Adventures in ham radio

Last year’s (2012) January VHF contest was my first attempt at this contest. It wasn’t a particularly good year for it, as the Pacific Northwest was hit with heavy snowfall the week before the contest. My little econobox car sat in the driveway for the week because my road wasn’t plowed. I finally ventured out by Saturday afternoon and activated four grids for the contest. I did manage to get stuck in the snow once, bottoming out my car while pulling over in a state park entrance. It took me an hour to dig out—well, between QSOs.

This year (2013) was a different story altogether. Conditions were excellent for driving (but not flying)—there was only a hint of snow at elevations over 1000′. Propagation turned out to be quite good, as well. I did the contest in the Limited Rover class, which restricted me to the four bands 6 meters, 2 meters, 222 MHz and 432 MHz.

On Saturday morning, I left home at 8:00 am local time to drive to the Pacific Ocean, to one of my favorite spots at the Ocean Shores, WA airport, just inside CN76. The trip there was through low clouds and fog, but I broke out into spectacular sunshine with twenty miles to the spot.

Equipment: Things were ready to go at T minus two minutes. New rules for this contest included a new FM only category. For this reason, I added vertically polarized antennas to the stack. That telescoping mast has seven runs of LMR-240: 432 MHz, 222 MHz, and 144 MHz, both horizontally and vertically polarized and one six meter antenna. The car roof and front had verticals covering all four bands as well.

T minus 2 minutes at Ocean Shores

Normally I am operating from the other side of that fence. Here we are at T minus one minute until the start of the contest.

T minus 1 minute at Ocean Shores

The “shack” consisted of a TS-480 SAT for 6 meters and 222 MHz with an Elecraft transverter; an FT-857 for 2 meters and 432 MHz; a Jetstream 223.5 MHz FM rig, an Alinco DR-M06 6 meter FM rig and a Wouxun KG-UVD1P handheld (with external mic) for monitoring 2 meters and 440 MHz FM. I had amplifiers for the all-mode rigs for 6 meters, 2 meters, 222 MHz and 432 MHz. The rotor is an Alliance HD-73. For logging, I used a Tascam DR-1 audio recorder, supplemented by paper logging.

The shack

CN76: The contest started well in CN76. I quickly worked most of the strong stations from the Puget Sound region on two or three bands. Only N7EPD and KG7P got through on 222 MHz. Forty five minutes into the contest, KF7PCL from the CN76 part of Ocean Shores gave me a call. John is a great sport, and he made me and a lot of Puget Sound hams happy this contest. I worked him on 2 meters, 6 meters and 432 MHz.

CN77: After 85 minutes and 25 QSOs, I lowered the mast and headed about a mile north to a spot in CN77. Things went even better from here. In one hour I made 34 QSOs including 5 each on 222 MHz and 432 MHz. Of course, I worked KF7PCL on three bands again.

The CN76–CN77–CN86–CN87 intersection: About 20 miles from this location, just east of Hoquiam, is the intersection of CN76, CN77, CN87 and CN86. The intersection itself is not particularly a good rover location back to population centers. But in hopes that KF7PCL would show up, I had identified good stops just inside CN87 and CN86 just to work John.

The plan worked! We made QSOs on three bands in CN87 and then CN86. I didn’t even put up the mast for these QSOs…I just parked with the antennas pointing his way. From the CN86 spot, a couple of Puget sound stations heard me and worked me on 6 and 2 meters.

While all this was happening, a guy in a pickup truck stopped to ask what was going on. I quickly explained things…something about an emergency readiness exercise in the form of a competition. After chatting a few minutes, he paused for a moment, cocked his head a little to the side and asked, “Are you a Preper?”

“Ahhh…no, no I’m not.

After a pause, he cocked his head a little more, “You’re not a Preper?”

“Really…not a Preper; Hams have been doing this stuff since long before the Preper movement.”

“Okay…I just wanted to know what was going on”

And he left, perhaps not fully convinced.

