Adventures in ham radio

The 2015 Salmon Run was held on September 19th and 20th. Propagation conditions were tough this year. Saturday started out “down” from recent years. And then on Sunday, a solar flare wiped out much of the HF bands. That lowered participation, making Sunday a particular struggle.

To me, the fun of these contests is making the best out of the conditions that everyone shares. It’s the conditions we don’t share—antennas, equipment, skills, perseverance, routes and strategy—that make this a challenging sport. I had an enjoyable time trying to squeeze every last QSO out of the contest, while minimizing errors, keeping to my schedule, and staying alert.

Route

I published my route and schedule a couple of days before the contest. This was the third year in a row that I have used this route. I tweaked the timing, moved a couple of stopping points, and reordered stops at the end of the contest for this year. As I noted last year, “[d]oing the route for a second time has its advantages—this time there were no wrong turns or other unwanted excursions.”

For the most part, things went very smoothly following the route. Consequently, I stuck closely to my schedule, and hit all 22 counties. In order, they were KING, PIE, KITS, MAS, GRAY, PAC, THU, LEW, COW, WAH, CLAR, and SKAM on Saturday and YAK, KLI, BEN, FRA, ADA, LIN, GRAN, DOU, OKA, and FER on Sunday.

Map of the Saturday route, covering W. Washington
The route on Saturday, covering 12 Western Washington counties
Map of the Sunday route, covering E. Washington
The route on Sunday, covering 10 Eastern Washington counties

Equipment

The equipment changed only a little from last year. The primary rig was a Kenwood TS-480SAT putting out 100w. A Yaesu FT-857D was used as a second rig, primarily for 10m, 6m and 2m SSB and CW. Finally, an Alinco DR-590 sat on 146.58 MHz FM.

I had a second FT-857 as a back-up rig, but this radio had no microphone. The mic had died in the September ARRL VHF contest, held the week before, and a replacement hadn’t arrived by the start of the Salmon Run.

Photo of the equipment rack
The equipment rack.

The photo of the equipment shows a couple of VHF amplifiers, as well. They covered 2m and 6m. A home built remote antenna switch and a K1EL WinKeyer can be seen behind the paddle.

The operating position had two remote heads plus a spare (on top of the dash), and two Android phones. One served as a 24-hr clock and the other was for mapping. A TomTom GO60 GPS was pre-loaded with each day’s route, and sat on the left side of the windshield.

Photo of the operating position.
The operating position.

The antenna farm included three home-built screwdriver antennas, one of the front center of the truck, one on the rear right side and one on the rear left side. A 10m 1/4 wave whip was used for 10m (and, with an antenna tuner, for “investigating” other bands on the FT-857D). A 6m whip and two 2m antennas were stuck to the roof with magnets.

Having three screwdriver antennas minimized monkeying with antennas. By day, I had them set up as 15m, 20m and 40m, and by night, 20m, 40m and 80m. This strategy has worked well for me in the 7QP and Idaho QP, but for the Salmon Run (particularly this year), I should have been checking out 75/80m more frequently.

Image of the rover bestrewn with antennas
The antenna farm

The Contest

My initial stop was on the King–Pierce (KING/PIE) county line. While testing equipment in the few minutes before the start, I heard a bunch of my VHF pals having a QSO on 144.200. The contest started, and I broke in and they (KE7SW, KE7TS, W7GLF, and K7ND) graciously provided contacts for a quick 8 QSOs right off the bat.

Last year, I was able to hear loud signals on 20m from Scandinavian stations participating in the Scandinavian Activity Contest. This year the signals were weak, and I was only able to work OH8WW. Forty meters was noisy and empty, but I managed to work a couple of KING stations.

Just as I was about to leave the county line, John, N6MU gave me a call on 20m CW. We quickly QSYed to 20m phone for two more QSOs. This is a pattern we would repeat often.

The trip through KITS to the KITS/MAS line was moderately productive. I quickly found “the groove” that makes it easy to work stations in motion. Last year, I pulled into the parking lot for a wrecking company and sat in an awkward spot that straddled KITS and MAS county line. But a antenna-strewn truck sitting in an odd place for 30 minutes was enough to someone to question what I was doing there. While not exactly unfriendly, I didn’t get a warm welcoming feeling from the conversation.

For that reason, this year, I hit the county line on the other side of the highway, on a small dirt road. There were no signs prohibiting use, and the land did not appear to be developed, so I parked where the dirt road started to curve, straddling the county line.

