Adventures in ham radio

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WW7D’s 2015 ARRL UHF Contest

The ARRL UHF contest comes at the most spectacular part of the year in Western Washington. Typically we have pleasant sunny days with highs in the mid- to high-70s, and lows around 60. That isn’t what happened this year. Instead, the weather forecast was for highs in the mid-90. Oh well…at least my old 1988 Toyota Pick-up has wing windows.

Post-contest, I can say that the weather wasn’t so bad, and the contest offered great challenges and plenty of fun.

Equipment

For this contest, I participated as a Limited Rover, meaning that I was on 222 MHz, 432 MHz, 902 MHz and 1296 MHz. It would seem I would only need four radios. But, in reality, one needs more than than because weak-signal and FM equipment are quite different and operate in different parts of the band. Here is what I used for radios this contest:

The shack
  • On top of the rack is the 1296 MHz transverter/amp/TR switch/sequencer/IF switch. I described this in more detail last year.
  • Below that is the SSB Electronic LT-33S 903 MHz transverter.
  • Below that is a Yaesu FT-857D for 432 MHz (the head is mounted remotely).
  • Below that is another Yaesu FT-857D that is the IF radio for 1296 MHz and 903 MHz transverters (the head is mounted remotely).
  • Below that is a Yaesu FT-290R 2m all mode rig for 2m coordination and as a back-up IF rig for 903 MHz and 1296 MHz transverters.
  • Below that is an Alinco DR-590 for 440 MHz FM.
  • Below that is an RF Concepts 4-110 amplifier, 100 Watts on 432 MHz.
  • The bottom of the stack is a Kenwood TS-480SAT used as an IF rig for 222 MHz.
  • Mounted sideways on the right side on top is a Mirage C2512G amplifier putting out 100 Watts on 222 MHz FM.
  • Mounted sideways on the right side on bottom is a TE Systems 2212G amplifier putting out 100 Watts on 222 MHz SSB/CW
  • Below that is a 50w 903 MHz amplifier assembly, including the coax attenuator. I described this in more detail last year.
  • On the left side of the rack is a Kenwood TK-981 (12w, 927.5 MHz nbFM).
  • Below that, with a blue display, is a Jetstream JT220M (223.5 MHz FM).
  • Below that is an Icom IC-1201 (10w, 1296.2 MHz FM or 1294 MHz FM).
  • Below that, mounted sideways, is an Elecraft XV222 222 MHz transverter.
  • Two rotors control boxes for Alliance HD-73 rotors can be seen above and below the paddle.
  • Atop the upper rotor is a control for the antenna switching relays. For 222 MHz the two antennas are switched between the two rigs/amps. Three other switches are SPDT relays to switch 432 MHz, 903 MHz, and 1296 MHz between the front and rear antennas.
  • Not visible next to that is a mechanical switch to move the 440 transceiver between the front and rear antennas.
  • Next to the paddle is a K1EL Winkeyer used for CW.
  • Behind the passenger seat was a second battery in parallel with the truck battery with the output piped through a power booster.

The whole mess can be seen from behind here.

The entire rack was secured with several bungee cords around the back of the seat.

Here is the operating position, with two Yaesu FT-857d heads (432 MHz and 903/1296 MHz) and the Kenwood head (222 MHz). Two old cell phones running GPS Test+ show the current maidenhead grid and a 24 hour clock.

The shack

This collection of equipment represent a few improvements and changes over last year. First, is the addition of an amplifier to the 223.5 MHz FM radio. At least half of the 22x QSOs are on 223.5 MHz, so doubling the power over the Jetstream’s 50 W is a nice improvement (and the preamp built into the amp is a little help).

The second difference was using an FT-857d as the IF rig for the 1296 MHz and 903 MHz transverters. Last year I used the Yaesu FT-290R, which worked okay, but the 857d has modern filters, clean switches, a better display, better tuning and an actual headphone jack. Additionally, the rig interfaces properly with the PTT using CW. With the 290R, I had to hold the PTT switch on the mic when sending CW. Overall, the FT-857d was a huge improvement.

The third improvement was a beefier 24v power supply for the 903 MHz 50w amplifier. The Stealth Microwave amplifier runs in class A, making it a power hog. Last year the switching power supply blew an internal fuse halfway through the contest.

Finally, I replaced the Alinco handheld that monitored 1294 MHz and 1296.2 MHz FM with the Icom IC-1201 10w mobile rig.

Antennas

The antenna stacks were quite similar to last year’s. The rear stack covered four “all mode” bands (222 MHz, 432 MHz, 903 MHz, and 1296 MHz), and an additional vertically polarized antennas for 440 MHz FM. The front stack covered everything with smaller antennas that could be rotated in motion.

In all, there were 13 yagis hanging off the truck. Here are the details:

The front stack of yagis is legally usable (i.e. rotatable) while in motion and had seven WA5VJB “cheap yagis”:

The front antenna stack
Lower cross-boom on front mast
  • Top cross-boom right: 8 element 432 MHz horizontally polarized yagi
  • Top cross-boom left: 8 element 440 MHz vertically polarized yagi
  • Middle: 6 element 222 MHz yagi
  • Bottom cross-boom left: 10 element 903 MHz horizontally polarized yagi
  • Bottom cross-boom center left: 10 element 1294 MHz vertically polarized yagi
  • Bottom cross-boom center right: 10 element 1296 MHz horizontally polarized yagi
  • Bottom cross-boom right: 10 element 927 MHz vertically polarized yagi

The antennas were fed by seven runs of LMR-240 that traversed the engine compartment, under the chassis and into the cab through a stock hole under the passenger seat.

Here is the rear antenna stack with a little more variety in antenna design:

The front antenna stack
  • Top: 12 element 432 MHz LFA yagi
  • 33 element 903 MHz loop yagi
  • 24 element 1296 MHz loop yagi
  • 11 element vertically polarized 440 MHz “cheap yagi”
  • Bottom: 11 element 222 MHz “cheap yagi”

The only real change over last year’s antenna assemblage was a few more elements on the rear 222 MHz yagi.

The Roving Plan

Like the last two years, I intended to hit three primary locations—two grid intersections and one border line. There were minor details in stop locations.

The three grid intersections or borders visited

The overall plan was to start out north near the CN87/CN97/CN88/CN98 grid intersection and work my way south to the CN87/CN97/CN86/CN96 grid intersection for Saturday. I would sleep in my truck in a rest area near my last stop for the night, and activate CN85 and CN86 (again) Sunday morning.

Here are the details:

Saturday

  • CN98, Mt. Pilchuck, Granite Falls, WA 2,970′ 11:00am–12:10pm
  • CN88, Lake Stevens, WA 430′ 01:20pm–02:15pm
  • CN87, Redmond, WA 300′ 03:15pm–03:30pm
  • CN87/97, Central Park in Issaquah 750′ 04:10pm–04:50pm
  • CN97, Mud Mountain, Buckley, WA 800′ 06:05pm–06:50pm
  • CN96, Mowich Lake Road, Carbonado, WA 3200′ 07:50pm–09:00pm
  • CN86, Mowich Lake Road, Carbonado, WA 3080′ 09:15pm–10:00pm
  • CN87, Mowich Lake Road, Carbonado, WA 2050′ 10:20pm–11:00pm

Sunday

  • CN85 Green Mtn, Kalama, WA 1785′ 07:00am–09:20am
  • CN86 Near Green Mtn, Kalama, WA 1700′ 9:50am–11:00am

The contest started off well from Mt. Pilchuck. It always does from this spectacular location. My very first QSO was with Loren, WA7SKT, in a valley way to the south in CN86. One of the surprise QSOs in this location was working WA7FUS on 927.5 MHz nbFM. Before the contest started, I had programmed a bunch of channels with different PL tone encoding, and one of them worked to raise WA7FUS. The other nice surprise was working Dale, KD7UO, who was portable at the south end of CN97, on 1296 MHz, and Lisa, N6LB on a nearby mountain in CN98, on one band. We would work on two other bands later in the contest. The final surprise was working Greg, K7YDL, down in Portland, OR, CN85 on 432 MHz.

Ready to go in CN98, Mt. Pilchuck

The next stop, in CN88, was productive, but not spectacularly so, as is usual for this low location. The surprise was working seven stations on 1296 MHz (including KD7UO again), but only one on 903 MHz.

The next planned stop was in my back yard in CN87 that was pretty much on the way to the next location. One reason was to make sure I could work my friend & neighbor Doug, AC7T, on 222 MHz, 432 MHz and 927.5 MHz. My other intention was to refresh my coffee and grab some food. It also allowed me to pick up a few items I had forgotten (sunglasses) and drink lots of cold water. I had messed up the programming on the K1EL WinKeyer, so I went to reprogram it from my home PC. For some reason the USB port was not properly connecting. I ended up wasting 15 minutes before getting it to work.

I ended up spending way too much time at home, so I bypassed my next location (a park in Issaquah from which to activate CN97 and CN87 with good reach to the north) and headed to Mud Mountain (CN97).

Mud Mountain was modestly productive and I got back on schedule. The last three stops of the evening are on the same gravel road that passes through CN87 then CN86 and then CN96. I drove slowly up the gravel road and worked as many people off the front antennas as I could from each grid.