CN86: I took off on an hour and forty minute drive to Centralia and a interstate rest area in CN86. In retrospect, this may not have been a good place to spend time working CN86. I did end up with 35 QSOs (many while driving), but I probably could have done better from a more elevated location.

CN85: My next stop was in the hills above Woodland, WA in CN85. I’d never been to this 900′ location and there was some chance it was inaccessible, but I figured I could find something there or nearby.

Indeed, when I got there, the final stretch was a private, gated road. I started exploring, eventually heading uphill until I came across this excellent spot at 1,785′.

I pulled over by the entrance to a gated off dirt road, a little concerned that I was across the road from a private residence. Alas, I either went unnoticed at 8:00 pm (PDT) in the dark or was ignored.

The location turned out to be nothing short of spectacular! Stations from Portland, OR were booming in, and stations from the Puget Sound region had respectable signals. I spent a couple of hours at this spot–an hour longer than planned–in part because there were a series of very brief Es opening that netted 6 meter QSOs to DM06 (central CA), DM33 (southwest AZ), DM37 (southwest UT) and DM67 (southwest CO).

Most of my time in CN85 was spent on 6 meters trying to work new grids, but I managed to work twelve 2 meter QSOs into CN85, CN86, CN87, and CN89 (a 226 mile QSO with VE7AFZ), two 222 MHz QSOs into CN85 and CN87, and five QSOs on 432 MHz into CN87 and CN85.

At 10:20 pm PDT, I left this wonderful spot for the 2:36 trip back to Redmond, WA. As midnight approached, I did manage to work N7EPD on four bands and N7EHP on 6 meters SSB, and 2 meters and 432 MHz FM from CN87.

CN89: Sunday morning I was out of the driveway by 7:30 am PDT for a two hour trip to Blaine, WA. I was headed to a new (to me) location at the Peace Arch Park that straddles the US–Canada border. The park’s parking lot on the U.S. side between A street and B street, is just inside the CN89 line:

Peace Arch park in CN89

Peace Arch park in CN89. Click to enlarge.

The location was not great. It sits, perhaps, 50′ above sea level. There was a lot of RF noise. The paths back to Seattle were entirely blocked by mountains. On top of that, the leading edge of my antenna elements and coax picked up loads of ice in the foggy trip up there. I had to de-ice all of the elements, and I believe it was around the time that the run of coax to the 6 meter beam became intermittent. I ended up working only a few stations on 6. I made nine QSOs in all, but it was worth the effort because I got new multipliers for CN89 on 222 MHz and 432 MHz, plus one multiplier for activating the grid.

Over the 40 minutes I was there, three or four border guard vehicles entered the parking lot and parked nearby, but it was only the curious park maintenance staff that was curious enough to stop by for a chat. I guess that’s good.

CN88: My next planned location was about an hour away and also new to me: The park parking lot on top of Little Mountain in CN88, just outside of Mt. Vernon, WA. The spot sits at just over 900′, but offers outstanding views to the north, south and east, into the most populated parts of the region.

The parking lot was almost full, but I grabbed the last free spot at the low end of the lot. Still, once I diagnosed and replaced the bad coax on the 6 meter beam, the location proved outstanding with about 60 QSOs, including 6 and 2 meter QSOs with VE7DAY in CO70, 6 and 2 meter QSOs into CN79, CN85, and CN86, a 6 meter QSO into CN78, a 2 meter QSO into CN76, and a 222 MHz QSO into CN86. I also managed to catch some folks on FM simplex frequencies.

I spent two hours on Little Mountain–an hour longer than I had planned, but the location merited the extra time (and there was some coax debugging time in there as well).

CN98: A one hour trip brought me to a new (to me) rover location in the parking lot of the Lime Kiln Trailhead in CN98. I had visited this 630′ location before, but couldn’t work from the gravel lot with a previous antenna set-up. My expectations were low, but this location proved to be surprisingly good. It is about 200′ higher than my usual (and mediocre) CN98 spot, Mountan Way Elementary School in Granite Falls, but I still expected the nearby geography to make this location challenging.

