Mt Royal NP for Field Day and SOTA 19-20 Mar 2016

A triple-header for the weekend with the John Moyle Memorial Field Day contest, WWFF at Mt Royal National Park VKFF-0362 and SOTA from two summits within the park.

VK2/HU-024 810m 4pts QF57PS in Mt Royal NP VKFF-0362

Headed first to the VK2/HU-024 summit which is just outside the southern edge of the park by a matter of metres. The activation zone to the NE is well within the park and happens to lie along Mt Royal Rd and conveniently there is a cleared space to the side of the road suitable for camping and operating from. Note that not all maps show the correct location of the park boundary or of Mt Royal Rd near the summit. SIX maps and the OzTopo GPS map V7 are OK. I activated from (-32.24473,151.28366) marked on the map with a red “X”. The park boundary and the location of the summit are also shown. There would be an elevation difference of a few metres at most between the summit and the activated location.160319VK2HU-024map

The John Moyle is a 24 hour contest starting at 0100z (noon). I arrived at about 12:45pm and walked around the area with my GPS to find the summit and check for the exact park boundary. Once confirmed I started setting up. Weather was warm with clear blue skies and no wind so a perfect day to be out and activating. A 3m metal pole at the side of the road provided a perfect mount for lashing my squid pole. I was able to raise up the base of my squid pole by 1.5m to increase the effective height of the antenna. First contact in the log was at 1:12pm, a S2S with Tony VK1VIC at Mt Ginini. Normally I use a paper log but for contests I just about always use a computer, and so it was for this contest. Well over an hour was spent working through the stations on 40m SSB and then there was a spell on CW. 40 minutes there netted 9 contacts so the pace was leisurely. I used my KX3 and had it wound up to the full 15W output. Antenna was the usual ZS6BKW inverted-Vee with the apex at nearly 10m off the ground and oriented NW-SE. To obtain this orientation, the antenna crossed the road, but with the lowest point being at about 8m it wasn’t going to be a traffic hazard!

A new three hour block had started so I could rework stations again so back to 40m SSB starting out with 3 S2S contacts. Then hunting and pecking through all the stations calling CQ for half an hour then started calling on my own frequency. The band was pretty crowded but there were still slots available. This kept me busy for another half an hour before it was time to give 20m a go. It was pretty quiet on there with only 2 stations calling from VK6. Maybe I had missed all the action. So back to 40m with the odd listen on 80m. A car full of locals stopped for a chat and find out what I was up to. The road does not go through anywhere so there was less than one car per hour going past. I mentioned my intention to scale Mt Royal and was warned about the presence of tiger snakes.

Nearing 7pm I decided to have a break from contesting and set up the tent. This was pitched next to the metal pole as the amount of free antenna feedline was limited. My operating chair was moved inside the tent and used as an operating table. After a 40 minute break I was making contacts again – still on 40m SSB. After less than 15 minutes I switched to 80m SSB where there was a lot more action. I was able to work stations in VK1, VK2, VK3 and VK4 mainly by calling CQ.

160319VK2HU-024ant

Antenna at VK2/HU-024

Operating from inside the tent was very nice as it kept off the cool breeze, and it really did cool down quite a lot after sunset. The evening was spent operating on 80m and 40m. There was a dearth of stations on CW, just weak rapid fire stations operating in another contest. I was surprised at the lack of activity. I was keen to make a 6m contact as there had been no response to earlier calls. I made a contact with the Blue Mountains radio club station VK2HZ on 80m and asked them to try 6m. They said their 6m operators were in bed – it was only 10:15pm. Still, they were happy to try for a contact on their wire antenna. Unfortunately it was a no-go as they were only just audible to me and I had a fraction of their transmitter power. it would have to be left until morning.

160319VK2HU-024night

Night time shack at VK2/HU-024

There were still plenty of stations about on 80m and a few on 40m so I kept going. Conscious of my plans for Sunday I decided to turn in at 12:45am when things became a bit quiet on the bands. It was now just CQ callers that I had worked before so a good time to cut it short. I would need all my strength and alertness for Mt Royal!