Once in CN98, I set up the rear antennas and worked more systematically than is possible while in motion, and repeated this for CN86 and then CN87. The last QSO of the evening was with Tom, KE7SW, on 927.5 MHz just after midnight while I was heading off to Kelso, Washington for the evening and getting close to his house. We had tried several times to work on 903 MHz from CN87 stops, but it just wasn’t working.

Twilight in CN98

The next morning I set up in CN85 near Green Mountain. Most QSOs were back into CN87, including working a number of people on 1296 MHz and 903 MHz. I made a local (CN85) QSO on 927.5 MHz. My longest QSO was with VE7AFZ/R in CN89 on 432 MHz. I was also mighty pleased to work KB7W in CN93 on 222 MHz and 432 MHz.

Then something funny happened as I tried to work KE7MSU/R on 927.5 MHz. I heard a short warble tone at the end of my transmission (sort of like a repeater).

I looked at the radio and it said “927.5” with TA (=talkaround=simplix) displayed. “I don’t remember a programming option for a ‘roger beep'”, I thought, as I continued calling the other station. Then someone with a 5-land call came back and told me I shouldn’t be using repeaters for the contest. What the…?!? I double and triple-checked the display and, indeed, it said 927.5 and had TA displayed. The other station pointed out that he was in Texas.

I was very busy at the time, so I couldn’t debug and figure out what (linked) repeater I was talking on. I verified (for a 4th time) that the display was “927.5” and that “TA” was being displayed, then powered down the TK-981. When I had a few minutes some time later, I powered up the radio and tested it using a handheld radio on 927.5 MHz. It worked as expected. I subsequently made simplex QSOs on the radio.

This confused me, so after the contest I emailed the AR902MHz Yahoo group for help. I learned that there was a simplex node in Vancouver, WA connected into the AllStar network. I had never heard of the AllStar network, but with a little post-contest homework, the very confusing mystery was solved.

The final stop of the contest was on Green Mountain in CN86, about 15 minutes to the north. Here, again, I worked KB7W (CN93) on 222 MHz and 432 MHz, VE7AFZ/R on 432 MHz as well as 222 MHz, and I worked KE7MSU/R on 927 MHz (without the AllStar problem).

CN86 near Green Mountain

Perhaps the biggest surprise was working Scott, VE7FYC, on Hollyburn Mtn. ( 4350 feet ) in CN89. Just North of Vancouver, B.C, on 223.5 MHz FM. He had a solid signal using a hand-held radio—and we were probably cross-polarized. It turns out I was his only contest QSO for the day.

In the last moments of the contest, KB7ADO, who I had worked from CN85, on two bands, showed up and worked me on 222 MHz, 432 MHz, and 927.5 MHz. It was a nice way to end the contest.

Results

The final tally was 241 QSOs and 22 grids worked. Adding the 7 grids activated gives 29 multipliers. (Last year I had 178 QSOs and 32 multipliers.) Here are the QSO details:

Grid 222 MHz 432 MHz 903 MHz 1296 MHz
CN85 10 15 4 4
CN86 16 18 8 9
CN87 10 13 7 6
CN88 9 5 1 7
CN96 8 16 5 7
CN97 6 9 5 7
CN98 8 15 5 8
Total 69 91 35 48

And here are the grids worked for each band:

 Band Pts Grids
222 174 7 CN85 CN86 CN87 CN89 CN93 CN97 CN98
432 192 8 CN85 CN86 CN87 CN88 CN89 CN93 CN97 CN98
903 126 4 CN85 CN86 CN87 CN97
1296 201 3 CN87 CN97 CN98

The final (preliminary) score is 28,188, a 25% improvement over last year’s score.

The log shows 41 unique call signs, and 28 of them provided multiple QSOs (different bands or from different grids). Here are the stations with double-digit QSO counts:

  • 26 KE0CO
  • 26 K7ND
  • 25 N7EPD
  • 20 KE7SW
  • 19 W7GLF
  • 13 WA7TZY
  • 12 KD7UO
  • 11 KG7P

Things went quite smoothly this year. The equipment worked well and was trouble-free. It was a good adventure.

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WW7D Roves the 2015 January VHF Contest

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

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

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

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

Route

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

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

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

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

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

Equipment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antennas

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

Rear antenna stacks

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

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

Front antenna stacks

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

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

FM Antennas

For the four FM bands I used the following antennas:

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

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

The Contest

CN76 and CN77

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

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

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

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

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

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

CN86 and CN85

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

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

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

CN85 and CN95

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

Topography at the CN95 stop
Topography at the CN95 stop

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

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

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

CN96 and CN86

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CN88

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

CN98

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

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

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

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

Results

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

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

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

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

Score

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

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

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

Here are the details by band and grid:

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

And here are the grids worked for each band:

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

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

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

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

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

(Shortcut to this post)

WW7D/R’s flying 6m sprint

The 2014 6m Fall VHF Sprint actually occurs in mid-August in order to maximize the possibility of sporadic E (Es) propagation.

This year the 6m sprint was a week after the ARRL August UHF contest, and that was an excellent roving adventure for me. But one thing I verified during that contest is that my rover vehicle needed a new radiator. It engine temperature got hot climbing hills, and I was required to keep the cab heat on high for extended altitude gain. A radiator was on order as I planned for the 6m sprint.

A few days before the sprint, the weather forecast showed clear skies for Western Washington. So, I decided to try something ambitious and different, and easier on the vehicle: I wanted to attempt to activate seven grids in a single 4-hour sprint. Doing so would require the use of an airplane, and careful timing. It has been a couple of years since I’ve activated grids out of my airplane for a contest. I’ve frequently made plans to do so over the past two years, only to have the weather shut me out. But it looked promising for the 6m sprint.

The idea was to start the contest near the CN76/CN77 border at the Ocean Shores Airport. Ocean Shores is a sliver of land with the Pacific Ocean on its western shore and Grays Harbor on its eastern shore. The weather is frequently foggy in the summer even as the rest of the region is bathing in sunshine. The last time I was actually able to participate in a contest by flying to Ocean Shores was during the 2012 CQ WW VHF contest—only after an epic battle with weather.

What makes Ocean Shores attractive for a rover is that the airport parking ramp has a line of latitude going through it that splits CN76 to the south and CN77 to the north. And as it happens, CN77 is in the top 10 list of rare Maidenhead grids. In fact, it is this very fact that first got me thinking about doing VHF contests as a rover.

The other convenient thing about Ocean Shores is that ten miles to the east is the Hoquiam airport in CN86. So that makes three grids that can be activated by airplane very quickly. I would then fly back to my home airport in Snohomish, Washington, that is located in CN87 near the CN87/CN88/CN97/CN98 grid intersection.

The planned route for activating CN76, CN77, and CN86 out of the airplane. (Click images for full sized version.)

The Sprint was from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm local time, so this was the plan:

  • 4:00-4:15 pm CN76 at the Ocean Shores Airport
  • 4:20-4:25 pm CN77 at the Ocean Shores Airport
  • 5:05-5:20 pm CN86 at the Hoquiam Airport
  • 6:40-6:50 pm CN87 at a high spot in Lake Stevens
  • 7:00-7:20 pm CN98 Price Road near Machias
  • 7:25-7-40 pm CN88 on Price Road near Machias
  • 7:50-8:00 pm CN97 on 20th St SE in Machias

Of course, I would work stations while in motion (on the ground).

The planned route for activating CN87, CN88, CN97 and CN98 out of the truck.

Equipment

The airplane station was quite simple: a Yaesu FT-857D (100 watts) and a car battery and power booster for power. The antenna was a 3-element WA5VJB-style “cheap” yagi that I designed specifically for the airplane rover. It was held on a 20′ fiberglass mast. A Winkeyer was used for keying and macros.

The truck set-up was a little more complex. A Kenwood TS-480SAT was used for 6m all-mode work. A TE Systems 6m amplifier boosted the output to 170 watts. The antenna was simply a 2 element hex beam at about 12 feet in the front of the truck. Last year, I also roved with a stack of two 3-ele 6m yagis on the rear of the truck. I left the yagis at home simply because there would be no time to deploy them. This is what the rover looked like for the Fall 2013 6m sprint. Now imagine the same thing without the rear antennas…

The 2013 Fall VHF 6m Sprint rover. For 2014, the rear antennas were not used, and the front mast was extended to 12′ while in motion.

Additionally, a Yaesu FT-857D was monitoring 52.525 FM, with a 6m vertical antenna. As it happened, this yielded no QSO. But I once made a 6m FM QSO during a sprint, so it was worth a shot.

The Adventure

I got an early start by leaving home at 12:30pm on Saturday, fueling on the way to the airport. The first order of business was cleaning the bird droppings off the plane. I hadn’t flow in a few months, and the birds seem to enjoy using the plane for bombing practice.

As I was loading gear into the plane, I realized something horrible: I had forgotten the “thrust bearing” that is critical for holding the mast vertically. I scrounged around in my hangar locker and the pick-up truck tool box and came up with a makeshift alternative using a couple of “topper” clamps and a couple of C-clamps. One c-clamp served as the “bearing”. The “topper” clamps fastened to a hard point on the airframe that the c-clamp clamped to. It ended up working really well, and has me thinking about building an even better system around “topper” clamps.

