Adventures in ham radio

This is my forth CQ World Wide VHF contest, and I’ve been a rover in each one. This one was my most ambitious rove for this contest. It started out with three potential roving plans.

  • Plan A began with the 2014 Seaside convention in May. After I gave a workshop talk on roving, Joe, WA7MHB, approached me with an interesting proposal: I would fly into an airport near Lincoln City, OR, where he would pick me up along with my station and antennas. We would then travel in his vehicle to activate CN74, CN75, CN84 and CN85. CN74 and CN75 are relatively hard-to-work grids. After about 3 hours I would fly to Ocean Shores and activate CN76 and CN77, and then fly home, load the radio into my truck and activate CN88 and CN89. That would be day 1. Day 2 would be the activation (by truck) of CN87, CN97, CN86 and CN96 around the intersection near Carbanado, WA.
  • Plan B was a variant of Plan A that would be invoked if the Pacific Coast was fogged in when I arrived. (The coast is frequently fogged in for July mornings.) If that happened, I would head east to Independence, OR, and activate CN84, fly to Estacada, OR to activate CN85, then to Ocean Shores and proceed like Plan A.
  • Plan C was quite different. It would be used if I couldn’t fly at all, as actually happened. I posted the plan here. The plan was to hit an ambitious 9 grids–quite a trick in the mountainous Pacific Northwest in a short contest. It required a lot of driving and not much sleeping.

Last year I began south, near Portland, OR on the CN85/CN86 line, and then moved north to the CN86/CN87/CN96/CN97 intersection for day one, and north to the CN87/CN88/CN97/CN98 intersection on Sunday. But that plan had me doing a lot of driving during prime contesting time. Some of that is unavoidable. This year’s Plan C would have me start north and work my way south on Saturday. On Sunday I would do the CN85/CN86 line first thing in the morning, and then head to Ocean Shores to activate CN76 and CN77. This allowed me to squeeze in a couple of extra grids, but required a very tight schedule, and a fair amount of driving.

Of course, any Es openings would change the plan in order to milk the openings.

Preparation

The two weeks before the contest produced beautiful weather. I prepared for Plan A by welding up a mounts that goes under a car tire to use with Joe’s vehicle…

A newly welded-up antenna bracket.

…and did some cleaning and rebuilding of the 6m and 2m airplane rover antennas I intended to use in both Lincoln City and out of the airplane.

The airplane rover antennas, a 6m “cheap yagi”, and a 2m quagi.

At the same time, I built an new phasing harness for the truck rover 6m yagis, and refurbished all the antennas:

Truck rover antennas temporarily set up on a shed roof.

A week before the contest started, there were a couple of spectacular days of 6m openings in the region. I missed the first day (Sunday), where local stations were working the Canary Islands! The next day, as I was setting up and adjusting the 6m yagi stack, I started hearing beacons from all over the place. I ran a piece of coax into the shack and spent the evening working distant stations on 6m, including two Alaska stations, and, Japan! I guess the 6m antennas are working–at least during an opening.

The rest of the week was pretty flat, from what I observed. On Thursday, the weather forecast was no longer looking good either at the departure or arrival airports. The adventure would have to take place out of the truck. On Friday, I reconfigured the rack of equipment to optimize it for the truck and finished the install.

Equipment and Antennas

The equipment rack.

From top to bottom of the rack:

  • K1EL Winkeyer
  • Yaesu FT-857d (2m SSB/CW)
  • Alinco DR-590 (2m FM)
  • Alinco DR-M06 (6m FM)
  • TE Systems 170W 6m brick
  • RF Concepts 170W 2m brick
  • Kenwood TS-480 (6m SSB/CW)

Two rotor control boxes can be seen as well—one above the paddle and one below it—and that switch box remotely switches between the front and rear antennas for 2m SSB/CW, 2m FM, and 6m SSB/CW.

The rest of that switching box, as well as a battery and power booster, are behind the passenger seat:

Equipment behind the seat.

Here is what the operating position looks like:

A view from the operating position.

The Yaesu and Kenwood heads are up front. There are two android devices running GPS Test+. The left one is simply a 24 hour clock and the right one reads out the maidenhead grid real time.

Antennas are pretty much what I have used in past contests. The front stack…

The front antenna stack.

…is a hexbeam on top, a 4 el. 2m “cheap yagi”, horizontally polarized, for SSB and CW in the middle, and a 3 el. 2m “cheap yagi” vertically polarized for FM on the bottom. The vertically polarized 2m antenna is the only new antenna added for the contest.

The rear stack consisted of…

The rear antenna stack.

