Radio Returning?

Got some good news yesterday, as it looks like I will be back on the radio as early as next week. I e-mailed Byron, WA4GEG, who has been working on my Yaesu FT-1000MP. It has been at his shop for just over a month, since encountering issues on the 15 meter band. Byron writes, “I have your transceiver repaired, and have been running it for a week now to make sure everything holds. The VCO the affects 15 meters needed repair. Everything else looks good.”

It’s now a race against the clock, as the CQWW WPX CQ Contest begins next Friday at 0000z (5pm PDT). With any luck it will get there as late as Friday and I should be set to operate up to 36 hours of the contest. Not that I will be able to stay awake, which has been a problem in the past. I spoke about this contest on April 4th in WPX on the Horizon.

Not having a radio has put some of my planned worked on hold. I was able to fix my vertical antenna, thanks to SteppIR and remount it in the backyard. Unfortunately with my knee surgery and no transceiver, I have not been up on the rooftop to see what work needs to be accomplished on the hex beam. With any luck, it will plug and play and I will be able to get on the air quickly, if needed. Again, this is dependent on the arrival of the radio back to my house.

As for the contest, I will provide one further update later next week to summarize my goals. If I can put in a full effort and solar conditions are better than what I have seen the past month or so, I should be able to pull off my goal from 2010 of 1 million points. This would be far and away my best showing in any contest I have entered since 2009.

Part-Time Effort

With all the things on my STD list to complete during my days off, I was not able to get my transceiver, the Yaesu, FT-1000MP boxed up and shipped off to Byron, WA4GEG in Tennessee. He is my source for all things concerning my radio, as it has been there two previous times. Unfortunately looking at the calendar there are some enjoyable contests on the horizon that I was hoping to participate in. Thankfully George, K6GT has loaned me his back up radio, which was unused until I get mine repaired and returned.

Next week is CQ WW WPX RTTY and while it was a very strong contest for me a few years back, it will only be a single band effort next weekend, depending on if I get both days off from work. This decision after speaking with SteppIR tech support last night on the phone only to realize I probably did more damage than I thought to the mechanical workings of my BigIR MkIII. So much for operating on the low bands (40M/80M). Much like my amp going out 2 years before prior to this contest, it could be a blessing in disguise.

Looking at the 2011 and 2010 results from WPX RTTY, this would give me the best chance to win some wallpaper (ham speak for an award). My best best will be 15M or 20M, depending on what the propagation is doing next weekend. This means I would operate about 2 hours before sunrise to about 2 hours after sunset. This could go longer depending on sort of activity I would get beaming JA/OC.

It doesn’t get much better as the following weekend is ARRL DX CW followed by NAQP RTTY the week after. I will need to get the “okay” from the XYL before I ask W6ZJH if I can guest op from his shack for this contest. Chances are it will be all of February and a part of March before I get my radio and antenna back from being repaired. Until then, I will have to pick and choose my efforts when it comes to contesting. With any luck, I could have everything back up and running by the time JIDX CW rolls around on April 14.

SteppIR BigIR: Installation

On Tuesday and Wednesday I got started the tedious task of taking down the Hustler 6-BTV in preparation for an upgrade to the SteppIR BigIR Mk III, considered by many in the hobby to be one of the best verticals available. While the price tag is rather high, it was really the only option I had to improve many antenna situation. I ordered the antenna direct from Leann at SteppIR on May 13 and was told there would be a 3-4 lead time. Plenty of time to prep the location for the upgrade.

On Tuesday I took my son to play school and got home and started working on the area that will replace the 6-BTV. After the arcing incident a week or so ago on the 6-BTV I had already removed the antenna from the tilt base, so removing the remaining hardware was a simple task. The only time consuming portion of it was remove the 50 nuts from the radial plate that connected all the radials to the vertical. I removed a total of 14 radials, whose length were approximately 7′, which will be replaced. The remaining radials were bent back to allow me access around the base of the mounting post.

After removing the tilt base, choke and radial plate it was time to dig out the 4′ mounting post I sledgehammered in back in 2007. What a pain in the ass! This was more time consuming than removing all the radials. I had hoped to get it removed in one day, but after a few beers and purchasing two, 50 pound bags of concrete and a 8″ diameter concrete form I ran out of time and had to pick my son up.

