I had last Friday off and since the weather was ideal, I thought it would be fun to spend the day casually traipsing from band to band at a single site. I chose Kreatos (5B/CY-043), the closest peak to my home near Nicosia. I usually prefer to activate new peaks rather than revisit old ones, but I was really in the mood to operate rather than drive all over the island. Still, I feel like I need to do something new with each activation, so the new element for this one was try operating FT8 in addition to CW. As it turns out, I also added a new band: 15 meters.
After operating CW on 20m, I switched to FT8. I was going to use my Macbook Air, but I was not able to get a good time synch because I had no cell phone signal on the summit. I was going to tether the phone via wifi and use the phone to get internet time. Instead, I plugged my GPS module into my Windows laptop and set the time using NMEAtime2. I got an almost immediate satellite lock and the time quickly converged on minimal error, but as soon as I plugged in the GPS unit, I got hash across 20 meters. My solution was to let the time settle and then unplug the unit. The PC’s clock drift would be insignificant for the amount of time that I would be operating, so no need to keep the GPS plugged in.
It was sunny and I didn’t want to crank the screen to full brightness since I wasn’t sure how long the laptop battery would last, so I arranged the rig and SignaLink on a chair and laid down with the laptop placed in the chair’s shadow to operate (nice grassy hilltop, my sweatshirt as a cushion, almost too comfortable — I realize that operators on 10-pointers in the Rockies and Alps must be shaking their heads at this).
The set up worked flawlessly, but my results were less than stellar. It was a Friday morning, so perhaps less activity that one would expect on a weekend, but the band was packed with signals. I danced around with my little 5W signal trying to find some openings in my rig’s SSB bandpass, but I was definitely a small gun.
I had set my CQ to include SOTA since that is now figured into the FT8 protocol, set my acknowledgement message from RR73 to the more conservative but time-consuming RRR (since there was a good chance my 73 would be missed given low power level and interfering signals), and set my 73 to a custom message of 73 5B/CY-043 to make sure that the SOTA reference was transmitted from time to time.
Over the next half hour, I worked four stations on FT8. I recognized a couple callsigns as chasers, but I think the others were just random. My signal reports were -15, -18, -21, and -22, so thanks to these stations for coming back to a weak signal from a /p station.
I was convinced that my main issue was not being seen in the busy waterfall, so I switched over to FT4, which had some open channels in the waterfall. Although FT8 can go lower into the noise, this turned out to be a good compromise, and I worked four more stations relatively quickly. I also found that calling strong stations seemed to work better than calling CQ. It could be that some operators see the weak signal and are not willing to click on it, whereas if they are called directly, they will respond. If I did this again, I think I would spend at least some of the time searching and pouncing.
Also, FT8 might have more openings on bands other than the very popular 20m band. Having spent about an hour on the digital modes, however, I managed to suck down my 7Ah battery to the point that I had to switch to my backup battery. I decided to go back to CW for the sake of efficiency and over the course of the next few hours tried every band from 10m to 30m. I had no takers on 10m or 12m, but 15m was not bad. In all, I had 76 QSOs, 68 of which were CW, 4 FT8 and 4 FT4.