Archive for the ‘Contesting’ Category

ORCA DX & Contest Club

This month sees the launch of the Orca DX and Contest Club.With a focus on BC and northwestern Washington, the club is open to all licensed amateurs who share a passion for DXing and contesting.

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The Orca DX and Contest Club (Orca DXCC) was established in Fall 2010 to serve as a community open to all amateur radio operators in BC or the BC-Washington border region with an interest in DXing and contesting.

We share unique opportunities and challenges in “working the world” from the top-left corner of North America. The Orca DXCC brings together active radio operators to share their experiences, and provide encouragement and mentoring to all who strive to one day “work ‘em all” from here.

Please visit the club site at orcadxcc.org to get all the latest news and membership information.

Pacific Northwest DX Convention 2010

This years Pacific Northwest DX Convention was held in Burnaby just outside of Vancouver, presenting a great opportunity to meet new people and hear some great ideas. The agenda was packed with a variety of talks and presentations spread over a weekend at the end of July. I had initially written a really, really long article on the Convention but felt I couldn’t do justice to each and every presentation so I’ve decided to give a brief overview on the presentations that really stood out to me.

Early on the Saturday morning after an interesting insight into the IARU, Karl KL9A, gave us his propagation predictions. I’m an avid reader of Karl’s column in the National Contest Journal (NCJ) and looked forward to his presentation here. Karl’s articles always strike a great balance between knowledgeable and lively writing and his presentation at the convention was no different. So what are those sunspots doing?

Well, they’ve been here long before civilisation and will probably outlast civilisation, there will always be sunspots, just not always in the numbers we would like! Not only is there the regular 11 year Schwabe ’solar cycle’ but Karl also described the various other cycles of Hale, Gleissberg, Suess and Halstatt, showing solar activity patterns over hundreds and thousands of years.

Pacific Northwest DX Convention 2010 attendees

Pacific Northwest DX Convention 2010 attendees

Predictions put Cycle 24 in the ‘weak’ category with a peak mean daily sunspot count of 90 in 2013. Considering that less than two years ago we regularly had 25 or more sunspotless days in a row, then I am not going to be complaining about a ‘weak’ daily mean of 90 sunspots!

In the afternnoon we had a standout show from Don VE6JY and Mitch VE6OH about Don’s superstation in Alberta. The guys really wowed the crowd with their tales of construction and destruction! With 27 towers on site, VE6JY’s antenna’s are subject to the harsh rigours of  Canadian winters.

What impressed me the most about the VE6JY station were the multitude of monobanders all constructed on site.  Other than the radios themselves everything at the station is either created or recycled from scrap and auctioned items, including their crane. Yes, to make servicing the 4 element 80m monobander that much easier Don purchased a wheeled crane at auction! You can read that great presentation here on his site.

The final presentation that afternoon came from Ward Silver, NØAX. Ward is a writer and regular contributor to QST and NCJ. He is also involved in editing the ARRL Handbook and also wrote the Ham Radio for Dummies book. His informative presentation not only covered issues relating to contesting but also education. In his role as educational writer, Ward was particularly interested in the challenges in writing for hams of varying technical abilities and backgrounds. He also hoped that advances in real time contest scoring would bring a new breed of younger hams to contesting.

Bill N7OU and Bob W7YAQ discuss Tokelau

Bill N7OU and Bob W7YAQ discuss Tokelau

After dinner and a photo tour of ARRL HQ we had the presentation that I had been waiting all day for. Bill N7OU and Bob’s W7YAQ excellent adventure to Samoa and Tokelau. I won’t go into too much detail, as they’ve presented this trip numerous times and it also the subject of a great article in this month’s QST, however this DXpedition featured everything including remote atolls, tsunamis, ever friendly locals, cold beers and of course thousands of QSOs!

As I’ve said before I love the adventure that comes with small DXpeditions. There is a certain gung-ho attitude amongst dxers of this breed because compared to the big multinational dxpeditions these little adventures have less at stake. When things go wrong smaller dxpeditions are more flexible to change as was the case for Bill and Bob when they were stuck in Samoa for a number weeks. Of course smaller dxpeditions can’t get to the real hardcore DX entities, but with the smaller operations, getting to that remote island or atoll is more than half the adventure!

