Sydney Harbour NP for VKFF activation weekend 28 Nov 2015

Sydney Harbour National Park VKFF-0473 was the first park I activated for the VKFF activation weekend. Pockets of it cover the north and south side of the harbour. A few weeks before I had spent a couple of hours walking around the park on the southern side of the harbour in search of a location for an activation. I found an elevated spot away from pedestrian traffic and buildings in an area called Nielsen Park in the suburb of Vaucluse.

151128SydneyHarbourMapIt was Saturday morning and I had to drive through Sydney to reach the park. Surprisingly, as I was driving through the middle of the city next to Hyde Park and many high-rise buildings, I was able to work Rob VK4FFAB on 40m in Hampton NP, my first contact for the weekend. This was just before UTC rollover and I hoped to work him again once set up in the park.

151128SydneyHarbourView

View of Sydney Harbour from the operating point

Arriving in Vaucluse Rd Vaucluse, park opposite number 63 (-33.85463, 151.268482) and take Steele Point Rd into the park. Walk 80m down the road to (-33.854457, 151.267577) where you see rocks up to the right then head off and up through the bush to the top then 100m further to (-33.85364, 151.267464). There are no signposts for this one. It is only 5 minutes walk all up and park entry is free. If you have a GPS navigator, just head for the top of the hill which has an elevation of about 40m. There is a large open flat rocky area and a convenient place to attach a squid pole. To the north is Shark Bay, to the east is Vaucluse Bay and to the west is Shark Island though not all of these landmarks can be seen from the top due to overgrowth.

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Stringing up the large ZS6BKW antenna was no problem as there were no overhanging trees to get caught in, and enough trees around to anchor the ends of the doublet. I was on air by late morning and the first order of the day was to chase all of the other parks and summits already on air. There were quite a few of them and this filled the log for the first 10 contacts, all on 40m. 50 minutes in I did get to spot on my own 40m SSB frequency and start calling. Now I had hunters and parks calling me and it seemed as though band conditions were pretty good. As insurance I had brought along the 100W rig but it never left its bag – the KX3 was performing just fine with only 12W.

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Ninety minutes in I went to 20m, but after repeated calls the only reply I had was from Rick VK4RF. I also tried 15m with no result. Seemed as though all the action was on 40m. i did a stint on 40m CW and there were a few hunters, probably not as many as if I’d started out on CW. later on I did another stint on 40m SSB and there were even more hunters coming out of the woodwork. At 3pm (just a little later than planned) the necessary 44 unique contacts had been made and it was time to move on to the next park: Kamay Botany Bay NP.

Statistics

  • 57 contacts
  • 17 park-to-park contacts
  • 7 SOTA contacts
  • 3h15m operating time

Contacts

Thanks for all the contacts:
VK1AI/P,VK2HBG/P,VK5PAS/P,VK4AAC/5,VK3VTH/P,
VK3PMG/P,VK3ANL/P,VK4FFAB/P,VK2HRX/P,VK2NP/P,
VK3PF/P,VK3YSP/P,VK3FOWL/P,VK1DI/P,VK2FABE,
VK2VW,VK3OF,VK5FANA/P,VK2MOR,VK3DAC,
VK5GJ/P,VK5NIG/P,VK3TKK,VK1MTS,VK5STU/P,
VK1MA,VK2XXM,VK1AT/3,VK2ATZ,VK2SR/M,
VK2BFC,VK2FDAV,VK2UH,VK4RF,VK4HA,
VK2IB/P,VK5PAS/P,VK7TW/P,VK7FREU/P,VK4RF,
VK4HA,VK2JDR,VK2HRX/P,VK1DI/P,VK3VTH/P,
VK2UHQ,VK3FQSO/P,VK4FFAB/P,VK7CW,VK2JDR/P,
VK3HRA/P,VK2VKB,VK4RF,VK4HA,VK1NS,
VK3ZPF,VK2NTH.

.

 

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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

 

Mt Marulan and Towrang Range 9 Aug 2015

The last Sunday before the end of the first 10m/6m challenge period provided a good opportunity to head for the hills and activate, especially as VK1 operators would be out in force. The summits chosen near Goulburn are around 100km from Canberra so well within RF range. It was an early start to get to the first one well before UTC rollover.

