Adventures in ham radio

Archive for the ‘VHF antennas’ Category

WW7D roves the 2015 CQWWVHF contest

The CQWWVHF contest comes at the greatest time of the year in the Pacific NW. Summer is underway, typically with dry weather in the 70s or 80s. It helps that the contest comes at the height of sporadic E (Es) season. This year my enthusiasm wavered a bit as the weather forecast pointed to a weekend in the high 90s—pretty unusual for western Washington. And the Es season wasn’t very impressive. Even so I tried to muster all the enthusiasm I could, and ended up putting together a solid rover effort for a hot weekend.

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.

The only real improvements to the station over last year were (1) the addition of a 4 ele WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi”, vertically polarized, for 146 MHz FM, replacing a 3 element version from last year, (2) extending the rear 2m yagi from 8 elements to 10 elements, and (3) using a spare Yaesu FT-857d to monitor and call CQ on 52.525 MHz FM with 100 watts instead of using a lower power Alinco 6m radio. The extra power achieved nothing, as I ended up with zero QSOs on 6m FM.

Plans:

The plans for 2015 were not all that different from the plans in 2014.

GRID Location Elevation Start Time (PDT) End Time (PDT)
Saturday    
CN98 Mt. Pilchuck 2700′ 11:00 AM 12:15 PM
CN88 Lake Stevens 400′ 01:30 PM 02:30 PM
CN97 Mud Mountain 1461′ 04:45 PM 05:45 PM
CN96 Carbonado 3200′ 06:45 PM 07:45 PM
CN86 Carbonado 3000′ 08:00 PM 08:50 PM
CN87 Carbonado 2167′ 09:10 PM 09:40 PM
         
Sunday    
CN76 Ocean Shores 16′ 07:15 AM 08:05 AM
CN77 Ocean Shores 15′ 08:20 AM 09:05 AM
CN86 Kalama, WA 1700′ 12:00 PM 12:45 PM
CN85 Kalama, WA 1785′ 01:10 PM 02:00 PM

The one big change over last year was the grid order on Sunday. In 2014, I started out near Kalama, WA and worked both CN85 and CN86 before heading to Ocean Shores, WA for CN77 and CN76. This year, I started out Sunday morning in CN76, then CN77, then a long trek to Kalama for CN85 and ending in CN84.

For the most part, I stuck to this plan and kept pretty much on time. The biggest deviation was shortening my stay in CN88 because noise levels were very high on 6m. Instead, I stopped by my house in CN87 where I set up in the back yard for about 30 minutes, made some fresh coffee, and retrieved the sun glasses I had left behind in the morning.

The Contest

I left home at 8:30am for the two hour trip to a landing on the side of Mt. Pilchuck in CN98. Rounding the final corner, across the road from my starting point, was a van, a tent, yagi parts, and two people. Brief introductions followed; what I saw was a pair of hilltopper stations being put together by K7RBW and W7DAO. They estimated getting their stations on the air shortly before I planned on leaving. This positive development meant that I would likely work CN98 on two bands from three different grids!

Ready to go from CN98

CN98 is always quite productive. Besides working from Portland (CN85) to Vancouver (CN89), I was able to work KF7PCL in Ocean Shores (CN76) on both bands. I also worked K7ATN, who was a hilltopper station (10w) south of Portland, and KD7UO, on Table Mountain in E. Washington (CN97), on 6m. Also notable was a 2m QSO with KG7OFQ, doing a SOTA activation on Mt. Catherine.

The next stop, CN88, is an elementary school in Lake Stevens, WA. In the past, this location has worked pretty well. This day, it was more difficult with high noise levels. Still K7ATN and KD7UO were both able to get through on 6m. Of course, K7RBW and W7DAO were booming in from Mt. Pilchuck in CN98.

As I mentioned, I left CN88 early and headed to my backyard, which was on the way to my next stop. While en route, I again easily worked K7RBW and W7DAO (CN98). But I also worked KD7TS (CN97), and K7ATN (CN85) this time on both bands using the small antennas on the front of the truck.

The next stop was Mud Mountain (CN97), which is a reasonably good location. Aside from working KD7UO on the other side of the Cascade Mountains, the rest of the QSOs were easy western Washington contacts. There was no signs of Es openings anytime up to this point.

CN96 is a spectacular rover location, located at 3,200′ along a ridge line on a gravel state highway. From this location I worked people from Portland to Vancouver, B.C. and west to Ocean Shores (KF7PCL). It was at this stop that I made my first and only Es QSO to K7JA in DM03. A little later I heard XE2CQ, and he caught the “rover”, but his signal vanished before completing the QSO.

Sunset from 3,000′ in CN86

A little down the road in CN86 (at 3,000′) is almost as good as the CN96 spot. I spent less time here because the Sunday route includes much time in CN86. A thousand feet lower, and a few miles down the road, is CN87 (again). I made a few QSOs before heading west to Ocean Shores. The 2.5 hour trip resulted in few QSOs, but there was some short bursts of Es propagation to tantalize me along the way.

Sunday morning in CN76

Sunday morning began in the Ocean Shores airport parking lot in CN76. This location doesn’t usually produce lots of QSOs, but is rich in multipliers. This contest produced a good number of both. A little after 8am, I crashed the weekly 2m weak signal net, and netops K7SMA and W7GLF kindly let me work folks. Immediately afterward, I moved a mile down the road into CN77 to successfully catch the tail end of the weak signal net. I worked KD7UO (CN97) on both bands. We had not worked from CN76, so I headed back to the grid to work Dale and a few other people I had missed in CN76 earlier. And then I headed back to CN77 to work a few new people that popped up during my second trip to CN76.

Low clouds over the Ocean Shores runway (CN76)

The CN7x extravaganza was followed by a long, lonely drive from Ocean Shores, WA to Kalama, WA for the last two stops on the north side (CN86) and south side (CN85) of Green Mountain. The CN86 stop was brief, considering I had spent hours in CN86 already, but I did get a couple of new multipliers on 6m out of it. The CN85 spot overlooks Vancouver, WA and Portland to the south and has good reach into Seattle. The stop produced 13 new multipliers, including KB7W in CN93 (on the other side of the Cascades), KF7PCL in CN76, and W7LOU in CN84.

Results:

Last year I made 223 QSOs for 103 grids on 6m and 110 QSOs for 33 grids on 2m, for 443 points times 136 multipliers, giving a preliminary score of 60,248. But last year the final few hours of the contest happened during an enormous Es opening on 6m.

This year I made 170 QSOs for 54 grids on 6m and 128 QSOs for 44 grids on 2m, for 426 points times 98 multipliers and a preliminary score of 41,748.

The score reflects a solid improvement on two meters and a near absence of Es on 6m. Not too bad.

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


Grid 6m 2m
CN76 12 14
CN77 13 12
CN85 22 14
CN86 25 10
CN87 24 16
CN88 11 9
CN96 23 15
CN97 14 14
CN98 26 24
Total 170 128
Points 170 256

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

Grid 6m 2m
CN76 5 5
CN77 5 5
CN85 7 6
CN86 7 3
CN87 6 5
CN88 5 3
CN96 8 5
CN97 4 5
CN98 7 7
Total 54 44

Finally, I want to recognize the stations that worked me ten or more times (maximum of 18 = 9 grids x 2 bands):

  • 17 N7EPD
  • 16 KD7TS
  • 16 KD7UO
  • 16 KE7SW
  • 15 AC7T
  • 13 K7ND
  • 12 N7QOZ
  • 11 WA7GCS

Summary

The temperatures were in the high 90s much of the weekend. It didn’t really bother me until after the contest, when I got stuck for an hour in a traffic jam on the interstate. Aside from that minor issue, it was a terrific contest, even without much in the way of Es.

(Short link)

Advertisements

WW7D/R’s 2014 September VHF Contest Rove

The ARRL September VHF contest comes with uncertainty. Will there be any residual sporadic E (Es) propagation left over from the summer? Will the weather in Western Washington be sunny, dry and beautiful, or cold, wet and dismal?

The weather question is a big one for the Pacific Northwest, as we are frequently transitioning between spectacular summer weather and gloomy fall weather. This year, the weather forecast was for spectacularly sunny and warm for the contest weekend. I made big plans to split my roving between driving and flying between grids, something I haven’t done for a couple of years now (except for a recent 6m Sprint).

But as the weekend of the contest rolled around, things at work were very busy and time consuming. Soon it became clear that I didn’t have the free time to realize both modes of roving. I had time to get the truck rover in order, but I needed a few more hours than were available to get the airplane rover in shape and do the planning for new routes.

I made only a few modifications to my June VHF Contest route. Specifically, I tried out a new CN88 spot that would get me away from the RF noise I experienced in my usual location at Lake Stevens High School. That changed the schedule a bit for Sunday.

