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.

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