The next problem was even worse: the airplane battery was too discharged to start the plane. It took some time, but I rigged up a way to jump the plane from the car battery I was carrying in the plane. (You cannot easily jump-start a plane because there is a lethal prop spinning a few feet from the battery, and prevents one from safely replacing the engine cowling.) The plane finally started, and was taxied over to the fuel pumps–a two minute journey.

You can guess what happened next. After fueling the plane, the battery was unable to turn the engine fast enough to start it. I pulled the plane back to my hangar and went through the steps of “hot wiring” it again. With the help of my hangar neighbor, I was able to jump start the plane in a way that left it ready for flight. It all took a lot of time, though.

The flight to Ocean Shores was pleasant and uneventful, but I was going to be late getting started. An automated weather reporting system in Hoquiam informed me that the winds were stronger and gustier than had been forecast. The landing at Ocean Shores was a little more exciting than usual, but the strong winds slowed the plane down quickly and I made the first exit right into the ramp. I taxied over to CN77 at the northeast corner. Even though it is slightly up-hill to CN76, the wind would make it easier to tug the plane from CN77 to CN76 than vice versa.

The antenna and mast were deployed and ready to go by 4:30pm…thirty minutes into the sprint. The practical implication was that I would have to skip Hoquiam (CN86) and only activate 6 grids, but I would be able to spend a few more minutes in the two Ocean Shores grids.

I made a quick run of the big Puget Sound stations in CN87 and Mark, KB7N, in CN97. Then I heard John, VE7DAY, calling CQ from CO70, so I swung the beam north to call him. Alas, he never was able to hear me. But Johnny, KE7V, in Port Angeles (CN88), did hear me and we made an easy QSO. What is amazing about this QSO is that there is 50 miles of the tallest parts of the Olympic Mountain range directly between us. I also worked WA7ZWG in Bellingham, Washington (CN88), also on the other side of the Olympics.

The winds were trying their damnedest to take down the mast and antenna. I mostly operated with one hand on the mast…just in case the improvised “thrust bearing” detached from the plane.

Activating CN77. Notice the effect of wind on the fiberglass mast.

After 15 minutes (and 7 QSOs), I jumped out of the plane pulled it to the south end of the airplane parking ramp, in CN76. I worked most of the same stations again, including KE7V. I turned the beam to the south in hopes of working CN86, CN85 or CN84. With a spin of the dial, I found N6RO calling CQ from CM97, near the Bay Area. The QSO surprised us both. Next was KF7DSM in DM26. We had ourselves a genuine (if small) Es opening! But I didn’t hear anyone else. Instead, I told N6RO to standby a minute because I would be in a new grid.

I jumped out of the plane with a towbar and pushed the plane against the wind (but slightly downhill) back into the NE corner of the ramp, and worked N6RO and two stations in DM26. By now it was approaching the scheduled departure time from Hoquiam. I had little room to spare at the other end of the rove, so I packed up and departed.

CN77

As I climbed out from Ocean Shores, I could see fog rolling in around Copalis, WA to the north and Willapa Bay to the south. I suspect Ocean Shores would be fogged in within the hour.

The return flight was enjoyable and reasonably quick. During it, I organized a small collection of things that had to move from the plane to the truck. I hit the road at 6:45 pm (local), a few minutes behind schedule and immediately worked Pete, N6ZE/R on Whidbey Island. In my haste, however, I loaded up the wrong itinerary in the GPS. It was trying to take me to Mt. Pilchuck—an hour away—instead of to a nearby stop in Lake Stevens, some ten minutes away. By the time I got to the stop, it was time to go, so I primarily worked people while in motion from CN87.

Price road was the next stop. This road travels through CN87, CN88, CN98 and back into CN88. I was able to work KA7RAA/R (while he was in CN88) consecutively in all three grids as I made these transitions. Except for one spot in CN88 at the end of the public road, there is really no place to pull over on Price Road. I spent the next 15 minutes driving back and forth between that pull-over in CN88 and a turn-around spot about 1/4 mile down the road in CN98. Fortunately, the traffic was light. Each trip yielded a couple of new QSOs.

With 30 minutes remaining in the contest, I headed back into CN87 for a 10 minute trip to CN97. This spot was on an isolated 500′ hill with expensive homes, but there was one small commercial building that I felt I could park in front of. Even before arriving, I stopped to work a couple of stations, and within a few seconds, a “local” pulled up on a riding mower to ask what was going on. He was friendly, though, and strongly recommended I drive 1/4 mile to the next hill that was even higher. I did.

Now, at my last stop and with 15 minutes remaining, I jumped out of the truck and extended the mast to about 20 feet. That made a noticeable difference.

Score

Grid QSOs Mults
CN76 7 4 CM97 CN87 CN88 DM26
CN77 10 5 CM97 CN87 CN88 CN97 DM26
CN87 11 4 CM98 CN87 CN88 CN97
CN88 8 3 CN87 CN88 CN97
CN97 12 3 CN87 CN88 CN97
CN98 8 3 CN87 CN88 CN97
Total 56 22

The result is a final score of 1,232.

Several stations that worked me in all six grids: Paul, K7CW, and his brother Johnnie, KE7V, Eric, N7EPD, and Sam, WC7Q. Mark, KB7N, worked me in all but CN76, and was the only CN97 station I heard.

The presence of two other rovers made the sprint even more enjoyable. Pete, N6ZE/R, and I worked five time, and KA7RRA/R and I worked four times.

My thanks to everyone who made this a most memorable sprint.

(Short link.)

WW7D/R does the 2014 ARRL UHF contest

The August ARRL UHF contest is over, and I had a blast roving the Pacific Northwest as WW7D/R. It’s true that I enjoy all of the VHF+ contests, but the UHF contest has provided significant and interesting challenges for me in the four years I have participated.

This year, it was all about being all mode on all four bands that a limited rover is permitted—222 MHz, 432 MHz, 903 MHz, and 1296 MHz. I almost achieved this last year, but did not have a functioning 1296 MHz transverter. This year I did.

Preparations for the contest first began with assembling an amplifier for 903 MHz. I purchased a second hand Stealth Microwave 900 MHz amplifier that puts out up to 60 watts. The amplifier is for commercial cell phone equipment or some such thing.

I needed to add a 12v to 24v high current power supply, and relays for TR switching. In June, I salvaged a case from a surplus SCSI hard drive, collected other parts, and set to work. The final product looked like this on the outside:

Front panel of amplifier system for 903 MHz

The coil of coax (RG-178) acts as an attenuator to lower the transverter output from 8 watts to 0.1 milliwatts!!! That is about 40 db of loss, which is a little less than 100 feet of RG-178 at 900 MHz.

The guts of the system looked like this:

Internal view of amp system for 903 MHz

The 250 Watt power supply sits on the other side of the chassis.

My initial tests of the amplifier were with scheduled QSOs with Eric, N7EPD, and Mike, KD7TS. During one initial tests, the 24v power supply died. Looking into it a little more, it turns out that the amplifier is class A, which means it draws lots of current just sitting with the PTT switch closed but without amplifying anything. In other words, turning the amp on for CW mode, but not sending any characters, the amp draws something like 6 amps at 12 v.

I ordered a 600 watt 12v to 24v power supply to replace it. That did the trick, and I was able to make QSOs with N7EPD and KD7TS by bouncing a signal off the Olympic mountain range. I was totally blown away by this.

Next on the to-do list was getting a Down East Microwave 1296 MHz transverter working—specifically getting the LO to oscillate. At just about the same time Jim, K7ND, reported that he had purchased and tested one of the SG-Lab 1296 MHz transverters that had been popping up on Ebay. He had good things to say about the transverter and brought one for show-and-tell at a PNWVHF lunch. These puppies were a mere $200 and put out 2 to 2.5 watts, and had many advanced transverter features. And they are tiny. It was almost mid-July and time was short. I decided to buy a working transverter rather than risk not getting my DEM transverter working in time for the contest.

The transverter arrived in about 10 days, and was amazing. It was very simple to interface to the old Yaesu FT-290 I had picked up to serve as an IF rig. Even at 2W out, I was able to make QSOs using a 24 element loop yagi with Jim, K7ND, and Mike, KD7TS, again, bouncing signals off the Olympic mountains.

But I wanted more. A couple of years ago I picked up a very old 1296 MHz amplifier, model 2316 PA. The amp uses discrete components and puts out 18 W when driven with 1 W. Last year, I used the amp with a hand-held 23 CM FM radio, and it worked quite well.

With only days until the contest, I needed to build two more components: a TR relay/sequencer in order to use the amp with the 1296 transverter in split TX/RX mode, and a box to switch the IF rig’s RF and PTT signals between the 903 MHz transverter and the 1296 MHz transverter. I spent a couple of days thinking about and then assembling components.

On the Thursday before the contest, at about 2pm, I started construction. A Picaxe 18M2+ microcontroller was used to handle the logic. The rest was largely LEDs, resistors, and relays. The TR relay was a standard 12v SMA relay. But for the IF switch, a 12v latching SMA relay was used. I have a handful of these relays and they are perfect for this task provided one has something like a Picaxe to send pulses to work the switch. With a few interruptions for dinner and dishes, everything was working by midnight.