The big picture is that the same grid intersections or lines were targeted:

General locations for stops on Saturday (blue) and Sunday (red)

Here were the scheduled stops (times in PDT):

GRID Location Elevation Start Time End Time
Saturday Start
CN76 Ocean Shores 16′ 11:00 AM 12:15 PM
CN77 Ocean Shores 15′ 12:30 PM 01:45 PM
CN86 Kalama, WA 1700′ 04:55 PM 05:55 PM
CN85 Kalama, WA 1785′ 06:25 PM 07:40 PM
CN95 Bonneville 100′ 09:05 PM 10:05 PM
Sunday Start
CN96 Carbonado 3200′ 07:30 AM 09:00 AM
CN86 Carbonado 3000′ 09:15 AM 10:15 AM
CN87 Carbonado 2050′ 10:30 AM 11:25 AM
CN97 Buckley (Mud Mtn) 1200′ 12:15 PM 01:45 PM
CN88 Marysville, WA 600′ 03:50 PM 05:05 PM
CN98 Mt. Pilchuck 3000′ 06:30 PM 08:00 PM

 

Station Installation

Again…pretty much the story from June. One major change since the June VHF contest was the addition of a dedicated rig (FT-857) for the Elecraft XV222 222 MHz transverter. Previously, a Kenwood TS-480SAT did dual duty as a 6m and 222 MHz rig, but the effort to change between the bands made it difficult to optimize either band.

The equipment rack included two FT-857Ds (2m, 432 MHz from one and 222 MHz from the other), one TS-480SAT (6m), a dual band Alinco FM rig, an Alinco 6m FM rig, and a Jetstream 222 MHz FM rig. That’s six separate microphones, something that requires severe discipline in systematically placing a microphone on the assigned hook.

The equipment rack.

Two rotor control boxes (rear and front) can be seen as well as a digital recorder, paddle, antenna relay switch box, and key switch box. Two FT-857D and the TS-480SAT heads were remotely mounted on the dashboard. Cell phones provided grid information and a 24 hour clock.

Other equipment.

The Contest

Early Saturday morning, I heard a news report that the intersection of I5 and US 101 was closed for an expansion joint repair, and that long delays were expected. Oh great! I had three passes through that intersection. The first was my trip to Ocean Shores for the start of the contest. The second one was simple to avoid, and the third one was very early in the morning on Sunday morning. In any case, I spent a few minutes re-programming the GPS with some alternatives to avoid that intersection. It meant I was late leaving home for Ocean Shores.

I arrived in Ocean Shores (CN76) with about 15 minutes to prepare for the start of the contest. Things started out pretty well. I first worked Mike, KD7TS, on Mt. Pilchuck in CN98. Next came John, KF7PCL, who lives nearby in CN76. We worked 6m, 2m, and 432 MHz. I caught a couple more stations on 432 MHz after that. The biggest surprise was working K7AWB in DN17 on 6m. Things worked pretty well on 2m and 432 MHz, but 6m and 222 MHz were a challenge for reasons I still cannot fully explain. Six meters just seemed very noisy.

Next was CN77 a couple of miles to the North. This was largely a bonanza of 2m QSOs with a few 432 MHz and 222 MHz QSOs and a handful of 6m QSOs thrown in.

I circled back in to CN76 to work Eric, N7EPD, on three bands, and even caught his neighbor Rick, N7EHP, on 2m. I planned a route out of Ocean Shores that took me through CN87 and CN86 very close to the CN76/CN77/CN86/CN87 intersection, with hopes of working John, KF7PCL, on three bands in two new grids. That worked exactly as planned! This burst of activity was followed by a long drive through CN86 to Kalama, WA that yielded only a few occasional QSOs—about 7 in two hours.

Checking the antenna load while in motion through CN86.

Things picked up when I arrived at my spot at 1,700′ in Kalama in the late afternoon. Six meters was still not working well, but I managed numerous QSOs into both CN85 and CN87 on all four bands. KB7ADO showed up from CN86 and we worked 2m, 222 MHz and 432 Mhz.

Set up near Green Mountain in CN86.

As evening approached I traveled about 5 miles south to CN85 where I worked many of the same stations in CN87 and CN85. From this location, I was able to work some other interesting stations, including KF7PCL in CN76 on 6m, KB7Q in CN93 (Bend, Oregon) on 2m and 432 MHz, WE7X way up in CN78 near Port Angeles, WA on 6m, and KD7HB north of Redmond, OR, in CN94.

Sunset from near Green Mountain in CN85.

The last stop of the day was an hour and twenty minutes away in Bonneville, WA, just over the CN95 border in the Columbia River Gorge. Upon arrival, I found Etienne, K7ATN, and Rachel, K7NIT (FM only category), Lou, WA7GCS, and a couple of other CN85 stations. The only non-CN85 station was Paul, K7CW, in CN87, who is still the only CN87 station to work me from this rather rock-enclosed location (this was his second time).

It is a long and lonely trip from CN95 to my hotel near Centralia. I sometimes work a station or two in CN85. This time, I was pleased to work Mike, KD7TS, on Mt. Pilchuck (CN96) on 2m from I5 while in CN85, and then we worked on 2m, 222 MHz, and 432 MHz after I crossed into CN86.

I hit the hotel and was in bed by 12:30 am, only to get up again at 5:30 am for a quick shower and to hit the road at 5:50 am. My destination was CN96 at 3,200′. On the hour and forty minute trip there, I worked the early-risers club, including Tom, KE7SW, on 4 bands, Jim, K7ND, on a number of bands, and Jim, W7FI, as well as a few others.

This spot near the CN86/CN87/CN96/CN97 intersection is always quite productive, even at 7:30 am. I wasn’t able to awaken anyone in CN85, but a number of interesting stations popped up elsewhere, including John, VE7DAY, in CO70, Rod, WE7X in CN76, Mike, KD7TS, in CN98, Michael, KB7W in CN93, and Michael, W7QH, in CN84.

Early morning in CN96.

From CN96, I made a brief stop at 3,000′ in CN86 (again). Considering that I had already spent hours in the grid the previous day, this stop provided a surprising number of new multipliers including VE7DAY in CO70 on 2m, WA7BBJ in CN97 on 6m and 432 MHz, KD7TS in CN98 on 6m, N6ZE/R in CN88 on 222 MHz, and WE7X in CN78 on 432 MHz.

The next stop, a few miles down the road, was a return to CN87, at about 2,000′ feet. This short stop provided plenty of QSOs into CN87, CN88 and CN98, but no new multipliers.

About 30 minutes away from there was the CN97 stop at the CN86/CN87/CN96/CN97 intersection, on Mud Mountain at 1,200′. This stop was remarkably productive with 55 QSOs into CN78 (WE7X), CN87, CN88, CN96 (N7BUS), CN97, CN98, and CO70 (VE7DAY).

Activating CN97 from Mud Mountain. The power lines go to a nearby hydroelectric generation facility.

From there, I had to travel 2 hours, mostly through CN87 and into CN88. The CN87 part of the trip produced 2 QSOs. Once I hit CN88, however, there was plenty of work to do. The CN88 stop was the only new location I tried this contest. It is on a small pull-over on a rural highway and gets me up to 600′. In all, CN88 produced 50 QSOs, with two new multipliers from VA7FC in CN79 on 6m and 2m.

The new CN88 stop.

The last stop of the day was Mt. Pilchuck at 3,000′ in CN98. The stop was at a location some distance from Mike, KD7TS, who spent the weekend on a shelf off the side of Mt. Pilchuck. We worked two bands while I was en route, winding my way up the mountain, and the other two shortly after I got there. Mike then stopped by for a visit on his way home. With less than 2 hours remaining, he had pretty much tapped out the region, and had a long drive home.

The grid was quite productive for me with 64 QSOs and three new multipliers: WE7X in CN78 on 222 MHz, and NL7B/R in CN77 on 6m and 2m.

Results

It was a good run. I stuck to the schedule throughout, but could be flexible when there was a benefit to it (like returning to CN77 from CN76). The station performed well and reliably, even if 6m didn’t seem to work a well as it should. The addition of a dedicated 222 MHz SSB rig seemed to work well, even at the expense of another mic in the “shack.”

Here are the QSO results:

Grid 6m 2m 1.25m 70cm
CN76 10 13 2 6
CN77 8 20 3 3
CN85 20 15 6 9
CN86 20 31 15 18
CN87 13 19 10 9
CN88 17 18 8 7
CN95 4 5 2 1
CN96 14 15 10 7
CN97 16 19 10 9
CN98 23 17 14 10
QSOs 145 172 80 79
Points 172 141 160 158
Mults 13 15 6 9

 

The total number of QSOs was 476, for 635 points.

And here are the grids worked for each band:


 Band Pts #Grids Grids
6m 145 13 CN76-79, CN84-88, CN97-98, CO70, DN17
2m 172 15 CN76-79, CN85-88, CN93-4, CN96-98, CO70
1.25m 160 6 CN78, CN85-88, CN98
70cm 158 8 CN76, CN78, CN85-88, CN93, CN97, CN98

 

That makes a total of 43 grid-band pairs.  To that we add ten multipliers for the grids activated for a total of 53 multipliers.

The final score was 33,655 (before checking by the ARRL).

Last year I had 36 grid-band pairs and ten grids activated for 46 multipliers, and 607 points for a raw score of 27,922.

