Going Vertical

Progress has been made! I was able to finish up some items on my wife related to do items and put some time into working on getting the SteppIR BigIR installed. It’s been October since I last operated in a contest (CQP) and with very little free time to play radio, getting aluminum in the air hasn’t been a high priority.

I spent about 15 minutes digging a hole that would then be filled with concrete surrounding a metal support mount that the SteppIR BigIR would be mounted on top of. I spent a few minutes aligning 2×4 pieces of wood that held the 24″ metal post in place, in the center of the hole. I mixed up some concrete and began pouring. In just a few minutes I was rinsing out the bucket, washing off the tools and letting the concrete dry.

I figure I will check it on Sunday, at which time I will place the SteppIR BigIR in place. There was other work that had to be accomplished before getting on the air. I had to cut the control cables from the antenna end when we moved in December. It took about 45 minutes, but I was able to rewire the control cables and reattach them to the SteppIR BigIR.

Hopefully by Monday or Tuesday I will be able to get some ground radials in place and begin configuring the antenna for use. I am still aiming at May and the CQWW WPX CW contest as a return. I am still undecided on how to get the hex beam in the air. After being on the roof attaching my weather station, I won’t take the chance to climb on the tiled roof again. Safety is a huge concern and I am not ready to chance it.

That leaves me very limited. I am still looking at possibly at attaching a mount to the facing that hangs down off the roof. This would possibly allow me 25-30′ in which to raise the antenna. Right now the hex beam is about 7′ high sitting on a larger tripod. Obviously NOT ideal, but sometimes we must go with what we have. The last option is to raise another 4×4 post in the ground and attach the mast to the 4×4 pole and raise the hex 15-20′ into the air.

It seems the true tower options are just not viable right now. I thought I had a lead on a 55′ crank up, tilt over tower but the work to get it down and moved, only to possibly not have it installed, I could not justify following through.

Radio in May?

It’s been since CQP, last October that I actually turned my radio on and participated in a contest. Back in January I commented about an April/May return to radio (read All Out of Ham). I won’t say I am ahead of the game as we roll into the middle of February, but I have made some progress in order to get on the air. The “shack” is finally put together. Not, unfortunately it is not a free standing structure with it’s own power. Much like our last house the shack is a corner of the garage. While I have the radio and computer set up, along with the amplifier, it will take some time to work on making all the necessary connections, both inside the shack and the lines that will feed my antennas.

There are still some logistics that need to be worked out. Antennas. Where do I place them? With CC&Rs no longer a concern I have considered my options. At one point I wrote about K6EQR, who knew a ham selling a 55′ crank up tower. the further away we get from this piece, the less inclined I am to foresee this option in my future. Still a heck of a deal at $300! My original plan was to mount my hex beam on the chimney, using a specialized mount. After climbing onto the Spanish tiled roof, I am not too keen on attempting to get to the chimney as the roof was just too slippery and not a real good idea. I have been looking at mounting the hex beam back on the Rohn H-50 and trying to raise it,bracing it to the wood flashing, just below the roof. Not sure if that would be enough to support the hex of not. The other problem, trying to raise the mast extended to 35′-40′ with the hex beam already installed.

My other antenna is the 32′ SteppIR BigIR and I have found a place in the middle of the backyard, surrounded by 30′ high palm trees that will “hide” it from neighbors while allowing me to run radials in a north-east-south direction up to 90′! This antenna shouldn’t be difficult to install, as I just need to dig a hold and set the mounting post. I do have some concern, as I had to walk this antenna to our new house. Unfortunately I failed to retract the metal tape in the housing. Hopefully I haven’t suffered internal problems with the tape coming off the spool.

I am targeting the 2013 CQWW WPX CQ Contest as my return to the air. Looking at the most recent issue of CQ, I posted my best score ever (since 2009) of 510,867 points in low power, all band, assisted in W6 while operating just under 32 hours (36 max). A score and effort like this won’t happen unless I can get the hex beam up in the air. The vertical will allow for the low bands, which are the big points in WPX. Still I have to look at what other options I have and see if I can find a work around in order to get back on the air.


RTTY WPX Award using MMTTYA small pat on the back for myself as I achieved another award from a radio contest back in February. During the weekend of February 11-12, the CQ World Wide RTTY WPX took place. This is a 48 hour contest, in which you make contact with as many different operators as possible that have unique prefixes. This was also the first time I decided to work a contest on a single band, I chose 15 meters (21 MHz) for the RTTY contest based on propagation data and recommendations from members in the NCCC.

While my score wasn’t all that impressive and I was a bit discouraged with how my final numbers came out. I was hoping for 300 QSO (contacts) but ended up with only 203. When the log checking was complete after the contest that number had decreased to 197 valid contacts and 157 prefixes for a final score of 59,817 total points. I did provide a complete write up at the conclusion of WPX.

While the award was for most contacts on 15 meters in the 6th district. It’s actually a minor achievement, which I will chalk up to a learning experience. There are some contests that I cannot afford to work the entire time, limiting my operation to a single band decreases the time I need to be in front of the radio. Then again, I don’t enter contests to win, but to improve my operating and have some fun. If I happen to win paperwork, great!

WPX on the Horizon

While May 26 is still a way out, it’s not too early to start planning for the CQ WPX CW contest. It’s one of those contests that I have really come to enjoy, next to the ARRL Sweepstakes. I find it interesting, now 3 years into contesting these two contests would top my list of “most enjoyable.” CW or Morse code wasn’t a mode I really thought of using when I upgraded without submitting to Element 1 testing, since it was dropped by the FCC. Sweepstakes, before participating, I could not understand the draw to the contest, but now 3 years later, these “messages” we exchange during the contest show the importance of traffic handling and being precise.