This was my first “real” Picaxe project, and it went very well. The programming was a piece of cake. The hardware was easy because I used a Picaxe project board (CHI030B) that includes a ULN2803A Darlington transistor array chip for directly driving the relays.

Friday morning I packaged everything into a project box.

The 1296 MHz transverter, amplifier, TR switching/sequencer and IF switching assembly

The Amplifier mostly sticks out of the box to provide for convective cooling. On the inside of the box are the transverter, relays, and all the RF plumbing:

The 1296 MHz transverter, amplifier, TR switching/sequencer and IF switching assembly

After that was the task of mounting the 903 transverter and amplifier and the 1296 transverter/amplifier/TR switch/IF switch onto the equipment rack. And then there was the matter of installing everything into the truck. All that took until about 9 pm on Friday.

The Plan

I had the route planned out a few days ahead of time. Essentially, the plan was to hit three grid intersections or borders:

The three grid intersections or borders visited

It was quite similar to my 2013 route but using a different spot near Mt. Pilchuck in CN98, one stop at a new location in CN87, a different CN97 stop, and slightly different stops in CN86 and CN96. I posted the schedule here.

Antennas

The antenna stacks were quite similar to last year’s. The plan was to have antennas for four “all mode” bands (222 MHz, 432 MHz, 903 MHz, and 1296 MHz) both front and rear, and additional vertically polarized antennas for FM on 440 MHz, 927.5 MHz, and 1294 MHz. I didn’t bother with a vertically polarized antenna for 223.5 MHz, because I rarely come across anyone using vertical polarization on that band.

In all, there were 12 yagis hanging off the truck. I did not include a 2m yagi this year, but had a whip set up in case coordination was needed on 2m.

The front stack of yagis is mounted on a rotatable mast, and can be rotated in motion. During the contest, the antennas are better separated and extend up to about 10 or 12 feet. They are all WA5VJB “cheap yagis”:

The front antenna stack
  • Top: 6 element 222 MHz yagi
  • First cross-boom left: 8 element 432 MHz horizontally polarized yagi
  • First cross-boom right: 8 element 440 MHz vertically polarized yagi
  • Second cross-boom left: 10 element 903 MHz horizontally polarized yagi
  • Second cross-boom center left: 10 element 1296 MHz horizontally polarized yagi
  • Second cross-boom center right: 10 element 927 MHz vertically polarized yagi
  • Second cross-boom right: 10 element 1294 MHz vertically polarized yagi

Seven runs of LMR-240 fed the front stacks. Labeling and installing seven runs of coax and a rotor control cable from the front bumper through the engine compartment, under the chassis and into the cab through a stock hole under the passenger seat is a major undertaking.

Here is the rear antenna stack with the mast collapsed for travel:

The rear antenna stack
  • Top: 12 element 432 MHz LFA yagi
  • Top cross-boom left: 11 element vertically polarized 440 MHz “cheap yagi”
  • Top cross-boom right: 8 element 222 MHz “cheap yagi”
  • Bottom cross-boom left: 24 element 1296 MHz loop yagi
  • Bottom cross-boom right: 33 element 903 MHz loop yagi

The six runs of coax (including one for the 2m vertical) and the rear rotor control cable enter the cab through the rear window with a Plexiglass insert modified with waterproof “tunnels.”

Coax runs for 432 MHz, 903 MHz and 1296 MHz were LMR-400, which I’ve not used before out of concern that the antennas would be too difficult to set up. But it worked pretty well in this application.

Equipment

A full four-band limited-rover set-up is really an 8-band set-up, since equipment to do SSB and CW likely differs from equipment for FM on the same band.

The shack

Not everything is easily visible, but here is the list:

  • On top of the rack is the 1296 MHz transverter/amp/TR switch/sequencer/IF switch.
  • Also on top is a K1EL Winkeyer used for CW.
  • Below that is the 903 MHz amplifier assembly, including the coax attenuator.
  • Below that is the SSB Electronic LT-33S 903 MHz transverter.
  • Below that is a Yaesu FT-857D for 432 MHz (the head is mounted remotely).
  • Below that is a Yaesu FT-290R 2m all mode rig that serves as the IF for 903 MHz and 1296 MHz transverters.
  • Below that is an Alinco DR-590 for 440 MHz FM.
  • Below that is a TE Systems 2212G amplifier, 100 Watts on 222 MHz.
  • Below that is an RF Concepts 4-110 amplifier, 100 Watts on 432 MHz.
  • The bottom of the stack is a Kenwood TS-480SAT used as an IF rig for 222 MHz.
  • On the left, barely visible between the mics is an Elecraft XV222 222 MHz transverter.
  • On the right side with a blue display is a Jetstream 222 MHz FM rig.
  • Also on the right side with an amber display is the Kenwood TK-981 927 MHz FM rig.
  • Hanging on the right side is an Alinco DJ-G7 for 1294 MHz FM.
  • Two rotors control boxes for Alliance HD-73 rotors can be seen above and below the paddle.
  • On top of the upper rotor is a Tascam DR-1 digital audio recorder that serves as a primary log.
  • Below the upper rotor is a control for the antenna switching relays. For 222 MHz the two antennas are switched between the two rigs. Three other switches are SPDT relays to switch 432 MHz, 903 MHz, and 1296 MHz between the front and rear antennas.
  • Not visible on the right side of the rack is a manual switch to move the 440 transceiver between the front and rear antennas.
  • Behind the passenger seat was a second battery in parallel with the truck battery with the output piped through a power booster.

The entire rack was secured with a seat belt and straps around the back of the seat.

The operating position

The Contest
Saturday started with a leisurely drive to Mt. Pilchuck. As I climbed the mountain, the truck started overheating. The truck had started overheating during the July CQWWVHF contest. In the intervening weeks, I had done the usual routine maintenance that I though would take care of the overheating. Not so.

When I got to the spot, I felt the front of the radiator and confirmed that the overheating was a partially clogged radiator. This is the vehicle equivalent of atherosclerosis that happens on 25 year old vehicles with 200,000+ miles, and the cure is a radiator transplant. A short-term fix was to use the “auxiliary radiator”—the cab heater was on full blast while climbing hills for the rest of the trip. Of course it had to be a hot weekend in the normally-cool Pacific Northwest.

CN98

I arrived at CN98 to find Ray, W7GLF. He had tried the usual CN98 location on a shelf off the north face of Mt. Pilchuck. There was a big camping party, so he came to this alternative location. But the trees were too high to make this a good portable location for him, so he headed for nearby Green Mountain.

You know what is frightening? Calling CQ for the first 60 seconds of the contest and getting no response. I started checking for obvious mistakes when I heard N6LB calling CQ on 222 MHz. Things picked up after that.

Jim, K7ND, was next, and the three of us went to 432 MHz. Jim and I then went to 1296 MHz and 903 MHz and made easy QSOs. Hot damn…this stuff works!

Eight minutes into the contest, I worked Mike, KD7TS, on 223.5 MHz. He had traveled to Ocean Shores (CN76) for the day. His excellent signal suggested that we might be able to work on 903 MHz and 1296 MHz. After a 432 MHz QSO, we worked on 903 MHz. It wasn’t until later in the first hour that we completed a QSO on 1296 MHz.

Thirty minutes in, I heard my buddy Etienne, K7ATN, on 223.5 MHz with an excellent signal. He was on the summit of Mary’s Peak, Oregon (CN84fm) at 4100′. It was an easy 260 mile FM QSO. We didn’t manage to work on 432 MHz.

Just as I was getting ready to leave, Ray, W7GLF, showed up from CN98 on Green Mountain. We quickly worked all four bands (four multipliers for each of us) so that I could get underway.

The Rover (CN98)

CN88

The next stop was Lake Stevens High School, CN88 at 400′ MSL. This location was a mistake, and I should have known that from last year. The spot is pretty good for VHF contests, but the RF noise on 903 MHz prevented any QSOs except with nearby W7GLF. Alternative CN88 locations that are higher are hard to find without traveling an hour to the north. But that probably would have been more fruitful. Next year.

CN87

A couple miles away, at the NE corner of CN87, is another school at about 400′ MSL. This new-to-me location was much quieter, but even less productive. It did allow me to work W7GLF on four bands, but I could have done that by pulling over to the side of the road and using the front antennas instead of a full set-up. It might be a good VHF location, but for the next UHF contest I’ll skip this spot.

Next on the agenda was an hour and a half trip through CN87 to….

CN97

Mud Mountain is a easy stop near the CN97/CN87/CN96/CN86 intersection that sits at 1,700′. It is moderately productive on UHF+. The haul included 6 QSOs on 1296 MHz and three QSOs on 927.5 MHz.

It was in CN97 that the first big problem occurred–903 MHz went half dead. I could hear just fine, but people could not hear me. The transverter was putting out power, but the amplifier, apparently was not. At some point I noticed I had left the transverter PTT switch on while the IF rig was in CW mode. Remember…this is a class A amplifier, so it gets hot with the PTT switch closed, even without transmitting. I imagined he amp overheated and died. On the other hand, the inexpensive 12v to 24v power supply was the lowest quality piece of electronics in the system. So, perhaps that was the problem.

