Scheyville NP for the Trans Tasman Low Bands Challenge July 2015

Scheyville National Park VKFF-444 in NW Sydney is one of the closest parks to home. I’d been looking for a good excuse to activate this park when the Trans Tasman contest came around. This contest runs at night from 6 to midnight local time. The first challenge was identifying a suitable operating location within the park. A lot of parks are secreted behind locked gates or are not accessible once the sun goes down and so it was that part of this park is too. In order to increase the chances of success I found a number of candidate locations beforehand and printed out the map to take along.

Antenna and operating point in Scheyville NP

Antenna and operating point in Scheyville National Park

Hunting
The map below shows the path while hunting down a suitable spot. The first location on Whitmore Rd came up with an open gate on google street view, but upon arrival the gate was locked. It provides access to an education centre and the Longneck Lagoon that I was keen to be located near. There goes that plan.
Around the other side of the lagoon off Cattai Rd (route 15) was the next option. There was a problem to actually get into the park as there was another gate, and another one further west along the road at option 3. There were also powerlines nearby too making it unattractive.
With those possibilities exhausted I cruised along the roads around and through the park looking for a suitable spot. Eventually I found an entrance to the park that wasn’t locked on Scheyville Rd. It led to a very muddy open area, and crossing this I almost got bogged. It was touch and go for a bit there whether I’d be able to drive out of it. Skirting around the edge of the area I found a track up to another open area a bit higher up. This was nowhere near as muddy and nice and flat. After a brief survey on foot, I decided this was a good place to set up.

Map of the hunt for a suitable operating location

Map of the hunt for a suitable operating location

New Antenna

For this event I built a new antenna a few days beforehand. It consists of a ZS6BKW design made with dimensions double the normal size. The resulting antenna is 56.5m long and has a 21.5m feedline of 300Ω ribbon. the theory is that doubling all the dimensions will halve the frequencies at which the antenna matches. The low bands challenge now covers 3 bands 160m, 80m and 40m with 40m only being introduced this year. This is the reason for building a new antenna. Last year I used a dual dipole (160m/80m), but being full sized it is a very long antenna and quite heavy. It was not considered prudent to add a third dipole on account of the extra weight and difficulty in setting it up.

I had time a couple of days before the contest to erect the new antenna in a local park and measure the SWR across various bands. The best matching frequencies were close to expected at 1830, 3460, and 7170 kHz. The SWR was as expected on 160m (3.6) and 40m (1.3) but on 80m was slightly higher than expected at 2.5. In any case, an antenna matcher is needed on all 3 bands so this was not going to be an issue. The arrival of a bunch of young netball players at the local park prevented any fine tuning so that will have to be held over for another day.

On site

The antenna was set up on site using a 10m fibreglass squid pole extended by a couple of 2m Aluminium mast sections strapped together. The resulting height was about 13m. There were concrete fence posts in the field so one of those was used to support the mast. The ends of the antenna were strung out in roughly a north-south direction and tied off 2m off the ground so the ends of the antenna were about 3m off the ground. The balanced feedline is best kept away from the ground so this was done by moving the car the right distance away and stretching out the feedline in the air and lashing it to a wooden fence post. An LDG matcher was placed on the back of the car and the antenna plugged in to it directly. The matcher was set up in automatic mode so that it tunes whenever there is a transmission. This is to allow for the many band changes and frequencies that would be used in each band. A small 3S 500 mAh LiPo battery provided power for the matcher. Just before the contest I spent time going to each band and tuning at various spots so that the tuner would not need to hunt when I started at a new frequency. For the most part, this worked pretty well, though at some frequencies the SWR was high enough that the tuner wanted to do a retune which takes about 3 seconds.

Feedline and antenna matcher on the read bumper

Feedline and antenna matcher on the rear bumper

Contesting

At the start of the contest I started out on 40m SSB and made several contacts, then it went quiet so I went to 80m SSB. There was a lot of action on that band and signals were coming from everywhere including many ZLs. I also started receiving unsolicited reports about how loud my signal was. Clearly the antenna was working!

