I am only back in the Washington DC area for a few months, so I am triaging sites based on range from the house and ease of activation. I had thought that this site was more or less drive up, but that’s not the case. It’s not a difficult activation, but it does require a bit of hiking, some of it off-trail.
This weekend was the January edition of the ARRL VHF contest and I thought I had an unbeatable plan: to find a summit in a less-worked grid square and make both SOTA and VHF contest contacts. I set my sites on W8V/EP-004, Round Top Mountain in West Virginia (grid FM09), which was activated just once in the past.
Weather was not fully cooperative. While storm weather passed to the North dumping snow on New England, temperatures dropped below freezing. Even as I was tossing things in the trunk of the car for the trip, I noticed that wind was tossing around garbage cans in my drive way, and I wondered how that would play out on a mountain top.
Well, I never found out. The brief version of the story is that Round Top is not accessible by the route that I had planned. It looked like an almost drive-on peak, with Allegheny Way road terminating in a large, round pad of asphalt and from there, a dirt path running towards a peak sporting a few commercial antennas. However…
I was based in Madagascar from 2014 to 2018 and made a habit of posting short status updates on my QRZ page. To keep the page to reasonable length, I would occasionally move those entries over to this blog when they became dated. So, here is the last installment of updates from 5R8SV. The previous ones are also posted on the blog (most recent and earlier and even earlier and the first ones). The station has been QRT since the end of July, 2018. I donated some of the station equipment to local hams and makers, but everything else was either shipped back to the US or forward to my next assignment in Cyprus. I still have the callsign for another year, but doubt I will have a chance to use it.
So, I should explain why a crucifix appears to be hovering about thirty feet above my house.
When I got back to the US, I had a hard time figuring out how to put up an antenna at the house that I’m renting in Maryland, just north of Washington, DC. The house is surrounded on three sides by power lines and there’s only one tall tree. After much consideration and with the help of a neighbor’s tree, I finally managed to put a dipole in place just before Christmas.
Well, that went pretty well — about two weeks of after-work operation on 17m FT8 with a low-hanging end-fed dipole and 25W, and I pushed my DXCC count on 17m over 100. Thanks to 9G5AR from Ghana for putting it over the top.
This weekend, Russian-ARISS transmitted SSTV images of satellites hand-launched from the ISS. They used a high-resolution mode, PD-120 transmitted FM on 145.800.
I was set up for FT8, but switched over for one pass and captured this image. My process for decoding was suboptimal — I recorded using audacity on my Mac and then later played the audio back to a PC set up with MMSSTV. I didn’t have an attenuator on hand, so of course the sound level was high for the PC input, but was able to drop the gain a bit in audacity. Maybe I traded off a little image quality, but it worked.
This was a low pass (max elevation of about 12.5 degrees) on a side where I have some obstructions — those horizontal lines are probably tall trees — so probably not the best image I could have captured, but I was just curious if it would work at all.
I’ll be squeezing out what QSOs I can on 17m FT8 through the end of July 4th and will then swap in a 30m element on the antenna for the next couple weeks.
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.