I decided I would do surgery to try and bypass the amplifier once I got to CN96. That would only work if the 24v power supply works, because the internal TR relay was a 24 volt relay. (I had a stand-alone relay, custom built by K7ND for the transverter, but left it at home. Had I remembered to bring that relay along, it would have taken me 30 seconds to reconfigure the transverter to bypass the amp!).

CN87

The next stop was about 2000′ MSL in CN87 at the SE corner of the grid. I worked a few more stations without setting up the front antennas. The front antenna snagged three more 1296 MHz QSOs. Alas, 927.5 MHz FM didn’t work well from here.

CN86

A couple miles up the road, at 3000′, I did a quick series of QSOs in CN86, again, without setting up the rear antennas. The Pacific Northwest UHFers were fantastic…we completed 21 QSOs in 9 minutes, including three on 927.5 MHz FM and six on 1296 MHz.

CN96

A quarter of a mile up the road, the performance was repeated with 22 QSOs in 10 minutes, again just employing the front antennas. I turned my attention to diagnosing the 903 amplifier, occasionally making calls.

In the middle of this, a car came down the road traveling back to civilization, and a young woman jumped out to ask what I was doing. After I mentioned ham radio she said she was a new ham—KG7GWD. And she had a hand held with her! We worked on 446 MHz, and I described to her where CN86 began. I wanted to describe where CN87 started, but her passenger was eager to get going. A few minutes KG7GWD/R worked me from CN86. That was two new QSOs and two new multipliers! If I had had my wits about me, I would have moved to CN86 and worked her again. (That would have been difficult with the 903 amplifier disassembled and not secured…but still).

Instead I kept doing surgery and occasionally calling. KB7ZEN responded to my CQ on 223.5 MHz. He was in CN86 (new multiplier!). And he had other bands. We worked on 432 and 927.5 MHz (new multiplier!). Here, again, I should have ventured 1/4 mile down the road into CN86 and worked him again. I was too obsessed with the 903 MHz amp.

The 12v to 24v power supply wasn’t working. I found a small glass 15A fuse that was blown. Of course, I didn’t have a spare. I rigged up something hillbilly style with a small wire. That immediately blew. I figured the amp was toast, so I snipped the power supply and TR wires to the amp, and rigged up another fuse to provide power to the TR relay. After moving a few SMA connectors, the transverter was working solo. Eric, N7EPD, helped me verify that everything was working.

By the time everything was reassembled and secured, it was late (which around here means after 10:00pm). I never put up the rear antennas in CN96. Even so, the grid was remarkably productive with some 30 QSOs and three new multipliers.

My last QSO of the evening was with Rick, N7EHP, who had waited up for me to transition back through CN86. The last stop of the evening was a motel in Centralia, where I hit the sack at 1:00am.

The rover (CN98)

CN86

The alarm went off at 5:50am so that I could be on the road by 6:15am for Kalama, WA.

I was set up in CN86 near Green Mountain (a different Green Mountain than the one W7GLF was on) by 7:45am. I was expecting a small pile-up of CN85 stations from Vancouver, WA and Portland, OR. Alas, it seems that the entire ham population of that metropolitan region takes a collective early August vacation. Nothing.

Eventually, KB7ADO, in nearby Kelso, WA (CN86), answered my CQs on 223.5 MHz. He had other bands, and we completed QSOs on 927.5 MHz and 432 MHz.

At the same time, I finally worked the first CN85 station—Dave, N7DB on 223.5 MHz. Eventually we worked on 432 MHz as well.

I heard a faint CW signal on 432 MHz in response to my CQs. The signal peaked toward the NW, and after a few minutes I got KB7W in CN93—Bend, OR. I may have been working him off of Mt. Rainier as Bend is south and east of me, and on the other side of the Cascade mountains.

CN85

With two hours remaining, I made a beeline for CN85, on Green Mountain Road, where a friend lets me on his property to a spot at 1,800′.

The Seattle crowd came alive with this new grid, and I worked a pile of CN87 stations on 432 MHz and then 222 MHz. I also worked N7DB and KB7ME in CN85, but that was it for CN85. KB7ADO worked me on 223.5 MHz and 432 MHz, but we couldn’t quite make it on 927.5 MHz.

The last hour was mostly spent trying to work people on 1296 MHz and 903 MHz. I managed QSOs back into CN87 on 1296 with K7ND, KE0CO, N7EPD and N7MWV, but 903 MHz yield nothing. I could hear people, but my 8 watt signal just couldn’t cut through the RF noise that plagues 33 cm in the Puget Sound urban areas.

With fifteen minutes remaining my power booster started complaining about low voltage. In my hurry to activate CN85, I had left the truck headlights on. The pair of batteries couldn’t start the truck, so I separated the truck battery from the “radio” battery hoping the truck battery would recover enough to get me going after the contest. The radio battery was down to 9.5 volts.

With three minutes remaining, I heard a weak CW signal responding to my CQs on 432 MHz. And, again, it was KB7W. This QSO was a little easier than the first one. It was a fine way to end the contest.

Score

The final tally was 178 QSOs and 25 grids worked. Adding the 7 grids activated gives 32 multipliers. (Last year I had 137 QSOs and 22 multipliers.) Here are the QSO details:

Grid 222 MHz 432 MHz 903 MHz 1296 MHz
CN85 8 10 0 4
CN86 8 11 4 6
CN87 10 5 2 4
CN88 7 7 1 4
CN96 9 12 4 5
CN97 7 10 3 6
CN98 9 9 8 6
Total 58 64 21 35

And here are the grids worked for each band:

 Band Pts Grids
222 174 8 CN76 CN84 CN85 CN86 CN87 CN88 CN97 CN98
432 192 9 CN76 CN85 CN86 CN87 CN88 CN93 CN96 CN97 CN98
903 126 4 CN76 CN86 CN87 CN98
1296 201 4 CN76 CN87 CN97 CN98

The final (preliminary) score is 22,464, a little over twice last year’s score.

Postscript

It was an excellent adventure and a very good run. I was a little disappointed by the absence of activity from VE7 stations and the low turnout of stations around Portland, but the Puget Sound stations kept me going.

The truck started right up after the contest, and the trip home was uneventful.

Monday after the contest, I worked on the 903 MHz amplifier. The power supply fuse was replaced with a proper fuse, and everything seems to work just fine. The ultimate test will be the Fall Microwave Sprint. Evidently, when the amp gets hot, it draws enough current to blow the power supply fuse. The solution, to prevent me leaving the PTT on for too long, is a PTT time-out timer. Since I really should add a sequencer to the 902 MHz amplifier to preserve the TR relay, the timer will be easy to add.

(Shortcut link)

WW7D/R roves the 2014 ARRL June VHF contest

The June VHF contest always holds much promise as we go into prime sporadic-E (Es) season. Activity is usually quite high, even with Fathers Day on Sunday.

Last year, the atmospherics didn’t cooperate for most of the country, including in the Pacific Northwest. My final results were 497 QSOs and 35 grids. It was good enough for 1st place in the Western Washington section and the Pacific Division, and 3 place overall for the Limited Rover category.

My best June score was in 2012, when we had spectacular Es openings, including double hops between the Pacific Northwest and the East Coast. My final results were 358 QSOs, 87 grids, and 19 states plus Canada and Mexico. So for this contest, the final score of 38,950 was good enough for 1st place in the Western Washington section and the Pacific Division, and 5 place overall for the Limited Rover category.

So for this year, my objective was to beat my previous June score of 38,950.

Route planning

Preparations started long before the contest began. Until it became clear that the weather would not cooperate, I considered two routes. One route began by flying an airplane from airports in CN85 to CN76/CN77 to CN79.

But the weather selected for me a fully terrestrial rove. I spent a bit of time trying to improve the route I ran in the January VHF contest. In the end, I only tweaked the route a bit. Specifically, I decided to hit CN98 on Mt. Pilchuck instead of nearby Green Mountain. (I did go to another Green mountain near Portland, however.) The road to Green Mountain was not cleared, according to the National Forest Service web site. The change did not affect timing.

The only additional planning was to add a series of stops along the longer routes. That way, if there was an Es opening, I could head for the alternative location and milk the opening for all it was worth. I didn’t end up needing any of these locations.

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 09:00 AM  
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 06:15 AM  
CN96 Carbonado 3200′ 08:10 AM 09:35 AM
CN86 Carbonado 3000′ 09:50 AM 10:35 AM
CN87 Carbonado 2050′ 10:55 AM 11:45 AM
CN97 Buckley (Mud Mtn) 1200′ 12:40 PM 02:05 PM
CN88 Lake Stevens HS 400′ 04:15 PM 05:30 PM
CN98 Mt. Pilchuck 3000′ 06:30 PM 08:00 PM

Station Installation

The station installation was pretty much what I had in January.

The station

I had a new Yaesu FT-857D. I damaged the front end of my old one during a Spring Sprint rendering it with reduced sensitivity on 2m and 432 MHz. Parts were on order, but they wouldn’t arrive until after the contest. So I bit the bullet and ordered a new one. I used the old FT-857D as a 6m FM rig in place of the Alinco I usually use.

