Adventures in ham radio

The ARRL January VHF contest brings a pile of challenges for a rover. The weather is a big uncertainty. In the Pacific Northwest we rarely have debilitating snow in the lowlands (but did in 2012). Sometimes the snow prevents travels to modest elevations (3,000′). Rain and fog are more likely the issues for us. And fog mixed with near-freezing temperatures can lead to icing of antenna parts while driving.

The other challenge for a rover is darkness. The days are getting longer, but are still way too short. This isn’t just a problem while roving—logging in the dark, setting up antennas in the dark, etc. Rather it affects the station installation. It’s a challenge coming home from a long day at work and motivate antenna installation…likely in the rain. (I know, I know, at least we don’t have the cold temperature that much of the country has.)

And then there is the “rust” of four months without roving for a contest. (The Fall Sprints help a bit with this. )

Even with these challenges, somehow I managed to eek out a rover station this year to compete in the Limited Rover class. I didn’t have the time to do too much innovation over last September. There were a few station adjustments and some tweaking of the route.

Route

The route followed the same general pattern I used last September, starting out in Ocean Shores, WA near the CN76/CN77 line on Saturday morning, and working my way to the CN85/CN95 line on the Columbia river near N. Bonneville, WA, and then to a motel in Centralia, WA for the night.

Sunday’s route went from Centralia to Mowich Lake Road near Carbonado, which permits me to hit CN87 at 2,160′, CN86 at 3,000′ and CN96 at 3,100′. This was followed by a new location in the parking lot of Central Park of Sammamish, WA, which gives access to CN87 and CN97 at 700′. Then off to CN88 at a school parking lot (400′) in Lake Stevens, capped of by a trip up Mt. Pilchuck at about 3,000′.

Planned stops for the 2015 Jan VHF contest
Planned stops (Saturday are blue, Sunday are green) for the 2015 January VHF contest

I sent my schedule out to the members of the Pacific Northwest VHF society. For the most part, I stuck to the schedule. The two major changes were that I began in CN76, moved to CN77, and then back to CN76. Also, it turns out that the CN87/CN97 spot in Sammamish was so productive that I skipped the next stop in CN97 at 1,450′ on the side of Tiger Mountain. The change helped keep me on schedule.

GRID Location
Saturday Start End
CN77 Ocean Shores      12′ 11:00am   11:25am
CN76 Ocean Shores      15′ 11:40am   12:50pm
CN77 Ocean Shores      12′   1:05pm    1:50pm
CN86 Kalama, WA 1687′    4:50pm    5:50pm
CN85 Kalama, WA 1760′    6:20pm    7:35pm
CN95 Bonneville     65′   9:00pm  10:00pm
         
Sunday Start End
CN96 Carbonado 3183′    7:45am    9:15am
CN86 Carbonado 3049′    9:30am  10:15am
CN87&CN97  Sammamish   738′ 12:00pm  12:50pm
CN97 Issaquah 1461′    1:25pm    2:25pm
CN88 Lake Stevens   429′   3:55pm    5:15pm
CN98 Mt. Pilchuck 2980′    6:40pm    8:00pm

Equipment

The equipment list was quite similar to what was used for the 2014 September VHF contest. Three rigs took care of SSB and CW on the four bands a limited rover is allowed. A Kenwood TS-480 served as a 6m rig. Two meters and 432 MHz were handled by an FT-857D. And another FT-857D was used with an Elecraft XV222 transverter for 222 MHz.

For FM simplex frequencies there was an Alinco 6m FM rig, an Alinco dual band (2m/440 MHz) FM rig, and a Jetstream 222 MHz FM rig. The resulting six microphones demands discipline in always hanging the rig mic on the right hook…every time. I mostly did that.

A look inside the WW7D/R station
A look inside the WW7D/R station

One of the FT-857D heads was mounted on the dash, and the other FT-857D head and the Kenwood head were mounted on the center council using spring clamps. The system works well for my vehicle. Two rotor controls were used to turn the front and rear rotors. They were powered by a 600 watt inverter.

Two RF Concepts and two TE System bricks brought power up to near the maximum allowed for a limited rover on the four SSB/CW bands.

Another look inside the WW7D/R station
Another look inside the WW7D/R station

A dash-mounted cell phone provided a 24 hour clock for (paper) logging, and a second cell phone displayed my current grid. Both of these phones needed no data connection to provide these functions. One new piece of navigation equipment was a TomTom GPS. I purchased it just after Christmas and worked very hard to learn as much about it as I could. The route planning method is quite different from the previous GPS I was using. In the end, the TomTom worked out pretty well.