There were fewer rovers this year. I found NL7B/R, AL1VE/R, N6ZE/R, KA7RAA/R and K7IP/R, although most of them were not on, or were out of range of western Washington for most of the contest. Last year there were eight rovers, most of them quite active throughout the contest.

The top stations in my log were:

  • 20 AC7T
  • 14 K7ATN
  • 14 K7ND
  • 14 KB7DQH
  • 28 KD7TS
  • 30 KE0CO
  • 31 KE7SW
  • 14 KF7PCL
  • 14 KG7P
  • 21 N6ZE/R
  • 36 N7EPD
  • 27 W7FI
  • 28 W7LUD
  • 19 WA7TZY
  • 16 WE7X

It was an enjoyable contest, where most everything worked well.

(Short link to this post.)

VHF+ Contesting in the Pacific Northwest

It seems to be a well kept secret in the ham community: VHF+ contesting is a blast.

If you live near a population center, like Western Washington or near Portland, OR, there is enough activity to make contesting easy and satisfying. The bottom line is that if you enjoy HF contesting, you should give VHF contesting a try. Try it, you’ll like it. You may end up loving it!

The VHF contest season goes from June through January and is preceded by a “Spring Training” season. And Spring Training is just around the corner. So now is an excellent time to think about trying out VHF contesting.

I’ve written this article so that it can be read from beginning to end, or used as a FAQ. Click on the links below to jump to a topic of interest. Or read it straight through.

WHAT ARE YOU SELLING?
WHY PARTICIPATE IN A VHF CONTEST?
HOW DO VHF+ CONTESTS WORK?
WHAT CATEGORY AND FREQUENCIES DO I USE?
WHAT IF I HAVE THE RIGS, BUT NO ANTENNA?
WHAT ANTENNA POLARIZATION SHOULD I USE?
WHEN ARE THE CONTESTS?
WHAT OTHER THINGS CAN I DO ON VHF+?
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?

WHAT ARE YOU SELLING?

The proliferation of HF rigs that include 6m (now almost ubiquitous) and 2m and 70cm (common), as well as the availability of inexpensive FM equipment means that almost every ham has the equipment necessary to join in on VHF+ contesting.

My objective in posting this article is to encourage you to give VHF+ contesting a try. This article focuses on the Pacific Northwest, as that is where I live and contest. I’ll try to persuade you to participate in at least one VHF+ contests this season and attempt to convince you that you can have fun in a VHF+ contest without making major financial, intellectual or emotional investments, and without the need to change your life for more than a few hours. I suspect that it only takes a bit of demystifying to make VHF+ contesting much more accessible to hams.

My motivations are very simple. I want more people to participate in VHF+ contests. You see, I do these contests in the Limited Rover class. That is, I am a mobile station traveling from Maidenhead grid to grid, activating them, much like activating counties in a QSO party. When I change grids, I am, essentially, a new station, and therefore a new QSO and possibly a new multiplier for other stations. More people means more activity in the contest, and that translates into more contacts and more fun for me and, really, everyone else. That, and I like to win contests. More activity means a higher score, so there is that rather less altruistic reason for this article….

Most of what follows is about operating from a fixed station. The photos, however, show rover or portable activity only because those are the photos I have.

WW7D/R (right) meets Steve, KE7IHG/R (left), on the road during the 2014 ARRL January VHF Contest

WHY PARTICIPATE IN A VHF CONTEST?

Radiosport. One motivation is, simply, competing in a contest. What is nice about VHF+ contests is that they don’t have to occupy your entire weekend or disrupt your sleep. The activity is less intense, with occasional bursts as new stations show up or as rovers reach new grids.

Emergency readiness. When I got started in VHF+ contesting one of my motivations was a desire to build and test my capacity for mobile and portable operations. You know…the same thing that motivates many thousands of us to go camping with our radios or operate from home by battery power during the last full weekend of June.

Many contests and operating events have a tradition in public service—specifically, practice in traffic handling (Sweepstakes) and emergency readiness (Field Day). Contests at VHF and above are frequently (but not always!) limited to local and regional communications. So, VHF+ contests effectively serve as a communications exercise for a local or regional disaster scenario.

Nearly every ham seems to have some VHF or UHF FM equipment buried in a drawer or perpetually sitting on a shelf, perhaps in a charging cradle. I’ll go out on a limb here and claim (without actually doing the research) that much our acquisition of VHF FM gear is motivated by emergency readiness. We know either explicitly or from early socialization that our access to valuable chunks of RF spectrum is, in part, “[r]ecognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications” (47 CFR 97.1(a)).

My point is that VHF+ contests can be thought of as an emergency readiness exercise. It’s the perfect opportunity to dust off underutilized equipment—recharge the batteries in that HT and put it on the air to see just far and how effectively you can make it work without using repeaters (which might not be available in the aftermath of a disaster).

In fact, as of January 2013 the ARRL has added a new “FM Only” category to the VHF contests. Entrants for this new category use up to four bands: 6 meters, 2 meters, 223 MHz, and 446 MHz. Power is limited to 100 watts or less.

The new “FM Only” category makes getting involved in VHF+ contests even more appealing. It removes any stigma—perceived or real—of using FM in a contest traditionally dominated by die hard weak signal operators. As a die hard (though relatively new) VHF+ contest participant, my impression is that the stigma is not real. I am just as happy to work someone FM as I am SSB or CW. In fact, I typically monitor, and occasionally call CQ on the “standard” FM simplex frequencies. I always end up with few FM contacts on 2m or 70 cm. Each one brings a smile to my face. On 222 MHz the only simple way of getting on the band is with FM equipment, so even diehard weak signal types usually use FM on the 222 MHz band. Even though I contest with all-mode capabilities on the band, most of my 1.25m contest QSOs are FM.

Dusting. Another motivation is simply to dust off that old FM or satellite equipment and get it on the air occasionally. Or make sure the 6m capabilities of your HF “daily driver” are in order.

Ocean Shores, WA (CN76) for the 2013 ARRL January VHF Contest

HOW DO VHF+ CONTESTS WORK?

“I’ll be busy that weekend trying to crack the pile-up for the Fernando de Noronha DXpedition.” Fine. But you can do both…and do ’em pretty much simultaneously. VHF contests are unlike most HF contests in a number of important ways.

First, contest activity tends to be quite patchy. At the start of the contest there will be a burst of activity as everyone tries to work everyone. Once that’s over (typically less than an hour or two), there will be smaller bursts of activity on account of new stations that pop up and rovers that change grids. The pattern of activity makes it easy to multi-task—work some DX, build that new Elecraft kit, or watch the ball game, all while participating in the VHF contest.

The exception to this burst model of activity can occur during summer VHF contests when sustained 6m openings occur. In that case, contest activity will switch almost entirely to 6m SSB and CW for the duration of the opening, which can last from a few minutes to many hours. When the magic happens, the 6m band sounds more like 10m during a contest with an opening. Six meter openings can be as thrilling as any HF contest. If nothing else, you can make great progress on your 6m Worked All States endorsement.

A second difference is that you will not have to pull an all-nighter. Contest activity is possible, but nearly non-existent, from 11 pm to about 8 am. This is almost true. The gonzo weak signal fanatics may be attempting to bounce signals off the moon when it is around, or off of ionized trails created by meteors late at night or early in the morning. Everyone else gets a good night’s rest.

Like almost all contests, the goal in VHF+ contests is to contact as many unique stations as possible on each band and get as many multipliers as you can. But unlike most contests, mode doesn’t matter. If you work a fixed station on 6m FM, you don’t get additional points for working that same station on 6m CW.

The multipliers in VHF+ contests are maidenhead grids. In fact, your four-character grid is the contest exchange; RST is optional and usually not sent.

Here is a list of the most accessible grids from the Puget Sound area in contests, in order of ease of contact (based on my impressions):

  • CN87 – To give you an idea of the size, the upper right-hand corner of CN87 is a few miles east of Lake Stevens and the lower right-hand corner is just west of Hoquiam. If you live in the greater metropolitan Seattle area, chances are you live in CN87.
  • CN88 – To the north, CN88 extends from the same spot near Lake Stevens, and goes north to the border. The upper left corner is just west of Ladysmith, B.C. on Vancouver Island.
  • CN97 – The upper left corner is that spot near Lake Stevens. The lower left corner is near Carbonado, WA near Mt. Rainier. Most of the grid is in the Cascades, extending as far east as Chelan. Mountain-top expeditions to CN97 are common during contests. The eastern-most portions of Redmond are in this grid.
  • CN98 – This grid is largely in the Cascades north of CN97 and east of CN88. Granite falls is the only nearby population center in the grid. Mount Pilchuck, and Green Mountain just to the north of Pilchuck, are popular mountain-top expeditions for CN98.
  • CN89 – This grid extends north of the Canadian border and includes the great Vancouver area as well as parts of Vancouver Island. An enthusiastic group of Canadian VHF contesters keep this grid on the air during contests. Perhaps because of surveying errors, the grid line between CN88 and CN89 is in Washington state. One can activate CN89 without leaving the U.S. by sitting in the parking lot of the Peace Arch Park in Blaine, WA.
  • CN86 – The upper right corner is near Carbonado and extends southwest down to Seaside, Oregon.
  • CN96 – This grid is mostly in the Cascades south and east of Mt. Rainier. But it is often activated for the Puget Sound region by rovers from a 3,000′ foot accessible gravel road from just northwest of Mt. Rainier.
  • CN85 – This grid is south of CN86 and includes Vancouver, WA, and the entire Portland metropolitan area.
  • CN76 and CN77 – These grids are mostly in the Pacific Ocean. But the western-most portions incorporate Ocean Shores. Both grids are usually activated by rovers from Ocean Shores during contests.