… a stack of two 6m 3 el. yagis at about 25 and 15 feet, and an 8 element “cheep yagi” at about 20 feet.

The Contest

Shortly after 9:00 I departed for Mt. Pilchuck, with a fuel stop along the way. The station and antennas were set-up with 15 minutes to the start of the contest. Just before the start, I briefly chatted with Gabor, VE7JH/R, who was booming in from Vancouver Island on 2m.

The contest started well. There was no evidence of Es, but plenty of local operators, including two rovers, VE7JH/R and KA7RAA/R. The only surprise was a lack of propagation into the Portland area (CN85)—during the June VHF contest I worked a pile of CN85 stations on 6m and 2m from this very spot.

I did manage to work my pals Rachel, K7NIT, and Etienne, K7ATN, in CN85. They were hilltoppers, located about 1/2 mile apart on South Saddle Mountain in Oregon.

I left the grid a couple of minutes early. While in motion, I caught Eric, N7EPD, who had to start the contest late, just before crossing into CN88.

When setting up in CN88, I noticed that the gamma match connection on the lower 6m yagi had failed at the SO239 connector. I removed the phasing harness and used the top yagi solo.

Even with that snag, CN88 was surprisingly productive. In the past, I have not been impressed with this 400′ location; It is quite convenient, but often RF-noisy and the QSOs don’t always come easily. This time, there were plenty of QSOs and grids including, again, Rachel, K7NIT, and Etienne, K7ATN—my only CN85 QSOs from here.

It was an hour to my next stop in CN87, which happen to be my own yard. I left a little early so that I could repair the broken yagi. I made a pile of QSOs while en route. The repairs took about 30 minutes (along with grabbing a quick lunch and making another pot of coffee for the road). I left home about 15 minutes behind schedule with an hour and forty minutes to travel to CN97.

Mud Mountain (CN87), just east of Buckley, WA, is one of those locations that should be very good, but sometimes disappoints. This time it was quite productive. Besides the usual grids—CN87, CN88, CN97—I was able to work VE7JH/R now in CN78 on 6m and 2m, VA7FC in CN79, W7VB in CN86, and VE7DAY in CO70 on 6m.

The next stop was CN96 on Mowich Lake Road, but the road takes me through CN87 (again) and then through CN86 first, so I made a bunch of in-motion QSOs as I worked my way up Mowich Lake Road. Arrival in CN96 was a few minutes ahead of schedule.

Here, again, there was excellent grid diversity, including VE7XF in CN89, W7VB in CN86, KF7PCL in CN76, and VE7DAY in CO70 along with multiple QSOs in CN87, CN88, and CN97. Oddly, nothing from CN85, even though Portland is usually easy from this spot.

After that, I backtracked 1000′ to CN86 and worked VE7DAY in CO70 and KF7PCL in CN86, among others. After a brief return to CN97 to work KE0CO on 6m and 2m, I headed a few miles back down to about 2000′ MSL on Mowich Lake Road where it becomes CN87.

As I was setting up the rear mast, I noticed I had lost the stinger on the reflector of the lower 6m yagi. No doubt it succumbed to a low-hanging branch along this gravel road. Why wasn’t I carrying a spare?

In any case, I was able to work VE7DAY in CO70 once again. At 11:05 pm local time, I headed to Chehalis, WA, where I hoped to find a motel room. A few more night owls were snagged as I drove through CN87.

There were no vacancies in the the two motels I tried in Chehalis. So, I filled up with petrol and drove south toward the morning starting point. I stopped in a rest area, and caught about four hours of sleep in the truck.

While falling asleep in the semi-reclined seat, I reflected on a fairly successful Saturday that included pretty good diversity of grids and pretty good quantity of QSOs, even with mediocre regional propagation. Unfortunately, there were no signs of Es openings whatsoever.

Sunday morning 7:00am (local) found me surprisingly refreshed and ready to go just north of Green Mountain near Kalama, WA, CN86. There weren’t many folks on the air that early, but I did work a few new multipliers, including CN85 on 6m and 2m thanks to KJ4TX. I also worked VE7AFZ in CN89 on 2m.

First thing Sunday morning in CN86. Note the missing stinger on the lower 6m yagi.

At the scheduled time I departed for a short trip to CN85, on the south side of Green Mountain.

CN85

Things started out slowly in CN85, and I couldn’t understand why. Then Tom, KE7SW, reminded me that there was a 2m weak signal net on 144.240 MHz that had started 30 minutes earlier, though he thought they might have finished.

