Adventures in ham radio

The CQ World Wide VHF Contest is a great contest for roving. It is limited to two bands, making equipment and antennas quite manageable. Also, the contest is six hours shorter than the ARRL VHF contests. That’s a little more manageable, but can also limit some possibilities. And because the contest falls at the end of the sporadic E (Es) season, there is a good possibility for some spectacular propagation.

As 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 to Southern California and the southwest U.S. The effort yielded a final score of 30,600, eking out a win among U.S. rovers:

The US Rover category was very competitive with Darryl, WW7D, edging out JK, K9JK, and Marv, W3DHJ, for the top spot. W7QQ activated 8 grids to finish fourth with N2SLN in fifth. Darryl activated 8 grids in the Pacific Northwest, while JK motored around 11 grids in the Midwest.

Last year, I did some roving out of my airplane to hit the two rare grids of CN76 and CN77 out of the Ocean Shores, WA airport, and tried (unsuccessfully) to activate CN78 out of Sekiu, WA. This year the weather pretty much excluded the possibility of airplane roving. While the weather was spectacular and clear in most of the Puget Sound region, the weather forecast for Ocean Shores showed a few hours of clear weather in the afternoon on Saturday. Most of the day, a marine layer kept a low ceiling of clouds in place over Ocean Shores. It was a shame to miss activating these rare grids, but these days, my truck rover station is much better than the airplane station. So unless the weather is guaranteed great, so that I can activate CN76, CN77 and CN78 without delays, I am inclined to stick to the truck.

Antennas and Equipment

The rover is similar to what I used for the June VHF contest, but optimized for a two-band contest. Here are the antennas on the rear of the 1988 Toyota 4WD pick-up truck (click images to supersize ’em):

The telescoping mast reaches 25′ above ground level. On top is an 8-element 2 meter yagi. This is a custom “stretched” version of the WA5VJB six element 2 meter “Cheap Yagi”. Below that is a stacked pair of three element six meter yagis spaced 1/2 wavelength apart.

You can also see six and two meter verticals used for the FM radios.

And on the front of the truck…

This is a 23′ telescoping mast with a 6 meter hex beam on top and a WA5VJB four element 2 meter “Cheap Yagi”. Typically, I would extend only the rear mast while stopped. But at a few locations, it was good to have antennas pointing in different directions. The real reason for the front mast is for use while driving. Here is what it looks like out the front window while driving down the road:

The antennas are within three feet of the bumper while turned in any direction. This means I can rotate them in motion without illegally projecting beyond the 3′ limit. And the mast can be set to any height under the 14′ limit. I usually keep it considerably shorter than 14′, however. Here is what the trick looks like with both masts shortened for residential neighborhoods (where low tree branches are common).

One difference this year is that I traveled with the 6 meter yagis rotated 90 degrees to the direction of travel, and tethered them with parachute cord. This kept them within the overhang limits on the side and rear. I used to remove the element ends from the antenna while traveling, but the truck is wide enough to keep the antennas intact. Doing this cuts a few minutes from the setup and tare-down times.

The rigs and other equipment were installed in a rack sitting in the passenger seat:

From top to bottom:

  • K1EL Winkeyer, loaded with contest macros
  • Alinco DR-M06 for 6 meters FM
  • Alinco DR-590 for 2 meters FM
  • Yaesu FT-857D for 2 meters SSB/CW
  • TE Systems TG-0510 6 meter 170 watt amplifier
  • RM Italy KL-145 2 meter amplifier (200 watts SSB, 100 watts CW)
  • Kenwood TS-480 for 6 meter SSB/CW (not visible)

The remote heads can be seen through the steering wheel mounted on the dash. To the right you can see a Tascam DR-1 digital audio recorder, used for audio logging QSOs. And two Alliance HD-73 rotor controller boxes can be seen, one behind the paddle and one below the paddle. Notice that the spring has been removed from the rotor below the paddle. This allows me to turn the front rotor hands-free while driving. I toggle the power switch on the inverter or rotor box when the antenna is pointed correctly.