If you don’t know your own maidenhead grid, you should be able to find it on your QRZ page. One caution is that QRZ sometimes has the wrong grid listed. A better way of finding your grid is to find your QTH on this map. Zoom in on and click on your QTH. Jot down the first six characters. For example, clicking on my house gives CN87WQ. Most contests only require the first four characters, but it is useful to know the first six.

Grid intersections or lines worked during the 2013 ARRL September VHF Contest

WHAT CATEGORY AND FREQUENCIES DO I USE?

The frequencies used depend on whether you are using FM or SSB/CW. That will depend on the category you pick. Here are the categories to consider:

  • High Power (1500 W). Got QRO?
  • Low Power (200 W on 50 and 144 MHz, 100 W on 222 and 432 MHz, 50 W on 902+ MHz). This is the category used by many participants. Most stations will have SSB capabilities on 6m, 2m, and 432 MHz. Some stations have 222 MHz all-mode capabilities; even more will be on 223.5 MHz FM.
  • Portable (10 W or less, portable power source and antennas). For the Pacific Northwest, this class is ideal for hikers and people interested in SOTA. There are great opportunities for portable stations.
  • 3-Band (6m, 2m & 432 MHz only at 100 W, 100 W and 50 W respectively). This is ideal for people with HF rigs that also do 6m, 2m, and 70cm—like the FT-897, FT-857, IC-7000, IC-706mkII, and TS-2000. Folks with HF+6m rigs and a separate dual band FM transceiver can do this category, as well. This category seems underutilized, and is ripe for regional records and top scores nationally. If you enter in this category, you may well win some wall paper.
  • FM Only (6m, 2m, 222 MHz and 446 MHz, 100 W or less). This category is ideal for folks with a pile of FM rigs begging to be used. If you already have capabilities for 6m, 2m and 70cm FM, you can add 222 MHz FM for a bit over $100. And 223.5 MHz FM is quite active during contests. This category also seems underutilized and probably is ripe for picking off records and top finishes nationally.

With a category in mind, we can talk frequencies to use.

First, lets consider FM frequencies. The ARRL’s General Rules for Contests Above 50 MHz state:

1.8.Use of the national simplex frequency, 146.52 MHz, or immediately adjacent guard frequencies, is prohibited.

1.8.1.Contest entrants may not transmit on 146.52 for the purpose of making or soliciting QSOs.

1.8.2.The intent of this rule is to protect the national simplex frequency from contest monopolization.

1.8.3.There are no restrictions on the use of 52.525, 223.50 or 446.000 MHz.
Participants are, however, encouraged to not monopolize the calling frequencies throughout the contest period.

1.9.Only recognized FM simplex frequencies may be used, such as 144.90 to 145.00; 146.49, .55 and .58, and 147.42, .45, .48, .51, .54 and .57 MHz on the 2-meter band.

Mike, KD7TS, in a cloud on Mt. Pilchuck, WA (CN98) during the 2013 ARRL UHF Contest

In practice, the national FM simplex frequencies are used for contests on all bands except 2m, where it is prohibited. Alternative simplex frequencies on 2m differ by region, so I recommend going with the frequencies recommended locally. In the Pacific Northwest, the best plan is to use those recommended by the Pacific Northwest VHF Society:

  • 6m: 52.525 MHz FM
  • 2m: 146.58 MHz FM
  • 1.25m: 223.5 MHz FM
  • 70cm: 446.0 MHz FM

Don’t forget to set the rig(s) for simplex on these four frequencies.

If one of the frequencies gets too busy, it would be useful to have the capability to QSY to nearby frequencies. For two meters only, you would need to QSY to a “recognized FM simplex frequenc[y]” except for 146.52 MHz. In practice, this means programming a few alternative frequencies into your 2m rig. The Pacific Northwest uses 20 KHz spacing on 2m, so some potential nearby simplex frequencies include 146.42, 146.44, 146.46, 146.48, 146.50, 146.54, and 146.56 MHz. Also, in the Pacific Northwest, 147.54 MHz is a commonly used simplex frequency.

Finally, I recommend adding 144.90, 144.92, and 144.94 MHz if your antenna will let you work there. Here’s the reason. At times, you may work somebody on, say, 6m and ask them to QSY to 2m (“running the bands” is an acceptable and common practice during VHF contests). They may tell you that their 2m antenna doesn’t work up on 146.58 MHz. In that case, ask them to QSY to 144.90 MHz, which is a recognized simplex frequency written into the ARRL’s General Rules for Contests Above 50 MHz. Chances are their antenna will be able to handle that. This is rather theoretical…I know of no one who has actually worked stations this way, but it is a viable option for stations with 6m all-mode capabilities and FM only on higher bands.

One last thought on using FM in the FM Only category. In two years, I’ve only ever worked one station on 52.525 MHz FM, despite having a dedicated 6m FM rig on its own vertical antenna during every VHF contest. So it might be unrealistic trying to work a lot of stations on 6m FM on the calling frequency. The lack of activity on 6m FM likely discourages folks from entering as “FM Only”, particularly if they have 6m SSB capabilities.

Here’s an idea for such folks to boost 6m FM QSOs significantly. Lure SSB stations into a nearby 6m FM QSOs by going to the SSB calling frequency, 50.125 MHz, and making an SSB CQ: “CQ Contest from WW7D going up to 50.325 MHz FM.” That is, announce your nearby FM frequency on the SSB calling frequency, but do not make any SSB QSOs. This does not seem to violate the contest rules. I’ll bet one could easily break scoring records in the FM Only category by doing this. After working stations on 50.325 MHz FM, run the bands up to 432 MHz. And if you have SSB/CW capabilities on the 2m, 222 MHz, and 432 MHz, do the same thing on those bands. An alternative is to first work stations on 223.5 MHz FM and ask them to QSY to 50.325 MHz FM. After a few such QSO/QSY combinations, word will get around and you’ll find stations hunting for you.

I use 50.325 MHz as an example, and 50.3 MHz — 50.6 MHz is an acceptable place for FM according to the ARRL Band Plan. The band isn’t always used the way the ARRL Band Plan specifies, so make sure 50.325 MHz (or wherever you go) is not being used for something else. Watch out for digital work at 50.3 MHz.

For SSB and CW, the national “weak signal” calling frequencies are the place to start:

  • 6m: 50.125 MHz SSB and CW
  • 2m: 144.200 MHz SSB and CW
  • 1.25m: 222.100 MHz SSB and CW
  • 70cm: 432.100 MHz SSB and CW
A limited rover station being used in the 2014 ARRL January VHF Contest

Much of the contest activity takes place on these four frequencies for both CW and SSB. During 6m openings, however, stations will spread out much like they do during a 10 meter contest. The CW stations may move down to 50.080 to 50.100 MHz. SSB stations (and some CW stations) will work on frequencies from 50.125 MHz on up. (The spectrum from 50.100 to 50.125 MHz is left alone except for overseas contacts.)

When the calling frequency is in high demand, it’s good operating practice to move off frequency. For example, a rover station that has just landed in a new grid might do something like this, “CQ CQ contest from whiskey whiskey seven delta, Charlie November seventy six, moving to 50.140.” Or, a station that finds itself with a pile-up, might announce after a few calling-frequency QSOs, “…Whiskey seven charlie whiskey, QSL. QRZ from whiskey whiskey seven delta, now moving to 50.140.”

If the FM Only category catches on and activity levels warrant it, these same practices should be used.

WHAT IF I HAVE THE RIGS, BUT NO ANTENNA?

VHF and UHF antennas are easy to build and much easier to handle compared to most HF antennas. Small size means they can be built with a minimum of materials. Given the short wavelengths involved, you might get away with using an HF antenna. (I recently worked Hawaii on 6m using a five band, 20m-10m broadband hex beam and an antenna tuner.)

Wire antennas (dipoles or delta loops) can be built in an hour or two and can be saved as part of an emergency go-kit when not used for contesting. Directional antennas might require an evening or two to build. A two-element Moxon is an easily-built gain antenna for 6m. Remember the quagi? These are quite easy to construct for 2m and above. My favorite is the “cheap yagi” series of antennas. The WA5VJB recipes work very well and the antennas are truly inexpensive and easy to build.

A 6m hex beam and three WA5VJB “cheap yagis” being used in the 2014 ARRL January VHF Contest

WHAT ANTENNA POLARIZATION SHOULD I USE?