After a short stint on 160m SSB with only 2 contacts made I went back to 80m SSB again. The onto 40m SSB before I went to CW on 80m – and there was lots of activity there too! After 20 mins there there was still 20 mins before the end of the first 2 hour block so I went to 160m for CW and SSB contacts. Activity had picked up on 160m.

Shortly into the contest I started to use VOX on the Yaesu FT100D radio even though I was using the standard hand microphone. The button on the mic gets a real workout in a contest and I did not want to wear it out and further. The VOX was reasonably successful, though occasionally it would stick on due to RF feedback. Knocking back the VOX gain seemed to cure this problem. The long cable from the mic to the radio don’t help here. With the KX3 radio I use a PC headset and it would be good to adapt the headset for use with the Yaesu rig too.

For the remaining 4 hours of the contest, I continued in the same fashion, jumping between 160m and 80m on SSB and CW. I found that 40m was full of DX stations mainly from Japan so it was difficult to get a SSB frequency. Even on CW there seemed to be lots of stations. The “problem” was that I was out of the city in a quiet environment with a massive antenna and hearing everything. There was hardly a contester using 40m so I think everyone must have thought the same thing and given it up as a bad job. I had wondered why 40m was added to the contest. It certainly helps the VK6s get involved in the early part of the event before the lower bands open up.

Results

During the contest 178 contacts were made which was very pleasing. On 160m, 18 CW and 18 SSB. On 80m, 43 CW and 87 SSB. On 40m only 1 CW and 11 SSB. Clearly 80m was the “money” band. There didn’t seem to be any WWFF chasers amongst the contacts even though an alert had been put up for the activation on ParksnPeaks the day before. The log has been posted to the WWFF database so that the 75 different callsigns worked receive credit for working the Scheyville National Park.

The double-sized ZS6BKW is definitely a keeper. Some small variations to the length need to be tried to see if the SWR on 80m can be reduced. This may require a change to the feedline length too. The centre frequencies are all optimum for this particular feedline so whatever changes are made to the design, it will have to be scaled to ensure the centre frequency is unchanged. If you’re looking for a single antenna that will cover 160m, 80m, 40m and 20m then I’d certainly recommend this one.

The access to the operating location was very muddy. My car was covered with mud top and bottom after this activation and required thorough cleaning to remove it. The site is only for the bold 4WD owner.

The contest was a lot of fun and the time passed very quickly.
Thanks for all the calls!

Equipment

  • Double-sized ZS6BKW inverted-Vee doublet on 13m mast
  • LDG Z-11 Pro antenna matcher, 3S 500 mAh LiPo battery
  • Yaesu FT100D transceiver, MH-42B microphone
  • Sennheiser HD201 headphones
  • Lenovo S10-3 notebook PC for logging
  • LED headlamp for operating at night
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Roving for Winter Field Day and SOTA – June 2015

Field Days provide a great opportunity to get out and operate portable, and combining that with SOTA is very attractive. In Winter the SOTA bonus kicks in for those >1200m peaks making it irresistible. Planned 3 summits in the first 24 hrs for this trip allowing entry as a Rover station in the VHF-UHF Field Day. Another 4 summits on my to-do list also followed.

Saturday 20 Jun

Packed the car with my regular SOTA kit but also prepared myself for the field day. Recently a 2m linear amplifier had been acquired so it needed to have a plug and also a battery to supply it. Anderson plugs were soldered on to the leads on the amp and onto a new LiFePO4 4200 mAh battery, the same type used with the KX3. The amp raises the output of the KX3 on 2m from 3W to 30W, a useful increase when contesting. The amp and a 3-element tape measure Yagi were the core additions to allow 2m operation.

The other band of interest is 70cm. The KX3 tops out at 2m so I took along my Yaesu VX-7R tri-band hand-held which would at least provide an FM capability on 70cm. An SMA-BNC adaptor was also taken along in order to connect the radio to an external antenna.

