Mt Eaglehawk, Mt Barranhet, Mt Strathbogie and VE-203

Hi all,

Mt Eaglehawk VK3/VN-022

Rik Head VK3EQ mentioned that he would attempt to activate Mt Eaglehawk before the summit is no longer valid for SOTA activations. I was also keen for the same, so Rik kindly gave me a heads up when he was heading up.

Rik was heading up with a friend, Russ, up to Bogong and Mt Eaglehawk was an on the way stop. I headed up myself to join them, and then planned other activations afterwards.

Mt Eaglehawk is on private land, so if anyone else plans an activation, they would need to get information from Rik first. It turns out that Rik grew up in the area and therefore knows a lot of people.

We were able to get up the whole way to the summit in Rik’s Subaru. We needed to pile out of the car for one steep bit, where the wheels were slipping on the loose gravel, otherwise it was armchair ride. Both Rik and I don’t care for easy summit access interpretations for able bodied people, so we duly headed down 30 vertical metres with all our gear and headed back up and operated away from the car.

Rik quickly got his contacts, while I operated the FT-817 on CW. It’s interesting using the touch keyer again after using the KX1 key over the last month. The touch keyer just needs to be touched – so to speak, so it is ultra responsive. I’m not sure how it would go if trying to key CW with gloves on, but I know the KX1 keyer can do that.

For people unfamiliar with CW and what I’m talking about, these keyers are used with an electronic keyer to generate the dits and dahs of morse code. By touching one paddle of the keyer, dits are generated, the other generates dahs. Touching nothing generates nothing. As most morse characters have various combinations of dits and dahs, the two paddles are touched as required. The touch keyer needs only to have touch by a finger. No force is necessary. The KX1 keyer needs only light force.

These paddles allow for morse to be generated much more cleanly than a “straight keyer”, which is the old style morse keys from the first half of the 20th century. Some feel, that true CW is only on a straight key, but I do beg to differ.

As I had a FT-817, I also brought a microphone, and operated voice so a number of people absent from the log over the last month with me using the KX1 found their way in this time.

I feel that the KX1 receiver is significantly better than the FT-817, and for operating CW, it is a much better radio. I do have a narrow filter in the FT-817 for morse, but the variable filter of the KX1 is a nice feature. The KX1 could resolve signals that the FT-817 could not. Of course my own signal is up using the 817, as I can send a full 5 watts, rather than the variable 1 to 3 or so watts on the KX1 based on input voltage, band and antenna.

There are some nice views on the approach to the summit:

Looking towards Mt Hickey from near Mt Eaglehawk

Looking towards Mt Hickey from near Mt Eaglehawk

Looking south east from near Mt Eaglehawk

Looking south east from near Mt Eaglehawk

Mt Barranhet VK3/VU-001

With Eaglehawk done, I said farewell to Rik and Russ, and headed towards Barranhet. Peter VK3PF had activated this summit, so I intended to follow what he had done. I used Bonnie Doon Rd and Mt Piper Track to get within about 1.5km of the summit. The road enterers a pine plantation and there is a no entry sign at 972212. The edge of the plantation is on the edge of state forest, however and state forest is fair game. I don’t think it would be right to use the parameter road as this tends to go onto pine plantation land, but using the edge of the road clearing seemed ok to me. On the way up, I proceed to point 971215 and then bushbashed up the side of the mountain, drifting a little to the north and came to the summit from there. On the way back, I used a road cut into the mountain, which skirts the summit to the north. It heads southwards to the plantation at point 962211. This would be the easiest way to access the summit, to proceed on the parameter of the plantation from 971215 to 962211 and then use this road northwards in the state forest up to close to the summit.

I used the KX1 on CW 20/30/40, while the FT-817 on SSB. There is a growing audience of CW chasers (although nearly all of them also will chase on SSB, given no CW). A few are willing to chase CW even though they knew for this activation they would likely pick it up a little later on SSB. That was pleasing.

One decision I have made is that I will adjust the “random wire” with a proper 1/4 wave counterpoise on 40m. I already have one for 20/30 and the KX1 can tune the wire no problems on those bands, but 40 is always a bit of a problem. SWR tends to be 1.7+, but often low 2s, even high 2s. Not really good enough. On the other bands, it generates higher power and SWR is generally below 1.5. It is time to get similar performance on 40, and also be able to use 7.027 and 7.032 as I wish, rather than having to retreat up to 7.287 sometimes.

Got a shot towards my net destination from point 962211:

Mt Strathbogie from near Mt Barranhet

Mt Strathbogie from near Mt Barranhet

Mt Strathbogie VK3/VE-132

This summit can be accessed from Ferraris Rd, which passes about 500m to the west of the summit. A 4wd track heads up from there, with a branch going to the summit itself.

I operated here using the KX1 on CW and the FT-817 on SSB. I used only the endfed from this summit on 20 and 40 only. VK6NU was trying to get me, and we heard each other, but not enough to get the contact.

The summit has some large rocks but it is still all under tree cover. There is an installation on the summit, with a CCD camera for those who want to get up to trouble.

Mt Strathbogie summit

Mt Strathbogie summit

VK3/VE-203

My final summit of the day was just down from Mt Strathbogie. I accessed it using Ferraris Rd down to Glen Creek Rd. Good going in a 2wd. Older maps show a track going to the summit from the saddle, and this road exists, although is gated. It’s steep in places but not too hard going up to the summit. I finished the day operating only on the FT-817, for both CW and SSB. VK6NU appreciated the higher power, and we completed the contact here on 20m.

A nice day out for some SOTA, but now it’s back to work!

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Activation of Mt Dandenong, First Summit 2 Summit with Norfolk Island

Hi all,

Surprise activation

I was not planning to do an activation this day (Thursday the 9th of May), but some of the Dx-pedition team of VK9NT announced that they would activate Mt Bates VK9/NO-001, so it was a quick change of plans.

Getting out the vertical

It has been awhile since I have used the vertical on a SOTA activation. Most of the time these days I use the end-fed which works much better for local contacts, but once getting outside of 1000km, the vertical certainly starts to outperform the end-fed. Norfolk island is about 2300 km away, which for a single hop needs a reasonably low angle of radiation, hence the vertical is dusted off.

My vertical arrangement used to consist of 8 75cm aluminium segments above the feed point with guy ropes securing it at the 2nd and 4th segments. I added a loading coil, which improved performance on 40m. It’s tapped, so I also have points for 30m and 80m. I bypass it on anything shorter.

With the squid pole, I dispensed with 6 of the segments and the guy ropes. I attach a wire to the top of the squid pole and attach the other end to the top of the loading coil. The bottom two aluminium segments, plus my feed point (about 30cm off the ground) remain as per the old days. This arrangement takes about 15 minutes to set up 4 radials, which is enough to put me in business. It beats the 45 minutes the old arrangement used to take to set up. If there is any lull in proceedings, I then gradually lay out the remaining 4 radials.