Weak signal operators usually use horizontal polarization, whereas, vertical polarization is more common in the FM portions (except, perhaps, on 223.5 MHz FM where horizontal polarization is commonly used). My advice is simple: Use what you can. Whatever it is, it will largely work.

Yes, I know there are many dBs of loss for stations using incompatible polarization—theoretically an infinite loss. In practice, the loss is much less. One thing for sure, staying off a band for want of the “correct” polarization is, effectively, infinity dBs of loss! When roving from my car, I’ve used vertical antennas for SSB while in motion. Contacts still happen. Sometimes I’ve had to pull over and work a pile-up on my vertical antennas before arriving at my destination where horizontally polarized antennas would be deployed.

Operating out of the Sekiu, WA (CN78) airport for the 2011 ARRL September VHF Contest

WHEN ARE THE CONTESTS?

There are four major VHF+ contests and one major UHF+ contest each year. Here are the major contests:

  • ARRL June VHF Contest. This occurs in the middle of June, a couple of weekends before Field Day. In 2014, the contest is from June 14-16. The contest is for all bands from 6m up.
  • CQ World Wide VHF Contest is for 6m and 2m only and is held on the 3rd weekend in July. For 2014 the contest is scheduled for July 19-20.
  • ARRL August UHF Contest. This contest covers 222 MHz and above and happens in early August. In 2014 it takes place on Aug. 2-3.
  • ARRL September VHF Contest occurs in mid-September. For 2014, this happens September 13-15. The contest is for all bands from 6m up
  • ARRL January VHF Contest. This occurs in the third weekend of January. The contest is for all bands from 6m up

There are two VHF+ Sprint series that occur—one in spring and one in the fall. These are, typically, 4-hour events on a single band from 6m to 432 MHz, as well as a longer microwave event. The fall schedule is not out yet (details well be published here), but here is the spring schedule for 2014:

  • 144 MHz: Monday, 7 Apr 2014, from 7 — 11 PM local
  • 222 MHz: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014, from 7 — 11 PM local
  • 432 MHz: Wednesday, 4/23/14 from 7 — 11 PM local
  • 902 MHz and up: Saturday, 3 May 2014, from 6 AM — 1 PM local
  • 50 MHz: Saturday, 10 May 2014, from 2300z until 0300z Sunday, 11 May 2014

These events are a great way to test out changes to your station in preparation for upcoming contests. They are informal, friendly and can be used to get a bit of contesting experience before committing to a longer contest.

There are numerous additional contests that use some or all of the VHF+ bands: There are EME (moonbounce) contests, a 10 GHz+ contest, a six meter (SMIRK) contest, and some regional VHF contests. Many state or regional QSO parties include VHF+ bands. In Washington State, the Salmon Run includes 2m and 6m, as does the 7th Call Area QSO Party, the CA QSO Party, and the Arizona QSO Party. The Montana QSO Party allows 6m, 2m and 432 MHz (but, apparently, not 222 MHz), and the Nevada QSO Party (Mustang Round-up) allows 6m. The RAC Canada Day Contest includes 6m and 2m.

Ray, W7GLF/R, comes down from Green Mountain (CN98) during the 2013 ARRL September VHF Contest

WHAT OTHER THINGS CAN I DO ON VHF+?

VHF contests offer a number of interesting possibilities beyond working from a home station.

Going portable: The Pacific Northwest offers numerous fascinating possibilities for doing this. The basic idea: Go to a high, easily accessible location that has an unobstructed view from Vancouver, B.C. to Vancouver, WA to Salem, OR. Of course, few locations that truly meet all three of these criteria (e.g. The top of Mt. Rainier almost works, but falls short on the “easily accessible” criteria), but do the best you can. Operations can be field-day like multi-band big-antenna efforts or QRP mountain top efforts. Or just drive to a high spot and work out of your car for part of a weekend.

Roving: This is another interesting activity that offers DX-like pile-ups and travels through some great scenery. A thorough discussion requires an article of its own. You can read lots of stories of roving the Pacific Northwest at my blog. Barry, K7BWH, has a wonderful web page full of rover locations worth considering.

I’ll just mention that the Limited Rover class (limited to the bottom 4 bands) is the great equalizer. One can put together a very competitive station with a modest investment of equipment and sweat equity. One key to a successful rover station is an ability to rapidly set-up and take-down a set of modest directional antennas. The other key is smart planning—success comes from a good route with great portable locations along the way.

Microwaves: I’ve mostly focused on 6m through 432 MHz in this article. But there are many bands above 432 MHz. The two most accessible are 33 cm (902 MHz) and 23 cm (1296 MHz). These bands see a fair amount of SSB/CW activity during contests, primarily on 903.1 MHz (or 902.1 MHz in some regions) and 1296.1 MHz CW and SSB.

There are a few rigs that do all modes on 23cm (e.g. TS-2000X, IC 1271, IC 910H with 1296 module, or the FT-736R with 1296 module). The other option for 1296 MHz and, really, the only practical option on 902 MHz, is a transverter. This obviously moves contesting up to a new level of complexity and commitment. It makes for an interesting technical challenge.

An option for these bands is FM, and FM can successfully be used in these contests. There are a number of ham rigs that do 23cm and 33cm FM. At 33cm, there are plenty of inexpensive commercial rigs that can be made to work in the ham band. A refurbished Kenwood TK-981 can be picked up on Ebay for ~$120 and is very easy to program for FM simplex frequencies. The TK-941 can be picked up even cheaper—unlike the TK-981, the TK-941s don’t work well for repeaters, but work very well as a simplex contest rig. Motorola and GE make commercial rigs that can be modified for 33cm with more effort. Most commercial gear can’t easily be made to work simplex at bottom of the band (i.e. near 903.1 MHz) without modifications. They can be programmed without modifications for the national simplex calling frequency of 927.5 MHz. I’ve found modest activity on this frequency during UHF contests and field day. Since QSOs on these bands are worth much more, even a few 927.5 MHz contacts really add up. At least one in-production ham rig, the Alinco DJ-G29T, can go somewhere near the SSB calling frequency of 903.1 MHz. A couple of regional hams have used 903.2 MHz FM to successfully work folks with transverters during contests. If people know you are there, they will find you.

There are a few mobile (e.g. Kenwood TM-531E) and a handful of hand held 23 cm FM rigs. I’ve had great success with the Alinco DJ-G7 (currently in production). Most of my QSOs have been with SSB stations that are willing to move to FM on nearby 1296.2 MHz, rather than the national FM simplex calling frequency 1294.5 MHz. That frequency is out of range for most transverters.

And beyond: VHF contesting is a gateway drug to other exotic ham radio activities like moon bounce or meteor scatter. How about going for a WAS endorsement on VHF? Or even VHF DXCC? One interesting activity on VHF is VUCC earned by working 100 maidenhead grids (or fewer on bands above 2m). The Pacific Northwest VHF Society offers the Lewis and Clark Grid Exploration series of awards for working or activating all of the grids each state or province—Washington, Oregon, Idaho or British Columbia.

The ultimate challenge is to work all 488 maidenhead grid in the Continental U.S. to earn the Fred Fish Memorial Award.

If wall paper isn’t your thing, how about DXpeditions? Go out and activate a rare grid for other hams to complete their awards and become a hero in the process. The possibilities are endless.

Activating CN86 near Kalama, WA during the 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest

WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?

Pacific Northwest VHF Society
ARRL Contest Calendar
ARRL Contest Rules
Fred Fish Memorial Award
VUCC
North East Weak Signal Group VHF Calendar
CQ WW VHF Contest
SMIRK 6m Contest
KC9BQA’s VHF Contesting School Articles
K7BWH Rover Locations
WW7D Blog
Maidenhead Grid Mapping Tool
Maidenhead Grid Locator Map
VHF Real Time Propagation Maps
VHF Contesting Mailing List

Closing Thoughts: There are plenty of reasons to join the contest activities on VHF and above. Most importantly, it’s fun. Entry into the activity is quite easy—you probably already have the equipment. As a bonus, you meet a great group of hams who are encouraging and eager to help you out. And don’t forget to send in a log, no matter how few contacts you make—you might just earn a piece of paper. Say…like K1ZK, who earned a certificate in a VHF Contest with one QSO!

Even if you are not convinced to spend the weekend contesting, the next time a VHF+ contest rolls around, show up on 50.125 around mid-day on Sunday. Enjoy your pile-up!

Be careful, though. Once you start playing in VHF+ contests…you might not be able to stop!

Acknowledgments

Many members of the Pacific Northwest VHF Society have provided excellent advice and great insights. I thank Gabor, VE7JH, Eric, N7EPD, Paul, K7CW, and Mike, KD7TS for their helpful mentoring as I got started in VHF contesting. Etienne, K7ATN, provided a number of helpful comments and suggestions for a revised (3 Apr 2014) version of this post.

WW7D Roves the 2013 CQWWVHF Contest

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)

Roving the 2013 June ARRL VHF Contest

The June ARRL VHF contest is awesome. Summer is happening, the weather is frequently nice, and I am right at the tail end of the academic school year. The contest is my first taste of “vacation.”

