Monday, December 16, 2013

ARRL December 10 Meter Contest

Indoor Buddipole in the Hot Spot
The ARRL 10 Meter Contest is one of my favorites because it's all about my favorite band! And, you can do single mode or both depending on your cup of tea. Me, I of course prefer the CW only mode. I was totally bummed that I would not be able to not only compete in this contest but I had little time to devote to it. I had a goal that no matter what, I was going to take my new callsign on it's maiden contest voyage during the weekend!

As I scrambled to get my kitchen table top shack put together on Saturday, I realized the huge disadvantage I would have. The only computer I had available for software use was my Mini Dell. I was also using my Yaesu FT-857D, which had no direct connection to software due to it's very limited single comm port and I've been unsuccessful in getting it to talk to my Yaesu. So, there would be no computer generated CW as I prefer to send with the computer. In thinking even further, I realized that I did not have any contest software on my Mini Dell! What I did have was HRD (not even close to anything that I would use) and N3FJP's Amateur Contact Log (AClog) 3.3 (outdated). I originally left AClog for HRD as at that time, no updates were planned for the software. I saw other programs expanding and adding modes leading to a more all inclusive software system. The disadvantages I found with HRD and DM780 was it was not friendly to my older computers. So hearing AClog was updated, I was heading back to AClog for my everyday logging. I still planned on remaining with Win-test however, I was also going to use some of the updated contest software also available from N3FJP.

ARRL 10 Meter Alaska Records (CLICK to Enlarge)
While I was involved with the Alaska contest group, I was turned onto Win-test. I totally love this program and it will be my contest software of choice. It helped me beat personal bests and achieve a few memorable contest scores. The ARRL 10 Meter records are listed to the right and I'm proud to hold Single Operator CW for Alaska from 2011. I am sure that score will someday give way to another record holder but for now, I feel pretty proud of that accomplishment. I wrote many a blog entry from past contests in my old KL8DX blog

Anyhow, not having Win-test set up on my Mini Dell and only having AClog available, I figured that was better than nothing! I looked all over for my pass codes so I could download and use N3FJP's latest 10 Meter Contest program but I could not locate them! Paying the price once again for waiting to the last minute to think contest. But, I knew my effort was going to be limited and very casual so I suppose that is why the lack of urgency to get my mind, body and soul into contest mode. So, I ran with what I had. A regular logging program and sending manual CW with my Vibroplex. Oh, and not to mention trying to remember the correct call to send as I do still have KL8DX on the brain. It can be tough to erase mental habits in the heat of the moment. Sending the letter A rather than the letter K is a 180 degree difference off the starting line and I've had K calls for years! Now things flow a bit different on the electronic keyer which is less of a problem when I'm using my straight keys. With software, I would not even have to give it a second thought. 

Kitchen portable set-up Contest Style
My Buddipole antenna was tuned and set up in our upstairs hallway (photo at top) and I was ready! My first QSO was on 12/14 at 2053Z with a California station. The band sounded awesome on my indoor antenna! I was undecided if I was going to run QRP or 100 watts. I decided I wanted to see what the rig could do with full power in this contest. I was operating 100% Search & Pounce (S&P) to look for states and countries first, then adding QSO's later. The band was open from the far west to the south, Florida to California. I was only able to spend 2 hours on the air on the first jaunt, which only teased me for more! And in that first two hours, I snagged Hawaii, twice! 

Life kept me busy until Sunday and I was back on the air around 1300z. It was a Europefest! It was unusual for me to hear Europe so strong and without auroral influence! I managed several European countries and worked several familiar callsigns, including my friend Bert, F6HKA in France. I would slowly tune the VFO up and down the band and work as many that could pull my indoor Phil-a-watt out of the crowded band. It was also obvious that my new call had not made it into the Super Check database.  

Highlights on Sunday was working CT9, TK5, CN8, and a huge surprise was ZM90DX! I had to listen to that station for a few just to make sure I had it right! The excitement did not stop there as a ZS1 fell into the old logbook as well. I worked several of the big Caribbean stations and as propagation worked westward, I had my hopes of hearing Rich, KL7RA. I did hear Rich on Saturday but his pile-up kept me from even attempting. I knew with my set-up, I had to hope I could hear him on Sunday and try to snag him when the pile-up had calmed a bit (Mult strategy).