Other pieces of equipment include a K1EL Winkeyer loaded with CW macros, a Tascam DR-1 digital recorder, a N8XJK Super Booster, a fancy homebuilt antenna switch, and a low-tech 3-position switch to move the CW paddle between rigs.

Here is a peak at the back side of the rack.

The sausage making behind the scene
The sausage making behind the scene

It’s amazing it all works. In fact, the only issue was with the power connector on the 6m amplifier, and that was minor. The rack is completely assembled, wired, and tested in my shack and then moved into the rover. Only power, external speakers, a paddle connector, a ground, remote heads, and 10 antenna connectors are attached for installation.

Antennas

Antennas were cleaned, refurbished, and tuned in preparation for the contest. I also did some clean-up and tuning of the two masts.

Rear antenna stacks

The rear mast extends to about 25 feet for when the vehicle is at a rover location and contains the following:

  • 50 MHz: Homebuilt 3-element Yagi (top)
  • 144 MHz: An 8 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (middle)
  • 222 MHz: An 8 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (bottom)
  • 432 MHz: 12 element LFA yagi (bottom)
The rear antenna stack from CN86
The rear antenna stack from CN86

Front antenna stacks

The front antenna stack can be extended to 25′, but typically sits about 10′ above ground. The antenna dimensions fit within Washington state’s overhang limits so that it can be legally rotated while in motion. For some parts of the contest, like driving up Mt. Pilchuck, the mast was lowered to about 8′.

  • 50 MHz: Two element classic hex beam (top)
  • 144 MHz: A 4 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (middle)
  • 222 MHz: A 6 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (bottom right)
  • 432 MHz: An 8 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (bottom left)
The front antenna stack facing north from CN86
The front antenna stack facing north from CN86

FM Antennas

For the four FM bands I used the following antennas:

  • 52 MHz: A mag-mount 6m 1/4 wave whip antenna
  • 146 MHz and 440 MHz: a hygain dual band loaded whip antenna
  • 223 MHz: A cross-over switch switched the 223 MHz FM rig and 222 MHz transverter between the front and rear 222 MHz antennas

The rear 6m and 432 MHz yagis were fed with LMR 400. All other directional antennas were fed with LMR-240.

The Contest

CN76 and CN77

I arrived at Ocean Shores with about 15 minutes to the contest start, and parked in the (car) parking lot of the small airport in CN76. Antennas were set up, equipment was checked out, and I prepared log sheets for the grid.

My first three contacts (6m, 2m, and 432 MHz) were with John, KF7PCL, who lives in Ocean Shores (CN76). QSOs were a bit slow after that. I kept pointing my antenna south to try and work K7NIT/R who was starting out the contest at the southern end of CN76. I found her after about 15 minutes.

Within the first 15 minutes, an Ocean Shores police officer pulled up next to my truck. He was friendly and curious, and left wishing me luck.

After an hour in CN76, I had worked only 25 stations. But, remarkably, 15 of the QSOs were also new multipliers.

When I arrived at my planned CN77 spot, a dirt turn-around at a T in the road, there was a house being framed! Too bad…it was an excellent spot. A nearby location along a creek gave me a good pullover, but the trees kept me from extending the mast to its full height. I could have re-positioned the truck to clear the trees, but that would have consumed even more time.

An hour in CN77 yielded only 21 QSOs and three new multipliers. A brief return to CN76 filled in a few missing QSOs, and I was on my way out of town. I take a small detour leaving Ocean Shores to pass through CN87 and CN86 so that I can work John, KF7PCL, in each grid on three bands (for a total of 12 QSOs). My unfamiliarity with the new GPS combined with being rusty logging while driving caused me to pull over for the last set of QSOs. I ended up about 15 minutes behind schedule.

CN86 and CN85

From that CN87/CN86 spot, it is about 1:45 until my next stop. In the process, I pass through CN86 into CN87 and back into CN86. For the first 30 minutes I worked zero stations. But then things picked up and I made 23 QSOs and three new multipliers before arriving at my stop. While whizzing southbound on I-5, I worked all four bands with WA7BBJ/R who was about 10 mile ahead of me in I-5. This was unplanned.