I was wrong! In the hour spent there, provided 39 QSOs, including 6 meter QSOs into CN87, CN88, and CN97, 2 meter QSOs into CN86, CN87, and CN88, 222 MHz QSOs into CN87, and 432 MHz QSOs into CN87 and CN88. Aside from locations near Mt. Pilchuck that require high ground clearance 4WD vehicles, this is the most productive nearby CN98 rover spot I’ve been able to find.

CN97: It was getting dark as I headed to the next location in CN97. Again, this was a new location for me, recommended to me by a curious person who stopped to talk to me at a nearby location during the September contest. There was a dusting of snow at the 1,400 foot location, but it didn’t hamper me.

Just after I got set up, a parade of about 20 4WD vehicles drove by, returning from a private party near Kings Lake. Of course, that meant some PR time. Once things were underway, I made about 50 QSOs—a few made in motion to the spot. The final tally included seven 432 MHz and six 222 MHz contacts into CN87. On 2 meters, the tally included QSOs to CN86, CN87, CN88, CN89, and KF7PCL in CN76! Six meters yielded QSOs to CN79, CN87, CN89, and CN97.

CN87: I departed with less than 2 hours remaining in the contest, and a 30 minute trip to the final location. It was the only spot of the day that I had previously activated: CN87 out of my back yard at 320′. I got set-up in my backyard with an hour remaining and worked about 20 stations in addition to about a dozen QSOs worked en route.

Score: Last year (Jan 2012), I ended up with 121 6 & 2 meter QSOs and 26 222 & 432 MHz QSOs, 12 multipliers plus 4 grids activated, for a total score of 2,768. This didn’t make the top 10 Limited Rovers list, but I did take first place for the Northwestern division and 4th for the West Coast Region.

The final tally was a huge improvement over last year’s effort. Here

50 Mhz 134 QSOs, 15 grids
144 Mhz 112 QSOs, 9 grids
222 MHz 36 QSOs, 4 grids
432 MHz 52 QSOs, 7 grids

I activating 9 grids (CN76, CN77, CN85, CN86, CN87, CN88, CN89, CN97, CN98) for a total of 44 multipliers, giving a preliminary score of 18,568.

This year’s score was, clearly, a huge improvement.

Here is the list of top QSO counts:

32 N7EPD
21 KE7SW
20 K7MDL
19 KD7UO
12 W7YOZ

And the best distances for 2 meters and up:

Freq My Grid Call Grid Mode miles
144 CN88 VE7DAY CO70 CW 175.9
144 CN88 W7DSA CN85 PHONE 180.8
144 CN88 K7YDL CN85 PHONE 209.7
144 CN85 VE7AFZ CN89 PHONE 226.0

222 CN76 KG7P CN87 PHONE 93.3
222 CN77 W7BA CN87 PHONE 100.3
222 CN88 W7VB CN86 PHONE 101.0

432 CN76 KE0CO CN87 PHONE 91.5
432 CN88 W7VB CN86 CW 101.0
432 CN76 KD7UO CN87 PHONE 101.4

New FM-Only Category. With this contest, the ARRL introduced the FM-only category to their VHF+ contests. I was somewhat prepared with rigs and antennas for vertical polarization and cut for the FM portion of the bands. The result for me was a few FM QSOs on 2 meters and, I think, one or two on 440 MHz. On 223.5, I worked a majority on FM, but that was typical before the new category was introduced. I did have a 6 meter FM rig monitoring full time, but heard zero stations and received no replies to my occasional CQs.

For now, I think the category contributed minimally, because there were no stations in this region specifically working the lower four bands FM in order to compete. I hope that changes in subsequent contest. I believe an inexpensive introduction via FM is a good way to get more folks involved in VHF+ contesting and, ultimately, weak signal work.


Comments on: "Roving the 2013 January VHF Contest" (2)

  1. […] the January (2013) VHF contest, I was roving out of my econobox car. It worked well, but was tough going on some dirt and gravel roads. In February, Kathy and I […]

  2. […] Sunday route was rather different from last January in a number of ways. First, I hit some mountain locations this year–specifically CN96 and […]

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