barbie), so I feel a bit better having made some start on this material.

Chicago, Boxen, and Heil

A view out the window of the Marriott Courtyard downtown hotel. In the foreground: a tentec 1320, straight key, and Hendricks SLT+ longwire tuner
A view towards the lake

This week as the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago, and I spent five days just north of the river, at the Marriott on S. Ontario Street. When I arrived, I was quite excited to see that my 23rd floor window opened ever so slightly, meaning I could get an antenna out. For the next several days, though, I was busy around the clock, and only on the final day did I get a chance to try to operate from the hotel. As seems to be a trend with these hotel operations, it failed miserably.

The rig was the TenTec 1320, so I was looking at day time operation, but I had a slight problem – the side of the hotel was white and my antenna wire was black. I wasn’t so much worried about someone noticing my antenna from the street level, after all, 30 feet of black wire up about 200+ feet is pretty difficult to see, but I was worried about neighbors hearing something tapping at their window and then seeing the black, insulated wire dangling. One good pull, and various pieces of my station would be headed towards the pavement.

There is a Radio Shack on Michigan, just south of the river, and as Ben informed me, they are unusually competent. I walked in, asked for antenna wire, and they knew where it was!

When I got back to the room, I figured that since I was so high up, I might as well put up as long a wire as possible. I doubled the 31.5′ length recommended by the SLT+ tuner manual to make a full wave longwire. It would have been nice to have had a tape measure, but I was able to work it out in multiples of 8.5 and 11 inches, which was doable with what I had on hand. I weighted the far end down with a ring from a keychain. I ran the counterpoise wire along the floor of the hotel room, and yes, tripped over it several times.

I looked around for something to protect and insulate the wire as it passed through the window sash, and decided that one of the throw-away ASCO newspapers could be rolled into a tube, and would help get the wire a little bit away from the building.

Not far enough, though. Although I had two of the elements of the magical formula for antennas (lots of wire, high up), I think the wire’s proximity to the building killed it. I was able to tune the antenna to fully extinguish the LED on the SLT+ tuner, indicating a good match, but being near the metal structure of the building effectively shielded the antenna. I heard few cw conversations on 20m in the morning. Granted, it was a weekday, but even so, the signals were not loud. I tried calling CQ for a while, but no responses. Now that I’m back in Virginia, I’ll need to double check the radio to make sure it is transmitting correctly, but I’m pretty sure it was the antenna and not the radio.

two large cardboard boxes awaiting unpacking
Total weight: 50 kilos.

I got back late Tuesday night, and had two large boxes waiting for me when I walked in — the equipment that I had shipped out to Operation Sizzling Pork. Tymme had shipped it two days before. Score one for UPS Ground service (and Tymme’s professional-grade packing skillz).

Not really related to any of this travel, but still along the lines of amateur radio, on the way to work yesterday, I noticed that Bob Heil had produced three episodes of the “Ham Nation” podcast. I had enjoyed his interview with Leo Laporte on Triangulation a couple months ago, and I had heard in subsequent weeks that they would be working on a ham radio-specific show for the Twit network.

As much as I appreciate the effort, I can’t say that the first few shows have, pardon the expression, resonated with me. The show may need some time to find itself, but I think it needs more structure. I wonder if it wouldn’t work better to have two hosts, one of whom is not an expert and could ask the questions that might be occurring to the audience. The show also needs to figure out what audience it wants to address. The other shows on Twit presume a sophisticated audience with knowledge of the field (e.g., Security Now), but there is something of a proselytizing aspect to Ham Nation. There is a huge audience of people worldwide who are already hams, and these are the people who most likely have sought out the show (and, from a commercial aspect down the road, probably the best target audience for ham-related ads).

Two contests, one rock

A night time cartoon of a tent and camp fire

I could say that we selected Rocky Gap State Park (78.65061 W, 39.71315 N) for Memorial Day camping because I knew I would be running a rock-bound transceiver in a QRP contest, but the truth is that as usual we waited until the last minute to make camping reservations, and there weren’t many choices for state parks within a three hours drive of Washington, DC. Despite the  last minute preparations, the camping went off without a hitch (literally, since we shoved everything in the back of one car).