WCVB Weekend Forecast Non Propagational
While slowly tuning up the band, there was Rich for the second night with a signal of 599 +. Damn he sounded good and it had me hoping that I had sounded half as good when I operated from my old QTH in Alaska. I joined in on the pile-up and after several calls, I knew it was going to come down to the typical pile-up busting strategies. My plan was to move just a hair off frequency and then it would be all about timing. After a few more attempts, I heard a lull between those firing their calls to Alaska at the same time and I sent mine. It paid off as KL7RA made it into my logbook! I celebrated by taking another break from the rig to head outdoors and deal with the fresh 9+ fresh inches of snow that had fallen since Saturday evening. 

After spending 3 hours clearing the heavy wet snow from around the house, I made it back to the radio for my last hour. I managed several stateside QSO's with again, many a familiar callsign from contests past. I worked my last station at 2303z. 

In the end, I worked 32 states and I managed a total of 46 entities. 10 meters showed once again why I love it so darn much. You can literally work the world with little to nothing when the band is open. I only managed 185 QSO's over the weekend with a total operating time of 9 hours or so. Horrible QSO rate but again, it was S&P with many an interruption so my total time operating was much less than that. I missed finding a clear frequency and calling CQ. I very much enjoy running stations but in struggling with my set-up, I opted to just take it easy. Most everyone snagged my call the first time, several asking for a confirmation probably do to not being listed in the master callsign database. A few missed the letter "A" and sent K2MA, but I always made sure I attempted to correct them. A few in their haste may still have busted my call but for the first contest spin, I think things went very well.

Thanks to those who pulled me out of the mud! I could only think how fun the contest would be if I had my 4 element and tower up! If it was this much fun running my indoor radio set-up, it sure had to be fun for those with exterior aluminum. 

I have started to receive a few QSL card requests for my new call so I'm working with a printer on a design for my next QSL. I hope to start answering QSL's sometime in January of 2014. I've got my new call linked to LOTW and EQSL. Things are coming together slow but sure. My station is once again in a box and the antenna packed back into the bag it arrived in. I expect my next round of operating will be for Straight Key Night. I want to wish everyone the safest of holiday's and the very best of DX in 2014! Now I need to attempt converting a regular logging .adif file to a .cbr file that I can submit. Since the contest, I have located my pass codes for N3FJP's software so you can sure bet I will be downloading all the new updates and they will be readily available in the event I'm able to work the next big contest with my wanna be laptop. 

DX and Contest on my friends!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Club'n It & The Key

I decided that since I was back in society and there is no better way to hook up with other hams who share my passion for DX and contesting than to make my way to a few local club meetings. This from a guy who really does not do social events but ham radio events are exceptions to that rule. 

I received a complimentary newsletter from the Nashua Area Radio Club in Nashua, NH. After reading it, I decided to attend their next club meeting on December 3rd. In looking into the club, I discovered that the president was Ed, K2TE. In researching my KL8DX logbook, I found I had worked Ed several times in contests (approximately 17). I also found that I had worked Bill, NJ1H (treasurer) several times as well (approximately 10) so a few callsigns I was familiar with. 

After attending the meeting, I decided to join the club and of course, the highlight was chatting with Ed about contesting. Ed let me know that the Yankee Clipper Contest Club (YCCC) was going to have their next meeting soon as well. The bug was put in my ear regarding YCCC prior to leaving Alaska. I was excited for the possibility to attend that meeting as well. Here was a highly respected club with many respected "contesting heavy hitters" that I could hopefully spend time with and learn from. 

WW2DX talking about remote operating
When I read that WW2DX & W2RE were putting on a presentation regarding remote operating at the YCCC meeting, it peaked my interest even more. I've read several articles about remote operating, a few controversial. I'm not opposed to those who take advantage of such a service. I mean really, a chance to sit in your condo or HOA located QTH and use a station that has stacked antenna's in a prime location with all the bells and whistles you could ask for, all  controllable from your home computer. It was a very interesting presentation to say the least and not only did I learn plenty about remote operating, I also got to see up close and personal a Elecraft K3. It was their stripped down web version but it was neat to actually see it in true life rather than in a magazine photograph. All in all, I was very impressed with the amount of time and effort WW2DX and W2RE have invested in their business.

Live Demonstration
Both club meetings were fun to attend as it has been many years since I've attended one. Having a handful of clubs in the area is exciting. I have one more club meeting with another local club I would like to attend. I use local loosely as to me, Maine is local! We are still adjusting to being able to drive to a store in less than 10 minutes from our doorstep. After 6 months, I think we are finally getting used to shopping for a week or two rather than a month. I remember trips to Fairbanks, Alaska and returning with the backseat of our F-350 packed solid not to mention the cold bags in the bed of the truck! 