In the morning I awoke to find it already quite light. My beanie had slipped over my eyes and kept things dark and the lack of light had allowed me to sleep more than expected. It was after 7am and weather was still nice, though overcast and a little crisp. I was back on the radio at 7:45am for a short stint until 8:30am. I was able to find VK2HZ again on 80m and arrange for a 6m contact with their VHF team. This time it was successful over a distance of 183km as they were using a beam rather than a wire antenna. I also was able to just hear a station in Bathurst, but they weren’t able to hear me. The other contacts I made in the morning were on 40m and I found 80m full of ragchewers and nets.

Mt Royal VK2/HU-007 1174m 6pts QF57PT in Mt Royal NP VKFF-0362

Packing up the camp site, shack and antenna occupied an hour and then it was off to the next summit. Driving up Mt Royal road one passes through the Youngville campground area after 5km at (-32.1995,151.3094). It would make a good base if one wanted to stay a few days and operate from the park. Continuing on 3km one reaches a Y intersection with a picnic area directly ahead at (-32.1823,151.3156). At 850m elevation this is the starting point for the walk to Mt Royal VK2/HU-007. A single sheltered picnic table and a park sign marks this location.

The walk starts immediately behind the picnic table and follows the ridge line all the way to the top. There is not just one clearly defined track but a series of parallel tracks that weave in and out from each other. The gradient is steep most of the way, around 2 in 5 so it is not for the faint hearted or infirm. The elevation is 320m over 2km so its a good idea to take breaks along the way. I did not need to climb very far before entering low cloud though the visibility was still fine for following the trail. There are various rock piles along the way providing reassurance that you’re on the right track. Just after half way up there is a rocky outcrop and while it would appear attractive to skirt around it, the best way is to scramble up over it. Further up after an open area one comes to a wall of foliage with seemingly no way to get through. There is a track on the right side to duck and weave around the trees which seemed to be the best approach. I only discovered this on the way back!

The rest of the way up has quite a dense wooden canopy with some sections having very little headroom. Near the top there is a faux summit that one can skirt around to the left. One must keep going past here another few hundred metres to reach the destination. The summit holds a trig station with Royal stamped in the vane and is covered with tall spindly trees. The tracks around the trig point are quite well trodden probably due to the presence of a geocache nearby. On the trig point cairn there is a log book with a large rock sitting on it providing little in the way of disguise.

160320VK2HU-007station

Station at Mt Royal VK2/HU-007

The tree cover near the trig point is quite low so rather than set up on the trig point itself, I set up my squid pole attached to a tree nearby. The antenna wire was woven around some trees and branches and with the dropoff the ends of the antenna were only about 2m off the ground. The usual ZS6BKW was used on the 8m squid pole with the antenna apex at about 7m off the deck. It had taken 1.5 hours to reach the summit and set up so there was still half an hour left until the close of the John Moyle contest at 12 noon. Again I concentrated on 40m SSB and in the time available I was able to snag 8 more contacts. At that point the computer log was closed off and I reverted to the paper log.

At contest end I was able to start spotting on SOTAwatch and the first was for 40m CW. Conditions were certainly poor as there were only 2 contacts. After 3 summit-to-summits on SSB I went to 30m CW and made 2 more contacts, one of those being a S2S with Ron VK3AFW. Then I went through 20m CW with no contacts then chased JL1NIE unsuccessfully on 15m CW. On 20m SSB I did make four contacts. There was a successful S2S with JF1NDT/1 on 12m CW then on 15m SSB one contact with a JA and nothing on 30m SSB. Finally I ended up on 40m SSB for a bunch of contacts including two CW contacts on 7090, one a S2S with Tony VK3CAT.

160320VK2HU-007shack

Shack at Mt Royal with PC for contest logging

Once the callers ran out I stayed around for a bit on the summit before packing up and departing about 3pm. Mobile coverage on the summit was pretty good on the Telstra network though there were dropouts. For example, I missed a spot from VK2QR by 15 mins and so did not get the S2S. The signal was up to 3 bars on the phone if positioned in a certain spot, but at other times there was no data. Sitting it just off the ground the signal was coming and going.

