Adventures in ham radio

What a fantastic time I had in this year’s CQ Worldwide VHF contest! This was my second year participating in the contest. Like last year, I roved around the Pacific Northwest landscape, splitting transportation between airplane and car.

For this year, my set-ups were similar to those used in the June ARRL VHF contest—minus the 222 MHz and 432 MHz capabilities, of course. In fact, I only made a few minor improvements to antennas and the car mount for this contest.

SCHEDULE

As the weekend approached, it became clear that the weather was (as usual) going to be sub-optimal for the contest. For the flying portion, Saturday was looking doable after the 11 am PDT starting time, but pretty marginal before then. Sunday looked marginal to bad.

With that in mind, I developed a schedule that would provide some flexibility:

For Saturday, I would fly in the morning and then switch to the car (denoted *) for the evening :

  • CN85 Estacada, OR 735′ 11:00 AM 12:00 PM
  • CN76 Ocean Shores, WA 16′ 02:00 PM 03:00 PM
  • CN77 Ocean Shores, WA 15′ 03:10 PM 04:10 PM
  • CN98* Granite Falls, WA 430′ 06:10 PM 07:10 PM
  • CN88* Lake Stevens, WA 400′ 07:40 PM 08:40 PM
  • CN87* Redmond, WA 320′ 09:50 PM 10:40 PM

I’ve not been to the Estacada airport before, but it looked like a great spot to cover the Portland area, and maybe all the way up in to British Columbia. Unfortunately, I didn’t get there this contest.

I really wanted to include Sekiu, WA, CN78, as well, but couldn’t manage to squeeze it into the schedule and get the higher-yield CN98 and CN88 grids as well.

For Sunday, I planned to work out of my car:

  • CN96* Carbonado, WA 3200′ 08:30 AM 09:40 AM
  • CN86* Carbonado, WA 2800′ 09:55 AM 11:05 AM
  • CN87* Carbonado, WA 2050′ 11:25 AM 12:10 PM
  • CN97* Issaquah Highlands, WA 1000′ 01:05 PM 02:00 PM

The last stop (courtesy of K7BWH’s informative rover page), would have been a new one for me. Alas, I didn’t make it to that location, either.

Saturday began pretty badly…low clouds kept me on the ground for a little longer than I wanted. And when I did get off the ground, it wasn’t clear I could even get out of the local area. I was able to find a big hole in the clouds and spiraled up through it to get on top of one layer of clouds. That got me over to Silverdale, WA, where I had to make a decision.

The weather reports were pretty bad for the route to Portland, OR and the weather at Hoquiam, WA was terrible. Both were expected to clear up by by noon. I decided to scrub Portland because it was an extra hour away and had hillier terrain to mess with. And the weather just looked worse that way. Things were looking acceptable in the direction of Ocean Shores, but with Washington’s microclimates, it’s hard to know what awaited me.

My revised plan was to first stop for fuel at nearby Hoquiam airport before the contest started so that I could fly to Portland after working the two grids at the Ocean Shores airport, and not have to refuel again to get home.

Most of the airborne portions of my trip were captured on APRS (zoom out). (Note…just before the contest, Barry, K7BWH, sent a note to the PNWVHF Society listserver indicating that APRS reports might violate the contest rules. For this reason, I only used APRS while airborne, as I am not eligible to participate in the contest while airborne.)

As I approached Hoquiam, I was pushed closer and closer to the ground—soon under 1000′. The Hoquiam automated weather observation announcement was bouncing between a very low ceiling (400′) with under a mile of visibility and 1200′ with three miles visibility. Legally, I have to have a 1000′ ceiling with 3 miles visibility to get close to and land at the airport.

I heard another plane announce a departure from Hoquiam. Ahhhh! A hole! But it wasn’t so. As I got over the bay, there were big bunches of fog and clouds in my windscreen that would prevent me from getting anywhere near the airport. An abrupt U-turn was required.

Instead, I few back to Shelton, WA, about 40 miles in the wrong direction. I pulled up to the fuel pumps 15 minutes before the contest was to start. I took about 45 minutes to refueled and study the weather before things began looking better at Hoquiam.

The second attempt to reach Ocean Shores was not simple, but doable. Ocean Shores, itself, was in good shape.

I got set up in CN76 and made the first QSO at 19:24 GMT, over an hour after the contest started.

Here I am, just happy to be contesting instead of battling clouds.

I spent an hour in CN76, and worked a reliable bunch of stations. Alas, no spectacular 6 meter openings like I had experienced here in June.

My final tally was 9 QSOs and 5 multipliers on two meters and 11 QSOs for 6 multipliers on six meters. I was pleased with the diversity of grids on the air–one new grid for every two QSOs is awesome for this contest, because each grid is a multiplier, and multipliers accumulate within each unique grid (and band) for a rover.

I pulled the plane to the other end of the parking ramp, 125 meters away in CN77.

Here we are in the CN77 location looking back into CN76 (other end of the pavement)….

CN77 was just as fruitful for multipliers, but with a couple fewer QSOs on each band.

I was a little ahead of schedule because of skipping Portland. But I had no time to return there. Instead I decided to give Sekiu (CN78) a shot. Weather products are lousy for the airport, but Port Angeles, WA was wide open, even if Forks, WA was socked-in.

In the worst case scenario, I would get trapped under a cloud deck and have to return to Hoquiam for fuel, and lose a couple of hours. Alternatively, if I could get on top of the clouds (which looked possible), I might arrive at Sekiu and be unable to find a hole to get back down. Then I would lose about an hour (relative to flying directly back to my car). I chose the latter strategy.