Activating VK3/VC-025

After a short delay, I was on the air about 20 minutes after I was scheduled. I operated from a spot about 70m away from the summit restaurant, which was around 12 vertical metres down. I started off on 40m and worked the usuals. Signal reports were not too bad on the vertical, with many signal reports from 55 to 58 (for those that were sky wave). It’s not as good as the local reports on the end-fed, but certainly the vertical is working well today. I found VK9NT operators, but non SOTA, on 17m working their pile up. They were quite faint, so they were not likely to hear me, certainly amoung all the high power stations from the US calling them.

I saw on sotawatch that the VK9NT SOTA operators were up on 20m. I went over there, but it was a little tough with some QRM. Eventually they changed up 20 and I was able to work them. My QRP signal was weaker than many of the home stations came up on 20m, and it was a little difficult to get in there, with many familiar SOTA chasers working them, plus plenty more from NA and Europe. Quite a number of these were not specific SOTA chasers. They must have wanted the extra calls after working the non-SOTA VK9NT station.

After working VK3CBV/9 for the first ever VK9 summit to summit and VK3QB/9 right with him, I had a little more time. I called on 14.062 CW, just like the old days. Some nice strong 589 station coming in, and I was even getting 559 reports back. Not bad for QRP into W, and sometimes even my received report for QRP is better than what I hear them – which considering my <s1 noise floor is somewhat of an achievement.

Ahhhh for the days of SOTA DX and CW pile ups on 20m. Need to get those Euro and G s2s happening again. There's still an s2s outstanding to Andy MM0FMF.

The vertical at VK3/VC-025

Here’s a look at the setup:

Vertical antenna at Mt Dandenong

Vertical antenna at Mt Dandenong

And a closer look at the feed point, with the LDG tuner handing directly on the feedpoint. There’s an ugly balun on the radio side of the tuner. The 8 radials can clearly be seen in this pic, especially if you click on it.

Vertical antenna feedpoint

Vertical antenna feedpoint

Finally, looking up the squid pole. It’s a much easier configuration using the squid pole to provide most of the physical structure. The only reason I’m still using the aluminium sections is to a) have the feedpoint off the ground, and b) have the loading coil 1.5m above the feedpoint.

Looking up the vertical antenna above the loading coil

Looking up the vertical antenna above the loading coil

All in all, a nice satisfying afternoon.

73, Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

4 summit activation around Mt Dom Dom

Hi all,

Again, it’s time to head for the hills and get into some of that SOTA good oil. For this series of activations, I wanted to have a good look at 2m again, and the colinear was planned to see a lot of action. I did take the end fed for 40m, but the plan was to only use it if I could not get 4 contacts on each summit. We’ll see how things go.

Mt Vinegar VK3/VC-005

This summit is between Dom Dom saddle and Mt Donna Buang. From either place, it would take some time to get in, and this was my original plan. On looking at maps, I thought I might be able to get closer access from Acheron Way, and this proved to be the case.

Access can be via Caters Gap Rd and this is a forest road with large aggregate. Forest Explorer shows it becoming a 4wd track, but the road quality remains good. I thought I would use the Cleft Rock Walking Track, but could not find it. That area had been subject to recent logging, so the track would have been destroyed anyway. I proceeded to point 825356 and turned left, to head up the hill. This went through a logging area, but the track remained passable for a 2wd without too much difficulty. I climbed up the mountain and parked about 843345. I could have gone about another 500m before a locked gate about 1km from the summit. In any case, it was a much shorter walk than I had anticipated.

I put up the colinear and called on 146.5 FM. This was going to be the most difficult summit out of the three that I had planned for the day as Mt Vinegar is hidden from Melbourne by a few closer hills that are part of the Donna Buang system. Even on VK3REC, a EMDRC repeater, action was slow – but this was not because I could not reach it. Perhaps people were slow out of bed today. I was able to reach the repeater with just a HT with a 1/4 wave antenna, so I was able to keep the FT-817 on the colinear. I eventually had to try 144.1 SSB to get the 4th contact. The stub I have for the antenna gives a good SWR at 144.1, so it is good to see that this project has obtained a good result.

Here’s the operating location at Mt Vinegar:

Operating location at Mt Vinegar showing a squid pole. 2m colinear, a backpack, a FT-817 and other radio gear

Operating location at Mt Vinegar

When operating, it’s always nice to have a good rock to sit on:

The shack at Mt Vinegar showing a rock to sit on, plus the pack, a Wouxun HT, a Yeasu FT-817 and other gear

The shack at Mt Vinegar

With the car closer than planned, I thought I might be able to get to Mt Gordon a little before 11am for the UTC midnight change over.

Mt Gordon VK3/VN-027

This summit is part of the 2013 batch to join the SOTA program in Victoria. It is a summit located between Marysville and Narbethong. Access is via a 2wd track that heads off to the north from Marysville Rd which is shown in Forest Explorer as a 4wd track.

There is some commercial gear at the summit as shown below:

Commercial towers at Mt Gordon

Commercial towers at Mt Gordon

With these commercial towers, I imagined that I would suffer from QRM problems with overloaded frontends and it proved to be the case. The colinear is fantastic at bringing in weak signals, but the downside is an overloaded FT-817 front end. With the FT-817 overloaded, there was no point trying the Wouxun HT.

I was able to get two contacts before 11am, and a good number afterwards. I had enough FM contacts to get the SOTA activation points, but sometimes it took some patience. I was getting into Melbourne well enough, but the QRM would take out the readability of other stations. It came and went, and when it was absent, I had a sub s1 noise floor.

A nice touch at the end was getting VK3PF on SSB at 146.475 This frequency is turning out to be a SOTA vertical SSB frequency of choice, just a little down from the national FM calling frequency. I still go down to 144.1 for the SSB chasers down there still, although most of those have horizontal antennas at that frequency, so there’s a bit of a mismatch with my vertical colinear.

Here’s a look through some of the regrowth (and cooked dead trees) towards Marysville from the summit:

Marysville from Mt Gordon, with some dead trees in the foreground. The slopes of Lake Mountain can be seen in the background

Marysville from Mt Gordon

Here was a good view of the Cathedral Ranges from Mt Gordon:

Cathedral Ranges from Mt Gordon

Cathedral Ranges from Mt Gordon

Mt Dom Dom VK3/VN-017

Call me irrational, but a high profile search from a few years ago had me edgy about this place. Still, Mt Dom Dom likely to be the easiest of the three summits to activate on 2m, so the HF antenna would remain unused. I headed in from Dom Dom saddle to about point 813382 on what is marked a 4wd track but is a narrow but good 2wd track. The point where I left the car is about where Forest Explorer shows a walking track. This walking track does not exist. The southern side of Mt Dom Dom has been logged in recent years, so the growth is not too bad. I headed up the side of the mountain “following my nose”. Most of the time it was ok. I think the best approach is to head up the middle on any old logging vehicle tracks that still exist. In a few years, the whole place will be overgrown and access will have to be via the more mature forest on either side of the recently logged areas.