160320VK2HU-007viewW

View looking west just down from the Mt Royal summit

The return journey was a lot quicker than the climb as the better tracks to take were more obvious and there was a lot less huffing and puffing. I did not need to descend very far before the cloud cleared allowing some visibility of the valleys below. It would certainly be a spectacular spot on a clear day.

Highlights

  • 2 SOTA summits and 1 park qualified
  • 242 contacts including 20 CW contacts
  • 21 park-to-park contacts
  • 15 summit-to-summit contacts
  • no tiger snakes!

 

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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.

151011BrisbaneWaterLocalMap

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.

151011BrisbaneWaterNPTrailAccess

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.

151011BrisbaneWaterNPOutdoorShack

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.

151011BrisbaneWaterNPCamp

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.

151011BrisbaneWaterNPSunset

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.

151011BrisbaneWaterNPShack

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!

151011BrisbaneWaterContactMap

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!

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

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

 

Winter SOTA Party on Mt Bindo 2 Aug 2015

Jenolan State Forest VK2/CT-005 1310m 8pts QF56AG

For the VK1 Winter SOTA Party I headed up to the NSW Central Tablelands on the Saturday afternoon so as to be ready for an early start on Sunday 2/8/15. En route I stopped off in the Jenolan State Forest for an activation of SOTA summit VK2/CT-005. Having already activated there in March it was just for the 3 winter bonus points and any contacts for the 10m/6m challenge. The summit is 90 km due west of home and takes just under 2.5 hours to get to by road. Upon arrival I put up a spot on SOTAwatch for 10m CW and quickly set up just down the hill from the tall pine trees to the east so as to have a better takeoff to Europe via the long path.

Jenolan State Forest activation site

Jenolan State Forest activation site VK2/CT-005

Luckily Nick VK2AOH was already waiting for me when I jumped on the key. On 10m SSB I had one call from VK2PM in Sydney who is not a regular SOTA chaser. Box ticked for the 10m/6m challenge! Next I went to 20m CW and worked a bunch of EU stations with received signal reports around the 4 or 5 mark so it seemed my signal was climbing over that pine forest. Then to 40m CW to keep the locals happy and 8 more contacts. One hour before sunset I had to close to make it to my destination so there wasn’t an opportunity for 40m SSB – sorry chasers. There were 3 summit-to-summit contacts on 40m with Justin VK7TW & Hugh VK5NHG on SSB and Ian VK5CZ on CW and a total of 21 contacts. A quick close down and then the short 25 min drive to the next summit, retracing my steps most of the way.

Shack in Jenolan State Forest VK2/CT-005

Shack in Jenolan State Forest VK2/CT-005

Mt Bindo VK2/CT-003 1363m 8pts QF56AH

Arrived at Mt Bindo 15 mins before sunset and started setting up the antenna. I was torn between jumping on 20m to catch the last of the EU long path propagation and setting up the camp site. There was quite a wind on the summit and it seemed best to create some shelter before starting to operate so the tent went up right next to the trig point. 45 mins after sunset I spotted on 20m CW and was able to work only one EU and one Qld station so the propagation had flown. I tried 20m SSB and made no contacts.

Camping at the Mt Bindo trig point VK2/CT-003

Camping at the Mt Bindo trig point VK2/CT-003

First Japan-Australia summit-to-summit

About to swap bands when a SOTA spot came in from an activator in Japan. It was Takeshi JS1UEH on 17m and he was activating Ashiosan JA/IB-006 in Ibaraki prefecture just NE of Tokyo. Switching bands I heard Nick VK2AOH making a contact so I thought there was a chance for me too. Takeshi’s signal was not strong, but it was the first SOTA station I’d heard from Japan so I was very excited. My antenna was set up north-south for Europe/NA not east-west for Japan so the weak signals were no surprise. The contact was made and a 429 report sent. This is the first summit-to-summit SOTA contact between VK and JA. Japan has only recently become part of SOTA on 1st July. Soon afterwards Takeshi spotted on 15m and his signal was a similar strength as on 17m. He apparently did 20m earlier too but I was unaware of that. Great to make the contact with Takeshi-san!

