Oceania DX Phone Contest – Wyrrabalong NP 3-4 Oct 2015

The Oceania DX Contest is an amateur radio event held annually on consecutive weekends in October. The first weekend is phone (SSB) and the second is CW (morse code). The first (and last) time I participated was in 2010 as a portable station using a kite antenna. It was a lot of fun and the video has been quite popular. This year I wanted to operate for the full length of the contest, not just for a few hours. I also wanted to operate as a portable station and this meant using low power (QRP). Luckily the contest has a QRP category so I would not need to compete with much bigger stations using beams and high power. Going portable has three advantages: (1) away from city noise; (2) have space for 160m antenna; (3) can qualify a national park for WWFF.

Wyrrabalong National Park map

Wyrrabalong National Park map showing north and south sections

Location

The criteria for the location was based on: (1) must be in a national park; (2) have reasonable car access; (3) near a body of water; (4) room for antennas; (5) clear RF takeoff in all directions; (6) away from RF noise sources; (7) 24hr availability. Most of the criteria for a location can be assessed beforehand by studying internet sites. For this exercise I looked at national parks on the Central Coast of NSW and drew up a short list of possibilities within the Wyrrabalong National Park VKFF-0550. The park is coastal and divided into a large northern section and a smaller southern section. The northern section is virtually at sea level with the ocean to the east and a lake to the west. It is bisected by the Central Coast Highway running north-south. A road off the highway provides access to the park and the beach. Unfortunately the road is gated and closed at night, but I added it to my short list anyway. There did not appear to be any other accessible locations in the northern section of the park.

The southern section of the park was much more familiar as I had done the coastal walk many times. This section has ocean to the east and housing to the west and consists of a long narrow strip. The prominent features are the Crackneck Lookout providing stunning ocean views and a favourite for hang-gliders, and the Wyrrabalong TV translator tower on the southern end of the coastal walk. Of these only the Lookout is suitable. Another location was also found half way along the coastal walk next to some water tanks with access from a nearby suburban street.

Southern section of Wyrrabalong NP showing operating point

Southern section of Wyrrabalong NP

Scoping It Out

On the Saturday of the contest I packed the car and set off for the northern section of the Wyrrabalong National Park at about 3pm. The goal was to reach the location by 5pm and set up in time to start contesting at 6pm. Most of the drive was along the Sydney-Newcastle freeway then head head east through Budgewoi then south through Norah Head to the park. Upon turning off the Central Coast Highway there was a large gate into the park and a sign showing the opening hours. I checked out the carpark at the end of the road and decided that it was not that suitable. Probably the best spot would be on the beach.

Left the northern section and drove through The Entrance township to Crackneck Lookout in the southern section of the park. On the approach road there was a wedding entourage and photographer actually on the road. Proceeding on and just before the lookout there was a gate – one that I had not seen before. Seems the lookout carpark now has restricted hours which seemed odd. The views from there at night are pretty nice. As a consolation, two car spaces have been provided just before the gate about 100m down the road. After a quick scout around and a gawk at the stretch limousine I decided the spot wasn’t as suitable as I was expecting.

Now down to the third option I drove back through the gate and around to the closest road to the water tanks. The road to actually get near the water tanks is gated too but intended to be used by pedestrians to access the coastal walk. The walking distance to the park is about 200m. The area around the tanks has been cleared and was within the national park according to the GPS.  I decided this would be a good spot to operate from though I was unsure how much electrical noise would emanate from near the tanks and the nearby houses. The nearest power lines were 50m away. Maidenhead locator: QF56RO.

Shack at Wyrrabalong National Park

Operating chair and tent at Wyrrabalong National Park

Setup

Getting the gear to the site took three trips and then I set up the ZS6BKW antenna on the 9m squid pole with the wire oriented north-south. Next was the double-sized ZS6BKW which was awkward to set up due to the available cleared space. There was little undergrowth as the park had been burnt out recently, but there were still quite tall trees. It took some time to weave the antenna wire through and over these. I used my 10m travel mast leaving the top sections unused, and there was a pronounced bend in the mast due to the load. One antenna crossed the other one but only at about 30 degrees. They were almost parallel. A ground sheet was put down and then an operating chair which would serve as the shack for the evening. Then the KX3 and computer were installed. The chair has a small side table useful for putting things down when not seated in the chair.

