Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lido Key 2012 Wrap-up, Part 1

I'm back from my short trip to Florida where I operated from Lido Key, located just to the west of Sarasota, in west central Florida. I was very pleased with the operation this time, despite a minor glitch after the first day (which I'll talk about later). I wound up operating from the same general area that I did on my last trip, which is from South Lido Park at the very southern tip of Lido Key. As with each trip, I learned things that I hope will help make things better for the next time, but fortunately, unlike my last trip, I didn't run into any significant issues that had a major impact on my ability to operate. (If you're interested, you can read the whole saga of my last trip starting with this post; there are links to the rest of the series at the end of that one.)

View K2DBK @ South Lido Park in a larger map
As with past operations from NA-034, my radio activities took place in the afternoon which allowed me time to spend some time with my wife's family in the mornings and evenings as well as giving me some time to have lunch at my favorite restaurant in the area, The Old Salty Dog, before setting up for the afternoon.

As I mentioned during my preparations a few weeks ago, the idea was to operate using the Buddipole on top of the 8-foot shock-corded mast, using some tent stakes, line, and some small S carabiners to guy the mast. As long as the wind wasn't too strong, I felt that the setup should work just fine, and it did. The setup here was very similar to what I'd done in the past, but I wound up having to drag the picnic table over to where it was close enough to the car so that I could run the power cables to the battery. On the first day, I wound up having a very late breakfast so I decided to skip lunch and headed right for South Lido Park. The first difference from previous years was that although it was almost the exact same days as previously, this year, there were a lot more people in the park, which meant it was a lot harder to get to my "favorite" operating position. On the map here, I've put a red marker on the spot, which is just off the south end of the parking lot.

There was a reason why there were more people this year: It was quite a bit warmer than in the past. In fact, the weather was absolutely beautiful, with temperatures in the mid-80s under a beautiful blue sky with just a few clouds on the horizon.That warm weather led to my first small problem: As with my trip to Costa Rica, I was using my iPad with the Hamlog logging software to log my contacts. (Just a quick side note about Hamlog, Nick, N3WG, has done some great upgrades to recently, including the ability to save your log to a cloud server. Very slick stuff.) The one big difference is that when in Costa Rica, even when it wasn't raining, I was usually operating in the shade, not in direct sunlight. When operating from the table you see in the picture, I was in direct sunlight. After a few minutes of having the iPad set up, it shut itself down due to the heat. What I wound up doing was to use the backpack bag from my radio to shield the iPad which kept the temperature down to a point were it was no longer shutting off. Lesson learned for next time.

I initially set up to operate on 21.260Mhz and although I did make a contact with Vasily, ER4DX in Moldova who was CQing a bit above that frequency, I wasn't getting any "takers" so I decided to switch to the main IOTA frequency of 14.260Mhz. I started calling CQ there and after a few minutes, George, KC2GLG, who had read my previous posting about the IOTA activation, heard me and answered. We had a nice chat, and I then moved on and worked about a dozen other stations that day.

I did have a bit of an issue with the antenna on 20m, though I was able to work some DX (Sweden and the UK). With the configuration I was using, it was very tough to get a good SWR and I seemed to be getting some RF back into the radio. Scott, NE1RD, wrote me and suggested that I set up for 20m in a vertical configuration, but unfortunately I didn't have time to test that configuration before I left home. Even though I had Scott's excellent Buddipole In The Field [PDF] book with me on my iPad which has a cookbook section to help set things like this up, by the time I decided to try this I was hot, tired, and it was getting late so I decided to call it quits for the day. So that takeaway lesson from that was "try everything before you leave".

Click here for Part 2.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

2012 Virginia QSO Party

I've written about the Virginia QSO Party a number of times in the past, so I'm going to keep this posting relatively short. I needed to spend some time getting my gear together for my trip to Florida later this week (where I plan to activate IOTA NA-034), but that left time for some contesting. There were a number of contests this weekend, but I decided to jump into the Virginia QSO Party (VaQP) as I've always had a lot of fun. I'm going to re-post my "soapbox" comments from my posting to the 3830 contest scores list. (That's an email list where folks post their "claimed" scores after a contest. It's not authoritative, but it gives you a quick chance to see how well you did as compared with other a lot fast than the official scores.)

Here's what I wrote:
The VaQP is one of my favorite state QSO parties,and I'm glad that I had time to participate this year after missing the last couple of years. Given my location in northern NJ, the only bands that are usable are 40 & 80 (I've made a couple of contacts in the past on 160, but I don't really have an antenna and it's usually not worth the effort). This year, I had plans that kept me out Saturday evening so I didn't get on to 75/80 at all. Late Sunday afternoon I tuned around for a bit on 80m but decided that instead of trying to work just the couple of stations that I could hear, I'd stick with 40 and submit as SOSB/40 (mixed mode).