SOTA database record of first JA-VK S2S

SOTA database record of first JA-VK S2S

Hunting

After the JA S2S excitement I progressed through 40m CW, 40m SSB and 80m CW. Unusually, there were no callers on 40m SSB, but it was 7pm by then so the band was in DX mode. I heard gunshots in the distance, several volleys worth. This was obviously hunters in the state forest. On a previous visit I met a professional hunter contracted to eradicate wild dogs. On the drive in I had passed some people who were probably preparing for this activity once the sun had gone down.

Sunset at Mt Bindo VK2/CT-003

Sunset at Mt Bindo VK2/CT-003

Overnight

With HF contacts exhausted, I started to prepare for the following day. Checked out 2m on a hand-held and found I could reach a lot of repeaters including the Mt Ginini repeater west of Canberra, a distance of over 200km. This should be a good way to contact activators – or so I thought. Had some dinner, listened on 80m for a while and then turned in early. Just before drifting off to sleep I heard the sound of my squid pole collapsing. I decided to leave fixing it until the morning. There was a slight possibility that I would wake up for the EU short path opening but I’d made an executive decision not to bother. The wind was strong and blew all night. I was woken up a few times by strong gusts deforming the tent – see the picture! In the end I decamped to the quietness and safety of the car which was not quite as comfortable but better for shut-eye.

Sunrise at Mt Bindo VK2/CT-003

Sunrise at Mt Bindo VK2/CT-003

Cancellation

Overnight there had been no rain, but the wind was getting stronger. The dawn was lovely but it wasn’t long before showers arrived, just short ones with long gaps in between. I reset my antenna on the squid pole and changed its orientation 90 degrees to favour the ACT. Checking the email over breakfast there were many messages on the adverse weather in Canberra. Heavy rain had fallen there overnight and discussion raged over whether to postpone or cancel the SOTA Party. There was a decision to delay the start and make a further assessment of the weather. After 2 hours with further rain arriving, the event was cancelled. I was already set up and ready to go so that wasn’t an option for me 🙂

Luckily, the Canberra weather did clear up a bit and some hardy operators ventured out in the rain and activated some summits. First morning contact was with Roald VK1MTS at One Tree Hill VK1/AC-035 on 40m. I had spotted and called on 6m SSB and 10m SSB with no result up until then. There was a spot from VK3TST/1 on 52.525MHz FM but the WIA broadcast from Dural was blasting out on that frequency. Note to VK1 ops – avoid 52.525 from 10 to 11:30am Sundays.

Strong northerly wind gust = major tent deformation!

Strong northerly wind gust = major tent deformation!

Rollover

Just after UTC rollover at 10am a sequence of spots arrived – luckily not the wet kind. Leading the charge were VK3s HRA and CAT on 40m CW and signals were good. Roald then popped up on 10m and I was able to make a S2S contact into VK1 with his 40W registering an S4 on my meter over a 183km path. My 10W gave him a 5×1 signal and it was an easy contact. If only there were more activators! I stuck around listening for all Roald’s callers from VK1. The only one heard faintly was Ian VK1DI. Clearly it helps to be on a summit! A spot did come up for Andrew VK1DA on 10m but all I heard was Roald and nothing on 6m. See the elevation profile from Roald to me in the following picture. The purple oval shows the first Fresnel zone on 28.5 MHz.

One Tree Hill VK1/AC-035 to Mt Bindo VK2/CT-003 elevation profile with first Fresnel zone for 10m

One Tree Hill VK1/AC-035 to Mt Bindo VK2/CT-003 elevation profile with first Fresnel zone for 10m

Shocking!