Other highlights from the convention included K7BV Dennis’ 6m adventure to San Andres Island and K9JF Jim’s travelogue about the ever popular Friedrichshafen hamfest in Germany.

As a newcomer to the hobby it was very enjoyable to meet in person all those ops I have worked numerous times in contests in the past year and half. At last I can put some faces and great personalities to those ever familiar callsigns. Conventions like these are a great reminder that the world of amateur radio doesn’t end outside our shack door.

Quick update

Just back from Bowen and then straight off into the Pacific Northwest DX Convention this weekend. I’ll do a full write up about my experience lugging the shack across Howe Sound plus I’ll step back a few weeks and give a brief overview of my effort in the IARU contest earlier this month.

In the meantime I’ve been playing around with some of the great images I shot on Bowen for use in a possible QSL card, whaddaya think?
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VA to EI

So it has been a very long while since I have posted here and there is much to talk about.

Unfortunately work commitments have curtailed much of my air time this winter and spring, however it has been developments abroad that have kept me on the air.

As an Irish citizen holding a Canadian callsign I cannot unfortunately apply for a CEPT certificate in Canada. Those are only available to Canadian citizens.

So to be able to operate in Europe and Ireland I must contact each jurisdiction I would like to operate in. My plan was to operate in Ireland on my trip home to family over the Christmas period, so I contacted ComReg in Ireland to apply for a temporary (12 month) visitor callsign.

The usual scenario is for a temporary callsign to be issued but because I was an Irish citizen and was able to provide a permanent station address in Ireland (parent’s family home) ComReg informed me that if my qualifications checked out with Industry Canada that they would be more than happy to issue a life-time Irish callsign.

After a couple of weeks waiting ComReg issued EI8GNB.

Now with callsign in hand I needed to assemble my travelling station. Along with my IC7000, AH-4 and Acer netbook I also purchased a Gamma Research HPS-1a power supply. This little puppy puts out enough power for 100W SSB and about 35 to 40w in PSK/RTTY and it’s no bigger than a small paperback book, perfect for travelling. The whole station fitted into a nice Lowe Pro Classified 200 AW camera bag that I would use as my airline carry-on. I placed a length of coax, feedline and antenna-wire in my checked suitcase.

Shack in a Bag : (clockwise from top left) Icom AH-4, Icom IC-7000, Gamma Research HPS-1a, headset/mic etc.

Shack in a Bag : (clockwise from top left) Icom AH-4, Icom IC-7000, Gamma Research HPS-1a, headset/mic etc.

Travelling during the holiday period is troublesome at best but I was also worried about all this electronic gear I was carrying. I found however that if I unpacked the major components into separate scanning trays that airport security never had a problem with the stuff.

I would put the AH-4 and rig in a tray on their own for scanning like you would with a laptop and I rarely had a problem. However I do advise to carry about a photocopy of a manual page for any suspect objects. The AH-4 did draw the eye of security screeners a couple of times but with manual in hand and a little explanation things were smoothed over instantly. Funnily enough the ’suspicious’ level seemed to be higher in European airports rather than in the Canadian and US airports I passed through.

Once in my parents home, time to setup the antenna. They have a standard square shaped backyard that provided about 1500sq ft. Hmmmm, simple dipole anyone? I cut some of my antenna wire into a simple dipole just over 34ft in overall length, with a run of 10ft of 450 ohm feedline in the middle down to the AH-4. I also made sure it was off-resonace, the AH-4 does not like high impedance resonant antennas. I strung the antenna from a upper floor bedroom to the permanent workshop building on the other side of the garden and offset it away from each wall with insulators and a length of plastic cable. Height above ground varied from about 20 to 10ft enough for the upper bands but probably creating a general upward omnidirectional pattern on the lower bands.

The AH-4 had no problem tuning the antenna on every band except 160m!

Over the course of two weeks I made dozens of PSK contacts all over Europe working about 30 countries including the US & Canada. The bands seem so much more alive in Europe than they do in the Pacific Northwest and there always seems to be somebody calling CQ, so there is never a shortage of QSOs.

