Adventures in ham radio

WW7D/R was on the air for most of the 2012 ARRL UHF contest. I mentioned in the previous post that my goal was to double my score of 2,790 from last year. And I came very close to doing that.

I received my new Alinco DJ-G7 handheld radio on Thursday before the contest. This was a ticket to some 23 cm QSOs, although it is FM only. The helpful advice from other VHF weak signal people in the Pacific Northwest was that I should operate on 1296.2 MHz for the contest, and even make some quick calls on the SSB calling frequency of 1296.1. I spent part of Friday building a couple of 10 element Yagis, one for the car and one for the airplane.

I only managed to get two of the three antenna stacks done for 432 MHz and 223.5 MHz. I had a bad phasing cable for 432 MHz and couldn’t build a new one in time for the contest.

My schedule for the weekend went like this (using local time):

Saturday:

  • CN96    Carbanado      3200′    11:00 AM    12:10 PM
  • CN86    Carbanado      2800′    12:25 PM    01:35 PM
  • CN87    Carbanado       2050′    01:55 PM    02:55 PM
  • CN88    Lake Stevens    400′    05:05 PM    06:05 PM
  • CN98    Granite Falls    430′    06:35 PM    07:35 PM
  • CN97    Redmond           600′    08:55 PM    09:55 PM
  • CN87    Redmond           320′    10:30 PM    11:00 PM

Sunday:

  • CN76    Ocean Shores    16′    08:30 AM    09:40 AM
  • CN77    Ocean Shores    15′    09:50 AM    11:00 AM

Saturday morning I was up bright and early to head out to one of my favorite roving spots, on Mowich Lake Road (or highway 165) near Carbonado, WA. The starting point is about 15 miles Northwest of Mt. Rainier, and covers CN96 at 3,200′, CN86 at 2,800′ (a mile away), and CN87 a few miles further down the road and lower.

Here I am driving through CN86 on the way to CN96 with Mt. Rainier in the background:

Once on my perch in CN96, the mast was extended.    The “antenna farm”  consists of two six-element Yagis for 223.5 MHz, two 11-element yagis for 432 MHz, and, in the center, a 10-element 1296 MHz yagi built the day before the contest.

The contest began at 1800 UTC.  This CN96 location was reasonably productive, yielding 8 QSOs on 223.5 MHz (FM) 12 QSOs on 432 MHz, and 4 QSOs on 1296 MHz (FM).  Eric, N7EPD, gave me my very first 1296 MHz QSO ever!

The next stop was a couple kilometers down the road in CN86.   I was set up and ready to rumble five minutes ahead of schedule.  Despite being more closed in and a few hundred feet lower, this location rewarded me with 8 QSOs on 223.5 MHz, 10 QSOs on 432 MHz, and 5 QSOs on 1296 MHz.

After a brief return to CN96 for a few new stations, I headed a few miles down the road to a so-so spot in CN87.  I didn’t spend a lot of time here, because much of my travel was through the grid, and I intended to set-up in my backyard in the grid on Saturday evening.  By the end of the contest, I had made six 223.5 MHz QSOs, ten 432 MHz QSOs, and two 1296 MHz QSOs from CN87.

I left CN87 a little early.  It was a very hot, sunny day, and I wanted to stop someplace for something ice cold and flavored to drink.   When I stopped, I noticed the lower set of stacked antennas was slightly skewed.  Thinking one of the hose clamps preventing the mast from rotating was loose, I grabbed an antenna boom to rotate it back into place.  Alas, there was not rotation at the mast.  I heard a snap near the joint of the antenna and cross-boom.   Oops.

Twenty minutes later I had the lower pair disassembled and stowed in the car, and a drink in my hand.  I headed off to the next grid.

I arrived at Lake Stevens High School, in CN88, about 20 minutes late.   By this time it was dinner time for the casual contesters.  QSOs were a little tough to come by.   I didn’t spend the whole hour there which put me back on track time-wise.   I made a couple more QSOs driving through the grid.   In the end I had four QSOs on 223.5 MHz, five 432 MHz QSOs, and one 1296 MHz QSO in the grid.