Here’s a look at my operating location there:

Operating location at Mt Dom Dom showing the squid pole and radio gear

Operating location at Mt Dom Dom

Action was still a little slow from Mt Dom Dom. I was getting strong reports from those who did come up from Melbourne, but there were not too many of them.

Got a nice view looking back towards Melbourne from near the summit. See if you can find my car:

Watt River valley and Melbourne from Mt Dom Dom

Watt River valley and Melbourne from Mt Dom Dom

A highlight of this activation was a QSO with Glenn VK3YY on Britannia Range VK3/VC-011. Mt Donna Buang is in the way, but we were able to get the QSO home on SSB. I’ll need to find out from Glenn what antenna he was using.

Mt Toolebewong VK3/VC-033

My final activation was actually an unplanned one, but because I was running ahead of schedule, I was able to put in for a bonus summit. Signals from here were stronger into Melbourne, as more paths were unobstructed. I had a lucky one at the end with Peter VK3ZPF, who called on 146.5 halfway through packing up, but I left the HT on. We were able to exchange reports, but I still had the colinear up in the air. This allowed us to compare the 1/4 wave “rubber ducky” with the colinear. Both ways were significantly up with the colinear.

And with that, it was time to head for home. A nice day with 4 new summits to add to the uniques collection and 18 SOTA points.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

2013 John Moyle Field Day

Hi all,

The John Moyle Field Day is a Amateur Radio contest conducted once a year. It, along with the VHF/UHF field days represent the four major line of sight frequencies based contests in Australia. The John Moyle field days (JMFD) also have a substantial HF component that is not present at all on the VHF/UHF field days, and while it also allows activity right into the mm bands, typically operators are exiting stage left at 23cm or 13cm.

It’s a good contest for backpack portable because of the 6 hour section. It also rewards repeat contacts on CW and Digital modes, unlike the VHF/UHF field days. I am finding that I am able to operate chasing contacts nearly the whole 6 hours rather than lots of CQ’ing.

Mt Torbreck VK3/VN-001

Last year I participated in the JMFD from here, and I decided to do the same again this year. Mt Torbreck is the closest 10 point SOTA summit to Melbourne. It has no commercial radio equipment on the summit and is not accessible by road. There is only slight obstruction into Melbourne, so with a reasonable antenna, one can work HT stations on 2 and 70cm. The JMFD has a distance component, and Mt Torbreck is a good distance away to get many Melbourne contacts into the higher point distance bands. A number of JMFD stations also head southwest and west from Melbourne for the field day and this means that those contacts are high value. The EMDRC normally activate Mt Cowley as VK3ER for this contest and Mt Torbreck has LOS to Mt Cowley, about 222km away. Incidentially Mt Cowley is VK3/VC-022, but VK3ER drive to the top and use generators for their high powered station, so they are not a SOTA contact.

Mt Torbreck is accessible by a 2km walking track which climbs about 300m from the car park to the west of the summit. The walking track is steep and good shoes or boots are a plus. It takes about 50 minutes to climb up and 40 back + extra if carrying a lot of weight. I was carrying a lot of weight on this trip.

Equipment

I normally plan to make two trips up because I have too much stuff for one trip. The stuff to be carried up includes:

  • Yeasu FT-897 all mode rig
  • Yeasu FT-817 all mode QRP rig
  • 2 squid poles for a 2m and 70cm colinear antennas
  • 6 1.5m al segments to make 3 times 3 metre poles for various antennas
  • A turnstile antenna for 6m. This uses four 72cm M10 al segments with M8 taps to screw in 4 more 75cm segments to form two dipoles that are perpendicular horizontal polorization. There is an effective ugly balun for 6m near the feedpoint with a female UHF connector
  • A quadruple quad antenna for 2m, which comprises of 10 al segments. There are two fiberglass poles about 50cm long to mount at the bottom and the top. This goes through a 2 PVC pipes that join together so that they are just over 2m long. This is mounted on the pole by a small al segment to offset it, and a bit of sticky tape to provide a shunt to ensure that the PVC remains vertical
  • A similar setup on 70cm but here I have two quadruple quads
  • 12 Turngy 3S 5000mAh LiPos. I put 3 in parallel x 2 in series when using them, so I effectively have two rounds of this
  • A 12V down DC-DC converter sitting on the output of the LiPo array
  • 3 Turngy 3S 2.2mAh LiPo packs to power the computer for a while
  • A laptop with a supply that takes a 12V input
  • 12 18650 lithum ion cells in 4 lots of 3 in series. Each one can be used to power the FT-817 for a while – my typical SOTA power setup
  • A pile of Anderson Pole terminated power cables, including four 1 to 3 Y cables
  • A collection of LMR195 and LMR400 cables. The 195 cables have either BNC or UHF connectors. The LMR400 are all N connectors. I also brought up a pile of converters. I typically use UHF on 6m and BNC/N on 2 and 70. The FT-897 has a UHF connector for HF/6 and an N connector for 2/70. The FT-817 has a UHF and a BNC connector which can be configured through the menus
  • A one man tent to keep me out of the sun and the forecast showers
  • A MiniVNAPRO and the extender to do some tests on the antennas to ensure all is ok
  • Some plyers, shifters and other misc equipment to do any small repairs to equipment if that proves necessary
  • A collection of HT radios for 2 and 70. The idea being to use these for FM on 2 and 70 for at least some of the contacts to save power
  • Some headphones
  • A CW touchkeyer
  • A Signalink USB for digital modes, plus my Phone/Digital interface for a backup if required

For those who follow my SOTA activations, you would realise that this is far more than I normally take. You may realise why two trips are needed. Practically this means walking UP then DOWN then UP the mountain before the start of the contest, then DOWN then UP then DOWN at the end.

The setup

Upon arrival after the first accent, I put up the tent and piled the stuff in. Carrying all that LMR400 cable, the FT-897 and the 12 LiPOs certainly was a lot of weight and it took 1:10 to get up. I headed back down and got the remainder of the stuff, and it took 40 min down and 50 min up. First was getting the squid poles up. My 2m colinear has seen a lot of SOTA action, and a little stub I made up for 144.1 works well. Very low SWR – nice one. I use it without the stub on 146.5, with SWR around 2. With the stub for 144.1, 146.5 has a SWR around 3.

The 70cm colinear is short, with the good oil around 455MHz. I planned a stub for this to get 439 at least in the game, but I was not successful. There will be more about this in another blog post in the future, but for now I could not effectively use this colinear – what a shame because this was going to be the main game on 70cm vertical. I put up one of my whip antennas on the squid pole about half way up and fed it LMR400 cable back to the radio.

