June 19, 2011

Getting ready for the IARU Contest

Hi Folks,

As I mentioned in my last blog we are nearing the end of the doldrums between April and July and this is a good time to set to work maintaining masts, antenna's and auxiliary equipment needed for the contest season.

Fibreglass Masts

Our group chairman Ian G0VGS and I started with the fibreglass verticals.

Each vertical was completely dismantled and cleaned with silicon before being reassembled a section at a time.

Individual sections.

The use of the silicon spray served a number purposes.
  • It allowed sections to be cleaned and lubricated. Next time we put the masts up they should glide easily into position
  • It also allows the mast to repel water more easily and may even help a little with wind resistance.

Spiderbeam Mast

Whilst Ian and I worked on the fibreglass masts Paul 2E0EET and Hughie G4UME set to work doing the same thing with the spidermasts

Damaged Sections

Identifying Damaged Sections

Paul and Hughie also identified the damaged sections. The section number was recorded and its diameter was measured ready for us to place a replacement order.

Our Antenna Case

Repacking the Antenna Case

Although packaged correctly most of the antenna's were to all intents and purposes thrown into the box anywhere they would fit. This is not a recommended practice because it makes life difficult for the next event.

Ian G0VGS set to work repacking the box as it should be.... feeder boxes to the right, antenna's bagged and marked for each band in the centre, Parts for the phased array in the left, lanyards and other accessories along the front of the case.

Despite a poor weather forecast that predicted rain we had a lovely sunny afternoon to carry out the work which took less time than I anticipated no doubt helped by us working as a well coordinated team.

A job well done... roll on the contest!

Our Callsign for the contest is G1T (Golf One Tango) If your taking part in the contest we look forward to working you.


The Reluctant Contestor

June 05, 2011

Keeping busy during the HF Contest Doldrums

Hello Folks,

As we sit in the HF Doldrums between contesting, Sands Contest Group members have been busy with various radio related activities. Chris, G4LDS, despite recovering from major heart surgery around four weeks ago, has continued his experiments making an array of baluns he's eager to test.

Paul 2E0EET has completed a Sota Activation of Cross Fell and entered an interesting blog on his adventures that you can read below.

Barrie G1JYB and Stephany G1LAT have had a really enjoyable holiday to Greece where along with cycling around the countryside they made many new radio amateur friends.

Mike M0PRL has just returned from an 18 month tour with the British Atlantic Survey team where in his rest time he managed many a pile up and the list goes on.

From the time the group was formed there have always been members who have an interest in working mobile or setting a station up in a field.

Location, Location, Location.
Some members don't have the luxury of putting antennas up at their home QTH due to lack of space etc. Others have a very high noise floor on HF as the evenings draw in. I normally operate my HF station from home but thought I'd have a shot at operating the next RSGB CC SSB contest from a remote location. For that I would need a mast, an antenna and a radio to operate mobile with. Whilst I freely admit a dipole hoisted between a couple of trees would be a simpler method of putting a station on air, I have a mast so thought I'd give it a shot.

Strange Weather and Band Conditions
We have had some interesting weather over the last few months. We had some lovely weather in April whilst May has been a mixture of wet and sometimes cold days and June is not shaping up too well.

The Secret of Success
The secret of success in everything we do relies on maintenance of our equipment along with planning, preparation and testing the complete station before we need to use it for a contest or special event. Band conditions we have no control over but even in poor conditions we can excel knowing that we have done everything we could.

Band Conditions

Conditions on HF have also been very mixed due to solar flares and sunspot activity, making radio conditions very difficult. If you would like to see information about up to date sunspot activity or the lack of it, the site below is an excellent source of information.


Learning how to set a mast up safely and effectively
We had a glorious day on Saturday with plenty of sunshine and a light breeze so Mark M0DGK and I made use of the excellent conditions to get used to setting up the 26ft Clarke mast for the first time. It was used by Martin M0ZIF during the DX-pedition to Arran last year but not setup to its full potential.

The 26ft Clarke mast has its own carrying harness to keep it safe during transit or storage.

The Mast telescopes down nicely into sections which is placed on a well made base plate seen below.

The base plate is secured with a couple of metal spikes and the mast sits snugly into a rubber cup that allows it to be left free standing at that point if you wish. The white lines on the base plate show you the direction for each of the three spikes. You measure just six paces from the white line for each of the three stakes.

It's that well made down to the smallest of detail accessory. The collar half way up the base section is fitted with a little spirit level so the you can centre the mast.

The guy line spikes have welded drilled sections allowing you attach the three guy line with spring clips to the first collar which is tensioned off to create a stable platform for the other sections to be guyed and raised.

This picture shows one of the spring clips and a very well thought out device that allows you to tension the guy line very easily before attaching the clip to the stake.

We could really do with buying some of these for the groups antennas where we spend a lot of time winding guy ropes around the stakes.

A pulley and lanyard are attached to the top section before the mast sections are raised allowing the antenna to be lowered if needed without having to lower the whole mast.

Then it's just a case of raising the mast a section at a time. You know when each section is fully extended because the section stops rising. An excellent safety feature is incorporated in the mast design, if you loose your grip or wish to take the mast down each section has a dampening mechanism allowing it to come down slowly.

The antenna wire consists of a centre wire surrounded by cloth and then the outer green sleeve. It has no memory which stops it getting kinked or knotted.

The Antenna wire was measured out at 66ft for each side to give us an 80m dipole. Adjustments will need to be made so that it is resonant for the main areas of the band we wish to use. Unfortunately we didn't have the room to put the antenna up in my garden but that can be done on site.