It was onward to Mountain View Elementary school in Granite Falls in CN98.  I made my first QSO one minute before the scheduled time.   This is not a great location at 400 feet but surrounded by hills and mountains in several directions.  That, combined with the fact that few people were on, meant I didn’t exactly burn through the log sheets.   After 30 minutes I left for greener pastures with three 223.5 MHz QSOs and four 432 MHz QSOs.

The next stop was CN97 on Redmond Ridge in my own city of Redmond.   I arrived 25 minutes early and had already worked most of the strong stations while mobile.   The grid gave me three 223.5 MHz QSOs, six 432 MHz QSOs, and two 1296 MHz QSOs.

The final stop was my own back yard back in CN87, where I could finally crack a cold beer to belatedly fight a sweltering day and make a couple of QSOs.

The next morning I woke up bright and early for a trip to Ocean Shores, where the airplane parking ramp has a line of latitude running through it.     The south end of the ramp is CN76 and the north end is CN77.  The ramp is 125 meters north to south, so one can quite easily activate two grids from the ramp.

But when I checked the weather, Ocean Shores was buried in a coastal fog!  That sucks.

No problem, though.  My Plan-B was to fly to Valley View airport in Estacada, Oregon. The airport sits at some 700 feet in the southwest foothills of Portland. I’ve never roved from there, but it looked promising. But in doing my weather and flight briefing, I learned that the airport was closed that Sunday.

Ummm…okay. I had two choices for a Plan C. Plan C-1 was flying to another Portland-area airport. The problem is that most of these airports are quite low. For example, I’ve Roved from the Scappoose, OR airport with limited success. The airport is at 58′ above sea level.

Plan C-2 was to fly to Eastern Washington and land at an airport near Spokane. I haven’t roved out of an airport in Eastern Washington, so I settled on a trip to Davenport, WA, to an airport that sits at 2,400′ feet and 60 miles west of Spokane.

The weather was HOT. In fact, it was so hot that the automated weather stations at airports were giving out “density altitude” warnings. In other words, pilots were being warned that their planes might preform as if taking off at a higher altitude airport.

I decide that the longer field at Wilbur, WA would be a safer bet. The only potential problem is that Wilbur is 100 miles east of Spokane and a couple hundred feet lower.

Here is the APRS track for the trip.

I got set up with a little more than an hour left in the contest.

“CQ Contest from Whiskey Whiskey Seven Delta, Rover, Delta November Oh Seven”

Nothing.

And that’s how it was for the rest of the hour.

I left Wilbur empty handed…except for the flying enjoyment part of the adventure.

Here’s the trip home crossing the Cascade Mountains looking north toward Mt. Baker. The southeastern tip of Lake Chelan is visible behind the wing:

Results:

My impression is that participation was down in the Pacific Northwest this year. In fact, my score is just slightly improved over last year if we only consider the bands I had last year—222 MHz and 432 MHz. But the addition of 1296 MHz, even if FM only, really made a difference.

The final tally was 32 QSOs and 3 multipliers on 222 MHz, 47 QSOs and 4 multipliers on 432, and 14 QSOs and 3 multipliers on 1296 MHz. Plus, I received 6 multipliers for activating 6 grids.

The final score was 5,136–almost double my score last year.

Clearly, a different decision on Sunday would have been a big help; a trip to Portland or Ocean Shores, even if by car, on Sunday would have substantially improved my score. Nevertheless, it was definitely worth the experience of trying to rove to Eastern Washington by airplane.

(This is a shortcut to this post.)

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Comments on: "Roving the 2012 ARRL UHF contest" (1)

  1. […] preparations for the contest essentially lasted a year. You see, last year I picked up a 1296 Mhz FM handheld transceiver just days before the UHF contest. It made the […]

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