Next up was the 6m turnstile. This is pretty quick to put up. This is not a gain antenna, but it is enough to put me in the game on 6m and it can break up quickly to go in a pack. It gives an SWR below 1.5 at both 50.15 and 52.15

Here’s a pic of the 6m antenna in the foreground with the two squidpoles in the background, plus the operating tent. You can see the trig point to the right in the trees:

Operating location at Mt Torbreck with a 6m turnstile, plus 2 & 70cm colinears on squid poles

6m turnstile, plus 2 & 70cm colinears

The 2m quadruple quad was next. Last year I had two of these in an array, but they were too phyisically heavy to put up, so I jury-rigged up one. This year I did not bother with an array, just going for one with some work to mount it more effectively. There’s a pic below. It was well below 1.5 SWR at 144.1 and around 1.7 at 146.5.

2m quadruple quad at Mt Torbreck

2m quadruple quad at Mt Torbreck

I had thought of trying a longer pole but I would need to use stronger materials. Another idea is to mount it on a squid pole. I’ll think about this for next year, but this will be asking a lot more of the squid pole than a wire inverted V, end fed or a vertical on HF. Why a quadruple quad? Because it is roughly equivalent to a 15 element yagi, especially if I can get it off the ground a bit more.

Finally it was the 70cm quad-quad array. Here’s the pic:

Array of 70cm quadruple quads on Mt Torbreck

Array of 70cm quadruple quads

One of the quads didn’t work so well, and time was running short, so I simply used the other one. Their feedpoint impedance is reported low at about 25 ohms. I’ll need to look into this some more, but I wanted to get operating at around 1:30 to 1:45pm so off I went.

The contest

It started lightly raining about 12pm, so I was a little reluctant to keep the MiniVNAPRO out in the elements. A few mad dashes and doing some analysis on the computer. My plan with the computer was to run it on the three 2.2Ah LiPOs directly until they were flat and then run it on the main supply for an hour. I could then run the computer on its own batteries for the rest of the time without them running out by the end. This worked well, but the 2.2Ah LiPOs gave me more time than expected. Nice to get more than you expect! When the LiPO monitors were reporting individual cells on the 2.2Ah batteries down to 3.55V, I pulled the computer out.

The whole 6 hours of operating was quite fast and furious. Most of the action was on phone, but VK3ER had a digital setup, at least on 6 and 2. They also had CW on 6/20/70 so there was some good triple dipping. I used Fldigi for PSK, and was more comfortable using it in the end in my one man tent lying on my side trying to type on a computer with the pouring rain outside than what I was in the middle.

I was also glad I brought the headphones, because the rain was very loud in that small tent. During the worst periods, I would mainly use the vertical antennas, which the main gun was the 2m colinear. The little whip at the end of the LMR400 cable on 70 was just no match for the 2m colinear. I need to get that 70cm colinear going for next year, these babies are just too good to ignore. The colinear being omnidirectional on the horizontal plane was good during the pouring rain because I did not need to get out of the tent to adjust anything. Same goes for the 6m turnstile (although it’s not a gain antenna). Gain on 6m might be a little hard to do given it needs to fit in a backpack along with everything else.

There was a 2 hour sunny period during the middle of the contest. This allowed me to get a bit more relaxed and I made more use of the quadruple quads. Towards the end it was raining again, but I really wanted some nice juicy contacts north into VK2, and my 2m q-quad was able to get them.

As for power, I already mentioned that the 2.2Ah LiPOs powered the computer well. I ended up not even using half of the 5Ah LiPOs, the first set of 6 were only 80% used at the end, with cell voltages around 3.75V. The “knee” on these is at 3.65V where the voltages start to fall away more quickly. I was hammering away with FM at 50 watts on 2m, but the LiPOs and the 12V regulator powering everything were stone cold. Not even lukewarm. This was a contrast to last year because my old 100 array of 18650 cells could not handle it. The LiPOs are just so much better for this usage.

Come 7:30pm it was finish time. I ended up not even turning on the HT’s. I barely used the FT-817, which is a major change from last year, where because of power constraints, I made most FM contacts on the HTs, and used the FT-817 for a fair amount of the rest. This year, the FT-897 was used for every scoring QSO. Did I mention that half of my big LiPO’s were not even touched? 🙂 I just had to make sure that at least 4 QSOs were at 5 watts so I could keep my QRP SOTA activator’s endorsement intact.

Packing up

So contest finished, and it was time to go home. Too much stuff there to just leave it – although the thought did cross my mind as to what would happen if I just walked down the mountain with all that stuff still up there! It was raining again and it took about an hour to pull down all the antennas. With all the wet conditions, I needed to be careful getting the fragile computer back down the mountain, so I thought I’ll go easy on the weight on the first trip, but still enough to hopefully not have a tonne of weight on the second. One thing I’ll need to make sure of next time is to split up some of the LMR400 cable on the trips because this stuff is heavy.

I left on the first trip down at 8:30, left the car to go back up at 9:20, packed up the tent and did my final checks to make sure nothing was being left and departed Mt Torbreck at 10:20pm for the last time. I arrived at the car at 11:15. It was slow the last time with the heavy pack and the slippy wet conditions on the way down. At least it had stopped raining. I was very tired for the drive home and needed a 15 min powernap in Healesville to keep things safe. My wife thinks arriving home at 2:30am is crazy but it was a very good day with 92 contacts and over 1440 JMFD points.

Regards, 73, Wayne VK3WAM

Three summits around Central Vic Radiofest

Hi all,

Ron, VK3AFW organised a table for Summits on the Air to use at the Amateur Radio Victoria Central Victorian Radiofest, Sunday 10th of February. This was a chance to spread the word about SOTA. I also gave a shortish presentation of 20 minutes about SOTA. Given the trip up to Kyneton, there was a chance to have a look at a few activations on the way.

Mt Macedon VK3/VC-007

I decided that all my activations today would be 2m only. I took the colinear, and had done some work to improve the match, as discussed in Constructing a 2m colinear Part 2. Unfortunately, RG58 is a bit of a pain to work with, because if a little too much dialetric is stripped back, the centre conductor can push back and cause a short in the connector. This happened to me where I put a connector in for my stub. I had to move the stub a little further back, so now I was only going to try to match for 144.1, and leave 146.5 at about 2.5 SWR – make another stub for that later. The stub was tested at a SWR at about 1.6 SWR. This is close enough for me, given I was not actually trying for a 1:1 match, and the point of the stub was not exactly controlled!

I operated from the very impressive cairn that marks the summit. It was a bit foggy as can be seen in the picture.

Large cairn incorporating a trig point at Mt Macedon summit

Mt Macedon summit

The tower seen in the background overloaded the front end of the Wouxun, so I had to use the FT-817 for everything, including FM. The 817 was struggling a little on 144.1 SSB with interference. Still it was a good session with a varied number of contacts from different places, but none quite like Glenn VK3YY picking up a near 600km contact from Renmark from here on the previous day.

Here’s a look at the operating location. Glad I brought the foam for a nice dry place to sit.

Radio and other operating equipment used at Mt Macedon

Operating location at Mt Macedon

With that, it was time to go to the radiofest for a few hours and then the next activation of the day.