Once set up in CN86, I immediatelly worked WA7BBJ/R again, this time he had crossed into CN85. In all 38 QSOs and 10 new multipliers came from this location.

By the time I got set up 5 miles to the south, in CN85, I was 25 minutes behind schedule. The new location did not disappoint, and I quickly worked 42 stations. My last QSO was with KF7PCL back in CN76. By the time I left, I was only 12 minutes behind, with a 70 minute drive to N. Bonneville. A handful of en route QSOs contributed to the log.

CN85 and CN95

The CN85–CN95 border on the Columbia River is tucked away in a gorge. For the most part, only Portland stations can be worked from there, as signals are almost entirely blocked in the direction of Seattle (as the map shows). A state highway follows the river on the Washington side, and I-84 follows the river on the Oregon side.

Topography at the CN95 stop
Topography at the CN95 stop

I had a good reason to not be late to CN95. The reason was that Rachel, K7NIT/R (along with her driver, Etienne, K7ATN) was scheduled to be on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, while I was heading Eastbound on the Washington side of the Columbia River. We decided to do a cross-river grid dance.

I was supposed to arrive at 4:50, but turned up about 10 minutes late. Rachel was in CN95 and that gave us time to work the four lower bands. They moved into CN85 and we worked four more time. By that time, I hit CN95 and we worked again, and then they returned to CN95 for four more. The whole thing took 35 minutes, including some additional QSOs with K7YDL. It was awesome getting four bands worth of multipliers from CN95! That was a first.

Another 10 minutes of calling CQ produced only a couple of stations, before departing for an almost 2 hour trip to a motel in Centralia, WA. I only made one new QSO during this leg.

CN96 and CN86

The alarm woke me after five hours of sleep. Thirty minutes later, I was on the move to Mowich Lake road and CN96. First I had about 90 minutes of travel (mostly) through CN87…that provided 13 new QSOs. Then there was 20 minutes of travel through CN86 from about 2,200′ to 3,200′. Even though I had spent many hours in CN86 already, this brief trip through CN86 provided another 6 QSOs.

I arrived at CN96 about 2 minutes late and stayed for 95 minutes (instead of the scheduled 90), providing 51 QSOs. Back to CN86 for a (planned) 45 minute stay, I worked 27 stations (four of these were dups). By the time I hit CN87 again, I was 10 minutes behind schedule.

Leaving this grid intersection, I had a 95 minute trip that took me between CN87 and CN97 multiple times. The trip was remarkably productive, netting something like 35 QSOs.

The end point was a park in Sammamish, WA that had a long parking lot with a rotary at each end. The grid line passed through the eastern quarter of the lot. Barry, K7BWH/R, and Rod, WE7X/R had suggested we meet in this parking lot to do a small, 3 band, FM only, grid dance.

I was a couple of minutes late, but we worked each other, and a handful of other stations on FM simplex frequencies on 2m, 222 MHz and 432 MHz. I set up my antennas in both grids and worked what remained, primarily to the north.

The Canadian community pitched in some new multipliers: VA7FC (CN79 on 6m and 2m), VE7DAY (CO70 on 2m), and VE7XF (CN89 on 6m). A bit later, the rovers added even more multipliers. Dave, KA7RRA/R, on Mt. Pilchuck provided CN98 on 6m. Steve, KE7IHG/R, was in Ocean Shores in CN76, where we worked on 223.5 MHz FM. He then moved to CN77 and worked me on 4 bands, for 4 new multipliers–432 MHz was tough, but doable. The final new multiplier of the contest was KE7IHG/R on 6m from CN77.

WA7BBJ/R worked me on 4 bands while he was in CN97 and then, again, when he hit CN87. No new multipliers, but lots of points. Man…what an incredible spot! In fact, I overstayed my schedule, and skipped doing more CN97 from Tiger Mountain. That spot might have had some good coverage into Portland, but it would have put me too far behind.

CN88

The next stop was an elementary school in Lake Stevens. I made good time getting there and started but five minutes after the scheduled time. The 90 minute stay (plus a few QSOs while in motion) gave 48 QSOs.

CN98

The last grid was CN98, about 3,000′ on the side of Mt. Pilchuck, with excellent reach north, west, and south. I lowered the front mast before the ascent. The (mostly) gravel road comes with plenty of overhead clearance for antennas, but some nasty potholes require deviations to the edges of the road where branches hang lower. For once, I hit the airwaves ahead of schedule—by one minute—leaving 91 minutes to the end of the contest. There was a burst of activity at the end, as I made 65 QSO, including two with AC7MX that went right down to the end.