Behind the rear passenger seat is an automobile battery in a fiberglass battery box, connected in parallel to the truck battery.

Preparations

In the CQ VHF contest, multipliers accumulate by band and by grid for a rover. That puts a premium on locations that provide grid diversity within each grid, but not necessarily among grids. In the ARRL contests, by contrast, one wants to maximize among grid diversity and total number of grids visited. My aim for this contest was to hit all elevated locations that would maximize, at each stop, my coverage from Vancouver, BC to Portland, OR on six and two meters.

Here was the plan (in local time):

  • Saturday
  • CN85 Kalama, WA 1785′ 11:00:00 AM 12:15:00 PM
  • CN86 Kalama, WA 1700′ 12:45:00 PM 01:30:00 PM
  • CN96 Carbonado, WA 3200′ 04:20:00 PM 05:35:00 PM
  • CN86 Carbonado, WA 2800′ 05:50:00 PM 06:30:00 PM
  • CN87 Carbonado, WA 2050′ 07:00:00 PM 08:00:00 PM
  • CN97 Buckley, WA 1200′ 09:10:00 PM 10:25:00 PM
  • Sunday
  • CN88 Mt. Vernon, WA 1000′ 07:50:00 AM 09:05:00 AM
  • CN98 Green Mountain 3000′ 10:45:00 AM 12:00:00 PM
  • CN97 Duvall, WA 1400′ 01:40:00 PM 02:00:00 PM

The Contest

I hit the road at 7:30 AM. The Redmond Radio Club was having its monthly 8:00 AM meeting at a coffee shop a few blocks from my house. I stopped by briefly to say hello to the early arrivals (and…you know, to show off the rover). At 7:45 AM, I proceeded to the nearest interstate for the three hour trip to Kalama, WA.

CN85 Kalama, WA

The trip south was uneventful. In Kalama, I filled up with gas and headed to near the top of Green Mountain (one of two Green Mountains I would visit for the contest!). Last January I had come across this spot with a big wide pull-over next to a gated road and little evidence of activity beyond the gate. This time there was clearly some development going on behind the gate. The owner immediately spotted me and stopped by for a chat. He was aware what I was doing and was fine letting me sit there for an hour (in the future, I’ll contact him in advance…)

My contest opened with a 6 meter QSO with W7WH in CN74. Cool! A few CN85 Portland stations came next. KF7PCL in CN76 caught my attention four minutes into the contest, followed by a flood of stations from the Seattle region in CN87. Twenty five minutes into it, I worked KS7S in DM41 (AZ). I switched to CW hoping for an extended opening of some sort, but I only worked stations from BC down into Oregon for the rest of my stay. The one pleasant surprise was working KB7W in CN93 (Bend, OR).

CN86 Kalama, WA

It’s a 20 minute trip to the stop in CN86 at the entrance to a gravel logging road. This location is somewhat blocked to the south, but gives great reach north to Seattle and fair reach into Portland, Oregon. I was able to make QSOs from CN84 to CN89 as well as KF7PCL in CN76 and WA7BBJ in CN97.

The trip to my next stop was about 2.5 hours and took me through CN86, CN87 and back into CN86 again before arriving at CN96. I managed about 25 new QSOs, mostly on 2 meters, during the trip.

CN96 Carbonado, WA

This is one of my favorite rover locations, sitting at 3,200′ along a gravel state highway. Last year, I hit the jackpot with an Es opening to CA and the Southwest. This time, it was moderately productive locally. I worked CN85 through CN89 except, for some reason, nearby CN86. I also worked KF7PCL in CN76 again, and stations in CN97 and CN98. There were hints of Es openings, but I worked nothing distant by the time I was scheduled to leave.

CN86 Carbonado, WA

The next stop was a short way down the road at 3,000′.