Here is the full list of equipment:

  • A Kenwood TS-480SAT for 6 meters and 222 MHz SSB and CW (hidden at the very bottom of the rack, with the remote head on the dash)
  • An Elecraft XV-222 222 MHz transverter, not visible, but hanging on the lower left side of the rack
  • A Yaesu FT-857D for 2 meters and 432 MHz SSB and CW (remote head on the dash)
  • A Yaesu FT-857D for 6 meters FM
  • A Jetstream JT220M, 50 Watts, 223.5 MHz FM (hidden behind mike on right side of rack)
  • An Alinco DR-590 dual band 2 meter, 440 MHz rig for FM simplex (remote head on dash)
  • A TE Systems 2212G, 100 Watts on 222 MHz
  • A TE Systems 0510G Amplifier, 170 Watts on 6 meters
  • An RF Concepts 4-110 amplifier, 100 Watts on 432 MHz
  • An RF Concepts 2-417 amplifier, 170 Watts on 144 MHz (hanging on the right side of the rack)
  • A k1el Winkeyer (top)
  • Two Alliance HD-73 rotor control boxes (one out of view)
  • Antenna switch (box in front of rotor control)
Antenna switching box with remote head

The single biggest station difference this year was a home-made antenna switching box. The box uses SMA latching relays to perform antenna switching. The switches are in a remote box that is near the operating position. Three of the antenna switches are SPDT, and simply allow me to switch a rig between the front and rear antennas. This is done for 6m, 2m, and 432 MHz. For 222 MHz, I have two rigs (a 222 MHz transverter + amplifier combination, as well as a 222 MHz FM rig), and I want to use both the front and rear antennas with each rig. Thus, the 222 MHz switch uses 4 SMA relays to create a low-loss, high isolation antenna cross-over switch.

Antenna switching box in situ

Antennas

The antennas were pretty much what I’ve used in the past, but with one difference of putting the 6m yagi on top of the rear stack, instead of the middle. I rebuilt both the front and rear antenna masts. Antennas were cleaned, refurbished, and tuned in preparation for the contest.

Rear antenna stacks

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

  • 50 MHz: Homebuilt 3-element Yagi (top)
  • 144 MHz: An 8 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (middle)
  • 222 MHz: An 8 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (bottom)
  • 12 element LFA yagi (bottom)
Front antenna stacks

The front mast can be legally extended up to 14′ and rotated while in motion. In practice it is usually about 10′ above ground level to avoid low-hanging branches.

  • 50 MHz: Two element classic hex beam (top)
  • 144 MHz: A 4 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (middle)
  • 222 MHz: A 6 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (bottom right)
  • 432 MHz: An 8 element WA5VJB “Cheap Yagi” (bottom left)

The Contest

The contest began early Saturday morning for me. I was on the road by 7:30 am PDT for the long drive from Redmond, WA to Ocean Shores, WA. The trip there was uneventful, although there was some kind of parade being set up in Ocean Shores for 11:00 am. Fortunately, I arrived before things got going.

CN76

This location is at the Ocean Shores airport, in the car parking lot. The airport was surprisingly active, with a crew of locals putting up a new wind sock, and a Young Eagles event starting around noon. Friendly people stopped by to chat.

As the clock struck 1800 UTC, I called CQ, and Paul, K7CW came right back to me. On 2m, I heard Caesar, N7BUS, calling CQ from Mt. Eleanor. Then I worked my friend John, KF7PCL, who lives in Ocean Shores (CN76!) on 6m and 2m. I had spoken to John many times during contests over the past few years and we had some email correspondence, but it wasn’t until he spotted me at the 2014 SeaPac convention that I actually met him. He told me he would be on for the contest.

As it happened, there was another CN76 station on some ways to the South, W7Y. We worked on 6m and 2m but I wasn’t able to hear them on 432 MHz.

CN77

At the appointed time, I headed about 1/2 mile south to the next stop in CN77. Among other folks, I worked W7Y on 6m and 2m again. I also worked KF7PCL on 6m, 2m, and 432 MHz, and remembered that I had forgotten to work him on 432 in CN76. So, on my way out of town, I swung by the airport again and worked him on 432 MHz.

Arrival in CN77, Ocean Shores, WA, and ready to put up the rear mast

CN86

In departing Ocean Shores, I modified the usual route to Hoquiam (CN86) to traverse a bit of the southwest corner of CN87. That allowed me to work KF7PCL on 6m and 2m again. Then, of course, I worked John again (on 3 bands) in CN86, for a total of 11 QSOs with KF7PCL. There would be one more with him near the end of the contest.

The drive through CN86 is a long slog through minimally productive terrain. I took a slightly longer route through Olympia that briefly brought me back into CN87 with a shot at Seattle. Only about 20 QSOs were made for the next 1.5 hours.

Activity picked up as I headed up hill toward the CN86 stop near Green Mountain. The location provides excellent reach into Seattle and Portland. A few stations as far south as Salem, OR were worked, and W7Y in CN76 was worked again. From this location I made my first QSO with Steve, KE7IHG/R, who would shadow me on Sunday.

CN85

This grid is located only about five miles away on the other side of Green Mountain, but about 10 miles by road. The location has even better reach into Portland and Seattle. One big surprise was working KA6BIM in CN73 on both 2m and 6m.

Activating CN85

CN95

As things wound down in CN85, I headed for N. Bonneville, WA, on the Columbia River Gorge to just inside the CN95 grid. I arrived a few minutes after 10pm PDT. The location is surrounded by rock to the north and south, but gets into the Portland area quite well. The big surprise here was working W7EW in CN84 on both 6m and 2m. And then there was KA6BIM in CN73 on 6m!

I packed it in around 11pm PDT and headed for a motel room in Centralia, WA, about 2 hours away. No more QSOs were made en route.

The day passed without so much as a hint of Es.

CN96

Sunday began at 5:45am, with a quick shower and a departure time of 6:15. I had about two hours of travel to hit the next stop in Carbonado, WA, at 3,200′ in CN96. This is one of the choicest roving locations in the Pacific Northwest. Of course, there were QSOs to be made along the way. While en route, I made a couple of QSOs in CN86, 24 QSOs in CN87 and ten more QSOs traversing a few miles of (elevated) CN86. At some point in CN87, I drove right by Tom, KE7SW’s house, and joked about stopping for some hot coffee (I was drinking day old stuff out of a second thermos), but duty called and I pushed on.

The view and the reach from the 3,200′ CN96 spot is phenomenal. QSOs from Sequim, WA to Portland, OR and places in between ensued. I was happy to work W7EW in CN84 on 6m, and KB7W in CN93—that’s Bend, OR on the other side of the Cascade Mountains. I worked my buddy Doug, AC7T, who lives down the street from me in CN87. We worked on 6m and then, again, on 2m. He was using the 6m and 2m antennas I usually use out of my airplane, and only 2.5 watts on 2m. We were both pleased.

After 2 hours, I managed about 80 QSOs. But there were no Es QSOs at all. Occasionally I heard a brief opening to California, but the opening vaporized before I had a chance to join the fun.

CN86

A few minutes behind schedule, I moved down the road to CN86 (again!). This 3,000′ location and has, in the past, provided many QSOs even after spending most of Saturday in the grid.

I worked about a dozen stations, including Doug, AC7T, again on 6m and 2m. About this time, Steve, KE7IHG/R drove by me on his way to the CN96 spot I had recently vacated. Great! After some set-up time we worked on all four bands giving me four new multipliers.

The whole time at this spot, Es propagation teased me with occasional bursts of southern California coming through, but then fading away. Finally, at about 10:45 am PDT I started working a few out-of-region grids. Another 40 minutes yielded three QSOs to DM45 and one to DM33 (and more local QSOs).

After some 30 QSOs in CN86, I circled 1/4 mile back to CN96 and worked KE7IGH/R on four bands, giving him four new multipliers, and then headed down the hill to CN87.

CN87

I arrived at this stop, at 2,050′ on the same road, about 45 minutes behind schedule. There was no sign of Es, but I filled in some QSOs with local folks, and worked KE7IGH/R on four bands. I tried to save time by shortening my stay a few minutes.

While en route to CN97, I did work K6RMJ in DM13.

CN97

I arrived and was set up only about 20 minutes behind schedule in CN97. I worked local stations for about 20 minutes. Then an opening to California produced QSOs to CM86, CM88, CM95 and CM98, followed by three QSOs to DM06, all over a 25 minute period. After the burst of CA, I worked KE7IHG/R in CN97 in nearby Buckley. I left the grid at the scheduled 2:05pm departure time with a total of about 50 QSO. My spot in CN88 was about 2 hours away.

Along the way, I discovered that KE7IGH/R was right behind me on Interstate 5. We were both headed to Lake Stevens High School. I told him I would go to the nearby elementary school, instead. The location is slightly higher, slightly closer, and, I guessed, it would have less RF noise than the noisy High School. The disadvantage is that it had poorer exposure to the south, where most local stations are located.

As I neared the CN88 grid line, I worked my pal Dave, KA7RRA/R, who was sitting up at 3,150′ on Mt. Pilchuck. We worked on 6m and 2m, but he didn’t have a 432 MHz antenna. He did, however, have a handheld dual band FM rig, so we worked on 446 MHz. We did it again after I passed into CN88.