I did not have much free time this weekend but I wanted to participate in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES). I found the bands somewhat horrible for my indoor antenna on Saturday. I did manage a few QSO's on 40 meters. I'm still amazed at how far I've been able to work stations on 40 meters with my Buddipole. The only issue with operating 40 meters with an indoor antenna is that I'm very limited to my power output. It seems that when I send CW on 40 meters with much over 80 watts, the hardwired smoke detectors chirp with each and every tap of my key. Not a sound that is sweet to the ears of the other occupants, including the indoor animals. 

I only managed a couple of contacts on Saturday but I left my antenna up so I could hit the bands on Sunday morning. Once the family was up and out of harms way of any RF, I was on the air on 40 meters once again. I managed a few more QSO's before I had to take a break from the bands. It was obvious that 40 meter propagation was getting poor so I decided when I made it back to the rig, I would re-tune my Buddipole for 20 meters. 

Once I was able to return to the air a few hours later, 20 meters was where I started. I only made one contact there before it was time to head to the YCCC meeting. I left everything up as I had hoped to make it home to work the last few hours on the WES. It just so happened, that was how the plan worked. I was able to catch a few more QSO's on 20 meters upon returning home and then it was back to 40 meters. By the time the dust cleared and the WES was over, I managed a whopping 12 QSO's! But 12 QSO's are better than NO QSO's! All contacts were Search & Pounce (S&P) but it was great to snag several new SKCC QSO's including a few calls I have worked for years.

I very much enjoy CW and straight key sending is very relaxing. And speaking of SKCC, I met up and chatted with another member at the YCCC club meeting. I had a nice conversation with Barry, NF1O and his wife Mary, NE1F. Barry has been very active in SKCC and I've worked him from my station in Alaska. 

So, it was a ham radio filled week and weekend and I'm now a proud member of two clubs. I'm very excited to be affiliated with YCCC and of course NARC as well. With Work Radiosport Team Competition (WRTC) taking place in our backyard in 2014, this next year looks to be full of ham radio fun and the best part is, I'm right in the middle of it all!  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Indoor Antenna Trial. Success!

AK2MA Kitchen Shack
While living in Alaska, I worked many stations all over the lower 48 with many on them East Coast using indoor antennas. Let's face it, when the propagation is favorable, you can work the world with little to nothing. I pulled my portable station equipment out of the storage container and set it up on our kitchen table over the long weekend. I set up my Buddipole antenna in the upstairs hallway (3rd floor). Indoors, this would have the antenna at around 25 feet in height above ground. After setting up the Buddipole in the hallway, I decided to try 15 meters first. Once I got the antenna tuned, I headed down to the kitchen to fire up my Yaesu FT-857D. I unpacked my J-37 Straight Key along with my Vibroplex keyer. I turned on the rig and immediately heard my first DX using my indoor Buddipole antenna.

Buddipole antenna set up indoors
My first QSO was with Rade, E77W in Bosnia Herzegovina. I had my FT-857D output at 100 watts, so I was at full power. It was an easy QSO and it was great to get my first European DX in the logbook. I checked upstairs after the QSO to make sure I was not hurting any of the electronics and all appeared well. No clock radio explosions or unexplained toilet flushes. I decided to tune all the bands and see what I could hear. I was surprised to hear activity on all bands, 10 meters thru 40. I logged into the SKCC Sked Page and hooked up my straight key to the FT-857D. I ended up making a straight key QSO with Joel, W4JBB in Alabama. I monitored the SKCC Sked Page where online conversations led to propagational QSO's. I worked Jim, WA5KMA in Texas. I was asked to head to 40 meters for a QSO with Dan, K3DRQ in Pennsylvania. After running upstairs and setting the Buddipole up for 40 meters, I was able to snag Dan on 40, fulfilling his request. After working Dan in PA, I worked Art, WK2S in New Jersey upon his request for 40 meters as well. Art had a great signal into Eastern MA. After our QSO, I headed back upstairs and retuned the antenna for 15 meters.

Antenna Tuning Life Saver!
Thankfully, my MFJ Analyzer makes short work of getting the antenna tuned for a new band. The Buddipole is a good portable antenna but if you want a respectable SWR, you will need to take a few minutes to tweak the coils and change the element lengths. If I had to run back downstairs each time to check my SWR, it might have great physical results but not a great ham result. 