Mt Cobaw VK3/VC-015

Accessing this summit was a little interesting. I first headed up Prendergasts Rd, which was shown on a Vicroads directory as a through road. It is not. Perc Boyers Lane goes off it, but is a rough 4wd track only. I headed back and tried then using Reillys Rd from Burke And Wills Track. Reillys Rd is a good quality 2wd gravel road. Burke and Wills is sealed. Camp Track is marked on Forest Explorer, but actually appears to follow a 4wd track at 918777. This has some huge ruts, so it was only 50m in on the 2wd before parking and continuing on foot. It was easy to find Soil Pit Track and I headed along this to about 907776 and then headed due west off track for about 200m to access the summit. There appears to be a track coming in from the north from Camp Track to the summit as well.

Here’s a pic of the final approach to the summit. Easy off track walking.

Forest on the final approach to Mt Cobaw from the east

Approaching the summit from the east

Again, I operated only on 2m. Action here was all FM, with quite a few s2s to be had. There were a few trying out SOTA after the Radiofest. Without any commercial sites here, no problems using the Wouxun on FM.

Pretty Sally VK3/VC-034

The final summit for the day was Pretty Sally, which is only a short distance north of Wallan. The summit area itself appears closed to the general public, but Old Sydney Road enters the activation zone. I operated from a spot near the Beauview Dr junction, northwest of the summit. This had the effect of putting me on the wrong side of the hill for a lot of Melbourne, but it turned out I still was able to work people from the eastern suburbs through the hill.

Again, a 2m activation, most on FM, but one on 144.1 SSB. Here’s a few picks of the operating location and the colinear in action. The colinear works well, but it means there is more unwanted signal also coming in to overload weak radio frontends. Here, the Wouxun could not be used, but the FT-817 was ok.

Radio and other gear operating at Pretty Sally

Operating at Pretty Sally

Colinear on a squid pole at Pretty Sally

Colinear on a squid pole

With that it was time to head home. Three new summits to add to the collection. On the way home, I noticed that a small fire had started on the William range area, near where Rik VK3KAN had been earlier in the day. It looked like it was just a few hectares at that stage. We need some decent rain soon!

Regards, Wayne Merry VK3WAM

3 summit activation: Mt Mitchell, Sugerloaf Peak & Federation Range

Hi all,

After my building of a colinear antenna for 2m, it was time to try it out, and what better than a SOTA activation. I picked three summits that were close to each other, and where it was possible to get into Melbourne on 2m, but only one of these summits, Federation Range VK3/VN-003 had anything that was close to line of sight.

Mt Mitchell VK3/VN-012

After getting my gear together early on Friday morning, I headed out (about an hour late) up to Mt Mitchell. There is a well made gravel road that leads up to close to the summit. The main 2WD road skirts the edge of the activation zone, getting about 5m into it. So, it is best to park the car a little down from a junction NE of the summit with a 4WD track. This track is mostly in the activation zone and passes over the summit to the north and then the west. Being 2m, I wanted to be at the summit itself to get good takeoffs in most directions, especially south and west. Approaching from the north west meant summitting.

The vegetation is recovering from the 2009 bushfires. The fire here was intense and killed nearly all the trees. Regrowth is currently about 2m high and is not too bad to get through. There are also rock areas about 10m across to make things a little easier. I found one of these close to the highest point and set up here to operate.

I was wondering how the colinear would go with electrical shorts, and it was no surprise to find that a short had developed when I set it up. Thus began a process of taking down the squid pole and checking the various connections. One thing that I have noticed is that because I used RG58/U – to obtain a shorter antenna – with a stranded centre conductor, the setup is far more susceptible to shorts. When I did the soldering, I did not have the best light. I am going to have to resolder the connections and ensure all strands of the centre conductor are captured by the solder. As it is, there are free strands that make their way where they are not supposed to.

After about 20 minutes of stuffing around, I managed to get a short free colinear. I was running way behind time, so I did not bother getting a VNA readout of the colinear. It has acceptable SWR over the whole 2m band, but it could be optimised as it looks like the centre point is at the top end of the band. This means the positioning of the choke on the input cable could be pushed out a little.

The colinear worked well. I was able to make a contact with Peter VK3PF down in Gippsland, even though there are quite a lot of hills causing obstruction over the path of well over 100km. Clearly this thing has some gain. The only comparison that I made was into VK3REC, an EMDRC repeater. The 1/4 wave on the HT could break the repeater. The RX was scratchy, so you had to move around a little. The Colinear had it well over 5 and 9 plus (I guess 20dB). So I need to fix up the shorting problem to get this baby on the air more often.

I was present at the activation area for about an hour, but with the stuffing around to locate the short in the colinear, I only operated for a little less than half an hour. I headed back to the car, grabbed some quick lunch at Buxton and headed for Sugerloaf saddle underneath Sugerloaf peak in the Cathedral Ranges State Park.

Sugerloaf Peak VK3/VN-011

I have been to this summit twice before. The first was many years ago, when I was not very experienced in overnight walking. We (my wife and I plus some friends but I cannot remember now who they were) camped at Farmyard, about 3 km to the north. We planned to head down to Sugerloaf Peak and return to Farmyard. It was overcast and foggy. We never made it to Sugerloaf due to a few spots on the “track” that were very exposed on the rock.

My second attempt was as part of a warm up for a 16 day walk in SW Tasmania. I was walking with a guy to train him up physically for the Tasmanian walk. He is an experienced rock climber. There is a path that goes up the side of Sugerloaf Peak that he said would be graded 3. He said it is much harder when carrying a full pack. Nonetheless we went up. I would have never have gone up without him, but he clearly knew what to do. Foot here, press against that, move other foot there, etc. I just did what I was told and he made it look easy. I, of course, had no idea of what to do. The tables were turned a few weeks later in SW Tasmania, where luckly I knew what to do out of the group that went down.

So for this my third visit, I headed up the “less hard” track, which still has lots of open, exposed rock. It would be tricky when wet, but in dry conditions, just take good footwear, and don’t look down too much.

Also, since the fires, there has been an upgrade of facilities at Sugerloaf saddle. There is a nice shelter there now which could fit more people than would ever likely be there at one time, ever.

I made the summit in good time. Check the colinear cable – no electrical shorts. Looking good. Raise colinear – shorts! Try as I might for the next 45 minutes, I could not find the short. Do I raise the end fed on 40m, or get out the 1/4 wave. This is supposed to be the hardest summit of the day, will the 1/4 wave on 2m even make it into Melbourne? Turns out it did without too much trouble. I did not get any contacts on FM, but SSB saved the day.

I should make mention of the BHI NEDSP1061-KBD noise reduction module here. I have one of these installed in my FT-817, and in my FT-897 as well. It does make SSB easier to listen to, but it can also improve readability where the signal is on the limit. It helped two of my QSOs today, pulling what would have been R3 to R4, and R4 to arm chair copy. If something is R1, it won’t help it, but if it is R2, it can pull it to R3 and you’ll get the QSO that you would otherwise would have not.

Sugerloaf peak is the most scenic of the summits of the day, so here are some pics.