Mt Marulan VK2/ST-039 868m 4pts QF45XF

Mt Marulan VK2/ST-039 trig point and operating position

Mt Marulan VK2/ST-039 trig point and operating position

Mt Marulan is not too far off the main highway between Sydney and Melbourne with the turnoff in the town of Marulan. It had been activated once before so there were no access problems foreseen. The summit is in a reserve on public land and can be accessed via a track that goes right to the top. The cairn marking the summit is literally right next to the track, however the track itself is overgrown and 4WD is recommended. There are a lot of small trees growing in the middle of the track which one must drive over with the risk of possible vehicle damage. If this is not to your liking, best way is to park at the end of Tickner Valley Rd and leg it the rest of the way. See the trip map below for the route.

Route to Mt Marulan and Towrang Range

Route to Mt Marulan and Towrang Range

Summit

Arriving at the summit I found an elevated cairn with a trig point on top. The pole forming the trig point was leaning over, but very firm and strong. It made a great support for my antenna mast, and being elevated provided an extra couple of metres over my normal antenna height. The area around is mostly clear of high trees as well so a great spot for setting up an antenna. Expecting to try for VK1 to the south, I set up my ZS6BKW antenna east-west and happily was right on schedule.

Map from SIX to help find Mt Marulan

Map from SIX to help find the way to Mt Marulan

Japan S2S

Checking SOTAwatch I noticed a spot for Takeshi JS1UEH on 15m CW so jumped to the nominated frequency. Nothing was heard for a while so I put out a call but there was no response. Another update from SOTAwatch and that showed Takeshi on 10m CW. I changed to that band and heard Takeshi putting out a call, not a strong signal but with no background noise, perfectly workable. I gave Takeshi a call and he responded giving his summit as JA/IB-003. I was very glad to make my second summit-to-summit with Takeshi and Japan. Great to have the contact on 10m too!

Shack on Mt Marulan VK2/ST-039 with two rigs

Shack on Mt Marulan VK2/ST-039 with two rigs

VK1 S2S

Shifting down 10 kHz I then worked Grant VK4JAZ who was activating Mt McDonald VK1/AC-048 with Andrew VK1NAM. Then Andrew was worked on 6m as well as Matt VK1MA, but sigs on 6m were not strong. I then spotted on 10m and started calling with 10 minutes to go before rollover. Andrew VK1NAM and Matt VK1MA came up on 10m with much stronger signals than before. In fact Andrew gave me a 5×9 and he was 100km away – I was only using 10 Watts. Then Andrew VK1DA came up on One Tree Hill VK1/AC-035 for my third S2S.

Rollover

After UTC rollover, worked VK1NAM, VK1MA and VK1DA again on 10m and a new call VK1DI with good sigs too. Another VK1 did come up but I wasn’t able to work him. I shifted to 40m CW and worked 7 stations including Warren VK3BYD for a S2S that I had missed earlier with all the 10m activity.

Returned to 10m and helped Andrew VK1DA with some antenna and ATU tests. Seemed that Andrew’s ATU was dropping signal strength by 3 S points. Then it was time for breakfast – better late than never. it was also a chance to set up my other rig. I kept going with the KX3, spotting on 10m CW but got no response to a lot of calls. it was time to deploy the other rig.

Antenna on Mt Marulan VK2/ST-039

Antenna on Mt Marulan VK2/ST-039

QRO

The FT100D and ATU was plugged into the antenna and tuned up fine on 10m. I spotted on 10m SSB and started calling. I had a reply and a nice chat with Hiroshi JJ6VAR who seemed to be receiving me just fine. The radio was set to 100W so that certainly helped. Nick VK2AOH then came up for a S2S from Mt Banks VK2/CT-032 in the Blue Mountains. After another JA contact, I swung the antenna around to favour NA and the WA6APQ California beacon on 28.244 increased in strength. After more calling with no response Andrew VK1NAM appeared on a new summit, Mt Taylor VK1/AC-037. Grant also popped up for a CW contact from the same summit and then it was time to close down. I had overstayed by more than an hour hoping to catch these S2Ss. Bundled everything away and hit the road.