I stuck around for another hour logging four more S2S contacts. At one point I started to hear a succession of pulses through the radio and wondered whether this was the approach of lightning. I disconnected the antenna and got a big jolt from static electricity when touching the BNC connector. It must have built up on the antenna due to the wind. My radio was sitting off the ground, the feedline was off the ground and there was no earthing so no discharge path. Kite-lifted antennas are recommended to be kept grounded and I wonder if other portable operators ever earth their stations? The KX3 has zero DC resistance between the two legs of the antenna so any static buildup would be summed, yet I’ve never been bitten before. Food for thought for my next activation.

Darker clouds were building and it seemed as though the rain would arrive soon. The tent had been blown dry and I did not want to put it away wet so down it came. Folding up the tent in a gale was interesting, and not successful at all. It wasn’t neat but it was dry. The station came down shortly afterwards and it was spitting with rain when the squid pole was collapsed. Timed that pretty well I thought. A total of 17 contacts including 9 S2S had made for a great activation at Bindo.

Hartley

When planning the weekend I pencilled in some other summits for activating in the afternoon. These would require a 1 hour walk each way. There was plenty of time to do them but the prospect of bad weather made the idea unattractive so instead of driving there, I drove to the historic town of Hartley and checked that out instead. While there I was able to make 5 chaser contacts, check out the gallery, old pub and courthouse. I was hoping that Nick VK2AOH on the Newnes Plateau nearby would activate on 10m but it did not eventuate so I headed back towards Sydney.

Wollemi National Park VKFF-544

At Kurrajong I stopped at the Bellbird lookout after a 90 minute drive. Weather was fine, warm and clear with great views. The wind had dropped too. Consulting the book of maps I realised I was overlooking the nearby Wollemi National Park. The idea surfaced that it wasn’t too late to do a WWFF activation of the park.

Kurrajong Lookout panorama over Wollemi NP

Kurrajong Lookout panorama over Wollemi NP

The GPS unit with topographic maps was consulted to find the exact location of the park and the coordinates set for navigation. I ended up on a track that weaves into the park and found the fence line that marks the boundary. Luckily this agreed with the GPS. The squid pole was attached to the back of the car and the antenna raised. I set up the LDG antenna matcher inline as well.

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First problem was that there was very sketchy mobile coverage. Try as I might using the parksnpeaks app there was no way of getting a spot up for my planned activation of 20m. The EU long path was open and I called but had no response. With no spotting ability I jumped onto 7090 and started calling there and got a response straight away from Paul VK5PAS en route to activating a park himself. 23 VK callers followed and one ZL and some of them surprised at the signal strength asked what I was running. Paul came back on after 10 minutes and gave me first contact into the new park he was activating – thanks, Paul! The sketchy track into my location meant I had to close down before dark to allow easy exit. There was no way I was getting on 20m at all, but there were enough contacts in the log already to call it a success. There will be other opportunities to reactivate this park and make 44 contacts.

Thanks for all chaser/hunter contacts and summit-to-summits.
Big thanks to Andrew VK1NAM who organised the event – and was then not able to participate. Mother Nature truly has the final word. Now looking forward to the rescheduled “Mark 2” event on 30th August.


Highlights

  • First JA S2S contact – with Takeshi JS1UEH
  • 10m S2S contact into VK1 with Roald VK1MTS
  • Surprise 10m contacts from VK2/CT-005
  • Unexpected park activation at Wollemi
  • 12 S2S contacts, 1 park-to-park contact
  • Tent survived the gales without maintenance
  • Winter SOTA Party was a success despite cancellation!