Wednesday allowed me to finally pull the old mounting pole out of the ground. I widened the new hole approximately 10″ in diameter and a bit over 2′ deep to accommodate the concrete form. Overkill? Maybe, but I have a piece of mind I don’t need to worry about wind taking this vertical down, as I am not planning on using guy wires.

Once the hole was complete I dropped the concrete form in and made the necessary adjustments in order get the top of the from just above the ground. The mounting pole will protrude 12″ above the ground once I pour the concrete. The standard is 8″ to 10″ inches, but I was told to go 12″ in order to use the DXE radial plate, which will sit near the ground and connect all the radials.

So while it has been slow going the past few days, things will pick up next week. Who knows I might be able to get the concrete in by the weekend, giving me time to remount the 6-BTV in place until the BigIR arrives (May 27 thru June 3). I still need to cut 16 new radials as well. OF course being at work I don’t have access to the images I took of the process. Those will come shortly.

Time to Sell?

It was a rather quick decision to buy looking back on it. I had moderate success with the ground mounted Hustler 6-BTV I purchased from DX Engineering in 2007. I figured I could do better with a bigger antenna, which also meant more expensive antenna. Sometimes that logic is right, other times questionable. When I compared antennas to replace my 6BTV I looked at about 3 other options, but the one that rose above the rest was the SteppIR BigIR.

I spent time reading the manual and reviews of the performance of the antenna and thought it was the antenna for me. Now, some 12 months later I am beginning to have my doubts. I have not been completely happy with the purchase since it arrived. It was a rash decision I made, dropped a good chuck of change on the vertical, 80M coil and a 1:1 balun, not to mention the control cable and another cable to connect to my Yaesu.

I have said this before, but I don’t fault SteppIR, it’s a quality product, but currently it is not in the most optimal of areas. That being my backyard, which is limited in terms of space to run effect ground radials. Sure, I can still get out, but at what it cost me I could have bought something else for half the price and been just as happy I think.

So now I am considering selling the BigIR, hopefully to someone local in order to save on shipping costs. I figure I will toss an $800-$900 price tag on the entire setup, which would require me to dig up the backyard again in order to get the control cable out (100′ I believe). Not sure what I want as a replacement and I doubt it will be any better than what the BigIR has done. Considering the current solar conditions and ground radial situation I would say I have done a good job on the vertical. But could I do better?

I have begun looking at those 43′ verticals. Not sure if this is really needed or if I would see an improvement in my signal if I had an antenna tuner at the base of the vertical. Currently, the Yaesu FT-1000MP’s internal ATU cannot tune the entire 80M band, so I am limited at times on how low I can operate. These verticals and I have been looking at the one from DXE seem to be nothing more than a hollow, tapered aluminum tube with a balun and antenna tuner at the base.

I need something to get me on 30-80M and possibly 160M. Mainly for 40Mand 80M during contests is what I am after. The hex holds its own on 10-20M, but I have some issues when the sun goes down and I must move to the vertical. I am keeping my options open. Unlike the purchase of the SteppIR, this won’t be a rash decision. If I can get what I want to ask for it then I could get an all new vertical setup with an antenna tuner.

WPX: A Look Back

Up to now I cannot recall another contest I have prepared so diligently for, somewhat odd that it would be a CW contest and not RTTY. Regardless of the contest I felt I was ready for a challenge as the zero hour approached. Thanks to the May meeting of the NCCC, I was loaded with numbers and propagation predictions that would allow me to formulate my plan for the CQ World-Wide CW WPX Contest.

The plan was simple, operate for 36 hours on all bands (excluding 160M, since I don’t have an antenna) in search and pounce and average a 26 rate over that period of time. I had toyed with the idea of a second radio, but decided against attempting it in a CW contest (this is an item to investigate this summer). That left me with a Yaesu FT-1000MP, a Alpha 76PA amplifier and three antennas. For this contest I decided to raise the Alpha DX-EE to go along with the DXE 5-band Hexx Beam and SteppIR BigIR. While it probably made no difference I did add a 10′ section of mast to the hex, so I was close to 30′ at the start of the contest.

