Adventures in ham radio

The 2012 ARRL September VHF contest came at a fairly busy time of the year. My parents had left a couple days before the start, after a week long visit, so I was scrambling to get my rover stations complete and do the other things I neglected during their visit.

As I did in the ARRL June VHF contest, I planned to rove the Pacific Northwest both out of my car and by flying my American Aviation AA1 two-seater to a few airports. For the most part my setup was identical to June. I tried designing and building a new 2 meter yagi for the airplane the day before the contest. Alas, it didn’t perform as expected, and I stuck with the quagi working out of the airplane.

What was new this contest was a freshly built 20 watt Elecraft XV222 transverter for 222 MHz to get on 222.1 MHz SSB and CW, as a supplement to the 50 watt FM transceiver I had previously used as a Limited Rover. The transverter made it through about 1/2 the contest before it started complaining about being overdriven, but it definitely brought in some points while it worked.    I made a few other minor improvements to my airplane rover and car rover station as well.

As frequently happens in the Pacific Northwest, the weather threw a curve ball. Despite having a record-breaking dry spell in the Pacific Northwest, the weather took a turn for the worse beginning on that Saturday. As a result, I didn’t announce my plans to the northwest’s VHF community before the contest. I wasn’t sure where I’d end up and when—it depended on subtle differences in actual weather compared to the marginal forecasts.


My original plan for Saturday was to fly my little airplane to Valley View airport in Estacada, OR to activate CN85, and then proceed to the Ocean Shores, WA airport to activate CN76 and CN77, and then hop north to the Sekiu, WA airport to activate CN78. That would be followed by an evening and night rove to CN88 in Lake Stevens, WA, CN98 in Granite Falls, WA, and back home to CN87, where I would set up in my back yard until the bands went empty.

The Sunday plan was to rove at a 3000 foot ridge near Mt. Rainier close to the CN96/CN86/CN87/CN97 intersection, and possibly head back up to CN88 and CN98 if there were enough new stations to justify the driving.

What happened in reality on Saturday morning was that much of Washington state west of Seattle was blanketed in low clouds and fog. That didn’t stop me from flying to Oregon, but it required me to fly East of Seattle over mountainous terrain. The mountainous terrain, in turn, enticed me to fly rather high, where progress was hampered a bit by strongish headwinds.

A second small delay occurred when the winds kicked up smoke from Eastern Washington forest fires. One minute I was clearly looking at Mt. St. Helens, and within a few minutes it disappeared in a smoky haze. You can see my diversion around the mountain on the APRS track. I give Mt. St. Helens a wide berth instead of flying right past it as originally planned.

So, I arrived in Estacada a little bit later than anticipated. The delays were not much of a problem, though…it’s a long contest. I got the antennas erected and hit the airwaves about 30 minutes after the start of contest.

CN85 was fairly productive. I managed six QSOs and three grids (CN85, CN86, and CN87) on six meters, four QSOs and three grids (CN85, CN87 and CN98) on two meters, one QSO on 222 MHz, and two CN85 QSOs on 432 MHz. My only disappointment was working no CN84 stations.

After 90 minutes, I checked the weather in Ocean Shores, which was supposed to open up midday, only to learn that it was worse than ever. Seeing is believing, so after a quick fuel stop at a nearby airport, I flew back via a rather long route that gave me a view of the coast. Yep…the weather sucks. I opted to skip Sekiu, which was another hour plus north and west. The aviation weather products for the area are poor an unreliable. Instead, I decided the aero-roving portion of the contest was done.

I got back to Harvey field in Snohomish, WA and got my car set-up for Roving by about 2300 UTC…some 5 hours after the start of the contest. I left the airport in in CN87, and headed north to Lake Stevens High School in CN88, making QSOs en route out of both grids. The grid was reasonably productive on all four bands.

After a stint in Lake Stevens, I headed northeast to Granite Falls, WA to set up in a school parking lot in CN98. That was a little less productive, but not too bad. I left the grid just before 0200 UTC. Eight hours into the contest, I’d “fully” worked three grids.

It was early enough in the evening to hit CN97 on the way home, at this spot that I last used during the January VHF contest (and got stuck in snow for an hour). The spot sits at 950′ at the entrance of a state park. There is rock to the east, but the spot seems to give a pretty good reach into the Puget Sound area.

From there I headed back home to set up in CN87 at 320′ out of my back yard from about 10:00 pm until the airwaves emptied out about 11:30 pm local time.


There were only two easy-to-access grids left to tap on Sunday: CN96 and CN96 on Mowich Lake road just west of Mt. Rainier. The two nearby locations are at around 3,000′ and can offer excellent paths south to Oregon, west to Washington and northwest to Canada. The grids are close enough together that a rover can move back and forth as new stations pop up. I did a bit of that on Sunday.