When setting up the six meter beams, I noticed the gamma match connection at the coax connector had broken on one antenna; the solder joint had failed. It may have failed from vibration on the rough gravel road—or perhaps from me constantly bumping it while raising and lowering the mast. In any case, I improvised a crimp connection and used a Velcro cable tie to mechanically keep the parts together.

I had already spent several hours in CN86, so I didn’t plan on staying here long. Everyone worked was in the Pacific Northwest, but working VE7DAY in CO70 gave me a new grid. I also worked KF7PCL in CN76 on 2 meters. Alas, no Es. I left after 30 minutes.

CN87 Carbonado, WA

This location is a few miles down the road from the the CN86 spot.

After 25 minutes of working locals, I started hearing and working some California stations. First NW6R in CM98, followed by K7JA and K6EV both in DM03. A few minutes later I decided to deviate from my schedule to maximize an Es opening. I packed up early to head back to the CN96 spot, where I would have better altitude and fewer obstructions to the south.

Passing Through CN96, Carbonado, WA

I had to pass through CN86 on the way, of course. As I rose above obstructions to the south, California stations started booming in. I got busy working them in CW while in transit, which is tough to do because the rough gravel road add a stochastic element to sending the station’s call in CW. After the call, the Winkeyer handles the rest of the exchange—if I manage to hit the right button.

During the 8 minute trip, I worked seven stations in DM13 and DM03 using the hex beam at about 10′ AGL.

Back in CN96 Carbonado, WA

For my second visit to this spot, I kept using the hex beam without even raising the mast—it was working quite well and I didn’t want to miss the opening while setting up the yagi stack. I worked 35 new stations—primarily in California—over the next 45 minutes.

CN86, Carbonado, WA, Again

When things seemed to dry up I headed back to CN86 to work some more CA stations. The twenty minutes I spent there yielded 9 more stations and a few more grids. I was about an hour behind schedule as I headed to my last stop for the day, on top of Mud Mountain in CN97.

CN97 Buckley, WA

This spot is pretty good, with excellent exposure north and west. The main problem is the fact that it is surrounded by power distribution lines—there is a hydroelectric damn on the White River on one side of the mountain.

I only worked regional stations, and only about 30 of them in 85 minutes. I did hear KL7UW (Ed) in Nikiski, Alaska, quite clearly. He could not hear me, however. I heard somebody working a KP4…but could not hear the other end of the conversation. I was disappointed that either there was no Es opening, or it was inaccessible from Mud Mountain near the southwest corner of the grid. But I had planned to re-visit CN97 on Sunday afternoon from a better location near the northwest grid corner.

CN87, Home

Overall, Day 1 was a big success. The only minor wrinkle was

I got home and into bed by 1:20 AM. The alarm went off at 6:00 AM. After a quick shower, I did a proper on the 6 meter yagi and hit the road.

About 20 miles from home I realized I forgot my cell phone. An inauspicious start.

CN88 Mt. Vernon, WA

My first stop of the day was the top of Little Mountain, where there is a nice park with a parking lot. It is only 1,000′, but has excellent exposure in every direction but east.

I arrived after a 70 minute trip only to discover the park was closed!?! The sign on the gate said the park was closed for bad weather. The weather was fine. I guess it was because the summit was in the clouds. I briefly considered going to Erie mountain, about 40 minutes away. But that would have given me a longer drive to my last two stops.

I headed to Green Mountain and managed to work 15 stations while in transit. But I lost a lot of valuable time!

CN98 Green Mountain

I’ve never been to Green Mountain near Granite Falls, WA before, but was told it has excellent exposure at 3,000′. My internet sleuthing revealed that nearby Mt. Pilchuck is sometimes closed, but Green Mountain is always open. So, I headed to Green Mountain.

When I got to 2,000′, however, there was a road closed sign and a guard in a camper on the other side of the gate. I set up just outside the gate and went to work.

