Oceania DX CW Contest – Brisbane Water NP 10-11 Oct 2015

BrisbaneWaterNPmapThe second weekend in a row of contesting, this time the CW section of the Oceania DX contest and a chance to activate another National Park. I headed for the Central Coast again to Brisbane Water NP VKFF-0056 just west of Woy Woy, about 60km north of Sydney. Driving south from Kariong I ended up driving through the park. Pulling off into a clearing the first potential location was checked out. It was at the top of a hill 500m off the road. After a climb and some bush bashing decided that the route was not practical. Drove back 1km along the road to a track shown on the GPS leading to the summit, but the track was fictional so this location was abandoned.

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Area map around Staples Lookout showing shack and antenna positions

Staples Lookout

Continued further south 2km along the road to Staples Lookout. Just opposite the lookout is a gated fire trail and aerial views on internet mapping sites showed a big clearing 300m down the track. After a quick visit to the lookout, I headed down the track and discovered a very nice site for my activation. Picked a spot and then returned to the car to collect the camping and radio equipment.

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Carpark and fire trail access opposite Staples Lookout

Set up the double-sized ZS6BKW antenna first (the blue line in the picture above) and then the regular sized one (red line). This went pretty smoothly as there were few trees to clear with the antenna wires. The antennas were set up more or less perpendicular to one another similar to the previous week at Wyrrabalong National Park. For the station I opted just to sit outside on a chair in the evening so setting up the tent was deferred until a quiet time.

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Outdoor shack used for the evening

Contesting

Contesting started 15 minutes after the scheduled time of 0800z (7pm) so not much time lost and a lot earlier than the previous week. Most contacts in the first two hours were made on 40m and then 80m came into its own. Contest style was hunt and peck as I was a QRP entrant with only 5 Watts. After an hour on 80m it was back to 40m again for another hour. It wasn’t until the fifth hour before contacts were made on 160m, and these were the only three for the contest. At the end of that hour it was time to set up camp. The four-person tent was quickly erected and equipment transferred inside. There was a lot more room than the small tent used the previous week. Contesting could continue, but most of an hour was lost.

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Camp site with two antenna masts

Contacts became hard to find. The local stations were all tucked up for the night. After a further hour without a contact, I did the same – after a run to the car to charge a battery. Turning in at 2am was a little later than planned and needless to say I was ready for it.

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Sunset at the operating site

Morning

Arose around dawn, probably a little earlier than planned. Retrieved the freshly charged battery from the car and visited Staples Lookout for a better look. Captured some pictures of the sun rising and the low clouds and fog sitting over the suburbs around Woy Woy. It was quite a magic sight. See below.

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Returned to the station and started contesting again. It was slow going, maybe because I was trying to have breakfast at the same time. After a few band changes ended up on 15m which proved fruitful for a couple of hours and there were useful contacts on 10m as well. Being a Sunday morning there were people shooting past on mountain bikes and the occasional bushwalkers too. At around 1pm it was clear that a storm was coming. The colour of the sky and the view on the BoM radar indicated that it was about an hour away. I started to pull down the station beginning with the 160m antenna and all the non-radio stuff inside the tent. Kept calling using the keyer in the KX3 but there were few responses other than the growing static crashes.

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Operating at the indoor shack

The last contact was made at 1:50pm and then the whole lot was quickly packed up before any lightning came into view. Three trips up the track to the car and it was all over for the contest. This is quite an early close considering the contest goes until 7pm. However, I was very glad not having to pack up in the rain.

Bulgandry Aboriginal Carvings

Drove a couple of km north towards Kariong and found the Bulgandry aboriginal carvings area. This is also inside the National Park and my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to visit. With the occasional crash of thunder high overhead I proceeded along the track to the carvings. It seemed unexpectedly far from the carpark, but I was rushing in anticipation of rain. Luckily it stayed dry and I was able to admire the carvings at leisure.

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Returning to the car I considered whether it would be possible to continue contesting in spite of the storm. The lack of sleep and the difficulty of re-establishing a radio site swayed me against the idea. The storm was bearing down with increasing force and within the hour heavy rain was falling. I was glad to seek shelter with a relative and sit it out.

Statistics

  • Contest contacts: 81
  • Non-contest contacts: 3 (SSB SOTA)
  • Hours contesting: 11.5
  • Hours in park: 23.5
  • Bands used: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10m
  • Locator: QF56PM
  • Claimed score: 26727

Compared to the SSB contest, contacts were much harder to find and there were many stretches without a contact. I made half the contacts but operated for much less time owing to the early closedown due to the storm. It will be interesting to see the outcome of the contest.

OCDXCW2015stats-VK2IO

Contest contact and multiplier accumulation over time

Band   QSOs Mult  Pts  Inv 
160 m    3    3    60   0 
 80 m   18    9   180   0 
 40 m   31   23   155   0 
 20 m    5    5     5   0 
 15 m   19   16    38   0 
 10 m    5    3    15   0 
  QSOs/Multiplier:   1.4

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) v3.12b 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

Thanks to all who made contact!

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Map of contacts from Brisbane Water NP VKFF-0056

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!

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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

Popran NP for the Remembrance Day Contest 15-16 Aug 2015

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.

Popran National Park site for RD 2015

Popran National Park site for RD 2015

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.

Arrival

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.

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Power

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.

Radio and logger in Popran NP

Radio and logger in Popran NP

Contesting

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.

Antenna positioning in Popran NP

Antenna positioning in Popran NP

Second antenna

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.

Computing

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.

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Triple points

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.

Resumption

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.

Conclusion

RD Contest scoring statistics for VK2IO

RD Contest scoring statistics for VK2IO

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!

Mt Olive

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.

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Highlights

  • 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

Equipment

  • 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
  • Headlamp
  • Turnigy Accucell 6 charger

Thanks for all the contacts!

150815PopranContactMap

Map of CW(green) and SSB(red) contacts from Popran NP VKFF-0417

 

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