Looking north west from Sugerloaf Peak

Looking north west from Sugerloaf Peak

Sugerloaf Peak, looking north, with sheer drop off to the right

Sugerloaf Peak, looking north.

Notice the drop off to the right on the pic above (click it for a better view).

Squid pole with colinear on Sugerloaf Peak

Squid pole with colinear on Sugerloaf Peak

Federation Range VK3/VN-003

Time for the final summit of the day, Federation Range to the north of Lake Mountain. I headed up to the ski resort and parked in the main car park. This place is D E A D during summer. I headed up the XC ski trails heading north and after about 30 minutes made it to the top. The activation zone is fairly large, but again, 2m makes you want to operate from the highest ground. This time I did not bother to attempt to operate the colinear. I simply plugged the 1/4 wave into a Wouxun KG-UVD1P and started up. I made two contacts on FM, but then things were slowing down. Time to plug in the FT-817 and I got 5 more contacts on SSB. Even Peter VK3PF got a look in. The path to his QTH is not clear, but there is much less in the way than at Sugerloaf Peak. I still think that if the colinear was able to be operated there, he would have got that summit in his log.

The activation here was short as I wanted to try and be out of the resort area by 6:30pm. In the end it was closer to 6:40 when I was back on the Marysville Woods Point rd, but it seemed not to matter. It was an interesting day for 3 summits and 20 SOTA points, all on 2m. It would have not been possible without SSB, but I need to get this colinear working! Even though its first adventure did not quite work out, I think this antenna has already shown its promise and with a little corrective surgery, need not be a pain in the rear end!

One little side note: I took up some 18650 cells, but in the end the internal battery on the FT-817 was able to last through all three activations. It was getting a little tired in the end, and if I had wanted to keep going, I would have needed to plug in the external power. It lasted about 1 hour 30 minutes of operating, but that included quite a bit of FM at 5 watts, which is going to hit it harder than CW or SSB at full FT-817 power.

Regards,
Wayne VK3WAM

EDIT: There were a few shorting possibilities in the colinear. I used some unused RG6 insulation to provide a shunt on the joins to provide greater structural integrity. The BNC connector itself had developed a short! I have a good crimping tool, but these are the hazards with working with stranded centre conductor coax.

Constructing a 2m colinear Part 1

Hi all,

My recent 6 summit SOTA trip contained a few QSOs on 2m. All bar one of mine were using a Wouxun 2/70 HT with a 1/4 wave antenna on 2m. This is convenient, but is really only one step up from the stock antenna supplied with the unit. The antenna uses the radio and the operator’s arm as a (in)effective counterpoise, imposing significant loss to the system, well over 10dB. It’s time for a bit of gain.

Why a colinear?

I had a look at N1HFX’s colinear page among others. There are various types of colinear out there, some are based on a jpole, while this is a series of alternating half wave sections. The design from N1HFX is about a permanent installation, but I wanted something that could be used on a SOTA activation. There is a debate about whether to use a beam or a high gain vertical. The beam can be changed from horizontal to vertical and back by changing the mounting of the beam, but here in Victoria, most chasers would have vertical orientation. Horizontal does come out on field day contests, but aside from that vertical does seem the go.

A second consideration is that chasers might come from a variety of different directions. A beam is going to have a main lobe in one direction, with a series of nulls in others. This is good for some use, especially where either the direction of the wanted station is known, or there is some local source that is wanted to be nulled out. On most SOTA summits, there is not large local sources – obviously there are exceptions – but also radios such as the FT-817 do have good rejection of these. The chaser direction is not always known, and can vary quite widely.

For these reasons, I decided to go for a colinear. I also plan to use it as my vertical antenna alongside a Quadruple Quad for horizontal on the John Moyle MFD, which is the only VHF/UHF contest that I spent much time thinking about. Even for that contest, I generally think about running a station, taking advantage of my equipment optimisation for SOTA by going to places that require foot or non-car access to the summit.

Squid Pole and Coax choice

In the last few months, I have been often using a 7m (actually 6.8m) squid pole to provide a centre mount for a 20/40m end fed or the structure for a tunable vertical antenna for the HF bands. I began to think that this squid pole could provide a structural platform for a 2m colinear. The N1HFX design calls for 8 half-wave segments. I have been using LMR195 for a lot of my coax cables. This is a RG-58 replacement with better loss performance. One effect of this is that it has a higher cable velocity, measured with my MiniVNA Pro at around .825 One issue with these higher velocity ratios is the cable needs to be physically longer, compared to RG58. So, I needed to actually use RG58, rather than a drop in replacement for this colinear. I bought some from www.rfsupplier.com/

The MiniVNA Pro measured the RG58 cable from rfsupplier at 0.66, so this makes for a shorter setup than LMR195. It will actually fit on the Squid Pole with 8 half wave segments, rather than having to go to a 4 segment version. This should make for a nice antenna.

The first job is to cut up 8 lengths of RG58. I settled on a centre frequency of 145MHz. This is to provide for 144.1 SSB and for 145.5 and 146.5FM simplex not being too far away. We’ll see how that goes. Each length needed to be 300/145 /2 *.66 = 682mm. Add an extra 8mm for the overlap needed between two segments as per N1HFX’s design. Here’s a pic of the 8 segments cut and both ends stripped:

8 RG58/U segments cut and stripped

Then, I needed to join up the 8 segments as per the N1HFX design. Here is a look at one of the joins. A reminder that any image on this blog can be clicked for a better view:

Coax join to swap centre conduct and braid

It was a little tricky ensuring that there were no shorts between the two centre connectors. A stray bit of braid could some down (and sometimes did) to effect a short. I needed to continually check for this while soldering each connection. This is a gotcha with this design. I did pump on a good amount of solder to provide a good join and taped up with electrical tape to ensure the braid stayed away, and also to prevent water getting in.

The top end of the colinear needs a 1/4 wave segment, but only connected to the centre conductor. I grabbed some old RG6 cable that I had already stripped away the braid from for this purpose. The bottom end needs a 1/4 wave sleeve connected to the input coax braid. I used some aluminium tubing for this. Finally, there are dreaded common mode currents with a colinear. N1HFX has a choke at 1/2 wave down the tube for this. Obviously they cannot be put at the feed point because of the 1/4 wave sleeve, so 1/2 wave down the feed-line has to do. I would much rather a few turns. I could have gone for more turns on some PVC tubing, creating what is essentially an Ugly Balun. I went for three small toroids with 3 turns. This should provide a very high impedance to a common current, and at 1/2 wave from the feedpoint, this high impedance will be presented to the antenna.

Here is a pic of the completed coaxial colinear:

Coaxial colinear for 2m

Now, all I need to do is to carry this and the squid pole on site, mount the squid pole and the end of the colinear on it, and I have a BNC connector to go in the FT-817 or any similar style radio. I’ll test on a SOTA activation in a few weeks.