Track and summits activated during the trip

Summits activated during the trip and APRS track between them

VK2/CT-004 1330m 8pts QF46xf Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve

Summit: (-33.759, 149.986806) Carpark: (-33.75161, 149.983202) Leave bitumen: (-33.715389, 150.00819)
The first summit is in a forest along the road to Jenolan Caves and had eluded previous attempts to find. This time I was armed with good GPS topographic maps and knowledge on how to navigate there from SOTAwatch. It turned out quite easy to find the way to the car park and then there’s a gentle 900m walk to the summit. My backpack was quite heavy with the extra field day gear so a walk-in that was not too arduous was welcome!

There’s plenty of flat cleared area on the summit with a road track running right through. There are also posts to attach a squid pole so setting up was quick. That was lucky since the field day started at 11am and I hadn’t got there until nearly 1pm. In a variation to normal SOTA activations, a notebook PC was brought along and used for logging field day contacts so the paper log was only used for those that could not be claimed – basically anything below 6m.

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I started out on 6m and made some contacts fairly quickly. Within a few minutes Andrew VK1DA came up portable on Mt Alexandra VK2/IL-005. After working on 6m I was encouraged to try 2m so the linear amp was set up and connected to the Yagi. It was a relief to find that Andrew could be heard on 2m and that the linear was working. The Yagi had to be held up manually as I had not brought along any hardware to attach it to the squid pole. I could stand up, hold the Yagi up 2.5m off the ground while making contact as I used my headset and VOX. The main difficulty was logging as my computer was sitting on the ground and there were not enough spare hands to carry out all functions simultaneously. I had to memorise the report, serial number and 6 character grid square – quite a challenge! This became easier as time went on as the same stations were being worked which had the same grid square.

After a couple of contacts on 2m it was time to try 70cm FM. My first contact with VK2TG was quite easy as he was reasonably close by in the Blue Mountains. It was much more difficult to reach Andrew being much further away. I could barely hear his signal which was also only 5W. In the end I stood up on a log to get as far off the ground as possible and used the 50cm whip on the hand-held to make the contact. It took quite a few tries but we got there in the end.

I stayed on the summit for 2 hrs which allowed a second contact with VK2TG on 6m, and then it was time to shift to the next location.

VK2/CT-002 Mt Trickett 1371m 8pts QF46xe Kananga-Boyd NP VKFF-256

Summit: (-33.833099, 149.984207) Carpark: (-33.832176, 149.9838)
A drive-in summit that I’ve activated before. Arrival was just before sunset and I decided to scout around to see if there was a trig point but nothing was found. Last year I had activated closer to the large mast and communications station just down the road. This time I wanted to stay clear of the inevitable high powered VHF/UHF transmitters on that site to reduce the noise floor. I set up on the edge of the forest near the summit in order to get away from the noisy powerline that runs down the clearing where one parks. This turned out to be far enough away to avoid the noise. The legs of the ZS6BKW antenna were woven between branches of the tall straight trees.

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Making contacts on this summit was a struggle. All the Field Day participants I expected to still be around weren’t there as it was after sundown. Luckily Andrew VK1DA was still on after having moved to Mt Gibraltar VK2/IL-001. I managed to crack contacts with Andrew on 6m and 2m but 70cm proved elusive. We put it down to the heavily forested area on the summit preventing any takeoff on that band – and also the QRP and FM restriction due to my gear. See Andrew’s blog. With very little Field Day activity, I spotted on 40m CW and made a couple of contacts but it was very quiet. There was no-one on 40m SSB. Andrew helped me qualify the summit on CW as we had previously only worked on SSB. After 2 hours on the summit for only 8 contacts I pulled the plug to make the long drive to the next one.

VK2/CT-011 Mt Macquarie 1205m 8pts QF46oi

Summit: (-33.646301, 149.180801) Carpark: on summit Turnoff: (-33.649824, 149.169654)
Drove through Oberon, Bathurst and Blayney en-route to the next summit which is near the town of Carcoar. Found myself stuck on a muddy track leading to the summit with lots of logging debris under the car so decided to wait until daylight before moving the car. Overnight temps dropped below zero and in the morning the frost coating the ground and the fallen wood looked spectacular. I was able to clear the wood from under the car and reverse back down the muddy track then continue on the road I had turned off, and with the aid of the topo maps drive a few km right to the summit. Best access from the Mt Macquarie Rd turnoff coordinate is to drive nearly 3 km then at the T junction (-33.644429, 149.190715) turn left and drive 1km straight up to the summit. There are a couple of towers there and a trig point 100m behind the towers.