This year, I did a lot of improvements to my roving station. Contest preparation began months in advance, but it seems like everything ended up being compressed into the last week. I found myself soldering up the last couple of coax connectors late Friday night.

Last year’s June VHF contest was simply incredible–a long sporadic E (Es) 6 meter opening on Sunday allowed me to activate three relatively rare grids (CN76, CN77 and CN78) out of may airplane rover for 19 states, as well as Canada and Mexico. I ended up with 210 QSOs and 69 grids for 6 meters, and a total of 358 QSOs. The final score of 38,950 was good enough for first place Limited Rover in the Western Washington Section, the Northwestern Division, and the West Coast Section. It set a new Limited Rover record for the Northwestern Division. Overall it was 6th place for U.S. Limited Rover.

Plans:

This year, the weather leading up to the contest looked excellent for roving out of the car and airplane. I began with the following plan:

Saturday:

  • CN85 1,785′ Kalama, WA 11:00 am – 12:15 pm
  • CN86 1,700’ Kalama, WA 12:45 pm – 2:00 pm
  • CN97 3,100’ Mountain near Wilkison, WA 5:00 pm – 6:15 pm
  • CN96 3,200’ Mowich Lake Rd, Carbonado, WA 7:15 pm – 8:45 pm
  • CN86 3,150’ Mowich Lake Rd, Carbonado, WA 9:00 pm – 9:30
  • CN87 2,100’ Mowich Lake Rd, Carbonado, WA 9:45 pm – 11:00 pm

Sunday:

  • CN98 2,700′ Mt. Pilchuck, Granite Falls, WA 7:30 am – 9:00 am
  • CN88 400’ High School, Lake Stevens, WA 10:00 am – 11:15 am
  • CN76* 16’ Ocean Shores, WA 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
  • CN77* 15’ Ocean Shores, WA 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm
  • CN78* 320’ Sekiu, WA 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm

The * denotes grids that would be activated out of the airplane.

When I checked the weather forecast on Friday night, everything looked spectacular except for one thing: The weather in Ocean Shores called for 20 knot gusty winds on Sunday. The 20 knot winds don’t bother the airplane. But the portable antennas and mast system I use are relatively lightweight and a bit on the frail side. Twenty knots is pushing it. I would have to drive instead.

The forecast had been so good leading up to the contest—and I had been so busy—that I didn’t bother creating alternative plans. If I had, I might have flown to Ocean Shores on Saturday morning, then on to Sekiu and a switch to the car on Saturday evening for CN88 and CN98. But I didn’t. So on Saturday morning, I got an early start to Kalama, WA. On the long drive there, I went through the timing calculations and came up with this revised plan:

Saturday:

  • CN85 1,785′ Kalama, WA
  • CN86 1,700’ Kalama, WA
  • CN76 16’ Ocean Shores, WA
  • CN77 15’ Ocean Shores, WA

Sunday:

  • CN96 3,200’ Mowich Lake Rd, Carbonado, WA
  • CN86 3,150’ Mowich Lake Rd, Carbonado, WA
  • CN87 2,100’ Mowich Lake Rd, Carbonado, WA
  • CN97 3,100’ Mountain near Wilkison, WA
  • CN88 400’ High School, Lake Stevens, WA
  • CN98 2,700′ Mt. Pilchuck, Granite Falls, WA

The disadvantages of this plan are (1) I don’t activate CN79, and (2) there is a long drive from Woodland to Ocean Shores on a route that isn’t conducive to VHF or UHF contacts. Things went, more or less, according to plan. On Sunday, I had to go to an alternative location at 1,300′ for CN97 because a forest service gate was closed. Also, I ran out of time for Mt. Pilchuck and went to a 600′ alternative location instead.

Platform and Equipment:

For 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 acquired a 1988 Toyota 4WD pickup truck. It got its first workout as a HF mobile platform during the Idaho QSO party, and I tested it out, one band at a time, during the VHF+ Spring Sprints.

Essentially, I transferred the bracket holding an HD-73 rotor and mast from the rear of my Hyundai to the bed of the pickup truck….

The antennas visible here are:

  • 50 MHz: Homebuilt 3-element Yagi (bottom–note that the element ends are missing in this installation photo)
  • 144 MHz: A 6 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (middle)
  • 222 MHz: A 7 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (top)
  • 432 MHz: An 11 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (top)
  • 54 MHz: 6 meter mag-mount vertical (modified 11 meter antenna)
  • 146/440 MHz: Hustler whip

In addition to these antennas for stationary use, I wanted a second set of gain antennas that I could rotate and use while in motion. I had purchased a second HD-73 rotor and control box on Ebay a few weeks before the contest. Of course both components needed rebuilding—something I was doing the week before the contest. A home built bolt-on bracket for a front-mounted rotatable mast was needed:

In Washington state, the maximum front overhang is 3 feet beyond the front bumper. This is an easy limitation to work with for 2 meters and up. But six meters is a bigger challenge. Many VHFers swear by a 6 meter Moxon for their rover. But this antenna has a turning radius of 3.58 feet, making it not street legal for my installation. My first thought was to build a 6 meter broadband hex beam, but even that has a turning radius of 2.9 feet. With the mast already sitting a little forward of the front bumper, the antenna would not qualify as street legal.

The “classic” Hex Beam was the answer. It has a turning radius of 2.64″, or slightly more, since the elements don’t go exactly to the center of the antenna. This still puts the antenna a little over the 3′ limit, but I built the bracket to lean slightly toward the rear of the vehicle, so that, at about 8′ up on the mast, the antenna easily falls within the street limits.

My aim was to build a lightweight Hex Beam with low wind loading. I ordered some lightweight filament wound epoxy tubing (three 0.298″ x 32.5″ and three 0.392″ x 34″) from Goodwinds. These were cut in half and “telescoped”. I made the hub out of two 6.5″ disks fly-cut from 1/8″ marine grade Okoume plywood (they were, in fact, scraps from rib lightening holes on an airplane project). Small 0.395″ radial stiffiners were cut from spruce. Here are the structural components before being glued together.

To this, I added mounting brackets, wire elements (through the tubing) and a SO-239 connector:

The rest of the front mast was populated with additional bands. Here is the stack, looking out the windshield, while underway:

  • 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)

And, here is a view inside the “shack”.
(more…)

Roving the 2012 CQ WW VHF contest

What a fantastic time I had in this year’s CQ Worldwide VHF contest! This was my second year participating in the contest. Like last year, I roved around the Pacific Northwest landscape, splitting transportation between airplane and car.

For this year, my set-ups were similar to those used in the June ARRL VHF contest—minus the 222 MHz and 432 MHz capabilities, of course. In fact, I only made a few minor improvements to antennas and the car mount for this contest.

SCHEDULE

As the weekend approached, it became clear that the weather was (as usual) going to be sub-optimal for the contest. For the flying portion, Saturday was looking doable after the 11 am PDT starting time, but pretty marginal before then. Sunday looked marginal to bad.

With that in mind, I developed a schedule that would provide some flexibility:

For Saturday, I would fly in the morning and then switch to the car (denoted *) for the evening :

  • CN85 Estacada, OR 735′ 11:00 AM 12:00 PM
  • CN76 Ocean Shores, WA 16′ 02:00 PM 03:00 PM
  • CN77 Ocean Shores, WA 15′ 03:10 PM 04:10 PM
  • CN98* Granite Falls, WA 430′ 06:10 PM 07:10 PM
  • CN88* Lake Stevens, WA 400′ 07:40 PM 08:40 PM
  • CN87* Redmond, WA 320′ 09:50 PM 10:40 PM

I’ve not been to the Estacada airport before, but it looked like a great spot to cover the Portland area, and maybe all the way up in to British Columbia. Unfortunately, I didn’t get there this contest.

I really wanted to include Sekiu, WA, CN78, as well, but couldn’t manage to squeeze it into the schedule and get the higher-yield CN98 and CN88 grids as well.

For Sunday, I planned to work out of my car:

  • CN96* Carbonado, WA 3200′ 08:30 AM 09:40 AM
  • CN86* Carbonado, WA 2800′ 09:55 AM 11:05 AM
  • CN87* Carbonado, WA 2050′ 11:25 AM 12:10 PM
  • CN97* Issaquah Highlands, WA 1000′ 01:05 PM 02:00 PM

The last stop (courtesy of K7BWH’s informative rover page), would have been a new one for me. Alas, I didn’t make it to that location, either.

Saturday began pretty badly…low clouds kept me on the ground for a little longer than I wanted. And when I did get off the ground, it wasn’t clear I could even get out of the local area. I was able to find a big hole in the clouds and spiraled up through it to get on top of one layer of clouds. That got me over to Silverdale, WA, where I had to make a decision.

The weather reports were pretty bad for the route to Portland, OR and the weather at Hoquiam, WA was terrible. Both were expected to clear up by by noon. I decided to scrub Portland because it was an extra hour away and had hillier terrain to mess with. And the weather just looked worse that way. Things were looking acceptable in the direction of Ocean Shores, but with Washington’s microclimates, it’s hard to know what awaited me.

