Murphy Strikes CQWW RTTY

It’s really amazing what increased solar conditions can do during a contest!  While I had no real intentions of putting forth a full effort in the CQWW DX RTTY this weekend I had an enjoyable afternoon  for about 2 hours making contact. Things didn’t start out enjoyable, as I had hoped on getting the hex beam up to about 40′ but Murphy struck about 90 minute before the contest.

The Rohn H50 is an improvement over the shorter H30 I had, but still not what I need for my hex beam. After repairing the rotator a few days ago I had hoped the XYL would have been able to slide a few cotter pins through some pre-drilled holes I drilled in the lower 2 sections of the H50. Unfortunately I was not able to get those two lower section extended fully to the point where I drilled the holes and did not drill any intermediate holes. While my XYL did her best to help, this was a job that might require a few other men to help me accomplish the task.

In my frustration and haste I attempted a few different solutions as the start of the contest was drawing near. None of them were working and then Murphy struck. I had the hex beam leaning on the roof and the mast leaning at a forty-five degree angle away from the house. As I tried to extend the lower section of the mast I heard a nasty crack and the hex beam started to fall off the roof. At that moment I looked up and noticed I had cracked off the rotator. The I had just put myself in peril and the start of the contest was in jeopardy.

I quickly drove to Radio Shack because I purchased the warranty for the rotator, unfortunately they don’t handle any warranty items and referred me to an 800 number. In the meantime I was stuck with a functioning (I hope) rotator but no way to mount it to a mast because the threaded screws were bent and in my attempt to remove them, one broke off.

It was back to the “arm strong method” of rotating the antenna this weekend and until I resolve the rotator issue. I rigged a solution (not ideal) to get the antenna up to 30′ or so and make it functional. Tied three guy wires up to prevent it from rotating in the wind and with about minutes to spare I went into the shack to configure my macro keys in Win-Test.

As I mentioned in the introduction, sunspots are a wonderful thing. I started on 10M and until this point I had made a single RTTY contact with W6YX a few years back. This time around I was able to add quite a few QSOs to the log from Chile to Hawaii, Guam, Japan and Australia! I did spend some time running on frequency as well, which yielded some good results.

I moved to 15M with much better results from JA and OC, which is what I was looking for. I didn’t even attempt to turn the hex beam east for the US or EU. I figured I would give that shot for later on Saturday and Sunday when I get home from work. I am sure the “East Coast Wall” will cause all sort of problems for me. Signals were good and strong and ran a few frequencies along with S&P when I put together a nice group of JAs near 21.100 before I turned off the radio after about 2 hours.

I figure by Sunday will string together about 300 contacts. Again, I am not looking at setting any records or killing myself. I don’t have that sort of time to commit right now due to family reasons and work. Contest season is upon on already and I am hoping to put more of a full effort in the CQP next weekend

Ready for Radiosport?

The contest season is warming up, as are those sunspots. Solar conditions have been excellent, unfortunately I have not been spending much time on air due to other activities filling my free time. I was looking at the SSN of 141 and K of 3 yesterday and turned the radio on with some outstanding 10M signals to T32. Unfortunately when I tried to turn my hex beam in that direction I noticed I had some issues.

I leaned a ladder up to the roof and climbed up for a closer look but could not see much. I then decided to pull the antenna down to return the rotator to Radio Shack and get a replacement, since I had purchased the 1-year warranty. After collecting some tools, I needed to use a hacksaw to cut away a small piece of metal that was holding a set screw against the telescoping mast.

After the tension on the released the mast slid down. It was more evident when retracted the upper sections of the mast and was eye level with the rotator. It seemed the weight of the antenna has collaped into the rotator box. I figured it had damaged the gears. I unbolted the hex and disconnected the feed line. After lifting the antenna off I pulled off the rotator box and took it to the work bench for further inspection.

When I opened the access panel on the bottom all 4 bolts dropped out that held the rotator plate in place, which attached to the casing. Maybe I knock it off to being cheap Chinese made crap! But what should I expect for $99? I tightened up the 4 bolts, cleaned the casing and closed up the rotator and made my way back outside to reinstall on the mast.

Since picking up the last a few months ago I have been working on trying to get the mast to 40′ and have not had much luck. I am about 5-10′ short in what is really a two man operation. The two lower sections of the mast will now be fully extended totaling about 18′. The third section will put me close to 27′ It gets a bit dicey approaching 30′ and above because the mast is only about 2″ in diameter and I should be using guy wires up at 40′. Possible? Yes. Desired? Not really and I am trying to keep a clean (but safe) installation for the HOA and my neighbors.

I reattached the mast to the brackets on the back of the garage and installed the rotator box to the top of the mast. I then placed the hex beam antenna in the slot on the rotator so it can be controlled from inside the shack. With any luck the bolts will remain in place. I guess this will be an item I will need to check periodically to make sure they are not coming loose. With any luck I will be able to slide the mast up to 35-40′ a bit later today.

This is all in preparation for the CQ DX WPX RTTY contest coming this weekend. While I would love to take the entire weekend off and participate, especially with solar condition still very good, I won’t be putting in any sort of real effort. With any luck I will combine for about 10-12 hours, opening on Friday afternoon with 2-3 hours and 7-8 hours over the weekend.

The following weekend it’s the NCCC sponsored CQP, which I am hoping to participate in. While I would like to say it will be a full effort, chances are it won’t. Right now I am planning on taking Oct 2-3 off from work, due to the contest. My XYL and son are leaving that Sunday morning for Disneyland, so it would end up being a free day for me.

