Sunday, July 17, 2005

Operating from a rare grid (FM26)

Last week, I was on vacation with Sharon and 3 other couples. We went down the to the Outer Banks in North Carolina (Corolla, to be specific) and rented a house there for the week. When we started planning the trip back in December, I figured I'd bring along my 706MkIIG and maybe spend a little bit of time operating. Since this was a vacation, not a DXpedition (which is, roughly, a trip to some location, typically somewhat off the beaten path, with the primary purpose being to operate ham radio), I figured that I would just get on the air whenever I had a little bit of spare time. At some point over the months that followed, Larry, N4VA, pointed out to me that the location that we were staying in was considered a rare grid for VUCC award purposes. (Basically, the goal of the VUCC award is to "collect" as many grid squares as possible by making contacts with stations in those grid squares using frequencies at 50Mhz [6 meters] and higher. A grid square is a 1 degree latitude x 2 degrees longitude rectangle; the entire planet is divided into these grid squares, which are further subdivided. The grid square page at the ARRL's website gives more detail about this. The official rules from the ARRL for the VUCC award are here.)

I decided that although I'd bring some hamsticks that I could use on a tripod (with radials) and a bunch of wire (in case I really wanted to build a simple dipole) for operating HF, I though that it would be fun to spend most of my time operating on 6m "giving out" the rare FM26 grid. (It's considered rare since most of the grid is over water, and there only seem to be one or two hams who actually have a residence in that grid; I don't know if they get on the air much but it seemed like one more wouldn't hurt.) As luck would have it, I was down at N4VA's place a few weeks before leaving (see the the "Ham's Field of Dreams" story), and he lent me a spare 6m loop antenna to use. (The loop happens to be identical to what's on my roof at home, a loop from KB6KQ that has worked very well for me.)

When I got down to the house, I was originally going to put the mast (3 x 5' sections of Radio Shack mast) up on the dunes, but I realized that I could easily secure it to the upper-level deck of the house where we were staying, which A) Was a LOT easier to set up and take down and B) Was actually higher than it would have been on the dunes anyway. You can see the loop on the mast in the picture above.

It turns out that the loop worked reasonably well from up there, and while the proximity to water (maybe 150 yards to the ocean from the loop) might not have made a huge difference, I'm sure it didn't hurt. The bad news was that unfortunately, 6m didn't feel like being very cooperative during my stay (though things improved a bit during the drive home). I had some brief band openings to the midwest and to Florida which accounted for about half of my contacts, the other half were groundwave contacts to folks in NC, VA, MD, and DE for the most part. It was nice having some folks thank me for getting on the air to give out that rare grid, and I did have one card waiting for me when I got home (and another has come in since). I'm going to make up a special card just for the operation which I'll send to anyone who needs confirmation.