The location worked quite well in the region. I worked 24 local stations in the first 50 minutes. Then the California stations started booming in, and the pace picked up. It did until the guard came out of his camper and fired up his portable generator. That caused cyclic noise that made 6 meters very difficult to use. I stuck it out for another 100 minutes, and then departed for my last stop.

CN97 Duvall, WA

The trip to the foothills over Duvall, WA takes about an hour on back roads. I did manage to work eight more California stations in route.

I got set up with an hour and 15 minutes remaining in the contest. The Es opening into S. California continued. I worked 22 (mostly) CA stations in the next 20 minutes. Then it ended with about 50 minutes remaining. I picked up eight more 6 meter and six more 2 meter QSOs. The grand finale was working W7EW in Salem, Oregon (CN84) with 5 minutes remaining.

Summary

Overall things went very well. I caught some of the Es openings from good locations. The rotatable hex beam on front of the Rover was incredibly beneficial in snagging some new grids while rolling. A lot of things went wrong on Sunday, but I did manage to catch Es openings from a couple of grids. In retrospect, I might have headed for the CN87/CN88/CN97/CN98 grid intersection to catch the opening from four grids. The locations near that intersection are not all that good for regional work, but would likely suffice for an Es opening.

Here is the breakdown by band and grid-activated:


Grid 6m 2m
CN85 28 16
CN86 55 20
CN87 25 7
CN88 9 6
CN96 60 11
CN97 54 14
CN98 55 17
Points 286 182

And here are the grids worked for each band and grid-activated:

  • 2m, CN85: CN85, CN86, CN87, CN88, CN93, CN97, CN98
  • 2m, CN86: CN76, CN85, CN87, CN88, CN89, CN97, CN98
  • 2m, CN87: CN87
  • 2m, CN88: CN87, CN88, CN97
  • 2m, CN96: CN85, CN87, CN88, CN97, CN98
  • 2m, CN97: CN79, CN84, CN87 CN88, CN97
  • 2m, CN98: CN85, CN87, CN88, CN97
  • 6m, CN85: CN74, CN76, CN85, CN86, CN87, CN88, CN89, CN98, DM41
  • 6m, CN86: CM95, CN76, CN84, CN85, CN86, CN86, CN87, CN88, CN89, CN97, CN98, CO70, DM03, DM04, DM12, DM13, DM22
  • 6m, CN87: CM98, CN87, CN88, CN89, CN97, CN98, DM03
  • 6m, CN88: CN87, CN88, CN89, CO70
  • 6m, CN96: CM95, CN76, CN85, CN87, CN88, CN89, CN97, CN98, DM03, DM04, DM12, DM13, DM14, DM34, DM42
  • 6m, CN97: CM87, CM88, CM95, CM97, CM98, CM99, CN79, CN85, CN86, CN87, CN88, CN89, CN97, CO70, DM03, DM04
  • 6m, CN98: CM95, CM98, CN85, CN86, CN87, CN88, CN89, CN97, DM03, DM04, DM06, DM12, DM13, DM14

Last year I hit eight grids and made 75 QSOs for 34 grids on 2 meters, and 160 QSOs for 66 grids on 6 meters. My final score ended up being 30,600.

This year I did significantly better, after only hitting seven grids. On 2 meters, I made 91 QSOs for 32 grids. On 6 meters, I made 286 QSOs for 81 grids.

This gives 468 points times 113 multipliers for a preliminary score of 52,884.

(Shortcut)

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Comments on: "WW7D Roves the 2013 CQWWVHF Contest" (2)

  1. […] virtually unopened kit at the end of June. As it happened, July was a busy month for me with the CQ contest and other […]

  2. […] I used the “stretched” WA5VJB eight element 2 meter “Cheap Yagi that I built for the CQ VHF Contest, and I replaced the 11 element 432 MHz “cheap yagi” with the 12 element LFA yagi I had […]

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