Sunday, December 14, 2014

To The Rim, Finding My Grid Square And Then On To 20 Meters.

Crater Lake
Since arriving to our new surroundings, the weather has been very overcast with rain in the lower elevations and snow up here in the higher elevations. Relocating to Crater Lake has one more check box marked on my bucket list. And when the sun finally came out on Saturday, it was time to go explore my surroundings. My wife and I made a morning of driving up to see what Crater Lake had to offer and she did not let us down. A breathtaking landscape surrounded by her mountainous rim. After taking lots of photos and hiking where we could (no snowshoes as of yet) we headed back to the house for lunch. Afterwards, it was time to break out the portable HF ham radio equipment to see what I would be able to hear.

First things first. I have been impressed with the APRS coverage here primarily due to the STUKEL Mountain Igate and KFALLS Digi relaying APRS data from up here at Crater Lake. As mentioned in my previous blog, I have an old Garmin GPS III in my truck that has been losing its memory (hopefully due to needing batteries replaced). I have a Garmin GPS III Plus that I use when I'm operating portable. I love the old Garmin units as they show our highly used Maidenhead Grid Square Locator. I'm not sure if there are any more modern units that do the same but I snagged a few of these a few years back on eBay just for this reason. I fired up my Garmin and set it in the snow bank in front of our residence and after finding the satellites, it was not long before I had my Grid Square! 

Internal Antenna Setup
I snagged my Buddipole out of its case and began to assemble the antenna. I ran this same indoor setup at our previous residence in MA, and it seemed to do pretty well considering. I had it set up in the 2nd floor hallway back there and thankfully, our current residence has an open floor plan on the second floor which works well for my current indoor setup. While at the Dayton Hamvention this past year, I picked up a few accessories from the Buddipole booth. I was excited to finally put them to use. 

Assembly went well and before I knew it, I had the antenna ready to be hooked to my Icom 703+. Since most of my equipment was still in storage with the moving company and many of my tools were in the tool compartment of our camper, I only realized my oversight when I was ready to tune the antenna. You see, I wanted something smaller than my MFJ-259B to use when I was portable. For obvious reasons, the MFJ uses a Kazillion batteries and it's very easy for the power button to be depressed when you are carrying it in a backpack. It's saddening to find out your MFJ has no life left by the time you get to your operating location. Been there, done that.

Enter the iP60z Portable Antenna Analyzer! I looked at a few small analyzers while at the 2014 Hamvention and after talking with my friend Steve, wG0AT at Dayton, I opted for this model. Ironically, my mini screw drivers and 9 volt batteries were back in our camper which was about an hour away from our residence. So, for my Saturday operating, I would have to resort to tuning the antenna the manual way. Having an antenna indoors makes tuning an antenna a bit more challenging so I was hoping to have my iPortable analyzer to help me. That now would not happen until Sunday, when I made the trip to get batteries and screw drivers (I now have a dedicated set with my portable gear box). 

Anyhow, I was able to tune my Buddipole antenna indoors and I first listened to 10 meters. More irony as the first station I heard on 10 meters happened to be W1NA, in my old state of Massachusetts. But signals seemed low and not that strong but not uncommon with indoor equipment. Since this was the first time I had set up the equipment here, I've not had the time to grasp what normal propagation sounds like from this location. After listening to 10 meters for a bit, I jumped up to 20 meters where I originally tuned the Buddipole.

J-37 Straight Key with Icom 703+
It was so nice to once again hear the activity on the ham bands and be decoding Morse Code (CW). My main focus was to make a few contacts in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon. Thanks to Curt, WA2JSG for posting reminders to Facebook! I enjoy manually sending code just about as much as I enjoy higher paced CW contests. No records broken here and I only logged a few manual contacts with my first being Tony, K6ELQ. Tony was very strong (in California) so it was an easy QSO for me. I followed up by working Ed, W7GVE in Arizona, John, K0AE in Colorado, the power station Ted, K8AQM in Michigan and finally, Brian, WB4IT in Alabama. Not bad I guess, considering my indoor antenna and rig set at 10 watts. When I checked the antenna SWR on Sunday, it was a bit high (see iPortable photo above) so in all reality, I was nearly QRP.

Drivers Seat
Even though I only made a handful of QSO's, it was great to finally get on the air from my new QTH. My goal is to get on the air more frequently, especially since I won't be stuck in a vehicle for several hours a week commuting to and from work. That can now be transferred to radio time! But I still have plenty to do yet as we continue to get settled at our new location. I'm hoping this will be the last move for a very long time. Now to work on finding a place where I can put something more robust together and get back into contesting. Not that it can't be done with my current set up, but I prefer external antenna's and computer aided contesting accessories (again, all of which are in storage at the moment). 

Digital JT65A
Taking a bit of a break from listening to CW, I hooked up the mini laptop to decode some JT65A. It took me a bit to get the laptop tuned and the clock set for decoding but it was not long before I was seeing stations populate my software screen. I made sure I was uploading my reception reports to PSK Reporter and it was fun to see how far away I was hearing with my indoor set up. I decided to just decode and not attempt to work any stations. Again, getting acquainted with the propagation in this neck of the woods is my first strategy. I believe there was a bit of solar activity this weekend that did not help but at least I know I can make contacts! 

PSK Report for AK2MA
I would classify my Oregon maiden voyage onto the ham bands a success, although not earth shattering. As time allows, and now that I have a battery in my iPortable iP60z, I plan to get on as often as possible and play on the HF bands. I will tune the antenna for the best SWR possible and make my first QRP contacts. Because my antenna is indoors, I have no desire to run anything more than what my Icom 703+ will exhaust. My Yaesu FT-857D will remain in it's box until I get outdoors and do a bit of portable operating from some local vantage point. 

Since we won't be going any where for the holidays and we are across the country from our families, I expect the next few weeks will allow me to spend even a bit more time than normal on the bands. Straight Key Night is not far away and since I missed it last year, my plan is not to miss it this year. There is just something exciting about communicating using one of the oldest forms of communication. Since that first message in 1844, it's still a very popular way to communicate. Even with all the high tech forms of communication we have available to us at this time, just listening to any contest weekend will make you realize that Morse Code is far from extinct. And manually sending Morse Code to me is like driving a car that has the high beam switch on the floorboard, a separate key for the trunk and an 8-Track radio!  Okay, maybe a crude comparison but you get my point. Either way it's fun and it's certainly nice to be back in the game!


  1. Hello Phil, glad you're back on air. JT65A is a good opportunity to make some DX together of course with CW. I took a look at the ip60z and it seems to be a nice little analyzer. Though a little expensive compared to others. 73, Bas

  2. Bas, it was between this one and I think MFJ makes a small one now as well. I took the plunge and so far, so good. I want to wish you and yours the best of the holiday season and the best of DX in 2015! 73 my friend!