A dark finish to a dazzling contest weekend
A dark finish to a dazzling contest weekend

Oh…I almost forgot to mention the weather. It was warm all weekend, and Sunday was sunny. At the end of the contest, skies were reasonably clear at an altitude of 3,000′, but there was dense fog in the lowlands that extended my 90 minute trip home by about 10 minutes.

On the trip home, all the radios were turned off, except the one tuned to the public radio station blaring the blues.

Results

Two things stand out about this contest. Foremost is the number of rovers on the air in the Pacific Northwest. Eleven rovers provided me a total of 116 QSOs and 22 rare (if not unique) multipliers. Here are the numbers of QSOs and rare multipliers:

Call QSOs  Multipliers
WA7BBJ/R 28   0
K7NIT/R 24   3
KE7IHG/R 17 10
K7BWH/R 13   0
WE7X/R 12   0
VE7JH/R   8   5
KA7RRA/R   5   1
VE7AFZ/R   4   3
WA7YOQ/R    2   0
W7IEW/R   2   0
K7AYP/R   1   0

VE7AFZ/R was in CN99 when I worked him from CN76 about 35 minutes into the contest. I pointed out that I had never even worked CN99 before. He replied that he had never worked CN76 before (HA!). We worked again, a short while later, when I got to CN77.

The other notable thing was the number of active Canadian stations. In addition to VE7JH/R and VE7AFZ/R, VE7DAY, VA7FC, and VE7XF provided unique (or rare) multipliers. The result was QSOs in CN78 and CN89 on 4 bands, and CN79 and CO70 on two bands.

Score

Work consumed my time for about a week, and it wasn’t until the next weekend (Superbowl weekend) that I finally had a chance to transcribe my hand-written logs into the computer. After discounting for duplicates, here’s the outcome:

Number of QSOs:      522
Points:      687
Grids Worked:        55
Grids Activated:        10
Total Mults:        65
Score: 44,655

The score shows a nice improvement from the 2014 ARRL January VHF Contest. The number of QSOs increased slightly from 492, a gain of +30. Total points increased slightly by +43 from 644. The big difference was in the number of grids worked, which increased +18 from 37.

Here are the details by band and grid:

6 meters
2 meters
222 MHz
432 MHz
Total
CN76
6
16
1
5
28
CN77
8
10
2
2
22
CN85
18
22
6
10
56
CN86
29
33
13
18
93
CN87
24
27
12
10
73
CN88
17
15
6
9
47
CN95
3
5
3
3
14
CN96
17
21
7
6
51
CN97
19
26
13
15
73
CN98
20
21
9
15
65
QSOs
161
196
72
93
522
Points
161
196
144
186
687
Mults
16
17
11
11
55 + 10

And here are the grids worked for each band:

 Band Pts #Grids Grids
6m 161 16 CN73, CN76-9, CN84-9, CN95-8, CO70
2m 196 17 CN76-9, CN84-9, CN94-9, CO70
1.25m 148 11 CN76-8, CN85-9, CN95-7
70cm 186 11 CN76-8, CN85-9, CN95-7

My gratitude to all the folks who got on the air. Here are the stations with double digit QSOs in the log:

  • 36 N7EPD
  • 28 WA7BBJ/R
  • 26 KE0CO
  • 24 KD7UO
  • 24 K7NIT/R
  • 22 K7YDL
  • 18 KF7PCL
  • 17 KE7IHG/R
  • 16 WA7TZY
  • 14 KG7P
  • 13 WB7FJG
  • 13 K7BWH/R
  • 13 AC7T
  • 12 WE7X/R
  • 11 W7VB
  • 11 W7PT
  • 11 KX7L
  • 11 K7ND
  • 10 K5TRI

Last year, I closed my January post by suggesting it would be very difficult to score over 35,000 in the absence of sporadic E openings for this contest. Clearly, I was wrong. But the credit really goes to the increased activity, particularly on the part of other rovers.

I’ve long maintained that more rovers translate into more fun for these contests. That certainly was the case this year.

(Shortcut to this post)

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Comments on: "WW7D Roves the 2015 January VHF Contest" (1)

  1. […] the same general pattern and most of the same stopping points I used last June, last September and last January, starting out in Ocean Shores, WA near the CN76/CN77 line on Saturday morning, and working my way […]

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