Popran National Park VKFF-417 (-33.38463,151.188109) QF56OO
On the entry to one of the three areas of the Popran NP lies the Ironbark picnic area. With a picnic table, isolation from powerlines and a nearby parking area it provides a great location for radio activities. On this occasion it was the Remembrance Day Contest colloquially known as the “RD”, the biggest contest event on the Australian calendar. Operating in the park allowed qualification as a WWFF award as well as entry into the contest, and all stations contacted qualify as “Hunters” for the park in the WWFF scheme.
Ironbark Picnic Area, Ironbark Rd, Glenworth Valley, NSW
The park is easy enough to find as it is not far from the M1 freeway north of Sydney as the crow flies, however one must travel a circuitous route via Central Mangrove by vehicle. The road goes no more than 100m into the park where one finds the Ironbark picnic area. A major shortcut between Peats Ridge Rd and Ironbark Rd is available, but only if travelling on foot, a route known as the Pipeline Trail. There are a number of trails leading from the carpark, however a barrier prevents only pedestrians and horse riders from continuing.
With the contest start time of 0300z (1pm) I arrived half an hour before for setup. The 9m squid pole was set up against a metal post marking the boundary of the carpark and the ZS6BKW inverted-Vee doublet raised in an east-west direction. The nearby picnic table was filled with radio gear and a netbook for logging. There was time for a bite to eat before kick-off, but not much opportunity for listening to the pre-event broadcast.
For this contest I had decided to enter as a low power station transmitting at 5 Watts since the availability of juice to run the radio was limited. Batteries on hand were two Lithium Iron Phosphate units with 4200 mAh capacity and a 7200 mAh Gel cell. These would have to power the radio as well as the netbook computer for the duration of the event. Local recharging was available in the vehicle, but could only handle one battery at a time. As a backup, operations could be conducted from the vehicle as there is no restriction on WWFF activities being conducted in this way. As it turned out, the backup was not required.
40m SSB was the focus at the start of the contest. After 20 mins a spot from Glenn VK6HAD on Isongerup Peak VK6/SW-003 came up on SOTAwatch so I switched to 20m and was able to work him, but only received a 3×1 report off the end of my east-west antenna. Glad to get him in the log. Returned to 40m SSB for the hour and then switched to CW and there were plenty of contacts to be had.
A spot came up from Takeshi JS1UEH on 15m and I could hear him very weakly. I tried to call but there was no reply even after jacking up the power to 10W. Nick VK2AOH called him too. I’d missed Takeshi’s 17m activation, but afterwards he went to 10m . I listened there but heard nothing. Propagation conditions seemed below average. Shortly afterwards a spot appeared for Compton VK2HRX at Bulgo Hill VK2/IL-017 on 40m SSB, but I was too late as he had already flown to 20m. I couldn’t hear him on that band – he was only 120km away yet too far for ground wave.
After all that SOTA chasing I settled back in for more contesting on 40m SSB and CW. Tried 20m SSB and there were a few stations there, but I was not able to work many of them. There did not seem to be anyone on 20m CW. Later on a spot came up from Mike 2E0YYY at Gun G/SP-013 on 20m and he was too weak to attempt a contact – my antenna was pointing the wrong way anyway. There were other SOTA activations that I missed completely being focused on the contest. One that wasn’t came from John VK6NU at Mt William VK6/SW-042 as the sun sank low in the sky. I worked him on 20m SSB as a SOTA contact and only found out later he was giving out RD contest numbers as well. D’oh! Only a 4×1 report but glad to have him in the paper log even when not in the computerised RD log.
After one more contact I decided it was time to prepare for 160m. A second squid pole was set up and the 56m long double-sized ZS6BKW hoisted aloft perpendicular to the other antenna. This antenna covers 160m-20m and was oriented north-south-ish (the light blue one in the diagram). There was a certain amount of consternation sorting out which antenna wire would be the higher one where they crossed, and also sorting out the best tie-off points for the ends. I used the travel squid pole for the second antenna and it collapsed a couple of times. The pole was flexing so much with only half the antenna load on it that the antenna kept flying off the top as well, so in the end I put gaffa tape around the top section. One end of the first antenna had to be relocated to maintain separation between the antenna wires. What should have been a quick job took about half an hour, but it was complete before dark and high enough to not be an obstruction in the carpark.
The longer antenna is a better performer on 80m and it wasn’t long before 80m became the band of choice for contacts in the contest. A couple of hours on 80m before 160m contacts were snared, the first being with Alan VK4SN the contest manager on CW. Band noise was low so that gave my low power signal a chance. I spent most of the evening on 80m and 160m jumping between SSB and CW with only occasional forays on 40m. On SSB especially I would call certain stations and they would not respond, so I learnt the calls to avoid on account of my low power. Some stations were obviously running 400W and did not necessarily have good “ears”. On 80m I mostly ran without the receive preamp as it saves a little bit of juice.