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Sunday 21 Jun

I set up near the approach road which was open and clear whereas the trig point has overhanging trees. First contact in the log was before 9am and I had 2 hrs before the end of the 24hr Field Day. As expected, things were pretty quiet with only 5 contacts in the log for my first hour, three of those from the same station on different bands – thanks Kim VK2ASY. I made it into the ACT on 2m (but not on 6m) so there was hope for more contacts on that band. With time up my sleeve I was able to dart off and work some SOTA stations that had been spotted. This included VK1RX and VK1NAM on 10m over a distance of 240km – pretty impressive conditions. Later on I was able to work Andrew VK1NAM on 6m as well, but that was after the end of the field day, unfortunately. i put out many more calls on 6m and 2m before 11am but no more contacts were added to the log. After the end of the field day I could concentrate on SOTA contacts so worked through my usual suite of bands and modes starting with 40m CW. Conditions were good on 40m so I was able to work into VK5 and VK7 on SSB. When I got to 20m SSB, only one more contact was made and nothing on CW. Nearing midday so I closed to get to the next summit.

VK2/CT-001 Mt Canobolas 1397m 8pts QF46lp

Summit: (-33.343101, 148.983307) Carpark: on summit
This is another summit on my to-do list. I had been to the summit before but had never done an activation. Drove via a picturesque valley and windfarm next to Mt Macquarie then through Blayney to Orange and then 20km further on is the summit. The trig point is surrounded by a carpark so I set up next to a tree slightly down the slope within 20m of the trig.

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The day was still gloriously sunny but chilly at under 10 degrees. Not having to set up 2m or the netbook made for a quicker start than the 3 previous summits. First in my log were a S2S and 2 parks. Keen to get the 6m contact logged I contacted Kim VK2ASY who lives in Orange and made contact on 52.2 MHz. That was lucky as there were no other callers on 6m or 10m. Then on 20m I was able to qualify the summit on CW including one DX call from G4APO, but sigs were weak. Plenty of chasers on 40m CW and SSB to round out the activation. I closed just after 4pm allowing time to drive back to Orange in the light and tour the town. After a long walk and good feed, I set off for the next summit at 8:30pm.

VK2/CT-031 Mt Bulga 1060m 6pts QF46or

Summit: (-33.259399, 149.186005) Carpark: (-33.26211, 149.18385)
Another new summit for me and the topo maps indicated that it may be possible to drive to the summit. Tried a few different routes and found the tracks impassable and in the process circumnavigated the summit. Ended up parking on one access road and walked to the summit in the dark to check it out, most of the way bashing through the bush while watching the GPS. Having reached the top I found a road going most of the way, but it was not obvious on the GPS. Getting back to the car at night without a track was “interesting”. In all the exploration, I had found a nice camping area at (-33.26147,149.18941) so I returned there for an overnight stay.

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Monday 22 Jun

One can walk to the summit from the camping area, but it is quicker to drive to the carpark location on the main track mentioned above and go directly from there. A track goes all the way up to the trig point so it avoids the bush-bashing. The trees are a bit dense but I was able to set up at the trig point and weave the antenna wire around the tree branches. Kicked off with 40m CW and made many contacts including VK2,3,4 and 5. I then tried 10m but there was nothing doing – the band was completely closed. Ended up on 40m SSB to make more contacts where propagation was fine. Nick VK2AOH had mentioned on SOTAwatch that he could not quite hear me so I reoriented one leg of the antenna 30° by juggling it around some trees. Started calling again and this time had a response from Nick with a 539 report. That was definitely a worthwhile adjustment as no other stations were worked on either 10m or 6m. After that success I packed up and headed to the next summit.