As I was working stations, a person came up to the truck. My first thought was that it was the property owner coming to kick me out. Instead it was Linda, AB7YL, who had been activating the same county line. Her rig was having problems and so she was heading home, but decided to wait a bit and say hello. It was a fun surprise. She went back to her car and worked me on 2m FM from both counties.

Thus far, 20m was the “money band” with a smattering of 40m QSOs. It wasn’t until I hit GRAY that I even heard a signal on 15m. The band was not very productive. The 10th QSO came as I hit the PAC/GRAY line, and that was it for 15m for the rest of the contest.

Both 20m and 40m opened up a bit more while I sat on the THU/LEW county line. This was the most productive county line of the contest, with 43 QSOs (times 2 since I was on a county line) in 90 minutes.

Twenty meters fizzled out by the time I hit WAH, and the rest of the evening was 40m and 80m only. Most of my QSOs had been CW. I simply couldn’t get much going on phone. I began to fret a bit about making enough phone QSOs to meet the 5% rule (to claim mixed-mode). In the end, I had about 15% phone QSOs, and that was with much effort to work phone at every opportunity.

Sitting in Wahkiakum county. The magnetic signs didn’t produce any QSOs.

The last stop of the evening was on the CLAR/SKAM county line that yielded only 18 QSOs (times 2), mostly on 80m.

From there, I drove for just over an hour to a motel in The Dalles, OR for the night.

I left the motel at 7:00am for the 9:00am re-start of the contest from the YAK/KLI county line.

Photo of rolling hills along the Columbia River.
Morning along the Columbia River on the Washington Oregon border

Making QSOs was painfully difficult from this spot that, in past years, produced solid runs. Forty meters was almost dead, and 20m was quite difficult. I started suspecting that the power lines directly overhead were somehow altering the pattern of radiation. I had planned a 60 minute stay, but left 15 minutes early so that I could make an unplanned stop for a few minutes on the KLI/BEN line.

Image of rover parked next to the Yakima/Klikitat county line sign.
Sitting on the Yakima/Klikitat county line

The KLI/BEN line was not much better. The first two hours of the contest (YAK, KLI, and BEN) resulted in a total of 47 QSOs. The next two hours were all FRA/ADA, including a brief stop on the FRA/ADA line, and produced 30 QSOs.

Things picked up a bit in LIN and GRAN counties for 24 QSOs in the next hour. At 21:25 (ten minutes ahead of schedule), I hit the GRAN/DOU county line, and struggled for 15 (times 2) QSOs in the next 50 minutes.

It was clear that the terrible conditions led many operators to abandon the contest. I still had two new counties to hit!

I made a dash for the OKA/FER county line and found very little activity. Twenty meters was all but dead for the last 45 minutes. I did manage to work K5YAA on 40m CW and we were able to (barely) work on 20m CW as well. When I heard him on 40m CW again, I asked to try 40m phone, and that worked. The last 2 (times 2) QSOs were on 80m. In all, that last hour and a half only produced 27 QSOs.

Results

After eliminating duplicates, 615 QSOs were made. 522 of these were CW and 93 were phone. (I only worked W7DX on CW, for 500 bonus points.)

The daily totals were 448 QSOs on Saturday and 167 QSOs on Sunday. That is about 30 QSOs/hour on Saturday and about 21 QSOs/hour on Sunday.

Multipliers included 43 states, 17 Washington counties, four Canadian provinces (AB, BC, MB, ON), and four DX entities (XE, JA, OH, SP) for a total of 68 multipliers. In retrospect, I probably needed to adapt my strategy to work more Washington counties.

The final preliminary score, including the 500 bonus points, was 119,636. This is quite a bit down from my 2014 score of 200,927.

Here is the final tally of QSOs by band

Band
CW
Phone
80
86
7
40
93
8
20
333
66
15
10
0
10
0
0
2
0
12
Total
522
93

The 615 QSOs included 194 unique call signs. Here are the top stations worked by number of QSOs:

Call
QSOs
N6MU
34
WA2VYA
21
K5YAA
20
K2SSS
18
K9CW
13
W6AFA
11
WN6K
10

Despite the poor conditions, I very much enjoyed this year’s Salmon Run. Almost everything (besides conditions) went quite smoothly. For future Salmon Runs, I need to improve my ability to make 40m and 80m QSOs. Perhaps with a dedicated 80m/40m rig connected to antennas with greater efficiency on those bands.

(Shortcut link)

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Comments on: "WW7D/M does the 2015 Salmon Run" (1)

  1. […] was on the Mason (MAS)–Kitsap county line on a little dirt road I used for the first time last year. This is an excellent, secluded location. The 40 minutes spent there did not feel very productive […]

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