We left early on Saturday morning, had tents up by around noon, and I then spent some time entertaining the neighbors by throwing soda bottles with strings into the high trees. In appreciation, they turned up their country music, which was much appreciated, but not by me.

This was the CQ WW WPX CW contest weekend, so I knew there would be a ton of activity, with a good chance to be heard internationally. For that contest, I brought the TenTec 1320, and ran its ~ 5W into a longwire antenna through my Hendricks SLT+ antenna matcher. That rig only tunes 20m (~14.003 to 14.073), so I was limited to daylight plus a bit. With other camping activities going on, I periodically sampled the band to see what propagation paths were open. I was using a straight key as I don’t have my keyers on hand, but it wasn’t too bad since I wasn’t calling CQ much with such a peashooter station. Logging was performed in the classic style: paper and pen, with a lot of page flipping to avoid dupes.

The late afternoon/early evening both days was my best time. I logged 31 contacts, with DX to Aruba, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Martinique, Spain, and Venezuela.

The CQ contest was over at 20:00 local time on Sunday, just in time for the ARCI Hoot Owl Sprint to begin. I had brought the 40m rockmite for this contest, since the contest offers bonuses both for QRPp operation and field operation. With the large membership of the ARCI potentially listening, I thought I might have a chance to be heard by someone.

I started at 20:00 EDT (00:00 Z) and stayed at it for 3 and a half hours, before I decided to walk down to the lake and stare at the clear night sky for a while. The rockmite has a built-in picokeyer, so I was able to use my Bencher BY-1 paddles, which was a good thing since I was somewhat zombified that late in the evening after a good night’s sleep on hard ground the night before.

A giant mosquito attacks a running man
Rumors may have exaggerated somewhat

Not only did I log some radio contacts, but I also was visited by many species of insects, who were attracted to the coleman lantern providing light for the log book. In fact, one unlucky bug is a permanent addition to the logbook itself.

In all, I logged nine contacts in six states (MI, NC, NJ, NY, OH, and VA). Five of these contacts were with ARCI members, who gave their member number in exchange, the rest sent me their power, some QRP, some not. I assume for the purposes of the contest in terms of my score, my power matters, but not theirs. Because I was operating on the rockmite at 500 mW output, my score got a 10x multiplier. Even more helpful, I got an additional 5000 points for operating portable (a bonus ~3x bigger than my score itself).

Operating with the Rockmite takes some patience, as the bandpass is large enough to hear many simultaneous conversations. When stations reply, it can be hard to tell if they are zero beat or not, particularly if they send just their call rather than “ai4sv de mycall mycall”.  Infrequently, I also had a touch of broadcast band interference, which faded in and out, and was always too tenuous to pick out specific spoken words.

Rocky Gap State Park was not chosen based on its potential as a contest location, but it worked well as one. The park elevation is about 1200 feet, and we were in site 182, which is at the far end of one loop, at the top of a hill, and surrounded by woods. Our site did not have electrical feeds, which further reduced the noise.  The entire site is in a valley, however, with taller hills to the east and west, so some low angle radiation may not have passed.

I would certainly consider Rocky Gap again for family camping, but I have my eye on some sites that are both closer and more elevated, for instance in West Viriginia, Black Water Falls (elevation 2897 feet) or Pipestem Resort (elevation 2690 feet, plus it has the word “Resort” in the name).


Upstairs with NAQCC

We interrupt coverage of Operation Sizzling Pork for this brief mention of last night’s NAQCC sprint, which turned out much better than I would have had any reason to expect. This is a monthly two-hour QRP sprint in which I have participated a half dozen times, usually netting only a few contacts. When I got home from work last night, I remembered the sprint, but was not very optimistic: both main rigs,  the antenna tuner, and my keyers are in Indiana, plus a thunderstorm was predicted for prime operating time that evening. However, by the end of the contest, I had made more QSOs than ever before.

an 80m dipole fed through a vinegar jug wrapped in coax
The Belgian Vinegar Antenna (BVA)

