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.

No comments: