Windcamp proves its worth in Samford CP activation

Today I activated Samford Conservation Park VKFF-1639 once more in an attempt to secure four contacts to bring my total to ten. It would also be the first time I would use my new Windcamp LiPo battery.
Setting up my long wire antenna was interesting: I needed a heavy tree branch to act as an end support. The far end was supported by my squid pole.

It’s all about improvisation.

At the start of the activation, my internal Windcamp LiPo was putting out 12V which allowed me to operate at a full 5W. By the time I had made four contacts, I had been operating solidly for an hour and seven minutes. The voltage on the display was now reading 11.8V.

I am more than happy with that.

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Activating Mt Cotton VK4/SE-115

This was one summit I have wanted to activate for quite some time, partly due its proximity and partly due to the excellent Sirromet Winery nearby. So when Sunday 30 April dawned with beautiful clear skies, I knew it was time. My wife decided this would also make an excellent day out.

The drive to the base of the summit took about 40 minutes. We parked at the bottom in a designated car park and headed for the gate that heralded the beginning of the path up.

This is the beginning of the path up to the summit.

Fortunately the path up is sealed, which made walking up easier, even though it was rather steep at times.

It took us 22 minutes to walk up to the summit.

Once at the top it was simply a matter of seeking out the best operating position. This was important as there are a couple of communication towers there and I didn’t want interference.

The going was tough at times.

I found a suitable spot among a pile of rocks, so I erected the long wire antenna on my squid pole, and connected it up to my Elecraft KX1. It tuned up beautifully on 20m and 40m. For power I use six internal AA 1.5v batteries that give me between 1 and 2 watts output to play with.

It was quite comfortable, really.

I put out my first call on 20m and within seconds was answered by VK3CAT in Victoria. Not bad for 2 watts. I then switched to 40m (only 1 watt) and worked VK2NP, VK2BJT and VK4TJ.

I find the Pico Paddle a wonderful device to use with the KX1. It is magnetically held in place on the tin plate on my home brewed QSO board.

That was sufficient for the activation to count, so it was time to pack up and head off down and to lunch at Sirromet.

Activating Fort Lytton, VKFF-0179

I decided to activate Fort Lytton National Park  on Sunday 23 April 2017 for two reasons: firstly it has never been activated before and secondly, it’s considered to be the birth place of Queensland’s military history.

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The above picture is of the Fort’s parade ground.

This coastal fortress served as Brisbane’s primary defences from 1881 until 1965. It was even used during WW11, when some 89 US submarines were docked here for repairs during the war.

There is an interesting museum there now, including a good display of military radio’s, which I particularly liked.

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I was fortunate in finding an excellent operating position, right alongside the river under a gazebo. The picnic bench was just perfect and it was unoccupied.

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Being a first activation meant that I was able to make a quick ten contacts, on both SSB as well as CW. The rig I used was my FT-817 that tuned an end-fed long wire by means of an LDG auto tuner. My key was my new pico paddle, which worked beautifully.

The weather was perfect, the exhibits were wonderful and the activation was a success. Will need to revisit this site again sometime.

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Denmark Hill Conservation Reserve VKFF-1529

Saturday 8 April was the day chosen to head out to Ipswich and activate Denmark Hill Conservation Reserve VKFF-1529. I chose this park as it happens to be around 30km from my QTH as well as the fact that it hadn’t been activated before. This would be sure to arouse the interest of hunters.

On arrival, I was amazed to discover that the club house of the Ipswich and District Radio Club borders the Reserve. They were holding a meeting when I walked past in headed into the think bush.

It wasn’t long before I came across a picnic bench which would make an ideal operating position. So I assembled my gear and prepared to put out my first CQ. That’s when the giant mozzies began their attack. I knew then that I should have packed in some insect repellent. I added it to my check list for next time.

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The rig I was using was my trusty FT-817 with an LDG auto tuner and end fed long wire antenna that was supported by a squid pole. I mounted the pole to the support for a dust bin that was conveniently situated nearby.

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I usually operate CW but decided to stick to 40m and 20m SSB this time: what a difference it made. In the short space of half an hour I had made 11 good contacts. With CW I’d be pleased to have made 4 in that time.

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Delighted with my results, and reeling under the concerted efforts of the mosquitoes, I packed up and headed for the car. Along the way I came across the site of some dinosaur footprints. There was a well presented display that explained the history of the site and its rich fossil field.

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This was a most enjoyable activation, especially as the weather was good; we have had plenty of flooding and chaos thanks to Cyclone Debbie.

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Activating Mt Warning, VK2/NR-001

January 11, 2017 had hardly got going when my son Garrett, his partner Vicky and I set out to activate Mt Warning, an ancient volcano that is said to be over 20 million years old. For this expedition, we hired accommodation in Byron Bay as this would cut down travelling time to the mountain. You see, we wanted to watch the sun rise from the summit.

Mt Warning as seen from Byron Bay.

Mt Warning as seen from Byron Bay.