Operating chair and tent at Wyrrabalong NP

Operating tent at Wyrrabalong NP

Contesting

By 6:20pm I was on the air but it was getting dark so I used a headlamp to see what I was doing, especially with the computer. The bands were all very much alive. I started on 40m by hunting and pecking my way up and down the band. After half an hour there were a bunch of VKs and a couple of ZLs in the log. Then to 15m for a couple of JAs then 20m for more JAs and a US station. My 5 Watts was cutting through though not to every caller – some of them completely ignored me. Then to 160m and even though it was still early, 2 contacts were made and then to the 80m DX window for 2 more including a ZL. Back to 40m and it was definitely the busiest band and some new stations were calling. Continued to cycle through the bands calling all I could hear that i hadn’t already worked. Occasionally I would put out some CQ calls and was sometimes rewarded with a call.

After a few hours it started to cool down quite a bit and the wind was a little cool. It was time for more shelter so I started to set up the tent. I had a new “mosquito” tent so had not put it together before. The instructions consisted of a series of numbered pictures printed on a tag attached to the tent bag. By a process of trial and error the tent was set up in about 15 minutes then the radio gear was moved inside. I could continue contesting in more comfort though I was squatting instead of sitting. I managed to work Indonesia, PNG and more US stations. VK2IM who lives nearby was worked too. His signal was so strong on 20m that the KX3 automatically switched off its preamp as a protective measure. Later it was found that he was line of sight and only 6.5km away running a linear amp and a beam. It normally takes a very strong local signal for the radio to react in this way – impressive!

Two antennas at sunrise in Wyrrabalong NP

Two antennas at sunrise in Wyrrabalong NP

Some more hours of contesting and contacts had slowed down to a snail’s pace. After an hour making no contacts I decided at 1am to close down for the night. A trip to the car was made to recharge one of the 4200 mAh LiFe batteries that had been powering the computer after its own internal battery went flat after 4 or 5 hours. The radio was still running fine on its battery of the same capacity and did not need charging. Only one battery can be charged at a time. Returned to the tent for some much needed sleep.

Morning

Arose just before dawn, took some photos and retrieved the battery from the car. By 6am I was back on the radio though with the changeover to daylight savings time, this was now known as 7am. 40m was running well and I made many contacts. After 2 hours I tried 10m and 15m and made a few DX contacts with Japan, Indonesia and Russia. This was great because contacts had now been made on all the bands available in the contest. From 10:30am to 11:30am there was a spate of SOTA activations, all on 40m. Some were CW so were not logged as contest contacts and instead recorded in the regular portable logbook. At midday the KX3 was shutting down when PTT was pressed. It was time for a run to the car to charge the battery powering the radio which had dropped to 8 volts. It looked to be bulging a bit too – oops. The charger accepted the battery and started to charge it without complaining about the voltage.

Shack inside the operating tent in Wyrrabalong NP

Shack inside the operating tent in Wyrrabalong NP

Afternoon

The break gave me an excuse to have something to eat as breakfast had pretty much been skipped. Returned to the airways at 12:45pm and set up the voice keyer on the radio to put out calls while munching away. I started to call on 7.144 which is a popular frequency for World Wide Flora and Fauna activations. There were some responses but not from the usual VKFF hunters and I could not self-spot under the contest rules. 40m and to a lesser extent 20m were the bands I was able to make contacts during the afternoon. Occasionally another SOTA station would come up and I would chase them. The most notable was Takeshi JS1UEH on 15m CW.