What I was hoping for, of course, was a surprise sporadic E opening to the south or southwest, so that I could sit on a 3,000′ perch and finish the contest with lots and lots of California, Arizona, and New Mexico stations. It was wishful thinking.

After tapping out CN86 and CN96 at 2030 UTC, with seven and a half hours remaining in the contest, I found myself thinking about how to maximize my score. I had several choices:

  • Go for more QSOs out of CN97 by heading to this great CN97 mountain-top location. This was a bit risky, as the forest service road is sometimes closed off. Additionally, I’ve never been to the location and didn’t have good navigation resources with me in the probable event Google Maps became inaccessible over my phone.
  • Head back to alternative (but not spectacular) locations in CN87, CN97, CN88, and CN98 to squeeze out a few more QSOs in each.
  • Head up to Blaine, Washington to the parking lot of the parking lot of the Peace Arch Park. The spot, just south of the Canadian border is north of 49 degrees latitude (49.001122 degrees). Therefore it is in CN89—a grid most of us equate with Canada.
  • Drive to Ocean Shores, WA and activate CN76 and CN77. I’ve flown to the Ocean Shores airport many times to activate these two grids, but I’ve never driven there.

The choice was pretty easy–Ocean shores would likely give me the most multipliers (two for activating two new grids), and very likely give me more QSOs. From past experience at the airport, the bay just to the east results in excellent propagation to much of the Puget Sound area and parts of Oregon. The down side was ending the contest a long way from home. But we don’t contest for the convenience of it, do we? So, it was off to Ocean Shores.

There was another compelling reason to go to Ocean Shores. From numerous past excursions to Ocean Shores by airplane, I knew that John, KF7PCL, who lives in Ocean Shores in CN76, habitually monitors 50.125 MHz. I hadn’t heard him on at all during the contest, but if he heard me in Ocean shores, as he has numerous times in the past, it would mean three new multipliers (CN76 on 6, 2, and 0.7 meters) as well as a bunch of extra QSOs in two or three grids.

I got setup in CN76, in the car parking lot of the airport, with about 2:45 remaining in the contest. After a couple of CQs on 6 meters—with my beam pointing southwest(!)—and…KF7PCL responds! Bonus! Almost all the other QSOs in CN76 and CN77 were back to CN87. One exception was Gabor, VE7JH, in CN88, who had delayed his departure from Mt. Brenton on Vancouver Island with hopes of snagging CN76 and CN77. It paid off for him!

After 30 minutes in CN76, I decided to hit CN77 so that Gabor could begin his long trip home. I could easily return to CN76 if needed. There was one more hurdle: finding a suitable operating spot in CN77.

The airport gate was locked, so I couldn’t get my car onto the airplane parking ramp. I wanted something close to the water, so I headed north along the row of houses that line the airport property. After a couple of blocks, nothing. I moved west one block, and came across a chained-off driveway on a vacant log (here, I think). Good enough! With just under two hours remaining, QSOs ensued.

This grid was tapped out after about 30 minutes. But I still hadn’t worked KF7PCL from CN77, so I kept calling CQ. As a bonus, I caught N6DNU/7 in CN86 on 6 meters. KF7PCL finally showed up with 25 minutes remaining…whew! After we ran three band, I quickly lowered the mast and prepared it for transit…CN86 was only 15 minutes away, and John said he’d listen for me. I ended up working John on three bands from CN86 with a few minutes remaining.

The trip home was not so bad…the excursion to Ocean Shores made my day (and contest).


In the end, I activated nine grids–one fewer than last year.

Grid 6m 2m 1.25m 70cm
CN76 8 7 5 7
CN77 8 7 2 5
CN85 7 4 1 2
CN86 20 13 7 9
CN87 13 17 7 9
CN88 12 9 7 7
CN96 14 11 11 8
CN97 11 7 4 7
CN98 10 8 4 4
Points 103 83 96 116

The total number of points is 398.

And here is the grids worked for each band:

 Band Pts Grids
6m 103 9 CN76 CN78 CN85 CN86 CN87 CN88 CN89 CN97 CN98
2m 83 9 CN76 CN78 CN85 CN86 CN87 CN88 CN89 CN97 CN98
1.25m 96 7 CN85 CN86 CN87 CN88 CN89 CN97 CN98
70cm 116 7 CN76 CN85 CN86 CN87 CN88 CN97 CN98

That makes a total of 32 grid-band pairs.  To that we add  nine multipliers for the grids activated for a total of 41 multipliers.

The final score is 16,318.

Last year I had  35 grid-band pairs and ten grids activated for a multiplier of 45.  But I only had 235 points for a score of 10,575.  Hence, I had a greater than 50% improvement in score this year, completely attributable to  making many more QSOs.  I’ll take it!

(Short post link.)


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

  1. […] that topic, the last time I roved out of the airplane was last September (2012). I didn’t exactly make a decision to stop airplane roving. Rather, as each contest came […]

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