RD Contest 2017

RTTY QSOs during 2017 RD Contest
RTTY QSOs during 2017 RD Contest

The 2017 RD Contest was over the weekend of August 12-13 and I was keen to participate this year, having been unable to participate last year due to my involvement in the Festival of Bright Ideas. With Tasmania winning the state vs state competition, I was keen to do my bit to defend that title.

With the waning solar cycle leading to pretty poor propagation conditions in my near NVIS antenna setup, my focus had been working local stations on VHF and higher bands. Critically, I was now in a position to take advantage of the allowed RTTY digital mode, which was worth double points on 144Mhz and 430Mhz, 4 points on the 23cm band, and a triple multiplier between 1am and 6am meaning there was up to 12 points per contact on offer!

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Where the Heck is VK7BEN?

It’s been quite a while between posts, and in fact this is only my second post since January. It’s not because I have been slacking off though. So I’ll try and give a bit of an update as to whats been going on.

Pa posing for the camera, Huon River

A couple of weeks after my last post, my Grandfather died ūüôĀ It was for reasons known about to family, but it always happens sooner than you would like and the loss has been immense. I was particularly close to my grandfather and even 3 months later the thought that I can no longer see him is very raw and hard to deal with.

“Pa’s” influence on me has certainly be that of love for Tasmania’s vast wilderness. When I am not playing with amateur radio, I love taking photography of a wild Tasmania, of which you can see many of these photos over on Flickr.

Pa also encouraged my technical abilities and was fascinated by the things I was doing in the radio space, from who I contacted via DX, to how light could be modulated with audio along to being able to broadcast Television. As I said, I’ll miss my conversations with him.

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2016 Oceania SSB DX Contest

Over the weekend, the 2016 Oceania DX Contest was held. This was my first contest for the season, having missed this years RD Contest due to other commitments.

This year was definitely hard going compared to last year, with band propagation conditions truly terrible throughout the contest and then suffering the static crashes from a lightning storm occurring on the SA/NSW/VIC border later on Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t being particularly serious about the event this year, and therefore much of the time was spent in “search and pounce” mode making the initial contacts and then after the initial flurry, going off to do something else and returning to the radio every half hour or so to spin the dial and listen for any new signals.

And new signals were very few and far between, with only 9 contacts logged in the last 12 hours of the contest, with most bands only answering with the sound of the noise floor up until the last 3 hours of the contest on Sunday.

In the end I managed 42 contacts over the 24 hours of the contest, with the band split below:

Band QSOs
1.8 2
3.5 14
7 16
14 10

In comparison, this is around half the contacts from my 2015 contest effort. Notably last year there was much more activity on 20m (39 contacts) than this year, and 15m saw some contacts where this year there was none.

During the contest, I think my highlights would have been working 2 stations on 160m – it’s very rare for me to work anything at all on “top band”, along with being able to exchange contacts with stations I knew such as IK4GRO and VK5PAS (Hi Paul!).

Well the next big contest is CQWW SSB, which will be “The Big One”. Looking forward to it.

Letting the Smoke Out I

Oops

Above is a rather fine example of letting the smoke out. My last post talked about replacing a dipole that had worked well for many years but suddenly not so much. With the options of breaking it all apart to check the inside pieces, or throwing out the antenna, I chose the former.

What you are looking at is a very cooked load. Originally 9 10k ohm resistors in parallel are now well in truly charred. behind this (as evidenced by red winding wire) is a ferrite rod with a coil wrapped around it, in parallel with the resistor bank. These loads are used to give the antenna its low SWR across all bands.

Cooking the loads occurs when you forget there is a difference between Px and Py power and also forget that most baluns/loads can take a greater amount of the former over the latter. In this case my new radio allowed me to transmit 100 watts of PSK31, when the antenna was only rated for 50 watts.

It’s not out of the realms of possibility to repair this, should the ferrites in the loads and balun still be in working order. However when you take into consideration that I am would probably need¬†to replace most of the stainless steel wire, obtain replacement resistors and still end up with a balun of questionable integrity (due to aforementioned power excesses), it may be time to recover what I can from the antenna and throw out the remains.