The weather got quite hot in the afternoon and peaked at 34 degrees in the shade. I was glad to have the tent for protection from the sun. The wind kicked up too and was nearly at the point of blowing things away like the chair sitting outside the tent. During the afternoon I noticed that the UTC time and time to contest end was advanced by one hour. The clock on the computer was showing the correct daylight savings time. I decided to continue on and fix it up later. At about 5pm the long path to EU opened on 20m and many contacts were made. This dried up by 6pm and it was back to 40m. At 6pm the logger reported end of contest, but there was still an hour to go. I set the clock on the computer back by an hour and this fixed the problem. With only one hour left and darkness approaching I started to pack up and just left the voice keyer calling on 40m. The 160m antenna was pulled down first as it would not been needed at all and would take some time to roll up. Responses to calls were very infrequent by 6:30pm so the main activity was packing up the tent. QRT happened at 6:45pm, 15 minutes before the contest end and it took another 20 minutes to collect everything and transport it to the car over multiple trips. The timing worked out well with sunset at 7pm, the same as the contest end time and no need to use lights.

Path to local station VK2IM

Path to local station VK2IM

Log Processing

After the contest the log needed to be massaged and submitted. Entries in the log after the changeover to daylight savings had to be manually edited to take off an hour except for the last few contacts after 6pm (0700z). There was no easy way to do this other than manually. The author was contacted and could not shed any light on why the UTC time was incorrect after the switch to AEDST. Cabrillo format can be generated by the software and directly emailed to the contest manager. ADI format can be generated as well and after some editing to include National Park information, callsigns, locator, etc, the log can be imported into my station log running in Log4OM. When logging I always put in the exact frequency in the comment field. This must be extracted and put into the frequency field, and any SOTA or WWFF reference must be extracted from the comment field and new fields created for those. After importing the contest log, the non-contest QSOs can be added manually in Log4OM. Then the log is exported in ADI format for submission to WWFF to claim the national park activation. SOTA chaser contacts are also exported in CSV format and submitted to the SOTA database. There is also upload to eQSL as well, and it is all handled through Log4OM.

Contest contact and multiplier accumulation over time

Contest contact and multiplier accumulation over time

Statistics

The chart on the right shows for each hour the number of contacts made in red and the number of multipliers made in green. Contest contacts made per band are summarised below:

Band   QSOs Mult  Pts  Inv 
160 m    6    3   120   0 
 80 m   12    7   120   0 
 40 m   92   15   460   0 
 20 m   36   31    35   1 
 15 m   13   12    26   0 
 10 m    6    4    18   0 
 
 QSOs/Multiplier:   2.3

Highlights

At the end of the contest I had logged 165 stations plus another 15 non-contest stations (5 CW). I had worked 3 other national parks and 23 SOTA stations. All this using 5W except for the JS1UEH on 15m using 10W. Contacts were made on all 6 bands from 160m to 10m. Local station VK2IM was worked on 5 bands – all but 160m.

As a QRP station I found making contacts to be a very active process of chasing up and down the bands looking for callers and also switching bands regularly. Its not enough to just call away on one frequency and continuously log contacts like the high power stations do. I found myself calling CQ only a small percentage of the time. Often a higher powered deaf station would take over the frequency so one would be forced to QSY. However, this can happen regardless of output power.

It’ll be interesting to see how my contest score compares to other QRP stations.

Thanks to all contest stations and hunters. Great to get you in the log!

151004WyrrabalongContactMap

Map of contacts made from Wyrrabalong NP VKFF-0550

Equipment

  • Elecraft KX3 transceiver
  • Computer headset/microphone
  • Two LiFePO4 4200 mAh batteries
  • 7200 mAh SLA battery
  • Hi-Mound MK-706 CW paddle
  • Lenovo S10-3 netbook computer
  • VK Contest Log (VKCL) v3.12a software
  • ZS6BKW inverted-Vee doublet (28m long) on 9m mast
  • Double size ZS6BKW inverted-Vee doublet (56m long) on 9m travel mast
  • Headlamp
  • Turnigy Accucell 6 charger

Combined Marramarra NP and Canoelands SOTA Activation 26 Sep 2015

Canoelands VK2/SY-001 is a SOTA summit I’ve activated a couple of times, once in 2014 and earlier in 2015. It is my nearest summit though not exactly local. Turns out that while the summit is not actually in Marramarra National Park VKFF-0307, there are three regions within the activation zone that are. The map below shows the regions. The green line identifies the boundaries of the National Park (more-or-less). The non-bluish area containing the yellow VK2/SY-001 pin is the activation zone. The bluish areas are too low to be in the activation zone.

Canoelands activation zone showing Marramarra NP regions

Canoelands VK2/SY-001 SOTA activation zone showing three regions in Marramarra National Park VKFF-0307

Region 1 (-33.505524,151.056584) runs along Canoelands Rd and a thin strip of land is in the park and AZ. A powerline runs almost overhead and parallel with the road making it unwise to activate.

Region 2 (-33.497161,151.067346) lies northwest of the property containing the summit. Extra high tension lines run through the northwest side of the property adjacent to the park. There are no apparent clearings and a moderately steep gradient.

Region 3 (-33.510496,151.055315) has some tracks running through it and is reasonably flat. It is away from power lines. There is access via the Colo Spur Trail off Marra Avenue.

My goal was to activate the park and the summit. Of the 3 options, region 3 seemed the most attractive so this is the one I chose. Driving to the summit I made a right turn onto Marra Avenue rather than continue on to my usual spot a couple of hundred metres from the peak. An out of site car park was found at (-33.51044, 151.05754) by turning right down a track just before the gate to the property bordering the park. From there it is a short walk through the bush to reach the operating zone. I set up on the Colo Spur Trail within 100m of a house at a T-intersection of two trails. A short tree provided support for the squid pole and the antenna wire was run up and down the track roughly NW-SE. There was a slight drizzle and a forecast for showers.

Shack and antenna sited along the Colo Spur Trail

Shack and antenna sited along the Colo Spur Trail

It was 9:30am (2330z) when I made my first contact, pretty much on schedule. Before UTC rollover I made 7 CW contacts on 40m as well as 4 summit-to-summit contacts on various modes and bands. This included one with John VK6NU at Mt Dale VK6/SW-036 on 20m SSB who must have had an early start.

After rollover I worked John again and then a stream of summits. The third contact was with Andrew VK1NAM at Mt Gingera VK1/AC-002 chasing his Mountain Goat status. I’d counted Andrew’s contacts on 40m with me being the second and congratulated him in advance. Turned out that he had already achieved goat status during an unspotted activation on 2m in a contact with Andrew VK1DA. I was then able to congratulate Andrew as a real goat and then work Al VK1RX who was co-activating.

After the stream of S2S contacts, I returned to 40m CW to see if there were any remaining chasers. There were only two, and after a couple more S2S I did a run on 40m SSB notching up 17 contacts in 40 minutes. From then on I did a lot of chasing of S2Ss when not activating another band. I was staying all day on the summit so there was plenty of time to explore. I did 20m CW, 15m CW and 30m CW and worked John VK6NU on each band. 30m SSB was also worked. Attempts on 17m CW and 20m SSB met with no callers.

At around 0400z the QRM suddenly came up, a continuous electrical noise across all bands disrupting the relative calm that I’d enjoyed up ’til then. I put up with it for an hour before deciding that it would hamper chances of working summits in Europe. The noise seemed to be coming from the workshop about 50m away so I knew I had to move. I left the gear and took a walk along the trail to scope out potential new operating points. I also took the GPS with me to check the elevation on the map. I did not want to jump out of the activation zone. A location was found about 200m away and so I returned and closed down the station then moved it and set it up again. The whole process took nearly an hour and it was lucky that there were no new activations during that time.

Second location

New location to avoid local QRM

Second location to avoid local QRM

Setting up again was done in a hurry as a new spot had come up for Al VK1RX and Andrew VK1NAM. They had walked the 7km to Mt Ginger Ale VK1/AC-007 and were doing a quick activation before dropping back to their camp site further back. My antenna was lashed up in a hurry in order to make the S2S contact. Turned out that the antenna was oriented more east-west. The noise had reduced but was not completely eliminated – I was a lot further away from the workshop but closer to the EHT power lines.

Time had marched on. It was now after 4pm or 0600z so I decided to have another go on 40m SSB to take advantage of better band conditions than in the morning stint. I was rewarded with 16 more chaser contacts. and then a spot came up for Andrew VK1DA and Adan VK1FJAW on Baldy Range VK2/ST-008. Calling was disbanded in favour of chasing and they were soon logged. After that a spot for F/HB9BIN at F/VO-033 on 30m came up and I was able to work Juerg with my 10W. He thanked me on SOTAwatch indicating he was using 12W. Many thanks to Juerg! It was my only EU S2S.

Shack at the new location

Shack at the new location

I did a second stint on 20m CW for the DX stations. There were 8 contacts – all from EU except one from Japan. A spot from Peter VK3PF on Mt Useful VK3/VT-016 ended the run. I switched to 40m and found the band alive with RTTY signals all the way from the CW-only segment up to 7090 kHz. The CQ WW RTTY DX Contest was on and there was a lot of activity as 40m had opened to EU as well. I was just able to hear Peter on 7090 under the RTTY and he commented that he had “lost the Forester”. I wasn’t sure quite what that meant but there was too much QRM to enquire further. I went on to work Tony VK3CAT on the same summit. Later on I was shocked to learn that Peter’s car had burnt out in spectacular fashion.

It was 0720z so nearing close down time. I chased Phil OK/G4OBK on 30m but could not hear him very well at all. He was QRPp and there was too much local QRM. Also Sid ZS5AYC was on 20m SSB but nothing was heard there either. A quick pack-up and by 0740z I was walking back to the car, only 5 minutes away. There was still sufficient light to make an easy exit.

Detailed map of sites activated in region 3

Detailed map of sites activated in region 3

A great day out with a very successful activation of the Marramarra park and the Canoelands summit – and the first combined activation. The showers had stayed away and 99 contacts were logged over the 8 hours – 31 being CW. 39 summit-to-summit contacts and one park-to-park were made and the park was qualified for WWFF.
Many thanks to the chasers and other activators!

Log

Date:25/Sep/2015 Summit:VK2/SY-001 (Canoelands) Call Used:VK2IO/P Points: 0 Bonus: 0

Time Call Band Mode Notes
23:30z VK2TWR/P 7MHz SSB VK2/SM-070
23:36z VK3CAT/P 7MHz CW VK3/VC-001
23:38z VK3PF/P 7MHz SSB VK3/VT-026
23:41z VK2YW 7MHz CW
23:43z VK3HRA 7MHz CW
23:45z VK2WG 7MHz CW
23:45z VK7CW 7MHz CW
23:51z VK2NP 7MHz CW
23:52z VK3MEG 7MHz CW
23:54z VK3WE 7MHz CW
23:57z VK6NU/P 14MHz SSB VK6/SW-036

Date:26/Sep/2015 Summit:VK2/SY-001 (Canoelands) Call Used:VK2IO/P Points: 0 Bonus: 0

