Sunday, July 13, 2008

And sometimes you do get lucky

In my last post, I said:
Unfortunately, unless a miracle happens at some point over the next few hours, I won't be able to work CY0X on Sable Island.
Perhaps calling it a miracle is a bit much, but I did get very lucky. Every couple of weeks, I have a conference call that starts at 7AM local time. One of the not-so-fun things about working for a global organization is that sometimes calls need to be at a "compromise" time so that folks from various parts of the world can get on. Sounds kind of like ham radio, doesn't it? Some DX paths are only open very early or very late (depending on where you're located) and sometimes you need to stay up late, and sometimes you need to get up early. As I believe that I've said in the past, I am not a "morning person". I will happily stay up into the early morning hours, but I really don't like getting up early in the morning. 

However, as they say, "ya gotta do what you gotta do", so on the morning of July 9th I dialed into the conference call from a speakerphone in my office at home and put the call on mute, as much of the conversation was between the other participants and didn't involve me. From reading CY0X's website, I found that they'd been forced to extend their stay due to fog that was keeping them from leaving the island. I tuned to 50.108 MHz, which is the frequency where they've been operating on 6 meters, heard nothing, and turned the volume back down. (Remember, I was on a conference call.) I then figured that I'd bring up ON4KST's 6m chat site

I'm going to digress for a second to give a plug for Alain's site: If you're interested in making contacts on 6 meters, you'll want to have this chat running when you're near your radio (and even when you aren't.) A lot of the "big gun" 6m folks hang out there, and just eavesdropping on their conversations can be extremely educational. Not only that, but, being hams, they tend to be fairly friendly and love to share their expertise. (Of course, as with many topics, if you ask a question you may well get back 10 or 20 different answers, but you will get an answer.) I can't say that I know many of the regulars there well at all, but I've had a few conversations and they've been really helpful. In addition to the chat room, there are windows for 6m packet spots, a dynamically updating customizable map that shows the paths between the spots, and other information about propagation. All the windows are customizable; you can see an example of what can be done at this link (opens in a new window). By the way, for those of you in North America (more specifically IARU Region II) or those of you interested in making contacts in that radio (if you're from outside Region II) make sure that you select "Enter into the 50 MHz IARU Region 2 chat here". Alain has done a terrific job, I can't recommend this site highly enough.

Back to the topic at hand. As I was listening to my conference call, I was reading the chatter in the chat room, and it seemed that there was a very good 6m opening to a large part of the US. In particular, the chat room folks were talking about the fact that CY0X was coming in all along the east coast very well, not only amongst themselves, but also with the crew at CY0X, who apparently have pretty good Internet connectivity out there on Sable Island. Right about then, my friend Larry, N4VA, sent me an instant message telling me that he was hearing CY0X with a very strong signal and that should try to listen for them. With the speakerphone still on mute, I turned up the volume on the radio, and sure enough, there was CY0X, CQing on CW and "lonely". (Which is, I suppose, a euphemism for "they are calling buy nobody is answering them.) I fired back my call a couple of times in answer to their CQ, and initially they I just heard them kept CQing, then I thought I heard a partial reply to someone (couldn't tell if they were responding to me), and then nothing at all. That's the nature of 6 meters, the "magic band". I figured that I'd blown my one and only chance to work CY0X, since I figured that the one brief opening was going to be it. Fortunately, I was wrong. 

Don't forget, I was still on the conference call, and in fact, right about then, I had to provide some information to the group myself. (As an aside, it's too bad there's not an aware for "telephone DX", as today we had folks from the US, the UK, Vietnam, China, Singapore, Mexico, Spain, and I think two or three others that I can't remember now.) As I was talking I glanced at the 6m chat page and saw that one of the CY0X operators, Dick, K5AND, was chatting with some of the folks in the room. I finished my bit on the call and sent a note to Dick saying that I could hear them OK but apparently they weren't hearing me. As a reminder, I'm running 100w into a loop, and while in theory things should be somewhat reciprocal, I wasn't sure if they were running a lot of power, etc. Dick answered back that in fact he'd heard me and given me a single report, but since I never heard that I didn't consider it a valid QSO.

The conference call continued and after a while, topics that didn't require my full attention came up, so I glanced over at the bandscope on the radio ... and sure enough, there was a strong signal again right on 50.108MHz, the CY0X frequency. I turned up the volume (good thing I remember to put the conference call back on mute!) and sure enough, there was CY0X again, stronger than the last time. Again, I sent my call, and this time, they came right back to me, clear as a bell, and we completed the QSO. Within about 30 seconds of the contact, I once again had to return my full attention to the conference call, but CY0X continue to remain strong to my location for quite some time. 

One of the really interesting things is that the guys in the chat room were talking about the particular mode of propagation that enabled the contacts all up and down the east coast of the US to take place. From what I understand about "magic band" propagation, most long distance (around 1000km or more ) contacts are made using a form of propagation known as "Sporadic E", or Es. However, the discussion taking place suggested that a more unusual form of propagation known as "tropospheric ducting" (or "tropo ducting") was responsible for the unusual characteristics of the opening. 

Tropo ducting can produce some pretty interesting contacts. Several years ago I was running a 2m net on a local repeater when a station checked in from Virginia Beach, Virginia. That was well beyond the normal range for the repeater (by several hundred miles) yet he had a very clear signal into the repeater and told us he could hear the repeater quite well. I believe that a number of us made direct QSOs with the station (not through the repeater), and a number of folks that I spoke with after that said that because of the conditions at the time and the locations of both stations, it was very likely that tropo ducting was responsible. 

Unfortunately, there's no way to predict tropo ducting or even the more common Es with any kind of precision. Yes, certain times of the year (such as July) are known to have a greatly enhanced probability of Es showing up, but figuring out when there's good Es or trop ducting still means that you not only have to listen to your radio, but also have to occasionally call CQ. As has been said before, if you have 500 people all listening and nobody transmitting, how can you know if the band is open?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:28 PM

    Excellent point for us to begin thinking about unusual propagation like tropo ducting, sporadic-e, and/or meteor scatter. I'm heading into the book and Google searching because Cycle 24 is somewhere down the line.

    I have experienced sporadic-e on 20M during a contest. And working W6s and W7s was a lot of fun. But this experience gets even better on 10-Meters. What about 6-Meters?

    Thanks for sharing your multi-tasking experience and you hit the nail, "...If you have 500 people all listening and nobody transmitting, how can you know if the band is open?"

    Time too think about calling CQ more often.

    Scot KA3DRR