We packed the car and headed for the base of the mountain at 2.45 am, arriving there at 4.11 am. I was a little surprised to see that we weren’t the only ones with that idea; there were around ten cars parked in the car park already!

An information board advised us that the hike would take between 4 and 6 hours to cover the 9 km track.

We also noticed that right from the start the going was uphill. I could feel this was going to be a most challenging activation. What was beginning to concern me was that I might have bitten off more than I could chew. I mean, Garrett is a professional sportsman and Vicky is an ultra-marathon and Iron Man competitor while I am a newly retired ‘senior’. Was I in the right company or what? At least there were four helicopter landing platforms, which gave some sort of comfort.

The first of four helicopter landing platforms.

The first of four helicopter landing platforms.

Sunrise was around 6 am, but we weren’t at the summit to view it. However, we were close enough and boy, was it spectacular!

This made the climb worthwhile.

This made the climb worthwhile.

We arrived at the hardest part of the climb; this involves a very challenging rock climb that was billed as a grade 5 climb – the hardest in the book. A heavy chain provides essential support all the way up; this part took us a good 20 minutes to complete.

This is a grade 5 climb.

This is a grade 5 climb.

After resting for a few minutes and taking in the view, I erected my squidpole and long wire antenna.

This antenna is prefect for my Elecraft KX1.

This antenna is prefect for my Elecraft KX1.

Then I began calling CQ. After my first contact (with ZL1BZY) the ants appeared. They seemed as fascinated with what was going on as the other mountain climbers.

Ants on my 7 a/h gel cell.

Ants on my 7 a/h gel cell.

I also found out that their bites were painful!

It's hard flicking them away while trying to operate the paddle.

My new QSO board in use. There are some more mods I need to make.

After making six contacts, it was time to pack up and head back down. The weather forecast was for heavy rain and we didn’t fancy the prospect of tackling the chains in the wet.

We passed some massive trees on the way down.

We passed some massive trees on the way down.

We arrived back at the base of the mountain at 10.24 am and headed for a wonderful cafe in the heart of the Wollumbin National Park for breakfast.

This was the hardest activation I have done so far. I still wonder how an old fella who passed us on the way up did so bare foot. He said he could feel the rocks better that way!

This activation bought home to me the absolute necessity of minimizing weight as much as possible. My back pack weighed in at a hefty 8 kg, and that was without our water bottles. The biggest culprit here was my gel cell, which is far too heavy. I think next time I will use six internal AA cells and sacrifice 3 Watts of power. Either that or I will invest in a  LiPo battery pack. I also took up items that I never used, like binoculars.

Having done most of my climbing in the ACT so far, I was inappropriately dressed. All other climbers were in shorts and singlets while I wore long pants and a long sleeve shirt; far too hot.

So there are always lessons to be learned, aren’t there?

Better antenna for satellite work

Having worked my fist ‘bird’ with a hand-held, it was time to take the next step and try using a better antenna. The ubiquitous ‘rubber duckie’ has been said by many to be nothing more than an eloborate ground; it’s certainly a compromise antenna designed for simplicity and basic functionality at best.

Wallace, VK4CBW, suggested I try working SO-50 with a gain antenna as it would improve transmission and reception markedly. He offered to lend me his Elk hand-held antenna.

This antenna is a log periodic cut for the 2m/70cm bands and is only two foot long – perfect for satellite work.

I assembled the antenna (it comes with the elements all colour-coded for easy assembly) and put out a call the next time the satellite was within range. Bob, VK3MQ, replied and we had a superb, short, QSO. I was delighted as the distance between us was 1,346 km (836 miles). Not bad for an FM contact on simplex.

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Next I worked Cam, VK4FAAJ, who was using a hand-held coupled to a home-brew yagi he made from a tape measure! Nice copy too, even though he was in my neck of the woods.

 

 

 

Working the satellites

I always wanted to work the satellites as there seems to be something mystical about them. They aren’t called ‘the final frontier’ for nothing.

After talking to Wallace, VK4CBW, it became apparent that this would be quite feasible with a dual-band hand held transceiver and some satellite-tracking software on my computer.

My Boafeng GT-3TP would do fine so I downloaded and installed gpredict into my Surface Pro 4.

I proceeded to monitor my satellite of choice, SO-50, which I chose because it is an FM satellite. Wallace helped program in the receive and send frequencies into my hand-held; receive frequencies starting at 436.805 and progressing down at 5khz intervals to 436.780 would be needed to take the Doppler effect into account. Transmit frequency remains at 145.850.

screenshot-1   As the satellite came within range I headed outside and turned on my hand-held, with the squelch turned right down. Pointing the rubber-duckie antenna towards the ground, I put out a call .. and listened. Turning this way and that, I repeated the call until I heard Wallace reply.

I had made my first contact. The interesting thing about this was that his shack is only some 300m down the road from my shack, but we were communicating via a satellite in space. The pass only lasted around eight minutes or so; brevity is the name of the game here.

My next attempt would be with an Elk antenna, a specially-designed four-element log periodic antenna that Wallace will lend me.