My revised plan was to first stop for fuel at nearby Hoquiam airport before the contest started so that I could fly to Portland after working the two grids at the Ocean Shores airport, and not have to refuel again to get home.

Most of the airborne portions of my trip were captured on APRS (zoom out). (Note…just before the contest, Barry, K7BWH, sent a note to the PNWVHF Society listserver indicating that APRS reports might violate the contest rules. For this reason, I only used APRS while airborne, as I am not eligible to participate in the contest while airborne.)

As I approached Hoquiam, I was pushed closer and closer to the ground—soon under 1000′. The Hoquiam automated weather observation announcement was bouncing between a very low ceiling (400′) with under a mile of visibility and 1200′ with three miles visibility. Legally, I have to have a 1000′ ceiling with 3 miles visibility to get close to and land at the airport.

I heard another plane announce a departure from Hoquiam. Ahhhh! A hole! But it wasn’t so. As I got over the bay, there were big bunches of fog and clouds in my windscreen that would prevent me from getting anywhere near the airport. An abrupt U-turn was required.

Instead, I few back to Shelton, WA, about 40 miles in the wrong direction. I pulled up to the fuel pumps 15 minutes before the contest was to start. I took about 45 minutes to refueled and study the weather before things began looking better at Hoquiam.

The second attempt to reach Ocean Shores was not simple, but doable. Ocean Shores, itself, was in good shape.

I got set up in CN76 and made the first QSO at 19:24 GMT, over an hour after the contest started.

Here I am, just happy to be contesting instead of battling clouds.

I spent an hour in CN76, and worked a reliable bunch of stations. Alas, no spectacular 6 meter openings like I had experienced here in June.

My final tally was 9 QSOs and 5 multipliers on two meters and 11 QSOs for 6 multipliers on six meters. I was pleased with the diversity of grids on the air–one new grid for every two QSOs is awesome for this contest, because each grid is a multiplier, and multipliers accumulate within each unique grid (and band) for a rover.

I pulled the plane to the other end of the parking ramp, 125 meters away in CN77.

Here we are in the CN77 location looking back into CN76 (other end of the pavement)….

CN77 was just as fruitful for multipliers, but with a couple fewer QSOs on each band.

I was a little ahead of schedule because of skipping Portland. But I had no time to return there. Instead I decided to give Sekiu (CN78) a shot. Weather products are lousy for the airport, but Port Angeles, WA was wide open, even if Forks, WA was socked-in.

In the worst case scenario, I would get trapped under a cloud deck and have to return to Hoquiam for fuel, and lose a couple of hours. Alternatively, if I could get on top of the clouds (which looked possible), I might arrive at Sekiu and be unable to find a hole to get back down. Then I would lose about an hour (relative to flying directly back to my car). I chose the latter strategy.

I did catch a glimpse of the airport, but there were no holes large enough for a safe (and legal) descent. Oh well. Back to my home airport.

The round trip to Ocean Shores took a little over five hours, including operating time in two grids. I might have done better simply driving to Ocean Shores before the contest began. Time-wise it would have been a wash, but I would have been able to work stations during the three hour return trip. No complaints, though. Flying is fun!

The next stop was an elementary school in Granite Falls (CN98), although I made a few QSOs from CN87 and CN88 en route, sometimes pulling over to catch a weak station. The grid yielded 9 QSOs & 4 multipliers on two meters and 15 QSOs & 5 multipliers on six meters.

I was only 30 minutes behind schedule when I started operating at Lake Stevens High School (CN88). As happened in June, KA7RRA/R and his friend stopped by to say hello. The grid yielded 14 QSO & 4 multipliers on six meters and 13 QSOs for 4 multipliers on two meters.

The last stop of the day, was my own back yard in Redmond, WA at 320′ in CN87. I managed a fair number of CN87 two meter QSOs en route home.

This picture was taken the next day, but shows the car in my back yard ready to travel:

and now the antenna’s are “deployed.”

and ready to operate…

I was set-up in the back yard and ready to go by 9:30 pm PDT. Six meters turned out to be remarkably productive from this location, and I even worked a station in Colorado and Nevada, although the opening was very short lived. I was done for the evening by 10:30. In the end, CN87 gave me 18 QSOs with 7 multipliers on six meters and 11 QSOs for 3 multipliers on two meters.

I got an early start on Sunday morning for the trip to Carbonado. I arrived at the 3,200′ perch a few minutes after the scheduled 8:30 am PDT starting time—I had been delayed making some CN87 and CN86 QSOs en route.

Around 9:15, six meters came alive with stations from California, Arizona and Nevada. After a few phone QSOs, I went down to the CW portion of the band and got an excellent “run” in. At 10:00 I did another “run” on phone. At 10:15 I departed for nearby CN86 after making 47 QSOs into 23 grids on six meters and 12 QSOs to 6 grids on two meters.

The CN86 spot is a gated-off logging road entrance about a mile down the road and slightly lower at 2,800′. I was set-up and making QSOs by 10:36. The opening held for another 45 minutes.

My friend and neighbor Doug, AC7T, found me in the CW portion of the band at 11:15 am PDT. As I was working him, a security person came to my car for a little discussion. He though I was blocking the gated-off road. (I was…but I picked the spot for the flattest terrain thinking that logging wasn’t a Sunday activity.) I agreed to move my car over a few feet so that any real or hypothetical vehicle could get by my car to the road. Moving the car, of course, means lowering the mast.

Ten minutes later I was back on the air. Alas, the opening to SOCAL had ended. Even so, four of the remaining six QSOs were to regional grids that were new multipliers (CN85, CN86, CN76, CN88). I especially appreciated working KF7PCL in Ocean Shores (CN76) from this location, just as we had done in June. In the end, CN86 provided 40 QSOs and 14 multipliers on six meters, and 12 QSOs for 6 multipliers on two meters.

By the time I was packed and ready to go, I realized that there was not enough time for my last stop in Issaquah Highlands (CN97). I decided to go to nearby Buckley, WA instead. I’ve worked from this location many time in past events, and the results is consistently and spectacularly mediocre. And it didn’t help that I forgot to switch the six meter antenna from the vertical to the beam. I ended up making 7 QSOs for 2 multipliers on six meters and 8 QSOs for 3 multipliers on two meters.

Results

Despite the Saturday difficulties, I was quite pleased with the results. Even on Saturday, I was able to activate five grids. And then Saturday problems were more than made up for on Sunday by being at 3,200′ with an excellent southern exposure just as 6 meters opened up to SOCAL.

My final count for two meters was 75 QSOs and 34 multipliers over eight grids. For six meters, I made 160 QSOs and 66 multipliers in the same eight grids.

The final tally was 235 QSO for 100 multipliers, yielding a score of 31,000.

This was a definite improvement on a score of 7,518 during my first CQ VHF WW contest last year. Of course, much of the difference comes from band conditions. Even so, I had a much better set-up this year—particularly out of the car, running more power and with a much faster set-up/tear-down times.

(Short link to this post.)

WW7D’s 2012 Field Day

Because of other obligations, I couldn’t really do a full-scale Field Day in 2011. I was determined to make up for it in 2012.

I had a mission for this year’s Field Day, motivated by the operating event’s roots as an exercise in emergency preparedness. My mission was to activate a one person HF through UHF portable station that could be rapidly deployed. Beyond that, I wanted to push myself to have something of a “big signal,” even as a low power solo station.

One way of realizing this was to operate from a high-elevation setting (i.e. a road-accessible mountain peak), using directional antennas on all bands from 20 meters up to 432 MHz. (Directional antennas on 40 and 80 will have to wait….)

Oh…and I wanted to do this out of my little econobox car.

FIELD SITE

Part of the plan to do this was easy—Washington state is rich with mountain peaks, a few of which have roads that are accessible at least part of the year by low-clearance consumer-quality stock urban commuter automobiles.

One of the best spots near the Seattle area is Lion Rock Spring Campground at 6,200′ on Table Mountain in the Wenatchee National Forest. This is a primitive campground, but one with good vehicle accessibility. A paved national forest road gets one pretty close to a number of camp sites.

I learned about Lion Rock from N7CFOs rover web site. My uncertainty about it was its accessibility in late June. I called the ranger station. A friendly person told me that the road conditions to Lion Rock were uncertain—campers had recently reported some snow on the roads near the site. He also mentioned that there were other hams who had contacted him as well, so I might expect company.

Indeed, when I arrived with a stack of VHF antennas on my car, the main camp site was populated with campers, trucks, and antennas sprouting all around. The first person to greet me was Lynn, N7CFO, who told me there were several other hams from the east suburbs of Seattle setting up as well.

Given the density of antennas already at the “prime” spot, I opted for a slightly lower site about 1/3 mile away (here) at 6,150′ that had a bit better exposure to the west. I had the entire campground to myself for the weekend, which allowed me to “spread out” with radials running all over the place.

This was the view to the south when I arrived:

The meadow area in front of me had no snow, but the wooded area directly behind me still had a lot of snow.