2015 CQWW SSB DX Contest

The CQWW DX Competition would have to be the biggest radio contest of the year for the casual contester such as myself. It is also important reminder that you need to be under no illusion of the capabilities of your equipment, otherwise you may quickly find yourself very frustrated.

This is my first crack at CQWW since 2011, and I have entered with the goals of beating my 2011 score of 2160 and working some new countries. 0000 UTC is 1100 AEDT so I allowed myself to sleep in, get up and get ready. I was on the mic and ready to go as the clock ticked over to start time.

So you can imagine my early frustration when I couldn’t make a contact. I could hear the stations just fine, but they could not hear me. It actually made me question whether my station had suffered a critical failure while I was sleeping and was not transmitting at full power. Truth of the matter was that my station is quite meagre compared to many of the other stations on air and 100 watts into a dipole that is barely above ground level, along with an ordinary geographical location means that I simply do not have the power to punch through closed bands, I need to wait for them to open.

So I went outside to do some gardening.

The 20m band finally opened for me around 0500 UTC and from then on it was search and pouncing for the next 3-4 hours, occasionally listening on 15m. As usual, it seems the bulk of my contacts come from CQ Zone 15, though I was pleased to work USA later in the evening on 40m. Definitely the highlight of the evening was working VP2MDG in Montserrat late in the evening on 20m. The band should have been closed at that hour, but he was booming in!

Sunday followed much the same pattern as Saturday, except the 15m band was not really open for me this time around. by 0700 UTC I had become tantalisingly close to a 10,000 point score, with less than 500 point required. To my frustration, the 20m band started to close up at the same time, and those last 488 points took 1 hour to make with 2 QSOs.

At 0834 UTC  on 25/10 I finished up my competition operations with a total claimed score of 10,602.

This contest does indeed seem to be the most difficult of the contests, when in theory it should be one of the most straight forward. You become very much aware of the capabilities of your station, and when the bands are open for you. You learn to have some level of patience, and you learn to come up with different phonetics to make your callsign heard:

  • Victor Kilo Seven Bravo Echo November
  • Victor Kilo Seven Bravo Egypt Norway
  • Victor Kilo Seven Bravo Easy Nancy

It was very much a battle of the linear amplifiers for many people, and I was amused to hear many of the splatter in some cases over 5-6KHz across the band, which is not something you are meant to do.

Some lessons were learnt this year, and I think next year I may take my station mobile to gain some crucial elevation. I think by next year a significant amount of servicing will be completed to my feed lines and antennas to ensure they are working at an optimum level.

Definitely what I thought was going to be a simple contest was anything but.

     Band QSOs Pts ZN Cty
       7   5   9   2   2
      14   56  156 18 36
      21   2   6   2   2
Total      63  171 22  40
Score: 10,602

Oceania DX Contest 2015

Contesting Screenshot

If my saved contest log files are anything to go by, this is the first Oceania DX contest I have participated in since 2008.

I’ve been looking forward to this contest now, as it is one of the “big ones” for the year, and a big opportunity to obtain some new DX countries. It guarantees me a eQSL eDX award¬†as well as more uniques DXCC. It also means I really need to get around to getting some real QSL Cards printed (Do people have suggestions?).

It made for a bit of a busy weekend, as most of Saturday was spent cruising around Hobart, getting home in the afternoon an then settling down to contest in the evening (0800 UTC = 6pm AEST).

I decided to use the N1MM+ Logger for the contest. I have used it before in the Penstock Lagoon RD Contest, where it worked well but was largely hampered by not having a definition file for the RD Contest. N1MM+ does know about the big contests though and I was keen to get hands on with it again.

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Packet Communications!

First Packet Connection

I’ve played about briefly with AX.25 in the past when tinkering with APRS, but never really had much success with it and with TNCs being both hard to come by and damn expensive for what they are, it has always been out of my reach.¬†Recently I acquired a couple of second hand TNCs and have spent the weekend setting up and connecting.

The first TNC I attempted working on was a Paccom TNC 320. This meant creating a cable to go from the 5 pin DIN connection on the back of the TNC to the 6 pin mini-DIN connection in the back of my ICOM radio. The first attempts at this involved using the mini-DIN tails from old PS/2 Mice or keyboards, testing to see if their wired up pins were going to be any good for the TNC and then just soldering the 5 pin DIN on the other end. I spent an evening with VK7ZMS doing this and after much testing, we got to the point where we had PTT and 1200 baud AF working, but no RX. Even then. the AF out tones were low.