Regards,
Wayne Merry VK3WAM

Eagle Peaks and The Govenor VK3/VE-045 & VE-046

Hi all,

It had been over a month since my last SOTA activation, and so I thought it time to put aside my CW rig design adventures and get my hands dirty (or is that scratched) out in the field. I had been to Eagle Peaks before, last time was on a Bush Search and Rescue Victoria expedition to help rescue a guy who had fallen off a cliff. For this trip, I would need to go near that same cliff. Better be careful.

Here is a map of the area, and my route taken in red:
Map of route taken to access Eagle Peaks and The Govenor

Eagle Peaks VK3/VE-046

I set off Thursday (20th Sept) in the afternoon, but was a little delayed. I got to the parking spot at Eight Mile Gap just before sunset, and headed off on an hour and half walk to Eagle Peaks, with the last 3/4 of an hour in the dark. The track had actually had some work since the last time I was there, with the fire undergrowth slashed back. This was a hint as to what was to come later, which made me think that my initial plan for 6 summits might be a little difficult.

I arrived at Eagle Peaks at 7:30pm and quickly set up tent and strung out a new end fed wire for 20/40 with a matchbox to 50 ohms. There is a tuning stub a little less than half way for 20m. SWR was around 1.5 to 2 around 7.03, 7.09 and 14.06. I’ll need to look into this a little later to see if I can get this down a little more. I am not into trying to get 1.00001 SWR, but I would like it below 1.5 as then associated losses are minimal. I should not expect fantastic results here, considering the wire is only a few metres off the ground, strung up by trees. I used some rope at the end insulator to attach to an end tree.

I worked 5 stations on 40m fairly quickly. Nothing heard on 20m.

The Govenor VK3/VE-046

The DSE map has this spelt Govenor, rather than Governor – so I’ll take that as ok for now, although they are not always right with place names.

After seeing the slashed undergrowth on the way to Eagle Peaks the previous evening, I thought I need as much time as possible to get to The Govenor as it might be tough going. I awoke at 6am the next morning to rain showers and in the clouds. Visibility was at 50m. There would be a lot of map and compass today. First task was not to fall off the cliff at the same place the hiker did a few years ago, so I traversed to the east of the cliff. The ground was very steep, and it would be hard to go up the other way. I was amazed, when approaching Lickhole Gap, how many fallen trees there were. Many had come down only a few months ago, some snapped halfway up the trunk. It is expected that there are fallen trees around, but this was a large number. There was a major wind storm during the winter that affected an activation of Mt Bullfight, see here, and I think that many of these fallen trees came down from the same wind event. I hope to be able to access some of the pictures I took from my damaged camera phone – but we will see.

I found a track cut to Mt Darling which came in from the west. I used this for a bit, but it started to go down the hill to the north west. I presume it comes from somewhere near Sheepyard flat, but I was not going that way. It is not marked on any of the maps I had seen, but it is clearly intended to be there as the undergrowth had been slashed. In any case it only helped me out for a few hundred metres. 😦

From this track, I made my way down to the saddle between Mt Darling and The Govenor. Funny that there is a track to Mt Darling, but not The Govenor; it is a much higher summit. I arrived a little late to plan and began to activate. I quickly got 10 contacts on 40m SSB. I put out a number of calls on 20m, CW. I heard NS7P come back very weakly, it would have been a 219 contact. I got his call sign wrong with the QSB, he sent it back and I was good to go, but then he was gone. Either he had to stop operating or conditions had turned.

My observations about this end fed antenna so far is that it is much better for local contacts on 40. A good 2 S points or above, looking at my logs based on reports. That is nominally 12dB, but given the “compression” many rigs give on their S meter reports, I’ll take it to be about 6dB above my vertical. Where my vertical is streets ahead is on DX. I would say a good 15dB or more ahead. Shame that the vertical is not as convenient – particularly stringing out all of the radials.

Onward I say

So running a bit behind schedule, I decided to drop the attempt to go to VK3/VE-075 and head for Mt Sunday instead to camp for the night. I thought it would take about 7 or so hours to get there. I headed down along a route to quickly get to the river and then access a track about 200m up the other side.

I then hit the bad undergrowth, and this was a shocker. Progress became very slow, and with the saplings 4 to 5m high, I had to continuously use the compass to have any sense of direction. I was using a phone as a GPS, but all the spray from the undergrowth got into the phone holder, and water damaged the phone. No more GPS. Lucky I had a print out of the map on board, because that was now my only reference with the compass. I have done plenty of rogaines, so I am quite comfortable navigating by map and compass.

The undergrowth was so bad, I decided to chance it going down a watercourse that was quite open. You can see where this happened on the map where my track heading down from The Govenor heads to the north. The first part was ok, but once at the valley floor, it was bad. I expected it to be bad, but I thought it could not be as bad as the undergrowth up top. It was even worse. I have done these kinds of creek traverses on BSAR searches before, but this one would easily be the worst. It was made particulally bad by all of the recent tree felling by that wind storm. There were hundreds of mature living trees fallen. I have never seen anything like it. I expect dead trees burnt by fire to come down, but not many living mature trees. The shame about this was that these trees might have been spared by loggers over one hundred years ago, but many are taken out just a few months ago.

After more than 7 hours, I finally made it to the river at 7:30pm, completely exhausted. I was to watch an “Australian Story” about John Cantor’s traverse of the Brookes Range in Alaska when I got home. When conditions were against him, he had a meltdown at one point. I must admit that I can relate, as I had a meltdown when I was about 400m up from the river where I began to wonder if I could actually get out of this trap, or if I would be getting out my radio to call “MAYDAY MAYDAY this is VK3WAM”. Of course, with food and the rest on board, I would only be able to do this if I had broken a leg, but out of the many times I fell over trying to get down to the river, there was one time I thought, oooh that was close.

Moral of the story: Even if it is bad up on the ridge top, stay there, because the creek will be worse.

Getting out

After making the river, I set up camp, had some dinner. I put up the end fed antenna, but in a steep valley on both sides, not too much signal gets out. It might work during the day when the skip on 40 is not so bad, but signals are well down at the bottom of the valley compared to the mountain top. I could not work anyone from down there, but I could at least listen to Sydney vs Collingwood football game.

I awoke early for the next day, with the first priority simply to get out of here. I still hoped to activate Mt McDonald, but a fall back option could be The Bluff. The first task was to cross the river. The level was quite high and I had to abort my first crossing attempt. After going up stream for 200m, I found a suitable crossing point where it was only about 80cm deep, even if fairly fast flowing. The walking pole helped enormously here as it had been doing most of the trip. It was tough to get out of the immediate valley area, but then the forest opened up. There was still plenty of undergrowth, but there were actually bare patches from time to time, and even grass on the ground! Actually seeing the ground was a moral lifter! It took another hour to get to the road.