VHF+ SET-UP

One of my objectives was to include VHF and UHF capabilities. I had spent the past year improving my VHF+ roving station, and had a nice rotatable antenna platform for 6, 2, 1.25 and 0.7 meters…

…and a good portable multi-band radio platform that included a Kenwood TS-480, Yaesu FT-857, a Jetstream JT220M for 1.25 meters, and amplifiers for 6, 2, and 0.7 meters:

I also had a Winkeyer, a N8XJK Super Booster, and a home-built 10-port Anderson Powerpole power distribution box stuffed into the rack.

This set-up served me well during the ARRL June VHF QSO party. All I needed to add for a Field Day station was some HF antennas.

80 & 40 METER SET-UP

For 80 meters and 40 meters, the choice was pretty simple: I would use my homebuilt screwdriver antennas with my “portable radial” kit.

The radials are, essentially a series of four 100′ and six 33′ thin (3/8″) tape measures. The Stanley 34-106 100 ft long tape measure can be picked up for under $15 online or from Walmart. The 33 footers are Keson ST1833Y that I found for $4 each online. They connect to the base of the screwdriver on a home built hub like this:

Here is the 40 meter vertical (with the peak of Mt. Rainier in the background):

20 to 10 METER SET-UP

For 20, 15, and 10 meters, the solution was more involved. I wanted to build a field-deployable, fold-up hex beam. The target beam is the broadband version designed by G3TXQ, and with extensive construction notes by K4KIO. I built a hex beam of this type for home, and it is a wonderful antenna. To make it fold, a little design work and manufacturing was in order.

Months before Field Day, I ordered six 14 foot crappie telescoping fishing poles off of Ebay. Only the first 12 feet or so of the poles are used. They are so thin near the end, I got them extra long and just used the first 12 feet.

The hub is the heart of the hex beam. I wanted the spreaders to fold downward when not under tension, so that the whole antenna is no more than 8.5 feet long—the maximum length I could stuff into my car—with the spreaders folded down below the hub and the RF distribution post above the hub.

Ideally, I would do the hub in aluminum, but I don’t have aluminum welding capabilities. So, I welded up a hub using a thin-wall 4130 steel tube for the center and mild steel angle and hinges for the rest. Essentially, I used six 3-inch pieces of 1″ steel angle welded around the tub, with the apex pointing “up”. Then, I made spreader supports of six 6″ lengths of 1″ angle steel and welded a small steel hinge on the bottom. The other end of the hinge was welded to the steel tube. The hinge allowed the spreader supports to fold down against the tube, and fold out to be perpendicular to the tube, stopped and held in place by the 3″ pieces.

Two stainless steel hose clamps held each spreader to the spreader support. A third hose clamp held the 3″ and 6″ angles together when deployed. The rope webbing was pretty conventional and made of 0.075″ Dacron-covered Kevlar cord with small stainless steel S-hooks on the ends.

Attaching the wires to the spreaders was another trick. I essentially used 1/4 inch cable clamps for the wire to pass through. Through the screw hole, a tie-wrap held the clamp to the pole. The tie-wrap was sized to fit snuggly at the correct place on the tapered pole. During set-up, I wrapped one turn of electrician’s tape around the tie-wrap to ensure it didn’t slip. A 1/4″ over lap on one end of the tape made it easy to rip off.

For wire, I used 14 gauge Flexweave™. The center RF distribution was a fiberglass pole with with the same type of Euro-terminal connectors recommended for the non-portable version. I connected the terminal connector to hose clamps so that each could be positioned as required.

The big trick to making this work is to carefully bundle the wires. I used red tie wraps for all the ones that were to be “removed prior to flight.” This worked pretty well at keeping the wires from getting tangled.

Here is the top portion (RF feed post) of the antenna nestled in the car the day before Field Day:

And the entire antenna can be seen through the rear hatch:

Setting up the hex beam was pretty simple, but required care to avoid tangling wires and creating a mess.

It took about 30 minutes to get to this point:

The next trick was mounting the hex beam onto the mast. The antenna was light enough that, at home, I could lift it into the top of the un-extended mast without a ladder. In the field, a tree stump made the operation much easier. After the hex beam was mounted, I un-nested the bundle of VHF and UHF antennas. Notice the flex in the mast—that was part from the wind, part from the car not being perfectly level:

Here we are with the screwdriver verticals added and just about ready to go….

ON THE AIR

The contest began at 18:00 UTC, but I didn’t get on the air until 19:30 UTC. The first couple of hours were only mildly productive, as I got comfortable with the operating position and fiddled with things. The hex beam was perfect, and needed nothing. I was unable to get my generator started (forgot the ether!) so, throughout the contest, I occasionally starting up the car to recharge the battery (and warm my feet).

Six meters was strangely noisy, but the SWR was good. I later learned that the gamma match connection to the SO-239 connector had failed. Apparently, I had just the right length of coax to fool me into thinking everything was fine. This is a shame as I understand there was an opening on 6 meters for Field Day.

It took me awhile to get comfortable with the operating set-up. Operating in the driver’s seat is fine with paper logging, but using computer logging makes it very difficult to log quickly unless the computer sits on my lap. The problem is that I was attempting to operate with the laptop on the passenger seat. The day before the contest, I was testing out the equipment set-up and the connector on a USB hub broke off. “No big deal,” I though, “I’ll plug the three USB connections directly into the three ports on the computer.” Bad idea. The laptop was difficult to manipulate with three USB cables plus a power cord.

At some point I bundled them together, and adjusted the slack so that the laptop could be moved around more easily. Working with the laptop on my lap top upped the QSO rate significantly and, as it happened, made it easier to use the paddle when needed from where the laptop use to sit.

I spent the first two hours doing CW search-and-pounce on 15 and 20 meters accumulating only 33 QSOs. I turned to VHF and quickly worked three Seattle-area stations on 2 meters SSB. I also worked Lynn, N7CFO, on 6 meters—my only 6 meter QSO of the weekend.

Back to HF, I searched and pounced productively on 20 and 15 meters both CW and phone for many more hours. I occasionally dabbled on 40 meters as well. It wasn’t until the nineth hour that I felt comfortable enough to do a serious CQ run. Even then, I was doing a lot of hand-keying. Using N1MM on a tiny netbook with a track pad instead of a mouse can be tough. Over the course of the contest, I gradually replaced mouse strokes with the keystroke equivalences, and gained the confidence to do everything via computer.

The weather during the day had gone from partly cloudy to in-the-soup cloudy, with occasional bouts of thunderstorms accompanied by pea-sized hail…

…with a big swing to spectacularly clear by sunset:

Twenty meters was going strong at least until midnight (PDT), about the time I switched back to 40 meters, for a excellent search-and-pounce session that lasted until 08:30 UTC (1:30 am local). At this point, I opted for sleep over QSOs.

My 3.5 hours of sleep was interrupted by additional hail showers and wind that had me concerned about the antenna farm. Alas, the wind sounded worse than it was from in the tent.

I was back on the air by 12:15 UTC for a whole new batch of 40 meter stations to talk to. Thirty minutes later, I found 20 meters bursting with activity, and spent the rest of the contest splitting my time between 20 and 15 meters.

On Sunday morning new thunderstorms brought enough hail to completely coat the ground with white for a spell, but things cleared up by the end of the contest.

Conventional wisdom is that operating Field Day past 18:00 UTC Sunday isn’t worthwhile. I had until 19:38 to operate, and made the best of it. I ended up with an excellent 30 minute CQ run on 14,041 MHz at 18:42 UTC that brought in 30 new QSOs. After picking a few more scraps off the bones of 20 meters CW and phone, I finally called it a day (an “event”?) at 19:42 UTC.

RESULTS

I ended up with 480 QSOs, or an average of 20 QSOs/hour for the 24 hours operating time I was allowed. That’s a QSO every 3 minutes. I contacted 68 ARRL sections, plus a bit of DX. All in all, not bad for my first serious field effort for Field Day since sometime in the late 1970s.

VHF+ was disappointing, with only one 6 meter QSO (because of a broken antenna) and four 2-meter QSOs. It hardly seemed worth the effort on 2 meters and above—the time spent on these bands probably would have generated more HF QSOs. The trade-off is the ability to operate SO2R on HF versus using the same equipment as separate HF and VHF stations.

Six meters would have been okay with a functioning antenna. Perhaps next year I’ll add 6 meters to the hex beam and leave the VHF yagis at home. Or, I’ll try a new location that provides better line-of-site into the Puget Sound area. So many choices!

CONCLUSION

This was a very satisfying experience. The HF set-up on 15, 20 and 40 meters (the only HF bands I ended up using) was terrific. The hex beam worked better than I imagined—essentially I could work everyone I could hear well enough to get a call sign for. Indeed, I almost felt like a “big gun” even running only 100 watts.

After a bit of reorganization of the operating position, I felt the radio stack/computer set-up worked very well. Indeed, operating out of the driver’s seat could be quite comfortable with reasonable climate control. And the windows offered a view of the weather, wildlife and a couple of spectacular hours of the view of Mt. Rainier to my right and the Kittitas Valley straight ahead:

…can’t wait to do it again!

(Short cut to this post.)

Tag Cloud