Monday, June 27, 2011

Planning for Costa Rica

The possible operation to Costa Rica that I mentioned a few weeks ago is now on. I'll be operating from the north-west part of the country near the city of Liberia from the 10th to the 17th of July 2011. You can see the approximate location in this map although the aerial photos were taken before the house were built. (No, we're not sleeping on a golf course.) We're going as guests of our good friends Barry and Stephanie who took us along to Grand Cayman in 2007 when I operated as ZF2DK.  (For those of you who haven't been reading this blog that long, that link goes to a whole pile of blog posts about my trip there.) This time, I'll be operating as TI7/K2DBK, with the TI7 indicating that I'll be operating from the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica.

As I mentioned previously, the location is wonderful, overlooking the water from a house that's basically built onto the side of a cliff. The location where I plan to mount the antenna is a 2nd story balcony (which is actually more like 3 stories high) and the ground falls away very rapidly so the antenna height will effectively be more than high enough to get into the free-space radiation zone. (I hope.)

Although I initially planned to bring my Buddistick antenna, which is a muti-band vertical, I decided to upgrade to it's "big brother" the Buddipole, which is a multi-band dipole that's easier to tune and has some directivity and more gain. (I actually decided to go with the mini-Buddipole, which is the same size antenna but breaks down smaller for traveling.) I also picked up an 8' shock-corded mast which collapses down to just 11". I'll secure that to the balcony railing with some bungee cords and I'll be all set.

I did a little testing of the antenna this past Sunday during Field Day and made contacts on 10m, 15m, and 20m just to do a "smoke test" of the setup. Unfortunately, at the time I started testing the band conditions weren't very good for DX so all my contacts were domestic, but I had no trouble working a few west coast stations. I think that with the added height plus the fact that I'll be DX I should do just fine from Costa Rica. What's that expression? Being DX adds how many dB to your signal strength? (For anyone who doesn't get that joke, drop me a note and I'll explain.)

I haven't had as much time to prepare for this trip as I did for my trip to Cayman, but fortunately since then I've made a few more trips to Florida and pretty much have the gear situation down, though obviously I can't run to Radio Shack if I discover that I've forgotten an adapter when I'm in Costa Rica. I did send out a note to some of the DX publicity contacts that I collected when I went to Cayman and I've started to see my operation show up in a few of the DX bulletins. The next thing I'll be doing is to start going through the checklist I developed previously to make sure that I have all the equipment that I need before the trip. I'll be doing that during this week and will probably do a bit more antenna testing over the upcoming July 4 holiday weekend.

One other thing that I did over the weekend was to test the software that I found for the iPad to see how suitable it was for use. I found a program called HamLog and while it's not nearly as full featured as my regular DX logger (DX4Win) I think it will work out well enough. There were a couple of issues when logging Field Day contacts, since it's not really set up too well when there is a piece of info (other than time, date, and callsign) that changes each contact, but as DX I expect (or at least hope) that I'll be able to just sit on a single frequency and only have to change the callsign for each contact I log. (The program logs the time of each QSO and can be set up so that all other fields, such as the frequency, signal report, and mode stay the same for each QSO). I'm pretty confident that this will work, but I know that I can always fall back to paper logging if necessary.

I'll be posting more updates over the coming days, stay tuned.

Monday, June 06, 2011

2010 ARRL June VHF QSO Party (yes, 2010)

When I came home today, I found a large envelope from the ARRL waiting for me in the mail, and opened it up to find this:

It turns out that I won the 6m category for the 2010 ARRL June VHF contest and I didn't even know it! It may be a little difficult to read, but the fine print towards the center left says "Winner 50 MHz". That was definitely a nice surprise.

The 2011 ARRL June VHF QSO Party (link goes to the rules for the contest) is coming up this weekend, the 11th - 13th of June. I have some family coming in from out of town and some other commitments so I probably won't be spending as much time on the air as I did last year, but I will try to get on the air and operate as much as I can.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Possible operation from Costa Rica

In July, I'll be heading to the Guanacaste area of Costa Rica along with a group of friends (some of them the same as those who I was with when I operated from Grand Cayman as ZF2DK). This is primarily a vacation, and when I initially investigated whether I would be able to operate from there I ran into a few logistical issues and pretty much gave up. However, recently, a couple of those issues were removed, and now it's looking a lot more possible than I'll be operating as TI7/K2DBK. I will post updates here with additional information as things progress, but this will most likely be phone-only and while I'll pick the bands based on conditions while I'm there, most likely I'll be on 15, 17, and 20. I plan to bring my Buddistick that I've used in Cayman and from IOTA NA-034 because it's small and very easy to travel with, my trusty Icom 706MKIIG, and a fairly lightweight switcher power supply. While the place we're staying isn't right on the water, it's got a pretty decent elevation above it and a nice balcony outside my room that I can use to attach the antenna. I believe my best shot for DX will be towards the northeast US, Europe, and Africa, but I think that I'll be able to work towards Asia as well.

As with my previous trip to Grand Cayman, this will be holiday-style operation, meaning that I'll get on when I have free time, probably a few hours a day, most likely in the late afternoon.

I'll be posting more once the plans are a little more firm, but I wanted to give a tentative heads-up.

Incidentally, I'm planning to just take my iPad instead of a laptop for the trip, and I'd like to hear from anyone who has used any logging software (there don't seem to be a lot of choices, but I'd still rather get a personal recommendation) for the iPad. I expect most of my contacts to be DXpedition style, so I'm not looking for any fancy integration, just ease of use. Please either leave a comment or email me if you've got any recommendation.