I also managed a couple SSB QSOs as well, the highlight was working Gunther VA3GA on 17m. Conditions were poor for that QSO with lots of QSB, late in the day in Ireland, but with 100W on that simple dipole all the pertinent information was exchanged easily.

The ARRL RTTY Round-Up was also on over the holiday period and I made over 80 contacts again including the US, Canada and highlight making P49X in Aruba! Not bad for a wire antenna and 40w.

Holiday 'shack' setup with my Acer Netbook. Running RTTY with N1MM during the 2010 ARRL RTTY RU.

Holiday 'shack' setup with my Acer Netbook. Running RTTY with N1MM during the 2010 ARRL RTTY RU.

Now that I know I can pack up the station into one bag I’m looking for many more opportunities to do holiday style DX operating, I can’t wait for the summer to come.

New Rig Workout

So having received my gracious gift from St. Nick it was now time to set it all up.

I have also purchased an Icom AH-4 tuner and this will become the focal point for future antennas.

Setup of the tuner and radio was pretty straight forward. Power is supplied to the tuner over a control cable that plugs directly into the IC-7000 and all tuning functions are accessed from the front panel “Tune” button. I set up a simple 16m wire loop on the balcony and the AH-4 had no problem tuning it to 1:1.5 SWR from 40m to 6m. 40m prodced some RFI which tripped a GFCI in the apartment but other than that no other issues or complications arose.

The loop is bascially just folded around the balcony. Right now I don’t have the supports to fold it in the manner that I would like but that is something I will rectify after Christmas.I based the design on WX7G, Dave’s, 3d folded loop antenna for 10m, I’m hoping to perfect the concept for HF operations. Remember my balcony is only about 40sq ft or about 8ft by 5ft (2.4m x 1.5m), in a highrise apartment surrounded by concrete and steel in a downtown setting at 140ft up.

I patiently waited for the 20m band to open one Sunday morning and eventually worked a couple of stations in PSK31 up and down the west coast all easily on 25watts. If this was all I could do then I would still be a happy ham. Just being to get on the air in the apartment is a great for me, anything after that is a bonus.

It took a while before I got used to the macros in DigiPan and it has a couple of quirks that you need to be aware of, especially the RX and RXANDCLEAR functions. If you don’t use the RXANDCLEAR function you risk sending your last macro again as I found out a couple of times while transmitting. Other stations were still happy to work me as I fumbled with the mode. And this is the thing with PSK, as a relatively new mode, everyday I go on the PSK bands I always come across other ‘first time’ QSOs, everyday. I also love PSK63, I love the speed, I love the QRM busting nature of it. Sometimes PSK31 can a bit finickity if soundcards are not calibrated spot on, PSK63 being wider blows that problem away while still being a relatively narrow bandwidth mode. I may try other programs aswell but Digipan works well on my lightweight netbook and I think DM780 might be a bit OTT for this machine, might try FLdigi or PSK31.

I have exclusively used the IC-7000 on HF and have not done any TX on V/UHF at all. But I didn’t get the radio for the extra bands, I got it for the IF DSP which I feel is comparable to that in the Pro III. The IC7200 has the same DSP but doesn’t have the graphical interface that the clearly better IC7000 has. I love the interface, being an Icom man it took no more than an hour to find my around the rig, the screen is awesome, just awesome. I have it in the white screen mode as I find it more legible in variable light conditions and from odd angles.

So it was another Saturday afternoon I found myself on the PSK bands. It was the weekend of the PSK Deathmatch and I was working stations on the east coast US even though my balcony faces NW. At about 3.40pm a weak signal appeared in the waterfall, a JA station calling CQ, and nobody was coming back to him. I pumped up my RF out to about 35watts and gave it a go. He came back to me with a 529, weak but readable, he copied me better than I could read him, a product of all the crappy urban noise I must put up with, but the QSO was made none the less. The JA station was soon followed in the log by a UA Asiatic Russian station whose eQSL I already have in my Inbox.

In less than a week I have gone from no station or rig to intercontinental DXing with a compromise, temporarily installed antenna and 35w or less. HF dead, don’t think so.