For 10/15/20M I used the Hexx Beam (from DXE) as my primary antenna. Now and then I would switch to the vertical or wire depending on what high band I was on. For 40/80M, the BigIR was the primary antenna. I was not able to added another 10 radials, each 60′ to the current ground radial configuration. Much like the mast, I don’t feel I would have noticed much of a difference given the solar conditions.

Thanks to the club I was fired up for WPX! Two presentations, one by K6MM, John detailing the contest purely based on numbers. I obtained a copy of his presentation and created a plan tailored to fit my operating skills. In the end I might have set an unrealistic goal, more on that in a moment. The other presentation, which I was not able to see, but did get was from N6BV on propagation for WPX. Dean was kind enough to send me a copy. While I was not able to get Dean’s words of wisdom when it was shown at the May meeting, I was able to interpolate.

Prior to all contests I participate in I set my personal goals. Rarely will I win any wallpaper, but achieving my goals give me a feeling of accomplishment. Originally I had planned on scoring 250,000 points, but the more I played with the numbers I was beginning to get a sense that 1 million points could be possible. Along with N6BV’s data and K6MM’s presentation I put together my own spreadsheet that broke down all the numbers based on band and points. I revised my plan on a daily basis, until I put together a plan that I thought was a challenge, but also achievable.

The goals for the contest were 1000 QSOs, 2000 QSO points and 500 prefixes. Over the 36 hour period this worked out to 25.75 rate, less than 2 QSOs per minute. Other factors that contributed to the final score was the 0.6 prefix figure I took from K6MM’s presentation.

Now to the contest! KB! If the first 7 hours were any indication on how the contest was going to go then I was well on my way to my 1 million points. I had not planned on running a frequency because my skills as a CW operate are not strong, so it may take a few calls in order to get the call sign or when getting my number. So my plan was a purely search and pounce operation.

After 7 hours I was ahead of my goal, with a 32 rate at 04z, my best during the contest. I also surpassed my 25 rate each of those hours. Unfortunately the wheels quickly came off as 08z approached. Let me preface this my saying, I don’t know how some of these OM’s do it through the night. It was all I could do to keep my eyes open, spinning the dial looking for QSOs. I had to call it quits at 08z and that decision probably did my in for my 1 million point goal.

This is a contest in which the low bands play an important roll because of the points. Part of my problem, not having good low band antennas, being on a small plot of land and controlled by CC&R’s the SteppIR BigIR is the best I can do for 40/80M and I don’t even own a 160M antenna. Conditions were less than favorable as well for this contest. More on that later.

I climbed back into the chair just after 12z and things were looking up, but I was already 120 QSOs down from where I should have been if I were able to work though the night. That number would only trend the wrong way as the contest rolled on. I was hoping to make some of it up during my original off time from 18-23z. I put a small dent into that number and got about 40 QSOs back, but it continued to trend the wrong way. 13z was my the last hour I worked more than a 25 rate, after that point it was evident I would not get to 1 million.

Not only were the low bands rough, but 15M and 20M were difficult because of the conditions. This is the second contest where I was hoping the JAs would come out in droves, since I could not hear Europe (1% of total). Japan only accounted for 7% of my contacts, while North America accounted for 85%!

Saturday afternoon I made the decision to spend time with my wife and son. The high bands were terrible for me and the number of contacts was trending down as the time neared 00z. I could hear nothing with the hex beam pointed towards Japan. When I put the shack to bed at 03z on Saturday I had only worked 23 JAs.

I gave the low bands another shot on Sunday morning. The shack came to life at 05z, but noise and lack of contacts did nothing for me. I could still not hear Europe and spinning the dial on 80/40M in the morning I worked everything I could hear. I moved to 20M probably an hour early trying to added prefixes to my total but finally decided to make something with my day after 16z.

I still feel the goal was possible to achieve, even with my antenna set up. Along with the lack of sleep, solar conditions were terrible for those of us on the West Coast. Even the super stations were noting a lack of contacts with Europe. I had a good plan, based on good statistics. I don’t believe there is much I can change when it comes to my antennas. Being controlled by an HOA I don’t think they would be so kind if I raised my Force 12 C4XL.

So we will look back, reflect and making alterations for next year’s WPX. I will take a deeper look at the actual numbers next time and where I made mistakes in my calculations.