My home HF radio is to large for portable operation and for some time now I have been looking into buying a set that would cover my needs as a mobile/backup base radio. I looked at what is commonly called the Shack in a Box a radio that covers all mode HF/VHF/UHF frequencies. I scoured eham for reviews and looked at video presentations put forward by fellow Radio Amateurs but it was two friends Linda G0YLM and Mark M0DGK who brought me down to earth with one question.

"What do you want the radio to do that you have not got covered with other sets?"

My answer was do some mobile HF operating from time to time with a radio that could double up as a base radio when needed.

I looked around for a set that would fit my needs and chose an old friend in the Kenwood TS-480SAT. It's not the nicest looking radio when the head is attached to
to the base but that is not what it was designed for.

I managed to buy a brand new set at a Used/Secondhand price. Apart from being taken out of the box to make sure it worked, It had never been used.

I have used the set for just over a week now, and it ticks all my boxes. The radio has good ergonomics in the way the buttons are laid out. I know the voice chip available for the set is probably the best I have heard. Reception is excellent and TX works well straight out of the box.

My first introduction to the set came a good few years ago when a friend of mine who is blind (He hates the term Visually Impaired) asked me for help when he bought the Kenwood TS-480HX. I guided him through the controls and buttons and went through the manual with him.... He has fantastic memory recall and can operate the radio as quickly as a sighted person.

The difference between the SAT and the HX:

TS-480SAT is 100W and has an excellent built in antenna tuner.
TS-480HX is 200W but has no built in antenna tuner and it costs a little more.

The Reluctant Contester.

SOTA Activation With 2E0EET

Perhaps not a noted hill because it is not part of the Lake District Doggy Baggers destinations.
Cross Fell, 85 meters smaller than Scafell Pike - England’s Highest, comes 5th in the scale surprisingly.
England’s highest hill outside the lakes, Cross Fell is no soft touch.

It’s been on my mind to get this one SOTA’d for a while, and Friday appeared a good day, when the Helm wind was at its minimum.
For the 1st time, I decided to weigh my total “Cargo” – 16.3kgs. No small load for a diminutive like me! Most of the weight is in the slab used to power the amplifier, and before you say it, yes it is needed; I don’t want to go back because of no contacts!
The 817 is reasonably light, but very stable. Much has been said about the new Elecraft, but for me it has to prove its worthiness; hype from sofa sedentary will not prove it can stand extreme conditions. For instance, my 718 has been from -27c to 21c during operation. This even caught out the much hailed BHI filtering (now removed). ‘Guess those who write, sit all day.

Setting off from Kirkland, the journey had about three sections where steepness warrants rests – in my case, many! It’s the first time I have been on Cross Fell when visibility was good. Views across the Solway, Lakes, Dales and Yorks Moors must make this unique. About half way up, I came across a large patch of orchids in full flower; quite surprising to me at this altitude.
The terrain is very varied: Deep peat bogs, dried grass, screes and rocks. With little signs of any paths, I decided the only way was up. Straight up through the summit screes and the magical moment of seeing the trig-point some 200 metres ahead after hours of slogging.

One job remained to be done. I did a circle of the large Cairn(?) Four sided seat to see if I had company. A few years ago, I rescued someone here who was suffering hyperthermia. Not an easy task to get her to Greg’s Hut in poor visibility after only just making the ascent. This time, no company.

Settling down and assembling my antenna I was ready to go. Unfortunately my water supply has now dried up on this very hot day. Not good.
I had only just settled when M0ZIF called me. Many thanks Martin, I knew I could rely on you, and I am sorry you had such a long wait. I must also apologise for being selfish in asking you not to “spot” me.
I ruined your glory I now realise, but I didn’t want to attract the SOTA “circus” which was inevitable anyway I suppose, and I did.
No more local contacts though, but I’m used to that!
Mike G4BLH told me that he usually has a poor reception in Barlick, but he had me down as 9+.
As most of my 20 contacts were at least this distance, my slab was worth the extra grunts.
50 minutes after M0ZIF, my QRZ’s ran out and I made a quick QRT. 16:50 and a long drag back to the car.
It was a long drag; no drinks and excessive heat had started to catch up. Towards the end I became lost having missed an indistinctive FP. I needed to go through several fields to retrack. Behind me I heard the expected ATV whilst I was opening a gate. Mind made up that I was going on regardless of the consequences, I said without turning, “Sorry I got lost, and I’m knackered”
The farmer was old school fortunately. He said that going through that gate wasn’t going to help me, and I should jump on his quad. I didn’t need asking twice, but he only took me a couple of hundred yards to a tarmac road! I was very thankful, now reaching exhaustion, but him having driven off, I realised I had left my Barmah Roo hat on the back of the quad. Little I could do too tired to pursue, £60 down the drain!
The tarmac road brought back memories of Army days, when the trucks never turned up and we had to march 3 miles after a weekends manoeuvre. It’s funny how you go into marching stance. By the time I arrived within sight of my car, I had to lean against a gate, thighs threatening cramp.

Glad to be back to the car, I could quickly reflect: 16km’s walked; 885mtrs total ascent had been a long day. I arrived back at Carnforth Co-Op to take on a much needed isotropic at 21:30 – a long day indeed.

Some stats: ascents(start elevation to summit) of the 4 higher SOTAS
Scafell Pike - 910m, 96 activations
Helvellyn - 821m, 153 activations
Skiddaw – 851m, 126 activations
Great Gable – 727m, 75 Activations

Cross Fell – 885m, now 66 activations
Never saw a Doggy Bagger all day!

Paul 2E0EET