I switched to 144.240 and answered someone who gave their call. After the exchange and a QRZ, I realized I had inappropriately interrupted the tail end of the net. But the net controller, Dan, K7SMA, was gracious about it. He finished up his calls and handed the frequency over to me to make some calls. I worked a pile of folks, mostly up near Seattle. I occasionally join the Sunday morning net from my home QTH near Seattle, so it was fun to be on the Portland end of that net.

Back on 6m things had picked up, and I was able to work a bunch of stations around the Portland and Seattle population centers. Still there was no hint of Es openings, so right on schedule at 9:20am, I took down the mast and headed out for the two and a half hour drive to Ocean Shores, where two more grids (CN77 and CN76) awaited activation.

The trip to Ocean Shores takes me through some pretty RF-dead valleys and rolling hills in the region. This would be the worst place to be should an Es opening pop up.

And…indeed, it happened. Just before 18:00 UTC (11am local), XE2CQ in DM12 was blasting out of the speaker. I was still an hour out from CN77, so I got busy trying to milk the opening while in motion.

I worked seven more stations, all in DM-land, before hitting CN77. Even then, it was 15 minutes to my destination in CN77, where I thought RF propagation would be much better along a salt water bay. And I would be five minutes from and equally awesome spot in CN76. So I kept driving and working stations in the DM grid.

I reached the CN77 destination at 1915 UTC (12:15pm local) with 1:45 remaining in the contest. CN77 is a relatively rare grid—much rarer than CN76. So I decided to spend up to an hour in the grid, if the QSO rate was sufficiently high, and then move to CN76 for the last 40 minutes or so.

The opening was awesome. The first 40 minutes was almost entirely stations from all around DM-land, mixed in with a few locals, like John, KF7PCL in CN76, and Eric, N7EPD in Tacoma (we worked on 2m as well), and a couple of Portland stations. Beginning at 1955 UTC, I worked some double-hop including K4BAI in Georgia, followed by WA4CAX in Alabama, K9IL in Tennessee.

I hated to leave, but there was one more grid to activate. I used my best hurry-up offence to stow the antennas, move a mile down the road, and set up again in the Ocean Shores airport parking lot in CN76.

CN76 at the Ocean Shores airport parking lot. The CN76/CN77 grid line goes through the paved airplane ramp behind the fence around where the second telephone pole is on the far left.

The last 45 minutes of the contest was a mad scramble. Both N7EPD (CN87) and KF7PCL (CN76) worked me on 6m and 2m, but the rest was single or double hop Es. A notable QSO was with N2CEI (think Down East Microwave) in EL79 (Florida Panhandle) on 6m. Copy was rough, but I believe he told me he was a QRP Hilltopper. That would be about 2,400 miles on 10W!

Results

Last year I made 286 QSOs for 81 grids on 6m and 91 QSOs for 32 grids on 2m, for 468 points times 113 multipliers, giving a preliminary score of 52,884.

This year I made 223 QSOs for 103 grids on 6m and 110 QSOs for 33 grids on 2m, for 443 points times 136 multipliers and a preliminary score of 60,248.

Here is the breakdown by band and grid-activated of the QSO count:


Grid 6m 2m
CN76 31 2
CN77 50 1
CN85 21 14
CN86 31 19
CN87 18 15
CN88 13 16
CN96 19 10
CN97 20 15
CN98 20 18
Total 223 110
Points 223 220

And here is the number of multipliers by band and grid activated:

Grid 6m 2m
CN76 25 2
CN77 26 1
CN85 6 2
CN86 16 6
CN87 4 3
CN88 6 5
CN96 7 2
CN97 8 5
CN98 5 5
Total 103 33

Here is the honor roll of stations that worked me ten plus times (maximum of 18 = 9 grids x 2 bands):

  • 18 N7EPD (clean sweep!)
  • 14 KE7SW
  • 14 W7FI
  • 13 KE0CO
  • 13 KD7UO
  • 13 K7BWH
  • 12 KB7DQH
  • 10 KB7N

Summary

The contest started off without a hint of Es and remained that way until mid-morning on Sunday. I was fortunate to make it to my last two grids while the opening was ongoing. It was a spectacular ending to an otherwise good contest.

(Short link)

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Comments on: "WW7D/R Roves the Pacific Northwest for the 2014 CQWWVHF Contest" (2)

  1. […] I climbed the mountain, the truck started overheating. The truck had started overheating during the July CQWWVHF contest. In the intervening weeks, I had done the usual routine maintenance that I though would take care […]

  2. […] Last year I had made elaborate plans for flying to different grids during part of the contest. There was just no time for that kind of thing this year, and the chance of low coastal clouds in the morning ruled out my favorite airport roving stops. So this one was completely out of the 1988 Toyota pickup. You know…the one without air conditioning. […]

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