With the vintage Collins gear still out for repairs, I had two choices: my 40m rockmite (550 mW) or my ~4W TenTec 1320. The rockmite seemed a bit light for my purposes, so I went with the TenTec. There was one problem, though: the stealth vertical in the backyard is not resonant on 20m, the TenTec’s only band. As of last month, our attic has a newly installed floor, so I strung up a simple dipole from the rafters. I used the former “Belgian Vinegar” antenna, and shorted the radiating wires to sixteen feet, seven inches (calculated for resonance on 14.060). The BVA was basically a dipole center connector plus a gallon vinegar jug wrapped with coax to make an air-core current choke. I wasn’t worried about RF running down the cable in the current installation, so I uncoiled the coax and discarded the vinegar jug. I had used this antenna for two years in Belgium, and during one contest when I operated from Mount Vernon, NY.

temporary station in the bedroom
Temporary Upstairs Station

I didn’t attempt to run coax down to the basement, but just down through the trap door and into the bed room, where I borrowed my wife’s computer desk. Her iMac was temporarily pushed to the side to make room for the station. I did not have an antenna analyzer or VNA, but I did have a power meter that measured forward/reverse power, so in the fifteen minutes before the event, I trimmed the antenna old school, calculating the vSWR. I got it down to about 1.8:1, and figured that was good enough. I was sweaty and itchy from fiberglass and didn’t want to mess anything up right before the contest, so I left well enough alone. With a 25 foot cable, I figured there wasn’t enough power loss to worry about, even at QRP.

Out the window, I could see lightning flashes, and under ordinary conditions, I would not have used the outdoor vertical. However, given that the dipole is indoors and lower than the various metal projections on my roof, I figured I was okay working through the storm. Loud static crashes interrupted work all evening. After each crash, the radio’s AGC would kick in and I’d be deaf for a couple of seconds as sensitivity recovered. Despite the QRN, reception was fantastic on 20m.

I worked eastern and central North American stations in the first half of the contest, as with the vertical antenna, Minnesota and Texas came in particularly well. Around 01:20Z, propagation went long, favoring western stations, particularly Oregon. I was pleased to work NAQCC members in both Canada (Saskatchewan) and Cuba during the contest.

In all, I had 17 QSOs, although I noted that the last one was a repeat, probably trying to be sure that I had copied him correctly on the earlier exchange, so I can say that I have 16 QSOs that count towards a score. All of my contacts were with members, so 2 points each, and made using a straight telegraph key, so a 2x multiplier. I think I did pretty well this week both in absolute score and likely in relative score since I presume that some of the heavy hitters were on the road to attend the Dayton Hamvention.

I was impressed by the performance of the attic dipole, which was refreshingly free of man made noise, versus my usual operation on the lower bands with the vertical antenna. Over the summer, I am hoping to refine the attic installation and make it permanent, routing the wires down to the station in the basement.

Operation Sizzling Pork: Analysis

We went into Operation Sizzling Pork with the intention of having a good time (as we did, see Ben’s photos), rather than as an all out contest. This was something of a shake down cruise with a lot of firsts — it was the first time Ben had worked a contest larger than a sprint, the first time Tymme had operated on HF, and the first time we had tried to pull together this sort of outing. We had some modest, if arbitrary goals, which we came up with the night before the contest while feasting on pork ribs at Squealers Barbeque Restaurant. We decided that if we made 100 voice and 100 cw contacts we would be happy. As our log showed, we hit those numbers and then some:

Band     Mode      QSOs        Pts        Sec
 3.5     CW        71          142        14
 3.5     LSB       21           21         5
 7       CW        61          122        26
 7       LSB       54           54        33
 14      CW        37           74        21
 14      USB       38           38        12
 21      CW        14           28         1
 21      USB       10           10         2
Total  Both       306          489       114
Score: 55,746

So, everything above our goal was gravy, but it’s still worth a little post-event analysis since next time we might want to enter on a more competitive footing.