I did catch a glimpse of the airport, but there were no holes large enough for a safe (and legal) descent. Oh well. Back to my home airport.

The round trip to Ocean Shores took a little over five hours, including operating time in two grids. I might have done better simply driving to Ocean Shores before the contest began. Time-wise it would have been a wash, but I would have been able to work stations during the three hour return trip. No complaints, though. Flying is fun!

The next stop was an elementary school in Granite Falls (CN98), although I made a few QSOs from CN87 and CN88 en route, sometimes pulling over to catch a weak station. The grid yielded 9 QSOs & 4 multipliers on two meters and 15 QSOs & 5 multipliers on six meters.

I was only 30 minutes behind schedule when I started operating at Lake Stevens High School (CN88). As happened in June, KA7RRA/R and his friend stopped by to say hello. The grid yielded 14 QSO & 4 multipliers on six meters and 13 QSOs for 4 multipliers on two meters.

The last stop of the day, was my own back yard in Redmond, WA at 320′ in CN87. I managed a fair number of CN87 two meter QSOs en route home.

This picture was taken the next day, but shows the car in my back yard ready to travel:

and now the antenna’s are “deployed.”

and ready to operate…

I was set-up in the back yard and ready to go by 9:30 pm PDT. Six meters turned out to be remarkably productive from this location, and I even worked a station in Colorado and Nevada, although the opening was very short lived. I was done for the evening by 10:30. In the end, CN87 gave me 18 QSOs with 7 multipliers on six meters and 11 QSOs for 3 multipliers on two meters.

I got an early start on Sunday morning for the trip to Carbonado. I arrived at the 3,200′ perch a few minutes after the scheduled 8:30 am PDT starting time—I had been delayed making some CN87 and CN86 QSOs en route.

Around 9:15, six meters came alive with stations from California, Arizona and Nevada. After a few phone QSOs, I went down to the CW portion of the band and got an excellent “run” in. At 10:00 I did another “run” on phone. At 10:15 I departed for nearby CN86 after making 47 QSOs into 23 grids on six meters and 12 QSOs to 6 grids on two meters.

The CN86 spot is a gated-off logging road entrance about a mile down the road and slightly lower at 2,800′. I was set-up and making QSOs by 10:36. The opening held for another 45 minutes.

My friend and neighbor Doug, AC7T, found me in the CW portion of the band at 11:15 am PDT. As I was working him, a security person came to my car for a little discussion. He though I was blocking the gated-off road. (I was…but I picked the spot for the flattest terrain thinking that logging wasn’t a Sunday activity.) I agreed to move my car over a few feet so that any real or hypothetical vehicle could get by my car to the road. Moving the car, of course, means lowering the mast.

Ten minutes later I was back on the air. Alas, the opening to SOCAL had ended. Even so, four of the remaining six QSOs were to regional grids that were new multipliers (CN85, CN86, CN76, CN88). I especially appreciated working KF7PCL in Ocean Shores (CN76) from this location, just as we had done in June. In the end, CN86 provided 40 QSOs and 14 multipliers on six meters, and 12 QSOs for 6 multipliers on two meters.

By the time I was packed and ready to go, I realized that there was not enough time for my last stop in Issaquah Highlands (CN97). I decided to go to nearby Buckley, WA instead. I’ve worked from this location many time in past events, and the results is consistently and spectacularly mediocre. And it didn’t help that I forgot to switch the six meter antenna from the vertical to the beam. I ended up making 7 QSOs for 2 multipliers on six meters and 8 QSOs for 3 multipliers on two meters.

Results

Despite the Saturday difficulties, I was quite pleased with the results. Even on Saturday, I was able to activate five grids. And then Saturday problems were more than made up for on Sunday by being at 3,200′ with an excellent southern exposure just as 6 meters opened up to SOCAL.

My final count for two meters was 75 QSOs and 34 multipliers over eight grids. For six meters, I made 160 QSOs and 66 multipliers in the same eight grids.

The final tally was 235 QSO for 100 multipliers, yielding a score of 31,000.

This was a definite improvement on a score of 7,518 during my first CQ VHF WW contest last year. Of course, much of the difference comes from band conditions. Even so, I had a much better set-up this year—particularly out of the car, running more power and with a much faster set-up/tear-down times.

(Short link to this post.)

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Comments on: "Roving the 2012 CQ WW VHF contest" (5)

  1. Bill Burgess said:

    Great reading Darryl. Now I know what the competition is up to. Congrats on being 1st Place USA Rover. My 4th time as 1st Place World Rover, also got it 2006, 2007, 2008. Stay with the contest, you can do even better. 73 de Bill VE3CRU/R

  2. […] Radio Mount: After my experience with last years 7QP and a bunch of VHF contests, I realized the utility of racking my radios. I built a small rack out of angle aluminum that gets configured in the comfort of my shack with the radios and accessories needed for a contest. (This also allows me to move radios quickly between my can and airplane for VHF contests…like this.) […]

  3. […] it happens, the propagation gods smiled upon me for last year’s contest. I ended up near an ideal grid intersection at 3,000′ as a wild single-hop opening occurred […]

  4. […] …use a plane!! Especially when competing in the CQ Worldwide VHF contest! […]

  5. […] The idea was to start the contest near the CN76/CN77 border at the Ocean Shores Airport. Ocean Shores is a sliver of land with the Pacific Ocean on its western shore and Grays Harbor on its eastern shore. The weather is frequently foggy in the summer even as the rest of the region is bathing in sunshine. The last time I was actually able to participate in a contest by flying to Ocean Shores was during the 2012 CQ WW VHF contest—only after an epic battle with weather. […]

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