Monday, November 29, 2010

CQ World Wide CW 2010

The last weekend in November is an exciting time for the contesting and DX'ing communities. The CQ World Wide CW Contest is one of the most popular contests on the calendar. Stations get on the air from all over the world and in 48 hours, they attempt to contact as many other stations as possible, searching for new Zones and Entities. Contests normally fill up the bands and at times, draw complaints from those not participating. I won't get started on that debate but no matter if it's a RTTY, SSB, CW, or any other contest, if the bands cooperate, these weekends can be lots of fun (not to mention you could work lots of new states, countries, zones, etc). Here is my final breakout from this past weekend. 

Contest         : CQ World Wide DX Contest
Callsign        : KL8DX
Mode            : CW
Category        : Single Operator (SO)
Overlay         : ---
Band(s)         : All bands (AB)
Class           : High Power (HP)
Zone/State/...  : 1
Locator         : BP53LU
Operating time  : 15h43
  160       0       0     0     0       0            0.00
   80       2        2    2      0       2           1.00
   40      20       5    4      0      52          2.60
   20     698     17   48    8    1525         2.18
   15     103     10   10    0     227          2.20
   10     128      9   11    2     276           2.16
TOTAL   951    43  75  10    2082          2.19
        TOTAL SCORE : 245 676

I got a late start as I was just getting my station back together from realizing my repairs to my beam were in fact, successful. My beam was nested just above the roof so it took some time to get the feedlines, wire antennas, guys, all back in place. I did not finish completing this task until after the contest but I got enough done in the beginning to get me on the air. 

It had been several months since I last fired up Win-test and took it for a drive down contesting lane. Since I don't operate much during the summer time, I had to retrain my brain to remember the finer details of this program, not to mention getting my macros all set up. Once that was done, I was ready on Saturday morning to jump in with both feet. My CW was rusty from playing this summer so my speed comprehension was not the best. This always changes by the end of the contest, after copying high speed code all weekend! 

I started out by making a few contacts on Friday night on 40 and 80, but those were mainly helping me get the software playing the way I needed. My goal was to wake up the next morning (Saturday) and start fresh with a run. I prefer to find a somewhat clear frequency and call CQ in the hopes that I will get spotted and the masses will come to me. Normally that works, especially when you are in a state that counts as a multiplier, sometimes double, depending on the contest of course.  You can't be shy when operating from Alaska, as once you are found, oftentimes a pile-up you will find. 

The Win-test screen shot on the right shows my final log tally and underneath the grayline map, you will find a snap shot of my operating times and rates. Again, nothing to write home about but what that does not show you is the excitement I had on 10 meters (28 MHz). At the very top of this blog, you will see a Google Earth depiction of some of the contacts I made on 10 meters (for those I could find grid squares for). I was overly excited to make 128 contacts on 10!  In Alaska, this is something I never expected to see in my log. K3LR was looking for Alaska on 10 meters and I went to 10 in hopes of catching them. I could not hear a peep out of K3LR but I did notice some other activity on the band when doing a quick glance at my spectrum scope on my Icom 756PRO. I found the band open to South America! Since I was not really competing in this contest, I decided to scan around on 10 meters and see what I could work. Some of the calls I worked right out of the starting gate were, HD2M, CE1/K7CA, LP2D, CE3FZ, CW3D, LW2HBF, LW4HBR, LU7HZ, just to name a few. I started to hear the lower 48 and I began hearing and working stations from the East Coast to the West Coast. Yep, I was in propagational heaven! Most of the stations I worked on 10 where from that run on 10. 

My 10 meter opening lasted from 2053Z on the 27th, thru 2322Z. I picked up a station or two here and there afterward and even managed a few contacts on 10 the following day but this was by far the best opening I have experienced up here. I normally watch the beacon spots and tune 10 meters from time to time but this contest, I got lucky. You have to understand, 10 meters to an Interior of Alaska DX station, is like getting snow in Texas. It does not happen very often but when it does, it's lots of fun! I'm also hoping this is an indication of what is yet to come for 10 meters, now that the sun is beginning to be a bit more active.