CN88

As I suspected, the elementary school was relatively RF quiet, but some stations to the south were harder for me to work than KE7IHG/R. I worked no stations south of CN87. And no sign of Es. I left the grid early, after about 35 QSOs, to head to Mt. Pilchuck. KA7RRA/R and I established that we would be 3/4 mile apart at my planned destination.

CN98

This particular Mt. Pilchuck location was just shy of 3,000′. I began the 2013 ARRL UHF contest from another nearby location, but this spot was new to me. It was quite a spot. I arrived about 35 minutes early and had already worked 14 stations in motion, and would work over 50 more before the end of the contest.

Here were some of the highlights. John, KF7PCL, worked me again from CN76. I worked W7EW in CN84 on 6m and 2m, and toward the end of the contest, we attempted and completed a QSO on 432 Mhz, over a 225 mile path. After many attempts, I worked VE7DAY in CO70. KE7IGH/R worked me on 223.5 MHz from CN98, adding a new multiplier for both of us. I worked K7NG in CN72 on 6m for another multiplier. And a QSO with VA7FC provided my only 6m QSO to CN79. I worked a total of 5 new multipliers at my last stop!

Alas…no Es. Even so, the end of the contest was a lot of fun.

The morning after

The Score

The contest results are summarized in the table below. The preliminary score is 681 pts × (50 multipliers + 10 grids activated) = 40,860.

6m
2m
222 MHz
432 MHz
Total
CN76
6
15
2
4
27
CN77
13
11
1
2
27
CN85
36
23
9
10
78
CN86
38
33
13
13
97
CN87
21
18
8
7
54
CN88
12
10
5
7
34
CN95
8
9
2
2
21
CN96
34
26
11
12
83
CN97
29
9
5
8
51
CN98
31
17
8
12
68
QSOs
228
171
64
77
540
Points
228
171
128
154
681
Mults
21
13
7
9
50 + 10

This slightly beats my 2012 score. But instead of 358 QSOs and 87 grids + 9 activated, I ended up with 540 QSOs, 50 grids + 10 activated. The difference is largely a huge decrease in grids owning to few sustained Es openings this year, but a large increase in QSOs. This is the first time my (preliminary) score has exceeded 40,000 in an ARRL VHF contest.

Here were the stations that made 10 or more QSOs with me (of a maximum possible of 40):

35 KE7SW
26 N7EPD
26 KE7IHG/R
23 KE0CO
20 KG7P
15 W7FI
15 KI7JA
14 W7VB
14 W7EW
14 N5CR
13 K7ND
12 KF7PCL
10 WB7FJG
10 KD7RRA/R
10 K7YDL
10 AC7T

And K7CW (50 MHz only) worked me in 9 of 10 grids.

Conclusions

The lack of sustained Es propagation was a bit disappointing but, overall, the contest was quite enjoyable. Small station improvements (e.g. the antenna switching box) contributed to a better score, but the biggest improvements were operating conveniences or procedures that greatly bumped up the raw QSO count. And it was helped by the presence of two other rovers (KE7IHG/R and KA7RRA/R) in the region.

(Short link)

Roving the 2013 September VHF Contest

The ARRL September VHF contest is the last major VHF contest of the year, and it comes at a time of year when chances for long distance propagation are slim. What this does is remove a certain randomness to the contest. For the Limited Rover, it means making long roves to hit population centers on all four bands, instead of trying to be in a few spectacular spots when 6 meters opens up.

When planning my rove for this contest, I intended to hit all the grids in all the population centers I could, and I scheduled stops down to the minute. A successful rove would then mainly be determined by how well I stuck to schedule…unless, of course, a sporadic E (Es) opening happens to occur (spoiler alert: no Es openings happened).

The Schedule

I had an ambitious schedule of hitting ten grids. I’ve done ten grids when using an airplane to get between spots, but this was an all-terrestrial event for me. And hitting ten grids and spending time on mountain tops takes some effort.

On that topic, the last time I roved out of the airplane was last September (2012). I didn’t exactly make a decision to stop airplane roving. Rather, as each contest came around, I watched the weather and thought about options and contingency plans. In the end, the uncertainty of getting out of the airport in the morning because of weather was simply too much. Besides that, my land rover has evolved into a much better platform than the airplane rover, and I can fruitfully rove in motion out of the truck; I cannot make contest QSOs while flying the airplane by the contest rules. Will I rove out of the plane again? Probably, but not until next July at the earliest.

My plan was to hit five grid intersections or borders. The blue doughnuts were for Saturday, and the red for Sunday:

Here are the specifics:

Saturday

  • CN76 Ocean Shores, WA from 11:00 AM to 12:15 PM
  • CN77 Ocean Shores, WA from 12:30 PM to 1:45 PM
  • CN87/CN86 mobile from 2:10 PM to 4:50 PM
  • CN85 Kalama, WA (near Green Mountain 1785′) from 4:55 PM to 6:10 PM
  • CN86 Kalama, WA (Green Mountain 1700′) from 6:40 PM to 7:40 PM
  • CN95 Bonneville, WA (along the Columbia River) from 9:10 PM to 10:10 PM
  • CN86 mobile from 10:15 PM to 12:05 AM

Sunday

  • CN86/CN87 mobile from 6:15 AM to 8:10 AM
  • CN96 Carbonado (Mowich Lake road at 3200′) from 8:15 AM to 9:30 AM
  • CN86 Carbonado (Mowich Lake road at 2800′) from 9:45 AM to 10:30 AM
  • CN87 Carbonado (Mowich Lake road at 2050′) from 10:50 AM to 11:35 AM
  • CN87/CN97 mobile from 11:40 AM to 12:30 PM
  • CN97 Wilkison, WA (Unnamed peak at 3160′) from 12:35 PM to 1:50 PM
  • CN97/CN87/CN88 mobile from 1:55 PM to 4:20 PM
  • CN88 Lake Stevens, WA (High School) from 4:25 PM to 5:30 PM
  • CN88/CN98 mobile from 5:35 PM to 6:40 PM
  • CN98 Granite Falls, WA (Green Mountain 3000′) from 6:40 PM to 8:00 PM

The Station

The station was quite similar to what I used in the June VHF contest (photo here). The one major equipment difference was that I replaced the RM Italy KL-145 with a RF Concepts 2-417 170 Watt amp (with a preamp).

A more minor change was the addition of an antenna cross-over switch to flip the 222 MHz transverter and 223 MHz FM transceiver between the front and rear antennas. This would allow either radio to use either the front or rear antenna. The switch was made of 4 SMA SPDT latching relays acquired from ebay.

Antennas

The antennas were pretty much what I used in June, except that I used the “stretched” WA5VJB eight element 2 meter “Cheap Yagi that I built for the CQ VHF Contest, and I replaced the 11 element 432 MHz “cheap yagi” with the 12 element LFA yagi I had built for the August ARRL UHF contest.

Here is the rear antenna stack:

You can also see a dual band 146 MHz/440 MHz vertical antenna for the FM portions of those bands, and a 1/4 wave whip to monitor 6m FM.

And here is a through-the-windshield view of the front stack that can be legally rotated while the truck is in motion (they are identical to what I used last June):

The Contest

Saturday began with an 8:00 AM departure for the three hour trip to Ocean Shores. About 30 minutes before the contest started, I heard Mike, KD7TS/R setting up in Ocean Shores, talking on 2 meters to Gabor, VE7JH in his mountain top contesting site on Vancouver Island. Gabor was surprisingly strong and easy to copy. I learned that Gary, WA7BBJ/R, was also setting up in Ocean Shores. Thus, we were going to have something of a rover party out there.

CN76 Ocean Shores, WA

I got to the parking lot of the Ocean Shores airport about 15 minutes before the start. In the middle of setting up, I was approached by a gentleman with a couple of HTs on his hip. It was Eric, AE7HC, who lives in the area. We chatted while I was setting up, and exchanged frequencies for 2m and 432 MHz simplex QSOs. Eric went home and called CQ after the contest started. I worked him and his wife, Melanie, KF7KNW, on 2m and 440 MHz FM from their CN76 QTH.

I also worked John, KF7PCL, in CN76 on 6m and 2m, plus KD7TS/R in CN76 on four bands. In fact, I had more CN76 QSOs in my log than anything else by the time I departed the grid.

Here is the rover ready for action at the Ocean Shores airport…

CN77 Ocean Shores, WA

A few blocks away, I set up on a dirt pull-over spot. The spot was fruitful, with 39 QSOs in the scheduled time. It helped that KD7TS/R worked me on 4 bands from CN76 and then again when he moved to CN77. Since I was only a few blocks away from CN76, I returned to the grid to work KD7TS/R four more times. I also worked WA7BBJ/R in CN76 on four bands during the brief return.

What is striking about this trip to Ocean Shores was the diversity of grids worked. I had QSOs on one or more bands for CN76, CN77, CN85, CN86, CN87, CN88, CN89, CN96, and CN98. This doesn’t reflect my station so much as it does an overall increase in activity in the Pacific Northwest for this contest.

