Springbrook National Park dissapointing

Sunday 21st May 2015 was to be a good opportunity to work some Park to Park contacts as the VK5 mob had organised a mass activation to coincide with the WIA AGM. So I decided to activate Springbrook summit VK4/SE-011 and Springbrook National Park VKFF-0463.

The only problem was that Cyclone Debbie had washed away all bridges leading up to Springbrook. The only access road was a back road through the Numinbah Valley. So my wife and I set off nice and early on the 1 hour 40 minute run, but missed the crucial turn and ended up going the normal way up, via the Gold Coast. By the time I realised my mistake it was too late; we were committed.

Just as we drove into the Springbrook National Park, we encountered a road block. Those manning it told us what I suspected. If we wanted to reach the summit we’d have to retrace our route back and go the back route – an additional 40 minutes they told us. So we decided to set up the station along the banks of the river just inside the boundary of the park.

My shack for the activation. Nice cover at least.

My rig for the day was the Yaesu FT-817 with an LDG Z-100 Plus ATU, 7a/h gelcell and an endfed antenna supported by a squid pole. My paddle was the Pico Paddle from Palm Radio in Germany.

This was the first time I used my new Sherpa pack. Fabulous.

All went well and I heard loads of traffic on 40m, all working the various VK5 parks. It was the first time I had been working against pile-ups! Fortunately I was able to tail gate a few contacts and worked two parks: Gerard VK2IO in VKFF-1278 and Rob VK2AAC/2 in VKFF-0004. That was the end of my SSB contacts as my 5W was no match for the 100W stations I was competing with. So it was out with the Pico Paddle and within a few minutes I worked Mike VK2CCW and Ian VK2BJT. CW is really great as it allows you to make contacts despite being low power.

I wasn’t able to activate the summit for SOTA; that will be another time now as I have unfinished business. But we did get to log four contacts towards WWFF and saw first hand the damage a cyclone can cause.

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These are some of the trees that were up-rooted during the cyclone.

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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.

SOTA Activation of Mt Tamborine, VK4/SE-059

Mt Tamborine is an iconic Aussie tourist destination situated in the Gold Coast hinterland. The summit is right in the middle of a suburb but fortunately there is a good lookout in the Tamborine National Park very nearby.

This activation was a good chance for me to try out my new Pico Paddle with my Elecraft KX1.

I had ordered a Pico plate as well; this is a thin plated piece of metal with self-adhesive tabs on the back. The idea is for this to stick onto whatever surface you want to mount the paddle on. I decided to mount mine on my newly made QSO board.

After erecting my squid pole to secure the end of a 24 foot long wire to, I ran out the two counterpoises and connected up the rig.

Installing the long wire antenna.

Installing the long wire antenna.

Then I began calling on 20m.

This was my first attempt at using my new QSO board, with the Pico Paddle mounted in place.

This was my first attempt at using my new QSO board, with the Pico Paddle mounted in place.

It wasn’t long before I realised the Pico plate was simply not up to the job; the paddle began moving around. The magnets were just not strong enough, even though my sending was gentle. I would need to fix this.

Anyway, the bands were in bad shape and I only managed three contacts all morning. Those were with ZL1BYQ and VK7CW on 20m, and VK4EKA on 40m. I also tried SSB with my Yaesu FT-817 on both bands but to no avail.

Back home I began modifying my QSO board.

The Pico Paddle with the Pico plate in place on the board.

The Pico Paddle with the Pico plate in place on the board.

A quick email to Palm Radio in Germany brought the suggestion that I should try using a metal plate instead of the Pico plate, so I raided my workshop and cut a piece of plate to fit. This was then hot glued into place.

The Pico Paddle now attaches itself really firmly to my board, thanks to the metal plate.

The Pico Paddle now attaches itself really firmly to my board, thanks to the metal plate.

Now to head back to Mt Tamborine some day to give it a go. Perhaps then I will manage four contacts and score the two points that are on offer.

John Moyle Field Day 2014

One of the aims of the John Moyle Field Day is to test your ability or readiness for portable operations. This is an even I like to take part in as it not only allows me to prepare for remote operations, it also guarantees contacts.

This year as always, I prepared my kit, made a check list and ensured I had thought of everything. My mode of operation would once again by CW only on the HF bands. My rig of choice was my Elecraft KX1 and my antenna my new Buddistick. My location would be up on Mt Coot-tha, which is not very far from my QTH.

This year I took the added precaution on including a few backup options, and boy was I glad I did. These included a long wire antenna, extra batteries and a multi-tool.

When I reached to top of Mt Coot-tha, I found an unattended BBQ area off the side of the road near the Channel 9 TV studios. Perfect. There was a nice table and bench seat provided too.

I unpacked my gear and started by assembling the Buddistick antenna. Bugger, I had left the all-important antenna mast and stand at home in my haste to get going. And worse still, it had the mounting plate still attached so I couldn’t make use of the small tripod that came with the Buddistick.

Thank goodness for the long wire antenna. I proceeded to cast the end of it up over a high branch of a nearby tree but the weight at the end of it twirled around the branch a few times causing the thing to become stuck. I wasn’t able to pull on it and raise the wire antenna up into the tree. There was now nothing for it but to cut the line loose and try again. Second time around was more successful.