I like this contest for a few different reasons: First, there's enough activity to keep things going, but not so much that it's a fight for a little-pistol station like me to have to work to make contacts. I could work everyone I could hear, and I appreciate the nice signal reports that I got from many stations. (Just 100w into a G5RV at about 35' here.) Second, this is one of the few contests where I can get on and actually hold a run frequency for pretty much as long as I'd like. That's not something that I get in the big DX contests! Third, this has got to be one of the friendliest bunch of of folks in any contest. When I had a small pileup going (for "rare" NJ!) I would move pretty quickly, but most times I had plenty of time to just throw in a quick word or two, and it was nice hearing when I was a new mult, or just having someone thank me for getting on to help give out points. It's things like that the remind me why I like this contest so much.

Thanks to the organizers for putting this on, and I look forward to working everyone next year.
(SOSB/40 means that I operated as a single operator on just one band, which was 40m). That pretty much sums it up.  I spent a total of around 7.5 hours between Saturday and Sunday in this contest, and it really just flew by. Here's my score summary (which is very short, since I only used 40m this time):

 Band  CW Qs  Ph Qs  Dig Qs
   40:   26    154       
Total:   26    154      0  Mults = 70  Total Score = 16,950

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Trip #4 to Lido Key, IOTA NA-034

In just over a week, I'll be heading down to Florida to visit family, and, as I've done on previous trips, I plan to be operating from Lido Key, IOTA # NA-034 from March 21 to 23. My current plans are to be on the air during my local afternoon between around 1700 - 2200 GMT, on 14.260 or 21.260 (the standard IOTA frequencies), phone only. This is very much a "holiday style" operation, so those operating times may vary, and depending on band conditions, I might set up elsewhere.

For this trip, I'll be taking my Buddipole and using it on top of the same 8-foot mast that I used last summer in Costa Rica. When I was in Costa Rica, I was able to bungee cord the mast to the railing of the balcony, but since I'm not sure that I'll be able to do the same with the picnic tables at the park where I'm planning to operate, I figured out how to guy the mast using some lightweight tent stakes, some line, and some small carabiners that I picked up at a local outdoor store. The folks who sell the Buddipole do make a guying kit, but I thought it would be nice to see if I could make something myself.

As I've learned, I always try out any new setup before I travel, leaving at least a little less chance for last minute problems. Yesterday afternoon, I set up everything in the backyard as a test. What I did was to run some line through the holes on the Versatee  to use as an attachment point. I then used 3 lengths of line and made a taut-line hitch on one end of each which I to put onto the tent stake. On the other end, I connected a very small S carabiner which I used to clip onto the lines on the Versatee. This was a lot easier than trying to tie line-to-line.

Because I learned the hard way that it's pretty easy to break a whip if the antenna isn't supported properly, I first made sure that I could connect the Versatee to the mast (without the arms or whips), attach the lines to that, then stand it up and tension the guys so that the mast seemed stable. I realized that I needed to keep the guy lines probably a bit closer than I would have liked to the mast or I wouldn't be able to reach the hitch knots to adjust them. While I could have used adjustable knots to connect to the carabiners, in use those would be at the top of the mast and would be unreachable. As it turned out, it worked out pretty well the way I set it up. I had to first roughly estimate the 120 degree separation between the stakes around the mast, and I got lucky on my first try.

After seeing that this seemed to be pretty stable once I put some tension on the guy lines, I took it down and screwed in the antenna arms, coils, and whips, though I left the whips fully collapsed. I raised it back up, tightened up the guys (actually I just had to tighten one guy because of the way I'd lowered things), and it still seemed pretty stable, so I lowered everything once again, extended the whips (I'd already connected the wander leads to the proper location on the coils) and raised everything up. (If you're viewing this on my blog page, you can click on the pictures to see a bit more detail, which is particularly helpful for the one showing the antenna fully deployed).

I connected the feedline to my radio (I'd brought my Icom 706MkIIG and a small power supply outside) and the built-in SWR meter in the'706 showed good SWR over the phone portion of 15 meters. I tuned around to see if I could find a station to work and I came across was Pedro, EC8AUZ. We had a nice little chat and he told me that my setup was working well, which was all that I could ask for.

At only 8 feet above ground, I know that the pattern for the antenna is going to be distorted. As I was set up with the broad side of the antenna roughly aligned Northeast/Southwest, it was good to know that I could make a 3500 mile contact due east with that setup.

I still have a few things to do before leaving, but it looks like I should be all set as far as the antenna goes. I hope to work some of you while I'm in Florida. If you're in the Sarasota area, drop me and email and maybe we can get together for a bit while I'm there.