What worked well:

  1. Logistics. We actually managed to get both materials and personnel to the right location, with some time to spare. Flights, rental car, UPS ground transport. Antennas went up the day before, and the stations went on the air as soon as the contest started. Not bad for a first time effort.
  2. Tymme’s patent-pending arborist slingshot. Antennas (green) went up more than sixty feet, and almost always on the first try. As expected, our actual station (numbered positions) and  antenna deployment did not match up with our planned layout (detailed in an earlier post). We had anticipated station a station near the north east corner of the house, but those windows do not open, and the power lines (red) come in on that corner, so we shuffled around. As much as the aerial photos helped with antenna planning, actually seeing where the trees were was another story. We put the NVIS buddipole in the front yard (north, elevated 3~5m), and oriented the low Alpha-Delta DX-EE (elevated ~8m) at right angles to it, between Tymme’s house and garage. The two G5RVs were hung at ~15 and ~20 meters up, also at right angles to each other.

    Three stations plus four antennas
    What we actually did
  3. Multiple mode operations. Every station operated in both voice and cw mode. Most of the time, we had at least two radios going, one in voice and one in cw. Sometimes, we managed all three radios. Some RF did get into the Icom 7200, but for the most part, radios did not interfere with each other.
  4. Logging. A secret objective of mine was to convince Ben that the N1MM logging program was not just an ugly holdover from the DOS age, but a finely honed contesting tool. Even I was surprised, however, when we got it to work on a thrown together network consisting of Macs and PCs.
  5. Longer range contacts. We did not do poorly in terms of medium to long range contacts, with 39 states worked in 12 hours. The close in states were worked on 40, and we got out a bit further in the late evening on 80, but the workhorse in terms of medium and long range was 20m.
  6. Weather. We can’t take much credit for this — we were surrounded by thunderstorms, but they went wide of our operating position. We could hear them, but we didn’t have to suspend operations.

Where we came up short:

  1. We did not take full advantage of being a multi-multi, although some of this reflects conscious choices, like not using an amplifier.  Since multi-multis are permitted to use spotting assistance, we could have made more use of county spotting sites, dx clusters, etc. If we had more people, putting someone on a spotting radio and/or internet duty could be helpful.
  2. Indiana Counties. There was no particular pattern to counties worked or not, but  numerically, we could have done better in terms of counties. One strategy would be to try to track the mobile rigs more effectively, the other would be to try to maintain consistent calling frequencies on each band for people hunting for our county.
  3. Longer range. We had the 40m NVIS going almost all the time, and I think that ate into our use of the G5RVs for 40m operation. We probably could have picked up additional states and possibly counties by using the more elevated antenna for 40m.
  4. Apparently circular one of signal null during Operation Sizzling PorkThe Ring Of Deafness. I’m not sure if this is real or not, but if you look at where were did not work, it seems that there is a skip zone about 1000 km around our location. While I can imagine that the Dakotas are not well represented because nobody is there, this surely is not true of New York. Some of the New England QSO Party might have been swallowed up in this skip zone. What could we do about it? The only solution would be to change the take off angle of our antennas. Maybe it would make sense to have a vertical antenna in the mix to try to complement the coverage pattern of our high and low dipoles.

Considerations for next time:

  1. More bodies. With four operators, we had reasonable coverage, although there were times that we all took a break together, leaving the radios uncovered. With more people, we could operate in shifts, or double-staff each radio, with one person on the radio controls, and on the computer. Having a “spare” person to run around and fix things would also be nice.
  2. The least effective of our antennas was the Alpha-Delta DX-EE, which was intentionally installed low to get some NVIS effect on 40m. When we had started the event, both G5RVs were on a single switch, allowing operating position three to “rotate the beam” ninety degrees. In practice, this didn’t seem like much of an advantage for most calls, and after more than half the contest had gone by, we switched the second G5RV to operating position number one. This opened up some options for that position, and it probably would have been better to have moved it over earlier.
  3. A Voice keyer would be nice. Also, next year I’d suggest programming all of the keyers with the same settings: 1) “CQ INQP NN9S TEST”; 2) “CQ CQ INQP DE NN9S NN9S K”; 3) “599 MONR”.
  4. Better integration with the 7th Area and NE QSOP, maybe the ability to break each contact out of the log for individual submission. It would mean that we would have to copy their full county information as well. This seemed like a unnecessary level of complexity to add this year, but it wouldn’t take much more effort.