Map of the trip

Winter SOTA Party 2015 trip map

Winter SOTA Party 2015 trip map

Equipment – SOTA

  • Elecraft KX3 @ 10W
  • ZS6BKW inverted Vee doublet on a 9m squid pole
  • 4200 mAh LiFePO4 battery
  • PC headset
  • Quickdome 4-person tent

Equipment – WWFF

  • Yaesu FT-100D @ 100W
  • ZS6BKW inverted Vee doublet on a 9m squid pole
  • LDG Z-11Pro matcher

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

QRP Hours Contest 4/4/2015

With no 80m antenna at home I went portable for the QRP Hours Contest. A large body of water provides a good reflector for the antenna and the nearest for me is the Hawkesbury River. I drove 30 mins to Cattai National Park but being after 8pm, the gates were already locked. Driving back towards Windsor through Pitt Town there were 3 other potential sites checked out but I found none were suitable. Finally I ended up in Macquarie Park on the opposite side of the river from the Windsor Town Centre, a location used in a previous contest. At the far end of the carpark there are no power lines or street lights, it is flat and metres from the river, but unsealed. The kind of place that should be compatible with 80m and QRP.

Antenna

In-car shack for the QRP Hours contest

In-car shack for the QRP Hours contest

The day had been very rainy so the carpark was very muddy. Having spent an hour looking for a site, there was less than 25 mins to set up before the contest started at 9pm (1000z). Luckily, it had stopped raining. Even more luckily, there was a sturdy signpost next to the carpark, perfect for attaching the antenna mast. The 10m squid pole was launched and in order to gain a bit more height, an extra 2m Aluminium mast was installed and strapped to the bottom of the squid pole. The antenna, a full size 80m dipole, was up at 11m in the centre and tapered down to 3m at the ends. It was oriented NW-SE with the SE end less than 10m from the river. There was no time to add more than 2m to the mast with the start looming.

Radio roulette

The KX3 was set up as the contest radio, but unfortunately the power cable was missing. The radio did not want to transmit for more than a second from the internal batteries without shutting down. I would have to use the mobile rig instead, a Yaesu FT100D. The mobile whip was disconnected, a UHF joiner put in and the 80m dipole connected. No tuner is needed with the dipole as the VSWR is flat at 3.560 MHz. Changing rigs meant I had to use the straight key from the car rather than the paddle used with the KX3. Also, the radio has no memory keyer so all CW would have to be sent by hand.

Being a QRP contest, I jumped into the menus of the FT100D, found HF power and dropped it from 100 to 5 in the hope this would be under 5 Watts. These adjustments are not usually linear, but the power meter still kicked from zero into the first bar so I knew something was being radiated – and that was enough. Must admit, it felt a little strange winding the wick back that far – in the mobile you want as much grunt as you can get.

Logging

Computer log and radio for the contest

Computer log and radio for the contest

The contest has 2 parts, the first hour being for CW/RTTY/PSK31 and the second hour being for SSB. For logging I used my trusty 10″ Netbook computer running VK Contest Log v3.11. This software has a lot of customisations to suit many contests. In the case of QRP Hours, there is no customisation. To get around this I chose the QRP Day contest which is a 4 hour contest that runs in August/September. Or at least it used to. Perhaps 2011 was the last year and QRP Hours replaced it – there are a lot of other local contests in August including the Remembrance Day and ALARA.

CW

A few minutes after the 9pm hooter sounded I got started on CW. There were some stations calling CQ TEST but I decided to find my own clear frequency and send some CQ calls rather than hunt and peck. This proved to be quite fruitful as once I got my first reply, the callers kept on coming with not too much down time. After half an hour things slowed up markedly and I started to hunt around the band, but all the callers had already been worked. I kept calling on my original frequency. At the end of the first hour I’d made 14 CW contacts.

SSB

Extended antenna mast on handy signpost

Extended antenna mast on handy signpost

The second hour and time to switch to SSB. 3555 kHz was clear so I started calling there and soon found some other contesters. In VKCL I just had to click SSB to change modes. First up i worked Paul VK1ATP and we discussed resetting the serial number. He reassured me that the rules just say keep incrementing the number so I presumed there was no need to restart. It would have meant starting a new log which would have cost time. I pressed on and there was a steady stream of calls. After 20 minutes, another station came up close in frequency so I shifted a little higher, made some more contacts there and then things got quiet so I decided to hunt for callers I hadn’t worked. After working a few I found my previous calling frequency in use so had to find a clear one. The new frequency was 3590 and with 15 minutes to go I kept calling there until the end of the contest. The last minute was a big rush with 2 callers and no time to give out a signal report, just serial numbers. At the end of the hour I’d made 30 contacts on SSB.