Over the weekend I bit the bullet and visited Jaycar and bought some more mini-DIN, 5 ping DIN and multi-core wire and created my own cabling. This time I was also armed with an MFJ-1270B TNC which was my fallback option if I had no luck with the Paccom.

Plugged everything in, fired up a Putty serial connection, got presented with garbage. Changed the terminal baud settings, still got presented with garbage. Thought at this point it’s probably a good time to read the manual. Interesting thing about the MFJ TNCs is that they use 7 bit words, not 8 bit like many other devices. Updated my settings and bingo, was presented with text that looked like a TNC.

Ran the calibration tests, PTT worked, I could hear tones being sent loud and clear, and most importantly I was receiving packets as well. I was in business. Finished assembling the cable, plugged everything back in and found I had Rx, PTT but no tones out. Back to workshop again and found in the final assembly I had caused a small short across some of the pins. I fixed the issue, liberally applied hot glue to hold it all in place and provide isolation and put it all back together again, and now it works!

As you can see above, I have managed to successfully connect to VK7ZMS. I have also connected to VK7HDM-9 using VK7ZMS as a via.

I already know of a few other amateurs getting interested in packet again, so who knows, we might see a bit of a packet radio revival in southern VK7!

RD Contest 2015

This weekend I participated in my first radio contest in at least 3 years with the annual WIA Remembrance Day Contest. This is a 24 hour points based contest, open to all VK, ZL and P2 stations.

The first thing that was noticeably different was that the rules had changed. The biggest change is that the QSO exchange no longer swaps an incrementing serial number, but instead the number of years the person has held their license. I can understand why this was done (so people do not get discouraged when hearing people with serials of 400+ indicating 400 QSOs, and giving up), but it does introduce a new issue of knowing exactly what the report is going to be if you have worked that station multiple times. You could go to the extreme in saying that an exchange of callsigns would be suffice after the first contact!

As with every RD contest, I worked both HF and VHF/UHF, the latter being advantageous in that there are a local group of operators who are easy to contact every 3 hours.

Indeed this was a good thing, as conditions were so poor on HF this year do to a geomagnetic storm, some 15 of the 35 unique callsigns I worked were local, with VHF making up the bulk of my contacts, as demonstrated in the summary:

54 HF Contact vs 105 VHF Contacts

 

Working HF was just depressing, with pretty much nothing heard on 20m for most of the contest (VK4HH was the only one I heard regularly). Both 40m and 80m also seemed oddly bereft of people contesting in the evenings. I do hope that this is largely due to the solar storm impacting on operations, rather than less people participating.

I still enjoyed the contest, and met the goal of 150 QSOs I had set for myself as the contest was starting. This is a far cry from the 600+ contacts from the last serious contesting I did at Penstock Lagoon but as a first crack at contesting after I break. I am happy with the result.

I still remain unconvinced that my trap dipole is operating as well as it should (around a year ago someone cut the antenna element while I was having work done around the house, causing me to exchange some unpleasant words and having to replace a large section of dipole). This I will investigate in coming weeks, along with what I suspect will be the complete replacement of feed lines that have deteriorated from the many years in the sun.

Next year having a 160m antenna of some description will definitely be happening, or perhaps I will go portable in the North of the state.

It was good fun and I am looking forward to the next contest.

Attack of the RFI

After having a successful setup of the radio shack over the weekend, I took the HF rig to the local radio club, but when I returned, and plugged everything back in, BUZZZZZZZZZ. S20 over 9 noise. not good.

Troubleshooting kicked in. Whats changed? Earlier in the afternoon I had put up the 6m dipole antenna and finished working on installing an earthing stake and earth wires back to the rig. By process of elimination, I removed each. Noise still there.
It was late in the night by this point so I made an assumption that the noise was in fact being caused by nearby power lines having damp insulators, so went to bed with the though of investigating the issue if it existed the following day. Yes, it did exist the following day.

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