Final update from 5R8SV

My relaxed operating posture.

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.

22 June 2018: Last weekend, I had about thirty satellite contacts, but only two were CW mode. All of those contacts were with operators in either South Africa or Mauritius. I am hoping to work some new stations and satellites this weekend with more of a focus on voice. I have replaced the 40m loop antenna with a 17-meter end-fed halfwave antenna for FT8 work.

25 May 2018: My foray into FT8 and satellite has gone well. FT8 really cuts through the noise here, and I have landed a number of new ones on 40m. The 40m loop antenna also seems to tune up reasonably well on 20m (or perhaps there are just a ton of operators there). I have also squeaked by with some closer in contacts on 30m and 17m, but the antenna refuses to tune 15m. I can’t say FT8 is really my cup of tea, but I can’t argue with how well it works.

As for satellite, I first setup with Sat32PC, but migrated over to MacDoppler; I’d say both have their merits. Despite obstructions around my house, my roof-mounted antenna seems to cover most azimuths well, down to less than ten degrees above the horizon. In fact, I can hear most beacons down below 5 degrees. I have had a couple of QSOs on SSB and FM with stations in Mauritius and South Africa so far, but most of the time, there is no activity on the satellites passing by. My main limitation is noise — at certain times and certain directions, the noise level drowns out satellite signal, but generally this has been much less an issue than on HF.

17 May 2018: I’m back in Madagascar for about a week, so I’m trying to get in some operating time in the evenings and this weekend. During the week, I will focus on FT8 and on this weekend, on Satellite. The hexbeam is down — in fact, I hand-carried it with me on my last trip to the US for use by my home club during Field Day this year — so I have to rely on the 40m loop. That antenna has always been noisy, but FT8 is giving it new life. Whatever my noise problem is here, it is doing a fantastic job of discriminating underlying signal. The antenna is so-so on other bands and doesn’t tune 80m, but I’m having fun. I’m hoping to hand out a lot of 5R8 while I can. After the next short trip to the US, I’ll be back in Madagascar mid-June straight through when we finally move back to the US, probably in August, but at some point the shack will have to be disassembled and packed. 

18 April 2018: Still here, but I’ve been stretched mighty thin by work, and have not had much time either in Madagascar or on the air. Cyclone Eliakim took finally convinced me to dismount the hex beam. On the other hand, in the months that I have left in Madagascar, I’m hoping to focus on new (for me) modes including satellite and FT8. Best guess is that I’ll be moving back to the US before this Autumn.

7 OCT 2017: I should be on the air this weekend and hope to participate in the Thracian Rose Club contest, probably CW only. The upper bands have been doing pretty well for the last couple weeks into NA, EU, and JA, so hope that continues.

22 Sept 2017: Got back to Madagascar this morning after activating some SOTA peaks in Spain (EA4/MD-052EA4/MD-053, and EA1/SG-003) and Austria (OE/WI-001). I spent a while fiddling with MMTTY and N1MM+ and I think I have everything in order to participate in the CQ WW RTTY contest this weekend. Hope band conditions hold up, but as of Friday night at 19:00, EU is coming in loud and clear on 20m.

8 July 2017: I have spent all but one week out of the last eight out of Madagascar, most recently in the USA, where I activated a run of thirteen SOTA peaks. I’m glad to say that I plan to stay put in Mada through the last week in August. At first glance, everything seems operational at the station, so I am hoping to spend some time this weekend taking part in the IARU HF contest, trying to add some contacts from zone 53. I will probably stick to CW operation.

1 May 2017: Great conditions in Madagascar this weekend. Apparently, all it takes is my decision to not participate in any contests for propagation to improve. I spent some time on 12 meters, which was open for some large periods towards Japan and Europe — I am trying to work it while I still can. The A25UK DxPedition in Botswana is loud here, and I’ve enjoyed working them on many bands (also: they are a convenient yardstick for propagation — if I can hear stations replying to them, I know which bands are open). In the previous week, I was in southern France and activated a few previouly unactivated SOTA peaks: Le Grand Felletin (F/MC-033), Les Cornes d’Urfé (F/MC-243), Pierre Beille (F/MC-240), and Pic Pelé (F/MC-036). I am planning to remain in Madagascar for at least the next week and a half and will concentrate on 30m and 40m in the evenings. I am likely to have a month-long hiatus in operation due to travel between mid-May and mid-June.

15 April 2017: I’ve stayed put over the last few weeks and have time to get on the air most evenings after work. Conditions haven’t been great, but I have had some nice runs to Japan and Europe. When conditions have been favorable, I have been trying to increase the mix of digital modes. A few weeks ago, I took part in the PODXC 31 Flavors contest, and last week I tried my hand at the JIDX CW. This weekend, I’m looking forward to the Manchester Mineira contest, one of my favorites because it shifts focus to South America. Next week, if travel plans come together, I will be in France briefly and will try for a SOTA activation if time permits. I’ve been thinking about email over radio lately, and have set up the station for winlink over pactor and winmor modes. On the bench, I’m working on a quadrafilar helix antenna to serve as an ISS APRS downlink.

31 March 2017: I was able to activate two SOTA peaks in Spain not too far from Barcelona, EA3/BC–8 (Turo de L’Home) andEA3/BC-016 (Montalt). I also picked up some excellent ham products in the non-radio sense. When I got back to Madagascar, I was pleased to see that the antenna (and the house) were still standing. The storm did a lot of damage on the northeast coast, but as it swung inland and down the central spine of the island, the winds attenuated. The capital got a lot of rain and there was some flooding, but not near the station. So, with no other storms likely this season, I put the hexbeam mast back to 10m height and worked the CQ WPX SSB contest. I had some good runs, but also plenty of times where I could hear other stations, but 100W didn’t cut it. I’m swinging in the entirely the other direction this weekend and will give the PODXS 070 31 Flavors Contest a try. Propagation has been pretty bad all week, but I have my fingers crossed that 15:00Z to 21:00Z on April 1, I’ll have a decent path to Europe and at least the eastern half of the US. I haven’t decided whether to stay at the customary 20W or to crank up to an obscene 50W!

6 March 2017: I’m back from South Africa, and have uploaded the ARRL INT DX CW contacts to LOTW. Last night, I caught about an hour of the SSB version of the contest on 20m, although conditions were not great. I’m likely to be off the air this week because of an approaching tropical cyclone, which looks like it will barrel straight down the interior of Madagscar, passing close to my QTH in the capital, Antananarivo. I’ve lowered the hexbeam mast; more details about the storm and my preparations on my blog. Last week in South Africa, I activated SOTA peak ZS/WC-043 and visited the Cape Town Amateur Radio Centre. Next week, I will be operating briefly in Spain if everything remains on track, so please listen for EA/AI4SV. I will be back in Madagascar after about the 20th of March and hopefully will be able to put the hexbeam back into position.

21 February 2017: Post ARRL CW contest update: That was a fun contest for me, I worked a lot of big guns, but hopefully some smaller ones as well when the propagation was favorable. Overall, 650 unique contacts in the log. I had to leave Madagascar for South Africa a few hours after the contest ended. I submitted the log and got confirmation reception from ARRL before leaving, but after I was on the plane I realized that I hadn’t uploaded to LOTW, so unfortunately, that will have to wait two weeks until I am back. I’ve posted a full post-contest summary on my blog.

19 February 2017: I am in the middle of the CW version of the ARRL International DX contest, but it is  (at the time of writing…) morning here and I won’t be able to hear anything from North America for a few hours yet. I have been able to work most of the stations that I hear, and very happy that stations can pull out my 100W signal, particularly when I’m calling rather than S&P. On the first night, I focused on 40m netting mostly east coast stations. Yesterday, I had a few good hours on 15m and then most of the afternoon and early evening on 20m, which has been the workhorse band and accounts for most of my contacts to the west coast (aside from a few long path contacts to California on 40m). Nada on 80m so far, but not surprising given lack of dedicated antenna. If I can manage to stay up through the morning, maybe I will add some 40m and 80m contacts. On Monday, I am off to South Africa for a couple of weeks and will be operating portable as ZS1/AI4SV and ZS6/AI4SV.

11 February 2017: I am back in Mada for a couple weeks, after a trip which included a few SOTA activations in the US (W6/CC-075W6/CT-225W6/CT-226) and France (FL/NO-125). In central Madagascar, a very delayed rainy season has finally started, but so far no heavy storms, so antennas are all good. I’m hoping to get on CW as much as I can with particular attention to 40m (and 80m, although my antenna is not ideal). I should have next weekend free for the ARRL Int CW Contest, so I will give that a go and hope for good propagation. In late February and early March, I will ping pong between South Africa and Botswana and will have the FT817 along. I’m hoping I can secure permission for Botswana prior to the trip; both countries have reciprocity agreements with the US, so I should be operating under A25/AI4SV in Gaborone, ZS1/AI4SV near Cape Town, and ZS6/AI4SV near Pretoria.