Given all of the effort, Mt McDonald was going to have to wait for another trip. Instead, it was time to head for the car. This still took about 5 hours walking on the track. I was pretty tired with the backpack on. If I was to activate something, it would need to be with just a small light pack. I made the car, and then drove to Refrigerator Gap underneath The Bluff. Unfortunately, the track head is not at the saddle, but a little further up along the road. I was a little too tired to realise this at the time, so perhaps it was best just to head for home. In the end, I had two summits and 22 SOTA points in the bag. Now to get the phone fixed, and perhaps I can put up some photos. Looks like the remote locking on my car key does not work either!

Regards 73, Wayne VK3WAM

SOTA Activation VK3/VS-016 Mt Gorrin

Hi all,

Another trip to not so sunny Ararat, another activation somewhere nearby. This time, Mt Gorrin. I don’t mind the SOTA rule that only allows activators to claim points only once a year – it acts as an encouragement to activate different hills.

Mt Gorrin is part of the Langi Ghiran and is located in said state park. It is to the south of the main summit with a saddle directly between them. I parked the car on a minor track, which is still ok for 2wd. It is located to the west of Mt Gorrin. There is a walking track that starts off heading north of here, and then swings to the east. This is me on the ascent.

Wayne Merry on the ascent

The track can be followed to a point near the north-norwest of the summit. From here, it is mostly easy going heading southwards. There is another saddle south west of the summit, about 50m vertical height below the top. This can be reached going up the watercourse to the north west of this saddle. Directly north of the summit itself are cliffs.

Here is looking from the summit north to Langi Ghiran, site of my only QRP SSB activation into the EU:

Mt Langi Ghiran

Looking east from the summit towards Mt Buangor and Mt Cole:

East towards Mt Buangor from Mt Gorrin

I operated for nearly 2 hours from a little west from the summit, about 5 metres down. I found a little enclosed on 3 1/2 sides operating location to get out of the quite cold wind. It did not save me from the showers that came from time to time:

Operating location on VK3/VS-016

And here is the trusty antenna, using the Ugly Balun:

Antenna at VK3/VS-016

I have noticed that I can have some difficulty tuning 40m with a very short coax into the ugly balun. Connecting directly or with a longer coax run do not have difficulty. Interesting one.

The activation was during the ILLW weekend, so there were many CQing stations, but high power stations answering their calls. I would rather work SOTA chasers. I worked two local regulars, VK3HRA and VK3PF, and after no further joy, went over to 20m CW, where I worked a further eight unique stations.

All in all, a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Trans Tasman Contest

Saturday the 21st of June saw the Trans Tasman contest on 160m phone and 160/80m CW and digital on. It was a 6 hour contest with the best 5 hours to count.

The Eastern Mountain District Radio Club (EMDRC) was going to enter this, so I thought I would get involved doing CW and digital. I have a SignaLink USB on my FT-897 at home and so I put my hand up to focus on 80m.

Operating Station setup

I would have liked to have posted photos on this post, but I was busy contesting. Someone else took some photos, so hopefully they will show the station and I will edit this post at a future time.

My operating station consisted of my FT-897 brought in from home, a MFJ1025 noise canceller, a MFJ T-match manual tuner, a LDG ZPro-II auto tuner and the SingaLink USB. The antenna was an inverted-V full length for 80 metres. I had low SWR on the antenna without using the T-match, but found I had significantly less interference from 160m operations if I left the tuner in.

What was the ZPro doing? I had this tune a 20 metre beam for 80m to use as a noise sense antenna for the MFJ noise canceller. This seemed to work. The noise canceller was not able to lower the general noise floor, but what it was good for was getting rid of specific QRM that appeared throughout the night. The ZPro was affected by RF in the shack from 160m operations, so I had to put it in manual mode to not try to retune every time there was a 160m operation. I wonder what I was exposing myself to in the shack last night!

Anderson Poles

The EMDRC has been encouraging members to use Anderson poles There is nowhere in the shack to plug them in however, so lucky I brought a cable with rings on one end and Anderson Poles on the other. I still had to wedge these in to the power supply as it wanted lugs, but oh-well. It worked and I was able to use Anderson Poles for the rest. From the converter, I had a 3 way Y-plug, with the FT-897 plugged into this. I had a second 3 way y-plug, which was a little overkill, but plugged into this was the ZPro and the noise canceller. I could have easily plugged in 2 more things if required – so the setup is very flexible for use here at the EMDRC away from my own shack, and also for my QRO and QRP SOTA setups.

Digital observations

Digital modes that are AFSK based – i.e. all of them where a sound card is used to feed a SSB type mode on a typical rig – need the rig to stay as linear as possible. It is very important that there is no processor or ALC action. I had my rig showing ALC on its meter and increased TX level as much as possible, but not so much to activate the ALC. On the SignaLink, this ended up being around “10am” on the TX potentiometer. Other stations were transmitting with clear ALC action on their signal. This causes splatter. One station had so much splatter on their PSK31 signal that it was taking up nearly a full 1KHz for a signal that is supposed to only take 31Hz. This is multiple orders of intermodulation! I could not decode this signal – and sent them a message to turn down their TX! They did so, and while the splatter was still bad, it was at least then decode-able. A number had one order of splatter – giving a head and shoulders look. You want all of your TX energy in what is supposed to be there, and the shoulders are a waste of energy. A few stations had PSK-31 stations that had no observable splatter.

PSK31 does not tolerate almost any drift. Even on 80m there was one particular station that drifted 10Hz or so, and this was enough to cause decoding to stop until I re-clicked on the signal to move the decoding bars. This has implications for use of PSK on higher bands, especially VHF/UHF where this issue would be more critical. Some have suggested for this reason that PSK is not suitable for VHF work.

Contest Ops

In the end, I worked like a slave for the full 6 hours. My software was not that good at decoding CW, so lucky my brain can at least reasonably decode 20wpm. I operated the first 20 minutes or so of each hour CW, then the middle 20 minutes digital and the last 20 minutes CW again. The rules allowed for digital stations to be re-worked every half hour (once in the first half hour, and again in the second half hour), so I tried to take advantage of this – which mostly I was able to.

Most contest digital ops where PSK31. There was some RTTY near the start and occasionally later. One station was using Hell, but I had already worked them in that time slot. The key with Hell is to turn the software “squelch” all the way down. Hell is like reading a fax – the signal processing is in your brain.

In the end, contest activity was reasonably engaging. I found running got more contacts, so I spent about 75% of the time running. It was the first time ever that I had actually chased CW stations. This is because when I activate CW in SOTA, I am always the “running” station. I picked up the chaser caper without too much trouble. Of course in CW, one should not transmit on the running stations frequency, but offset 100Hz or so.

Having a narrow IF filter defiantly helps in both CW and digital. I would normally operate using the wide filter, but if something was happening 1KHz away that would affect the AGL, then I could quickly switch to the 300Hz Collins filter to get rid of it. The wide filter is good for seeing a broad picture on the waterfall when AGL action is not taking away the signal that I am interested in. I left the FT-897 menu on the selection where I could switch between the two filters with one press of the button.

In the end, it was an enjoyable contest. I had 87 non DUP contacts (1 DUP), so not too bad for a first effort.