VK2/CT-042 Mt Meehan 1017m 6pts QF46nv

Summit: (-33.094501, 149.143097) Carpark: (-33.09438, 149.13736)
Mt Meehan is another summit north of Orange and a 3/4 hr drive from Mt Bulga. Drive to the specified location in the Mullions Range State Forest and then cross through a gate and walk 500m east up the gentle slope into the AZ. The summit itself is 50m on the other side of the fence on private property amongst the trees and there looked to be a trig point there. The fence posts can be used to support a squid pole and tie off the ends of a doublet so setup was quick.

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Started operating on 40m CW with calls from VK2,3 and 5 then went to 10m CW and was rewarded by a call from Nick VK2AOH. Came back to 40m for a S2S with VK5PAS/VK5KC and VK5BJE and then back to 10m SSB but there were no calls. Switching to 20m SSB and there were weak calls from VK6. Switched to CW to complete with VK6NU and ended on 40m SSB. Received a call from VK4DD who just racked up 1000 points for Shack Sloth – congratulations, Dave!
Closed down after activating for an hour and headed for home.

VK2/CT-007 Mt Lambie 1290m 8pts QF46xm

Summit: (-33.4716, 149.9886) Carpark: on summit Turnoff (-33.454764, 149.974416)
Driving back towards Sydney provided an opportunity to activate Mt Lambie since it is just off the Great Western Hwy. The last activation here was for the John Moyle in March, and the winter bonus made it worth the effort to activate again. Besides, after a couple of hours driving, I deserved a break. Set up on the trig point as usual with the antenna oriented for EU long path.

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Started out on 40m CW and qualified there quite quickly. Went to 10m but there were no contacts, and none on 6m either. I probably should have alerted on SOTAwatch for this summit. Back on 20m there were no calls from EU so I was glad of a CW call from VK6NU. Completed the activation on 40m SSB after 50 minutes and watched the spectacular sunset then packed up for the 2 hour drive home.

Thanks to all chasers and contesters for a great long weekend!

Highlights

  • Rover entry in the Winter VHF-UHF field day
  • 7 summits, 5 winter bonuses, 59 activator points
  • 6 CW-qualified, 6 with 10m/6m contacts
  • 1 VKFF park
  • 5 new summits for me
  • 500 activator points reached: “half a goat” 🙂

Activation log

Date Summit Call
Used
QSOs 1
6
0
8
0
6
0
4
0
3
0
2
0
1
7
1
5
1
2
1
0
6 4 2 7
0
c
2
3
c
S
S
B
C
W
F
M
Points Bonus
Points
Total Points
20 Jun VK2/CT-004 (VK2/CT-004) VK2IO/P 15 2 Y Y 2 Y 1 2 8 3 495
20 Jun VK2/CT-002 (Mt Trickett) VK2IO/P 8 2 1 2 3 Y Y 8 3 506
20 Jun VK2/CT-011 (Mt Macquarie) VK2IO/P 5 1 3 1 Y 1 8 3 517
21 Jun VK2/CT-011 (Mt Macquarie) VK2IO/P 24 Y 1 2 1 Y Y 0 0 517
21 Jun VK2/CT-001 (Mt Canobolas) VK2IO/P 31 Y Y 1 Y Y 8 3 528
21 Jun VK2/CT-031 (Mt Bulga) VK2IO/P 14 Y Y Y 6 0 534
22 Jun VK2/CT-031 (Mt Bulga) VK2IO/P 1 1 1 0 0 534
22 Jun VK2/CT-042 (Mt Meehan) VK2IO/P 21 Y 1 Y 1 Y Y 6 0 540
22 Jun VK2/CT-007 (Mt Lambie) VK2IO/P 13 Y 1 Y Y 0 3 543

Equipment

  • Elecraft KX3 @ 12W powered by 4200 mAh LiFePO4 battery
  • ZS6BKW inverted-Vee doublet at 8m
  • Microwave Modules MML 144/40 linear amp powered by 4200 mAh LiFePO4 battery
  • 3-element tape measure Yagi for 2m
  • Yaesu VX-7R
  • Lenovo S10-3 notebook computer