In the early evening, the internal battery for the Netbook ran low so it was recharged using the car charger connected to a 7200 mAh SLA battery. After a few hours the charging battery went flat so had to be transferred to the car for a recharge of its own. Then later on a 4200 mAh LiFe battery was used to recharge the computer. The computer was going through batteries much faster than the radio, but its screen was on most of the time albeit at a very low brightness setting. Windows 10 had been installed a few days beforehand and there were no stability issues arising. The logging software used was VK Contest Log (VKCL) v3.12a. As I log each contact, I put the frequency in kHz in the comment field and then a name, lighthouse number, SOTA summit code or National Park code. It is useful to have the frequency for transferring to my station log, and during the contest it can be a useful reference when looking for stations that you haven’t worked. In this contest I did not use it much because there was plenty of activity right across the band. It would be good to automate the recording of the frequency, but that is beyond the capabilities of the VKCL software, and for me it is more important to have logging software that automates the contest rules.
During the period from 1am to 6am local (1500z-2000z) any contacts made earn triple points. This provides a huge incentive for stations to keep going in the wee small hours when they should otherwise be resting. I was bitten by this bug too and kept operating until I ran out of steam at 3am. There was actually still plenty of activity and I made contacts on 160m, 80m and 40m. One golden contact with VK2GGC on 160m CW earnt 12 points. Seems the 160m CW ops are not nightowls as I expected there would have been more. Point allocation is 1 for SSB and 2 for CW, then doubled for 160m. Any 160m CW contact is prized. I did hope to work WA or New Zealand on 160m but it didn’t happen. I did make it to VK5, VK7 and northern VK4 on 5 Watts so can’t complain.
Morning was a slow start. I must have woken before 7am and then fallen asleep again. In the end I got up around 7:45am. All the gear on the picnic table had to be restored and I was back in the contest. First in the log was Andrew VK1DA on 80m CW, also a QRP operator. There was no activity observed on 160m and very little on 80m. Everything from then on was 40m and above. There was plenty of activity on both SSB and CW with just about every slot between 7065 and 7160 kHz being utilised by contest operators and lighthouse operators for ILLW if it wasn’t being used for the Sunday morning WIA broadcast. With so much activity I found it more productive to hunt and peck for contacts on SSB rather than call on my own frequency. There were times when I’d call and call and not elicit a response, obviously due to my low power.
In the last two hours of the contest Andrew VK1NAM had activated a SOTA summit Booroomba Rocks VK1/AC-026. I chased him on 10m and 6m not expecting signals. Eventually he came onto 40m and I was able to find him after calling on various frequencies. There was less than half an hour to go and Andrew closed, but I continued on his spotted frequency. There weren’t many SOTA chasers around as I’m sure the RD Contest had forced them to go to ground. Under the RD rules you can’t use a public cluster below 50 MHz so that ruled me out from spotting my National Park activation on ParksnPeaks or on the DX Cluster. Still, I was able to catch a few regular chasers by riding the shirt tails of Andrew’s SOTA activation.
I closed out the contest on 40m CW having spent most of the last hour on 40m SSB. In my RD log I had 271 contacts, 96 on CW and 175 on SSB. There were 2 additional SOTA contacts on 20m SSB with VK6 so 273 total for the parks activation and 122 unique callsigns. Breakdown was 22 on 160m, 103 on 80m, 141 on 40m and 7 on 20m.
The bar graph from VKCL shows the rate at which contacts were made with red being the contact count and green being the points for each hour of the contest. Most productive time points-wise (green bar) was between 1500z and 1700z (1 to 3am) – those triple points really make a difference. Also the 160m contacts between 0900z and 1100z (7pm and 9pm) made the score kick along too.
Highest contact rate was in the first hour 0300z and the first hour after resumption 2200z. Lowest rate was in the hour when I was setting up the second antenna at 0700z. Note to self: set up all antennas before the contest starts!
After all the contesting gear was packed away there was time to explore the park before my next appointment. I decided to walk up to Mt Olive which is only about 800m from the carpark. In terms of elevation it is only about 20m higher, but one must first go down hill before climbing up. The summit is a fairly flat rocky platform with loads of trees. It overlooks the Glenworth Valley to the east and one can see (but not hear) the M1 motorway in the distance. A very pretty spot for very little effort. There are other trails in the park and an attraction called the Emerald Pool, but one would require a few hours to explore them. While I was operating, a number of parties did enter or emerge from the park so there are certainly visitors, and a lot of them seemed to travel on foot to the carpark. Some may have been deterred by the access road as it helps to have some ground clearance even though the national parks say that it is suitable for 2WD.
- Qualified the Popran national park with 122 different callsigns logged
- RD Contest was fun!
- Comparing two antennas in the field
- QRP really can go the distance (mostly)
- Powering a computer a bigger challenge than powering a radio
- Elecraft KX3 @ 5W
- Two LiFePO4 4200 mAh batteries
- 7200 mAh SLA battery
- Hi-Mound MK-706 CW paddle
- Lenovo S10-3 netbook computer
- ZS6BKW inverted-Vee doublet (28m long) on 9m mast
- Double size ZS6BKW inverted-Vee doublet (56m long) on 9m mast
- Turnigy Accucell 6 charger
Thanks for all the contacts!