Time Call Band Mode Notes
00:05z VK6NU/P 14MHz SSB VK6/SW-036
00:06z VK2BJP/3 7MHz SSB VK3/VE-093
00:11z VK1NAM/P 7MHz SSB VK1/AC-002 Andrew now a MG!
00:14z VK1RX/P 7MHz SSB VK1/AC-002
00:15z VK1DA/2 7MHz SSB VK2/ST-005
00:17z VK1FJAW/2 7MHz SSB VK2/ST-005
00:19z VK3PF/P 7MHz SSB VK3/VT-026
00:22z VK3FQSO 7MHz SSB
00:28z VK2HV 7MHz CW
00:30z VK1EM 7MHz CW
00:33z VK3YY/P 7MHz SSB VK3/VE-067
00:40z VK2TWR/P 7MHz SSB VK2/SM-066
00:51z VK2LEE 7MHz SSB
01:01z VK2YK 7MHz SSB
01:02z VK2KTT 7MHz SSB
01:02z VK2NP 7MHz SSB
01:03z VK2JDL 7MHz SSB
01:04z VK3FJOS/P 7MHz SSB
01:05z VK1MA 7MHz SSB
01:06z VK3DAC 7MHz SSB
01:06z VK3YAR 7MHz SSB
01:07z VK3LED 7MHz SSB
01:10z VK3WAM/P 7MHz CW VK3/VN-004
01:11z VK2XXM 7MHz SSB
01:14z VK4FFAB 7MHz SSB
01:15z VK3AV 7MHz SSB
01:18z VK7CW 7MHz SSB
01:19z VK2AJG 7MHz SSB
01:24z VK2FADV 7MHz SSB
01:27z VK1AT 7MHz SSB
01:32z VK3CAT/P 7MHz CW VK3/VT-013
01:42z VK6NU/P 14MHz CW VK6/SW-036
01:55z VK3PF/P 7MHz SSB VK3/VC-001
02:23z VK3YY/P 7MHz SSB VK3/VE-134
02:36z VK3IL/P 7MHz SSB VK3/VT-006
02:53z VK2BJP/3 7MHz SSB VK3/VE-138
02:53z 3D2YJ 21MHz SSB
03:09z VK6NU/P 21MHz CW VK6/SW-036
03:16z VK3CAT/P 7MHz CW VK3/VT-022
03:28z VK3WAM/P 7MHz CW VK3/VN-005
03:34z VK2HRX/P 7MHz SSB VK2/CT-032
03:43z VK3FMPB/P 7MHz SSB VKFF-982
03:48z VK5PAS/P 7MHz SSB
03:52z VK3PF/P 7MHz SSB VK3/VT-013
03:56z VK3YY/P 7MHz SSB VK3/VE-137
04:00z VK2TWR/P 7MHz SSB VK2/SM-071
04:00z VK1DA/2 7MHz SSB VK2/ST-004
04:01z VK1FJAW/2 7MHz SSB VK2/ST-004
04:07z VK4AAC/5 7MHz SSB VKFF-784
04:21z VK7CW 10MHz CW
04:24z VK6NU/P 10MHz CW VK6/SW-036
04:27z ZL2IFB 10MHz CW
04:31z VK1DA/2 7MHz CW VK2/ST-004
04:38z VK5WG 10MHz SSB
04:40z VK4RF 10MHz SSB
04:41z VK4HA 10MHz SSB
05:55z VK1RX/P 7MHz SSB VK1/AC-007
05:56z VK1NAM/P 7MHz SSB VK1/AC-007
06:08z VK3WAM/P 7MHz CW VK3/VN-002
06:20z VK1EM 7MHz SSB
06:22z VK1DI 7MHz SSB
06:25z VK2KT 7MHz SSB
06:26z VK5FANA 7MHz SSB
06:27z VK4RF 7MHz SSB
06:27z VK4HA 7MHz SSB
06:28z VK3ZPF 7MHz SSB
06:29z VK3HRA 7MHz SSB
06:29z VK3AGD 7MHz SSB
06:30z VK3TKK 7MHz SSB
06:31z VK3XCO 7MHz SSB
06:33z VK3XL/QRP 7MHz SSB 2W DSB
06:34z VK3PMG 7MHz SSB
06:35z VK5FMID 7MHz SSB
06:36z VK2ETW 7MHz SSB
06:36z VK1ATP 7MHz SSB
06:37z VK1DA/2 7MHz SSB VK2/ST-008
06:38z VK1FJAW/2 7MHz SSB VK2/ST-008
06:49z F/HB9BIN/P 10MHz CW F/VO-033
06:55z EA2IF 14MHz CW
06:56z DK4RM 14MHz CW
06:58z PA1BR 14MHz CW
07:01z DL1ASF 14MHz CW
07:02z S58AL 14MHz CW
07:03z DM5EE 14MHz CW
07:05z JR0QWW 14MHz CW
07:13z G3NKQ 14MHz CW
07:18z VK3PF/P 7MHz SSB VK3/VT-016
07:19z VK3CAT/P 7MHz CW VK3/VT-016