The stand I made to keep the counterpoise off the ground.

The stand I made to keep the counterpoise off the ground.

The rest of the station deployed easily enough and I was able to get a 1.3:1 SWR reading using the new inbuilt antenna tuning unit in the KX1 on the 40m band. No such luck on 20m; 7:1 was the lowest I could obtain and there was no time to fiddle with reducing the length of the wire. I needed to make contacts and score points.

My operating conditions.

My operating conditions.

In total I operated for three hours and chalked up eight QSOs, mostly with VK2 stations. So considering I was only putting out a tad over two watts, I was more than satisfied. Oh, the new paddle worked fine too, even though I found it to flex a little too much for my liking on the enclosure, resulting in some errors in sending. But all in all, I was satisfied.

Listening for signals.

Listening for signals.

Now to wait for the results. At least I have learnt the lesson about being prepared and taking contingencies into account.

 

Review of the Elecraft KXPD1 Plug-in Keyer Paddle

I have now had a chance to actually use my new KXPD1 paddle and must say, I was pleasantly surprised. It works remarkably well.

Picture courtesy of Elecraft.

Picture courtesy of Elecraft.

I was operating from a chair in my back yard. I had my KX1 on my lap, resting on a pile of note paper, that’s all. No table to lean on, nothing but me and a chair. Perfect portable operations.

I found I needed to set my software in the rig to Iambic B and the CW speed to 14. Once that was done, operating was effortless.

Another advantage I found in operating with this setup was that I was able to practice receiving without writing down what I copied. This is a fantastic skill to master. I must confess I wasn’t able to sustain it though; it is very tiring mentally. But I will continue to develop this ability as it does allow you to travel and operate even more frugally. If I can dispense with the need for something like a table, operating portable will be so much more enjoyable.

Back to the paddle.

The spacings as built are fine, in my opinion. I found no need to reduce the gap on the paddles at all. The rubber grips are perfect and give the levers a nice feel. My fingers didn’t tend to slip or slide off during long periods of sending, which is great. They gave me a sense of confidence that I haven’t felt until now.

So overall, I am very satisfied with the paddles. They make a nice addition to the KX1.

Building Elecraft’s KXPD1 plug-in keyer paddle

Part of my Elecraft KX1 upgrade program involved adding the KXPD1 plug-in keyer paddle to the rig. I decided to do this as I like the idea of having one less component to worry about, especially when operating portable. And with the annual John Moyle Field Day only a week away, now is the time to get organised.

I placed my order for the kit over the phone and it arrived in Australia in less than a week.

The kit came well packed and with good instructions. Typical Elecraft.

This was a rather simple kit to put together, being more mechanical in nature than electronic. I only had to use the soldering iron once to solder the wires to the 3.5mm stereo plug. This was also the most tricky part as you need to ensure that there are no short circuits. The space in the aluminium bracket where the soldering takes place is small and cramped.

When all was together, it was time to run some tests. I plugged the keyer into the rig and turned it on. I immediately heard a series of dits and dahs in the headphones, indicating that something was wrong.

I read through the instruction manual and found this case covered: there was a short between one of the plug wires and the bracket. But I knew this not to be the case as I had checked with my DMM beforehand and all was okay. So I read on and found the next test was to remove a rubber grip and see if that stops the noise. It did. So now I knew I had a build up of solder or something between the lever and contact wire.
I pulled the lever apart and inspected it closely. There was a small bit of flux on the lever. That responded well to my finger nail and fell off. So I put it all back together again, slipped on the rubber grip and plugged it into the rig. I held my breath as I turned on the power and heard … nothing. Phew, all good.

Now all I need to do is try out the keyer paddle next time I fire up the rig for the QRP net.

My new KXPD1 keyer paddle all ready to go.

My new KXPD1 keyer paddle all ready to go.

QRP with an Elecraft KX1 and a Long Wire Antenna

Having gone 100% QRP, I have decided to operate in the true spirit of doing more with less. That means all my radio work takes place on my deck, using battery power and as basic set up as possible.

And boy, am I having fun.

Since making the switch to QRP I have been operating on Tuesday nights with the CW Operator’s Club net on 7.028 MHz. My equipment so far has been the KX1 feeding 3W into a long wire antenna that I string up along the railings of my deck at my QTH.

The long wire antenna is attached to the deck railing and works surprisingly well.

The long wire antenna is attached to the deck railing and works surprisingly well.

The deck is up on the second floor of my house facing SE. I use a BLT Tuner to take care of tuning the antenna, a Whiterook paddle and a 2 Ah rechargeable battery.

My operating position on my deck. From left: battery, KX1 with Whiterook paddle connected, BLT tuner.

My operating position on my deck. From left: battery, KX1 with Whiterook paddle connected, BLT tuner.

I have no trouble making good contact with operators in Sydney and Canberra and have worked into Melbourne too with this setup. But I need to maximise efficiency so have embarked on an upgrade. I have ordered an internal antenna tuning unit and the plug-in paddle as well as a Buddistick vertical antenna¬†from Elecraft. That should arrive this week. I expect better performance once I’ve had a chance to build and install these pieces of gear.