CN87/CN86 mobile

The next part of the trip was a long slog through CN87 and CN86 down toward Oregon. I took a slightly longer route that carried me immediately and briefly through CN87 and into CN86, permitting me to ensure QSOs from these grids with my many friends back in Ocean Shores. Then it was off to Kalama, WA, mostly through CN86. I actually took a detour back into CN87 by picking up I-5 in Olympia. That minimized my time in an RF dead zone along that route. It may have helped a bit. Still in the two hour period from 2200 to 0000 UTC, I made only 7 QSOs.

CN85 Kalama, WA

This stop is near the top of Green Mountain, on Green Mountain Road. Actually I wasn’t on the road exactly. During past contests I had pulled off the road on a gated off driveway. The owner of the land stopped by one contest to chat. The short story is that he has been very supportive. I called him on the way up to let him know I was coming. He told me the gate was unlocked and that I could drive past the gate and onto his property, where there was a nice flat spot about 10 feet above the level of the road, which is at 1785′. I spent the first few minutes in front of the gate working the Portland crowd off the front antennas. After the rush was over, I went in and set up:

What a spot this is! I made 41 QSOs in the 75 minutes spent there, from Gabor, VE7JH, in BC, to John, KF7PCL, in Ocean Shores, to a bunch of folks in the Portland area. I also worked my friend Doug, AC7T, who was using the portable 3 element 6m yagi that I would normally use out of the airplane rover.

CN86 Kalama, WA

The next spot was back in CN86, about 5 miles to the north at 1700′ along China Garden Road. This spot seems somewhat blocked to the south, but was actually more productive on 222 MHz and 432 MHz than the CN85 spot! Toward the end of my stay, I heard Caesar, N7BUS/P, calling CQ from Mt. Eleanor in the Olympic Mountains. I had worked Caesar in a number of sprints, but never in a weekend-long contest. He had just hiked to his location and was running 5 watts using a hand-held yagi for 2 m and 432 MHz. We worked quite easily, and Caesar caught the whole thing on video:

CN95 Bonneville, WA

The last planned stop for the day was in N. Bonneville, WA, at the foot of Table Mountain, in the Columbia River gorge:

I figured this was a spot with a sure path into Portland, but with some possibility of working E. Washington. I quickly worked Bruce, KI7JA, in Portland on all four bands. Before the contest, I had mentioned on the Pacific Northwest VHF Society reflector that I was going to this spot. Paul, K7CW, emailed me to say he thought he might be able to work me on 6 meters from his CN87 QTH near the southern hook of Hood Canal. And he was right! I also worked Dale, KD7UO, on 6m. He was 50 miles directly north of me at about 6,000′ in CN96. In all, I made 12 QSOs from the spot at a time when the QSO rate usually drops off. It was a fun experiment.

The down side to activating this grid was the 2 hour drive back to Centralia, WA where a motel room awaited me. I did manage to work a couple of Portland stations in CN85 on along the way. I hit the sack at 12:30 am with my alarm set for 5:45.

Sunday morning I was up bright and early for a 6:15 AM departure with a two hour drive to my next stop.

CN86/CN87 mobile

The drive from Centralia to Carbonado was unproductive in CN86. Once I hit CN87, however, things picked up. I made 22 QSOs in the last hour in CN87 while in motion. And I snagged five more QSOs in the 5 mile stretch of CN86 along Mowich Lake Road before hitting CN96.

The one piece of equipment problem I was having was that my 222 MHz transverter was going into overload mode. To make matters worse, I had accidentally unplugged the 223 MHz FM rig when connecting the battery in the morning (while it was still dark out, I might add). I stopped to hook up the 223 MHz to the battery. And when I got to CN96, the transverter decided to behave itself again.

CN96 Carbonado

This spot, at about 3,200′ on Mowich Lake Road, was reasonably productive, with 56 QSOs in 90 minutes. Dale, KD7UO, worked me early and welcomed me to the grid. He was now about 45 miles south of me.

CN86 Carbonado

I made a 40 minute stop in CN86 at about 3,000′ on Mowich Lake Road. This was my fifth rove into the grid during the contest, and I didn’t think there would be many people left to work. The 19 new QSOs included four with KC7NOL/R (in two grids) and two with KD7TS/R.

People were talking about a thunderstorm. From my elevated perch I could see clouds over the Puget Sound region and the noise of an electrical storm was audible over the radio, but the weather for me was mostly sunny with few clouds.

CN87 Carbonado

The next stop was CN87 at about 2,050′ along Mowich Lake Road. This stop was brief, but productive. I continued driving and making QSOs for another 20 minutes until hitting CN97

CN97 Wilkison, WA

Reaching this spot involves about 30 to 40 minutes of traveling on a forest service road full of periodic pothole fields. At the end is a short, steep road to the peak that has overgrown vegetation that is hell on the antennas. But, at 3,100′, the location is excellent to the north and west for VHF and UHF and is pretty darned good to the south with the mast sticking just above the nearby rocks. As it happened, I didn’t work much south, but made 60+ QSOs in 90 minutes to the north and west.

CN97/CN87/CN88 mobile

The next stop required a trip from the SE to the NE corner of CN87. I had planned to take a long route up the I-5 corridor that would minimize time spent in valleys. But I was running about 25 minutes behind schedule. The direct route (via I-405) was a shorter, 2 hour, journey. I managed 16 QSOs en route.

CN88 Lake Stevens, WA

Lake Stevens High School, at 400′ MSL is consistently mediocre. But I haven’t identified a better CN88 spot near the CN87/CN88/CN97/CN98 intersection. I arrived five minutes ahead of schedule and hastily extended the rear mast. The skies were threatening, electrical crashes were killing 6m, and people were mentioning thunderstorms. After making 27 QSOs in 45 minutes, the storm hit. I quickly lowered the mast, just in time to enjoy a minute of light hail followed by a burst of heavy rain.

CN88/CN98 mobile

The trip to my last stop at the top of Green Mountain (this time in CN98) was about an hour. I managed a few more CN88 QSOs en route, and got an early start on CN98 from the road. At some point, I figured out that Ray, W7GLF/R, was currently at the spot I was heading for, and was starting to head down the mountain. We met at about 2,000′ at a major Y in the dirt road on the side of the mountain. It was our first meeting in person:



CN98 Granite Falls, WA

This was my first trip to this CN98 spot on a small pull-over along a forest service road. It looks like a glorious spot, but I couldn’t really tell because of the clouds and arriving darkness. And the approaching thunderstorm.

I had worked Ray (W7GLF/R) on all four bands, CN98 to CN98, en-route. Ray reached CN88, and we made four more QSOs. Later on, he entered CN87 and we make another four. Then he got home (in CN87), went in the house, started a new log, and worked me on four bands as W7GLF (no /R this time). That contributed 16 of the 39 QSOs I made in CN98.

The thunderstorm was about to hit with two minutes left in the contest. I decided to shut down early and lowered the rear mast in record time. Travel back down the mountain was slow going. The potholes were filled in with water meaning I couldn’t tell how deep they were, it was dark, and I was in the clouds most of the time. The only thing working in my favor was the frequent flashes of lightening that brightly illuminated the road ahead of me.

Results

In the end, I activated all ten of the planned grids. I took extra efforts to keep to schedule, including use of a kitchen timer to give a five minute warning. The system worked well.

The one recurring issue I had was RF getting into my audio. This is after putting multiple turns of the cable through a clip-on ferrite bead. With the headset on, and audio monitoring turned up, I could move the headphone cable around to minimize the problem. I hate to go back to microphones, which are hard to use while driving, so a solution is the technical challenge for January.

Here are the QSO results:


Grid 6m 2m 1.25m 70cm
CN76 8 7 5 7
CN77 13 11 9 8
CN85 21 16 6 6
CN86 29 20 8 11
CN87 27 22 8 9
CN88 6 9 7 7
CN95 6 3 1 2
CN96 21 16 8 11
CN97 24 16 9 13
CN98 14 14 5 6
QSOs 172 141 67 80
Points 172 141 134 160
Mults 11 10 8 7

The total number of QSOs was 460, for 607 points.

And here are the grids worked for each band:


 Band Pts #Grids Grids
6m 172 11 CN76-77, CN84-89, CN96, CN98, CO70
2m 141 10 CN76-77, CN85-88, CN95-97
1.25m 134 8 CN76-77, CN85-88, CN96, CN98
70cm 160 7 CN76-77, CN85-88, CN98

That makes a total of 36 grid-band pairs.  To that we add ten multipliers for the grids activated for a total of 46 multipliers.

The final score was 27,922 (before checking by the ARRL).

Last year I had 32 grid-band pairs and nine grids activated for 41 multipliers, and 398 points for a raw score of 16,318.  My score improved quite a bit this year. This is mosty attributable to greater activity, but a better roving platform and sticking to my schedule really helped.

The number of rovers this year was remarkable. Here are all the rovers (# QSOs) in my log: KD7TS/R (28), W7GLF/R (19), WA7BBJ/R (18), KC7NOL/R (11), N6ZE/R (6), K7BWH/R (2), KE7IHG/R (1). KE7IHG/R provided my only (and much appreciated) QSO into CN95.

The top stations (# QSOs) in my log were: KE7SW (32), N7EPD (32), VE7JH (31), KE0CO (25), W7LUD (25), KG7P (17), K7ND (16), KI7JA (13).

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