After retuning my antenna for 15 meters, I worked Tony, K6ELQ in California for another SKCC QSO. It seemed my 100 watts and the Buddipole were going to work. I would obviously be roughing it, but it's better than no radio! I have no plans of drilling any holes or putting up any tower at this location for various reasons. So, a less permanent antenna will be my radiator of choice. Not that I will be doing much contesting but at least I can make an appearance in the contests making a few QSO's. Maybe chase Worked All States? When I heard Les, KL7J on 15 meter CW this past weekend, I had hopes of even landing my old state of residence, feeling the irony of ham radio role reversal. 

10 Meters From Today
When I woke up this morning, I had decided to set the antenna up for 10 meters. I also decided to try making contacts at less than 100 watts. I enjoy QRP operating and the Yaesu would allow me to dial down my output power to 5 watts. For anything less, I would have to bring out the Icom IC-703Plus. But for now, 5 watts would work.

My first QSO was with a very loud Ted, CT7AEQ on 10 meter CW calling CQ. I had dialed the rig down to 50 watts for that QSO. Not far from Ted, I found Filippo, IZ1LBG calling CQ. I set the FT-857D for 5 watts and to my surprise, Filippo came back with my call. A few minutes later, I had a valid QRP QSO with a station over 3,800 miles away (using QRZ information). I also shot a short video of that QSO with my cell phone. Since I was running a full 5 watts, it only calculates to a bit over 700 miles per watt. Had I been using my IC-703Plus, there is no doubt in my mind that I could have worked Filippo with less power and achieved my first 1,000 Mile Per Watt award from the QRP ARCI Club. At least I know it will sure be doable! And to top off my afternoon, I heard a weak ZS6JBJ calling CQ on 10 meters looking for SKCC QSO's. I answered his CQ and I was extremely excited to hear John come back with my callsign. Of course, I had increased my power output to 100 watts as I felt I would need at least that to make a contact with John. 

This past weekend got me reacquainted with using and tuning my Buddipole antenna system. It also allowed me to become more familiar with the menu system on the FT-857D. I hate reading manuals but I finally had to break down and read the manual to get the FT-857D to do a few things I needed for it to do. Having a few days to become familiar with this rig, I'm liking it even more. I'm actually thinking of using it as my full time portable rig as the IC-703Plus only has a high power output of 10 watts, where I can have 100 watts if needed with the Yaesu. Also, the Yaesu is smaller so it would be pack friendly. The only difference is, I would have to haul an external tuner (I have an LDG) if I did not want to fine tune my Buddipole for a flat SWR. 

I plan on experimenting with a few more bands but I think for now, my activity  will be on an indoor antenna. This is something new to me as I've always used outdoor antenna's. This was a very humbling weekend experience for me. I've left behind my AL-1500 and 4 element tri-bander for low power and an indoor antenna. I'm ready to take on the challenge and join many that have, or are, currently doing the same. I plan on being more active with QRP and once I find a few good higher elevated locations to operate from, I'll be doing some winter time /p operating as well. I have to admit, winter here is a bit more balmy than I'm used to. I'm sure the locals don't feel that way but for this ex-Alaskan, I'm enjoying the many more hours of daylight and warmer temperatures.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Going Vertical & Breaking In A New Callsign

Hustler 5BTV unboxed (again)
As life continues, I finally had a bit of extra time to unpack my Hustler 5BTV. I still have a few boxes from the old shack to unpack but the end is in sight. I've been working on my QSL backlog of those cards I've received that are in need of a return QSL. The Alaska QSL Bureau sent me my last envelopes and told me they will be forwarding the remainder of my QSL cards to the 2land incoming QSL bureau. Since I'm not able to keep envelopes at the AK bureau, there will be even a longer delay for those responses. I've yet to investigate the 2land bureau but last I heard, they do things a bit different. As winter approaches, I will have time to investigate what I need to do to continue to receive my QSL cards with them. I'm sure I will be getting KL8DX QSL cards for several more years since I was pretty active. No matter how long it takes, I'm thankful for all of our bureau volunteers! 

Hustler 5BTV in the Yard
Since our holiday vacation plans took a unexpected turn, I'm spending a bit more time at home than planned. That allowed me to construct my Hustler 5BTV and place it in the yard today. My backyard is wide open and elevated and actually, a perfect setting for a ground mounted vertical. I need to only get my radials down before the snow arrives. But I wanted to take advantage of the sunny day and see what I could hear from this QTH. After putting up the vertical, I located two sections of feedline and ran it into the back door of our house which leads directly into our kitchen. I found my portable box of goodies and began unboxing my portable station on the kitchen table.