21 January 2017: Not too much to report from Madagascar. I spent the holidays in the Czech Republic and activated two SOTA peaks, OK/JC-038 and OK/ST-064. When I got back to Madagascar, I had a week of catching up at work. I didn’t have a lot of time on the air, but did have the chance to field test a small magnetic loop antenna (and documented it in a video). I didn’t make any contacts on that outing, but feel that I got the hang of it, so will try it again when I’m back in February. Currently, I am in the USA on business for a few weeks, about half on the west coast and half on the east. While in San Francisco this week, I had a chance to activate the SOTA peak on Mount Caroline Livermore on Angel Island (W6/CC-075). I’m hoping to pick up a few more peaks while I am in the US this month, and France early next month. February is also looking very travel-heavy, but I am hoping to have some time on the air from Mada. 

18 December 2016: Just some casual operating this weekend. Solar activity is way down, so anything above 15 meters is pretty quiet. On the other hand, 40m is working better than ever, particularly in the wee hours of the morning. Indonesian stations participating in the Padang contest were loud and clear here, and I even worked a couple stations from the US. Unfortunately, I don’t have any directivity on 40m, so I’m entirely at the mercy of propagation and whatever directional noise sources want to make my life difficult.

One unique problem I’ve recently encountered on 40m is voice in the CW band. Last night, I was night I called CQ on 7002.5 and kept hearing “signal” within my narrow filter settings. When I opened up, it turned out to be folks having a CB-style conversation that spanned a bit below 7 Mhz to the lower few khz of the band. I’ve run into to same thing at times on 20m at the bottom of the band. Usually, I am operating narrow enough that this is not a huge impediment, but it does make hearing weak signals difficult at times. I don’t think most governments in the region have much capacity to enforce spectrum regulations, so I’ll just have to work around it.

23 November 2016: Between phenomenal propagation conditions and the “chumming of the waters” in anticipation of CQWW next week, the last week yielded a bumper crop of DX. Two weeks ago, I dabbled in the OK/OM contest, and last week I got a late start, but caught a significant portion of the LZ DX contest. In both cases, I heard next to nothing on 10m, which seems to have tanked. Since my arrival in Tana, 10m has been my most productive band, but I think those days are over (for a few years). On the other hand, something miraculous has happened n 40m — I can now hear. I am still using the same delta loop, but suddenly I have been able to hear EU and JA stations really well in the early evening. I’ve done some noise mitigation and am leaning more heavily on the noise blanker, but I’m sure it’s mostly propagation.

Last night, I had an odd experience on 40m — I put out a call “up” and was inondated with a solid wall of calls. I’m used to working pileups, but I had an unusually difficult time separating calls, all of which were similarly strong. Usually, I try to spin the dial in one direction or the other, about 20 hz at a time, and work what I hear, but last night I had to jump around a bit more chaotically. The pack spread out much more quickly than typical, covering more bandwidth that I would have liked. The cadence was off, with stations calling one over the other, even when I was replying. I wondered if I might be hearing replies overlapping with another calling station, but I think it was just a matter of — for once — me being able to hear better than the DX stations. Frequently, I had to send replies a few times to get through. Also, a lot of the wrong station [insistently] answering my calls directed to other stations.

To this point, I have not called to specific areas, but I was tempted to do so last night, just to thin the herd. The problem with that approach is that it excludes folks that have a limited chance to work me. On the other side of the coin, I know that I’m often conflicted when I hear a station calling “EU”, “AS”, “NA”, “JA”, – only. Should I reply? It’s not too likely they will ever call “AF” or “5R” 🙂

I’m hoping to spend some time this weekend in the CQ WW DX contest. I see that some coronal holes are spinning into geoeffective positions, but hope propagation will hold up.

28 October 2016: I’ve had a bit of hiatus in operating from Tana, but should be back on the air this weekend from CQ Zone 39, with 100W to a hexbeam. Conditions don’t look great, but I’ll do what I can! (pre-contest ponderings; post contestsummary).

July 13, 2016: Just back from a couple weeks in the US, where I activated a couple of SOTA peaks. I had a nice run on CW to Europe this evening on 40 meters with contacts UK and Scandanavia down through Italy plus a good number of contacts with Russia. 

June 12, 2016: Some casual operating this weekend and experimentation with the recently arrived Timewave ANC-4 noise canceller. So far, it doesn’t seem to do much beyond the 6dB insertional loss, but I may have to play around with configuration of the noise-receiving antenna. Alternatively, it could be that I have a distributed rather than focal noise problem.

May 22 2016: I was seized with a sudden urge to operate digital this weekend, and reconfigured the station a bit for digital operation using the TS-450, N1MM+, and MMVARI. On Saturday, signals were building right before the start of the contest and 15m looked active. Unfortunately, I had to leave for a few hours, and when I came back the K-index was 5, the solar wind was directed southward, and things went down from there. I muddled through contacts on 15 and 20m, but didn’t make many contacts. I could often hear stations, but they couldn’t hear me. I was running 50w, which I consider to be a huge amount for PSK modes.

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