Right now, it’s been almost a month since I have really put any time into the radio and even less when it has come to any of the contests over the summer. Not really sure why. I have very little time to take off from work for one, I am trying to save that time and use it wisely, which isn’t easy. I am highly involved in fantasy football and spending too much time on FFS as well as dedicating time with my son and at his school. So radio loses out. Not to worry, it will always be there and as conditions continue to improve all I need to do it turn the rig on, I am sure I will be able to find a signal.

Hex Beam Mounted

Last Tuesday was a wash, literally as a quick moving storm hit Northern California and left me inside waiting for the rain and wind to pass in order to put up my newly acquired Rohn H50. Wednesday was a beautiful morning and I made an early trip to Lowe’s in search of some type of hardware to use as a wall mount for the telescoping mast.

I was in luck, bought two mounts that were adjustable up to 3 inches (the mast is 2.25 inches in diameter). This hardware is actually used for mounting EMT conduit for electrically wiring and while not being able to use these mounts 4 inches off the wall I quickly added a few pieces of wood to give me the clearance needed to raise the mast.

Not long after I got the Rohn in the air, I did go and order a pair of heavy duty wall mount brackets from 3 Star Incorporated. At $19.95 a pair it was a better deal than the $20+ I spent at Lowe’s. The temporary brackets I am using will allow me to use the antenna at about 30′ until I get the Rohn brackets installed. With any luck I should have the mounts by Friday and if I have the time I can replace my makeshift brackets in time to operate in the RAC Canada Day Contest this weekend.

I mounted the rotor/hex beam assembly on the top section of the telescoping mast (1.25″ diameter). The difficulty came in trying to push the entire assembly up. If I had a second body I probably could have run it up to 40′ and using a guy wire pulled the antenna mast up into position. As it stands now 35′ isn’t bad, but I want to get it to 40′ which seems to be an optimal height based on research by Steve, G3TXQ. Once the new mounts are in place I should be able to add about 5-10′. With any luck I will be able to leave it in the up position when not in use, even though that was not my original intentions.

This antenna never went through the HOA to gain “exemption” I just took it upon myself to raise this antenna, piggybacking off the HOA’s approval to allow a 24′ Hustler 6-BTV back in 2007, followed by an upgrade to a SteppIR BigIR in 2009. Since raising it in October, 2009 I have not received any complaints from neighbors about how it looks or any interference it has caused.

ARRL Field Day Plans

On Tuesday I stopped off at Radio Shack on the off chance they would have a TV antenna rotator. As luck would have it, they had some in stock. After consulting the hex beam Yahoo Group, I was told this rotator would turn my hex beam. While it might not be a long term solution, I figured $79.99 was a good price, compared to the $200 (or more) I am going to spend to refurbish the Hy-Gain Ham M I received from my dad last year.

I was able to pull off the make shift mast I created along with 3 guy wires to turn the antenna in the needed direction. While I am still not happy with the mast I am using, for now it will work. The upper section of the mast is about 5′ long, so I secured the rotator to this section of the mast and then bolted on the hex beam to the rotator. Once it was together I slid the small mast onto the longer mast and aligned the hex beam to north.

This work was accomplished just in time for ARRL Field Day, which takes place this weekend, starting at 11am on Saturday morning. While I won’t be putting any real effort into FD, I will fire up a portable generator I am being loaned and get on the air. I will be operating as a ‘1E East Bay’ from my home station and if I happen to make any QSOs from my truck as a ‘1C East Bay.’

It seems there are a handful of groups from the Northern California Contest Club that are setting up Field Day stations. Unfortunately none that I have heard are close to my house. I was hoping N6RO would put in a solar effort, but I have not read anything about Ken and his usual group doing anything for this event. Not a big loss for me, as I must work both Saturday and Sunday making my operating time only about 2-3 hours beginning at 22z on Saturday. With band conditions being poor currently I could not justify taking time off to participate in a “non-contest contest” when there are more events on the horizon I would rather participate in.

CW Chirp & Possible Rotator

Last weekend during the 7QP, NK7U commented about a “chirp” when I keyed up on 15M CW. After that a few other operators later on also made mention to me. In the mail on Saturday was a Official Observer Advisory Notice from W7POE in Washington as he happened to listen to a QSO with KX7L and also mentioned ‘frequency instability’ and a ‘chirp’ in our exchange.

During 7QP I actually sent an e-mail to the NCCC Reflector and got quite a few responses rather quickly. Many commented it being related to the DC power supply (Astron RS-35M) I use to power the Yaesu FT-1000 MP. I attempted to confirm the chirp by listening to CW in my truck on my FT-857D. In my opinion it sounded more like a click, but not being really knowing what I am listening for I cannot confirm it for sure.

Hopefully I can investigate a but further today with another club member on the air. Regardless I need to resolve this problem before the start of WPX on May 28.

Not all news was bad this weekend. I am hoping to put the hex beam on the peak of the roof just for WPX, but my problem would be turning it. Currently I have 3 guy wires I use to turn the hex in the intended direction and then tie the guy wires off.

The members at the Hex Beam Yahoo Group confirmed I could use a Channelmaster RC Antenna Rotator System (Model CM9521-A) in order to turn the hex. At $99 from Radio Shack, this is a great deal than sending off my CDE Ham-M off to be fixed and hoping it would be fixed by WPX. Hopefully in a week or so I will add the CM9521-A to the mast and see how it works. This would definitely help me from running in and out of the shack to change directions.