The AK2MA Temporary Ham Shack
Having not made any contacts with my new callsign, I normally try to get a few familiar callsigns in any new logbook first. My first CW QSO just has to be with my CW Elmer, K8QWY. My SSB QSO just has to be with KL1SF who is now in Arizona. I phoned Ed, K8QWY leaving him a message that I had my antenna up and wanted to see if we could make contact. In the mean time, I placed my antenna analyzer on the 5BTV and found I have a bit more work to do. All of the bands showed an unhealthy SWR with 20 meters being the best of the bunch. This could be for a few reasons. The first, I set up the vertical using the suggested measurements for one that had radials. I don't have them down yet. It could also be that I'm off in my measurements and I need to do some adjusting. The antenna was in great shape so I think it's more of a measurement / grounding issue than anything else. I'll continue to get the vertical tuned in as time and weather allows.

Feedline through the door
I had my coax run through the door which left for a slight breeze coming into the kitchen. Not bad for a summer day but with the temperatures in the 20's in late November, it did not take long for the kitchen to cool down. Once I got my Yaesu FT-857D out along with tuner and power supply, it was not long before I was hearing the sweet sound of CW (Morse Code) coming from my radio. Even my wife commented that was a sound she had not heard in a long while! I browsed over to the SKCC Sked Page and stuck around there eventually chatting with a few old straight key friends. But before I made any SKCC QSO's, Ed phoned me back! Ed recently put up a new antenna and he pointed his beam my way and we tuned to 20 meters. It was then that I was able to make my first QSO with Ed and he had a super signal into Eastern MA! One down and now only Sean to left to snag on SSB!

QSO's Continued
After working Ed on 20 meter CW, I then ended up with my next straight key QSO. There are several SKCC hams that I would call friends even though I have yet to personally meet any of them. On that list would be none other than Jim, KK7YJ. I was able to make a QSO with Jim, exchanging SKCC numbers on 15 meters. It was great to work Jim once again. Immediately after working Jim, I also worked fellow SKCC'ers KP4SJ and AE6DH on 15 meters. Success! That out of tune antenna was working, so I knew that once I got it tuned, it would work even better! I also realized that my noise level was tolerable living in a more populated area. I will have a much smaller station here than I've ever had. Something tells me I won't be nearly as active here as I was in Alaska. It's obvious being away from the key, my code speed has suffered some but as seen in previous breaks from the key, it does not take long to pick back up where I left off with practice.

I consider today a successful first run. My plan is for a few more antenna's (probably wire antennas) but I will be at the mercy of Mother Nature. Even though we are enjoying a much more mild fall / winter than we have encountered in many years, I'm losing time to get some crucial work done. Soon the ground will be frozen solid and I'm sure snow is not far away. Most of my spare time on the weekends were spent on our new Harley Davidson. Normally in November, I was plowing snow in temperatures well below zero in Alaska. So, do you blame me? Being in MA now is almost like being on vacation from winter. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

A New Beginning

USS Constitution at Boston National Historical Park
July 2013 began our new detail at Boston National Historical Park. After arriving in Denali National Park November 2003, I never imagined living outside of Alaska again. Things happen for a reason and because of that, we sadly departed Alaska in June of 2013. Traveling across the country was exciting but long. Well over 5,000 miles later, we arrived at our new destination, Boston. Recently, I had to decide what to do with my callsign, KL8DX. Operating and contesting in the lower 48 with my Alaska callsign would have led to confusion when operating in contests. After giving it some thought, I decided to change my callsign to AK2MA when my Vanity Callsign expired. 

A callsign is unique and I wanted it to reflect the next journey of our life. After thinking about contesting and sending my call on CW, the AK2MA seemed to work well. I applied for and received AK2MA in October of 2013. It was a sad day to see that my Alaska call was cancelled but I may be able to use it again someday. I loved operating from Alaska even though it was the most challenging location I had ever operated from. I was able to obtain several contesting awards and I was proud of my ham radio accomplishments while there. I have all of my wallpaper to remember the great and challenging times I had living in such a beautiful part of our country. You can hardly get on the air without some sort of pile-up.

So, as we continue to get settled at our new location, I hope to soon turn my focus on putting up a few antenna's before the snow arrives. I miss the sound of CW and it will be fun taking my new callsign for a spin. I think it's safe to say that I won't be creating pile-ups any longer but I can't wait to hear the sound of a contest weekend coming through the speaker once again.