There is more to entering a contest than winning, especially for an operator like myself with a very modest shack and equipment compared to other stations. Unfortunately due to our remodel in 2011, I was unable to participate in the CQ WPX CW. Go back just 2 years and I posted one of my best overall performances in ANY contest to date. Again, I didn’t win the contest in my category (Single Operator, High Power, All Bands), while placing 19th out of 71 operators in that category.

The best part of this contest is that you get to work EVERYBODY! It’s also a contest where the other station’s prefix (like W6 or WD6, etc) are multipliers. If you work stations on the low bands (40/80M) they are worth double the points. If you work stations on other continents, they are worth more than if I work many domestic stations. So this is my best opportunity to score 1 million points in a contest.

John, K6MM and Dean, N6BV made a presentation back in 2010 at our May meeting of the Northern California Contest Club. After seeing the numbers as presented by K6MM and the outlook for propagation, even an operator like my could put up 1 million points. I had grand visions of that goal back in 2010, but sleep got the better of me when the sun went down. From that point on I was behind the goals I had set, unable to recover.

This year hopes to be a different story, especially if the solar weather picks up in the next month with an increase in sunspots. Regardless I will attempt to put a full weekend into contesting in order to achieve my 1 million point goal. Getting back to the band information, as long as I can stay awake, the low bands (40/80M) should be worth their points in gold. Even 6-8 hours when the sun goes does should provide me with the push I need to make 1 million points. The great think about this contest is I only need to make 27 contacts per hour and I will achieve my goal.

Currently I have working up the details on a spreadsheet I use for where my antenna will be pointing, possible contacts per band, broken down into different categories based on points. I also have to figure out a sleep schedule, which could be during the day, as opposed to night time when points are at a premium. Still some work to do before the contest arrives, but planning is always a key when it comes to contesting.

2012 CQ World Wide WPX RTTY

Contest: CQ World Wide WPX
Date: February 11-12 2012
Mode: RTTY
Period: Starts 0000 UTC Saturday; ends 2359 UTC Sunday

15 / 203 / 161
TOTAL: 203 QSO / 161 PFX
SCORE: 64,883 (TIME ON: 11 H 31 Mn)

SOAPBOX: This was the first time I had entered a contest in a single band category. I had great success back in 2010 in WPX RTTY and looked to achieve the same sort of success this time around. I had set my goal at 300 QSO and 150 PFX, if I were able to participate on Sunday I would have met that goal. Unfortunately I shut things down 0016 on Saturday afternoon, when I probably could have hung around the band for at least 2 more hours, but looking back to the start of the contest those first 2 hours only yielded 42 contacts.

It was a contest filled with frustration this time around. Much like my 2010 effort I decided on low power, instead of firing up the amp. 15M was chosen over 20M, after some comments and input from NCCC members on the reflector. In hindsight, I probably would of had a better showing on 20M, since it is my strongest band, but always congested with signals. 15M allowed for a bit more room to spread out and possibly even run a frequency, which I will touch on in a bit.

I was hoping for 60-70 QSOs in the first few hours before the band closed, unfortunately I only logged half of that (43 QSOs). With propagation charts supplied by N6BV and K6TU I had a good idea where signals would be the best. Thankfully JA did not disappoint, which is where a majority of my contacts were made at the start of the contest. I had a sneaking suspicion that it would not be as good on Sunday at 00z. I was right, unfortunately, as I had somewhat planned for another stong run of JAs to fill my log and quest for 300.

I wasn’t discouraged…yet. I did find 15M very noisy through out the entire contest. Since it is a loaner rig (Thanks George, K6GT) and I am not as familiar with the FT-1000MP MkV as I was with my own FT-1000MP. I also believe I have better filters, which helps reduce adjacent signals, which is where my biggest problems were during WPX. I could not isolate many calls because of a stronger signal up or down the band. Still overall the radio performed admirably!

I got up bright an early the next morning (Saturday) and went to the shack by 1345z (0545). I didn’t expect 15M to be open yet, but it would give me some time to look over the propagation charts and see where the signals would be the best. All indications were on a southeast heading, beaming the Carribean/South America, but as luck would have it I spent very little time with the hex pointed that direction. When the band started to open I did not hesitate to join the fray and beam Europe.

It was slow going from my first contact with PZ5RA. While I had hoped to put together a few good runs, which never materialized, I was left with search & pounce to make contacts. What few short runs I had were only a handful of contacts and I was making more contacts when I was searching out others. This was frustrating, as I saw my rate never go above 24 QSOs in an hour. Only 4 hours produced a number of 20 or greater.

It started to wear on the morning wore on, I could not be heard and there were many signals, but most of them I could not pull out of the noise or adjacent signals. Still I did the best I could with the hex beam. While I didn’t achieve my total QSO goal, I did surpass my PFX count (161 actual vs 150 planned). Still the only comparison I had to look at was NK6A, Don who made 124 QSOs last year in ‘W6’, so at least I know my score was not terrible, but it was a quite a bit of work given my conditions.

I will chalk this up to a learning experience and an enjoyable way to contest, especially for someone like me, who can’t get the entire 48 hour period off to participate. It’s nice to work 2-3 hours and shut it down and spend time with the family, returning the next morning when the sun comes up. I might have to inquire about the propagation charts, because based on what I was reading from my QTH I should not of had a big signal into EU, which had me doubting I would make many contacts. In the end I had 33 DXCC (countries)  and 35 states when I tallied up my log sheets. As frustrating as it was, I still enjoyed my time operating.