Post contest

After the contest I hunted around and found Andrew VK1DA chatting to Ian VK5CZ so joined in for a bit of a discussion on the contest. Neither Andrew nor myself had heard a VK6, but Ian had worked one. Andrew is the acting contest manager. We all agreed that there had been a lot of interest from SOTA people and that it had been a lot of fun.

The following day the power output of the FT100D was checked into a dummy load and found to be 4.2W, well within the limits for QRP operation. The good ground plane on the flood plain had done the job. I was very pleased to make it into VK1,2,3,4,5,7 and ZL1 with such low power.

Thanks contesters for all the calls.

Log

Call Date Time Freq (kHz) Mode RST Sent RST Rcvd STX SRX
VK2AOH 20150404 100806 3520 CW 599 599 1 1
VK2AFA 20150404 101055 3520 CW 599 599 2 2
VK2YW 20150404 101310 3520 CW 599 599 3 3
VK3WE 20150404 101612 3520 CW 599 559 4 2
VK4AXM 20150404 101736 3520 CW 599 599 5 1
VK3HRA 20150404 102205 3520 CW 599 599 6 4
VK3BYD 20150404 102453 3520 CW 599 599 7 3
VK7EE 20150404 102647 3520 CW 599 579 8 4
VK5CZ 20150404 102931 3520 CW 599 9 7
VK3GK 20150404 103257 3520 CW 599 599 10 1
VK5LJ 20150404 103837 3520 CW 599 599 11 10
VK2UH 20150404 104432 3520 CW 599 599 12 14
VK3YE 20150404 104854 3520 CW 599 559 13 10
VK2JDR 20150404 105728 3528 CW 599 599 14 7
VK1ATP 20150404 110129 3555 SSB 59 59 15 5
VK3DAC 20150404 110210 3555 SSB 59 59 16 1
VK2AOH 20150404 110302 3555 SSB 59 59 17 1
VK2AFA 20150404 110343 3555 SSB 59 59 18 12
VK2YW/P 20150404 110418 3555 SSB 59 59 19 9
VK1MDP 20150404 110457 3555 SSB 59 59 20 1
VK2HRX 20150404 110525 3555 SSB 59 59 21 1
VK3MIX 20150404 110631 3555 SSB 59 59 22 5
VK3YE 20150404 110737 3555 SSB 59 55 23 4
VK2UH 20150404 110834 3555 SSB 59 59 24 4
VK5ARG 20150404 110853 3555 SSB 59 59 25 6
VK7JGD 20150404 110927 3555 SSB 59 59 26 2
VK5LJ 20150404 110956 3555 SSB 59 59 27 16
VK5WG 20150404 111101 3555 SSB 59 59 28 2
VK3HRA 20150404 111133 3555 SSB 59 59 29 8
VK2ACD 20150404 111202 3555 SSB 59 59 30 8
VK2YK 20150404 111239 3555 SSB 59 59 31 1
VK5FANA 20150404 111540 3555 SSB 59 59 32 7
VK2BEN 20150404 111749 3555 SSB 59 59 33 1
VK5CZ 20150404 112302 3556 SSB 59 59 34 25
VK5ATQ 20150404 112549 3556 SSB 59 59 35 7
VK3GK 20150404 113659 3556 SSB 59 59 36 26
VK5EE 20150404 114104 3557.5 SSB 59 59 37 20
VK2JDR 20150404 114223 3560 SSB 59 57 38 11
VK5FO 20150404 114302 3563 SSB 59 59 39 22
VK7HKN 20150404 114948 3590 SSB 59 54 40 12
ZL1NAY 20150404 115028 3590 SSB 59 59 41 1
VK3OF 20150404 115408 3590 SSB 59 42 14
VK3MTB 20150404 115925 3590 SSB 43 8
VK5BB 20150404 115959 3590 SSB 44 8