Postscript: Details on how to reach Mt Marulan summit

Since activating Mt Marulan I have had enquiries on how to get there. Its best to walk up rather than drive up the overgrown track – Phil VK2JDL reports that in Dec 2015 there are fallen trees. The track is not too steep or too far. More details:

  • Drive to the end of Tickner Valley Rd, Marulan and park
  • Go through the rusty gate at (-34.773778,149.925574) giving access to Lot 28 (525 Tickner Valley Rd)
  • Continue (west) 50m to a Y junction
  • Take the right fork and then follow the track 300m up the hill parallel to the fence (the left fork goes to a building 60m away on Lot 28)
  • At the top curve left and keep following the track 1.4km until you find the Mt Marulan cairn in a clearing

Boxers Creek

Continued along the track and found it to be longer and steeper than the incoming track though this time it was down hill. Eventually ended up in the town of Boxers Creek. Identifying the best way to the next summit was not easy. All routes seemed to discourage visitors. I’d seen a spot come up from Andrew VK1DA so drove to the highest point on the road to try and work him on 10m but no luck.

Sign to Mt Marulan on Tiyces Lane

Sign to Mt Marulan on Tiyces Lane


Towrang Range VK2/ST-052 873m 4pts QF45VF (1st activation)

Turned off the main road and followed one track which led to a dead end. Retraced my steps and tried a different track eventually ending up at a farm but couldn’t find anyone in the workshop so proceeded on. Eventually met the owner and after explaining my intention he agreed to guide me to the mountain. A tree had fallen across the track so we had to go around through the bush. Some tense moments when my car ended up right against a tree while negotiating a narrow passage. The track eventually came to an end in a clearing with plenty of space for parking. The owner departed to clear the fallen tree and I headed on foot towards the summit which was up the hill, through a gate and about 500m further on. The track is well marked.

Map from SIX to help find the way to Towrang Range

Map from SIX to help find the way to Towrang Range

Summit

The summit has a flat area covered with tall trees and there was no trig point. I found the base of a cut tree to hold up the squid pole. It was 3:45pm so I was well behind my alerted schedule which meant I only had a bit over an hour to activate. Putting up a spot for 10m SSB on SOTAwatch I started calling hoping to work Andrew VK1NAM. There was no response however a check of SOTAwatch showed Grant VK4JAZ on Isaacs Ridge VK1/AC-041 requesting a contact. I switched to 40m and made the S2S. Later on I found out that Andrew had already packed up so that reduced my chances of making a 10m contact.

Antenna and operating point on Towrang Range VK2/ST-052

Antenna and operating point on Towrang Range VK2/ST-052

I moved on to 40m and qualified the summit just on CW contacts then back to 10m for more CQ calls. Eventually I received a call from Matt VK1MA. Hallelujah! I received a similar report as on Mt Marulan and was very happy to make the contact. After that I moved on to 20m CW to make some EU contacts over the long path. My antenna had been set up for VK1 contacts so I did not expect a lot, but still managed a handful before they dried up.

Finally I moved on to 40m SSB, worked a national park, a bunch of chasers and in the last moments, a summit. It was Andrew VK3ARR doing a short activation of Mt Alexander VK3/VN-016. It was getting dark so after one more contact I quickly closed down and headed back along the trail. There was still enough light when I got back to the car to find my way back along the track without too much guesswork. I met up with the owner on the way out, let him know about the successful activation and thanked him again. A couple of km along the track I emerged onto the bitumen road.

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Highlights

  • First activation of Towrang Range VK2/ST-052
  • S2S with Takeshi JS1UEH on 10m
  • First time use of FT100D on a summit allowing 100W
  • SSB contacts on 10m with Japan
  • California 10m beacon heard on 28.244

Equipment

  • Elecraft KX3 powered by 4200 mAh LiFePO4 battery
  • ZS6BKW antenna on 9m mast
  • Yaesu FT100D powered by 4200 mAh battery
  • LDG Z11-Pro matcher

Thanks to the many chasers and activators and of course the land owner for making this activation a success!

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