And in speaking about the sun, a solar event kicked up absorption here in Alaska and on Sunday, the bands fell apart for a large part of the morning. They bounced back but nothing like Friday through Saturday night. All in all, this was a great weekend and I only wished I had more time to operate as this would have been the weekend for me to beat my personal high score in this contest. 

One of the highlights for me was ZL8X calling ME on two bands! I had not chased their DXpedition as I was waiting for the beginning madness to fade off. And again, the biggest "falling off my chair" moment was when they called ME on 10 meters!!!  

Alaska was once again well represented and it's always a pleasure to participate from this great state. It's hard to believe we just passed our 7th anniversary of living here in Alaska and working at Denali National Park. Not only does this hobby allow me to chat with people from all over the world, I have had several hams contact me and I have been able to meet them personally when they are on vacation here in Alaska, visiting Denali. I promote this park worldwide through my hobby and come to find, many I have talked with have visited here. The only thing bigger than an exciting weekend of DX'ing is Mount McKinley (Denali) at 20,320 feet, the tallest mountain in North America and it's right here in our backyard.

I appreciate all that called and gave me contacts and as always, I'm sure there are those I missed. It's great to be back in the saddle again and I'm looking forward to the rest of the contest season. It's dark and cold in Alaska, so it's very easy to spend a weekend on the radio making hundreds of contacts. In the summer time, I like to post a note on the shack door, "Closed For The Season". 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Let's Contest Shall We? The Mosley is Back!

I have been tearing into my shack and working on doing some much needed maintenance. I was playing around with Win-test and noticed when I was doing antenna comparisons, that my HF beam was currently on position 2 of my remote antenna switch and NOT position 1, as I had previously thought. I don't have the five slots named (marked). With a bit of old age and my ongoing memory (or lack of) issue, I discovered that the repairs I made to my beam put it back in the game. If I had used my MFJ antenna analyzer, this would of been apparent to me when I first checked it but I accepted defeat when in fact, I had won.  I cranked up my antenna to its normal operational height and the signals sounded like I remembered them. I have a bit more work on my guys to get them back to normal but that won't take long, I just ran out of daylight.

I started using Win-test a few years ago but as with any software, if you don't use it all the time, you need to remember some of the finer settings (like macros). I spent an hour getting it configured and becoming reacquainted with the program with hopes of having some fun in the CQ World Wide CW Contest this weekend. My CW is a bit rusty but banging out several hundred contacts should do the trick.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Hex Build

I recently received my Hex Beam from KIO Technolgy and was finally excited to retrieve it from the boxes it arrived in. It was carefully packaged and here pictured, are the parts laid out on two sawhorses. I used the sawhorses as the foundation by which to construct the antenna. This antenna is large enough that it's an outdoor project however, it can be easily deconstructed for the move to the tower as I built it in my garage.

The instructions are easy to follow and if you take your time reading, this is only a two hour project, three hour at the very most. If you have built one of these before, you can easily throw this together in an hour. I found that you really need to be most mindful of attaching the fiberglass spreaders to the base plate. Since these are not reinforced, you have to be careful when tightening them into place. Everything is well marked and the only issue that I had with mine was, one of the stop clamps were missing from a spreader. I had a few on hand so it was an easy fix.

I'm excited to add this antenna to my operational stock as it will give me another antenna for 20 meters but I'm even more excited to have a beam on 17 and 12 meters! I would imagine, once my Mosley is fully functional again, this beam will be used mostly on 17 and 12.  I only saw the need for a 3 band antenna as I have 10 and 15 meters available on my Mosley and I have 6 meter antennas. I'm also looking forward to testing this out in our extreme weather conditions. As seen from an earlier post, the fiberglass on my 2 meter / 440 vertical finally failed. With our high winds, extreme cold temperatures, this arctic environment is sure the place to test such things.

The beam is built and once I get everything off of the tower it will reside on, I will partially disassemble it and move it outdoors putting it all back together permanently. It is light and it should not be too much of a problem getting onto the mast. It will need to be raised with the bottom of the base plate against the tower and then lifted over top and placed on the mast. Due to the light but hearty construction, I don't expect much of a problem accomplishing this feat. It's wide enough that it could be a challenge if I had guys to contend with but that won't be an issue on my small tower. I'm sure I will need the assistance of my wife and as always, she is more than happy to be my ground crew manager.

All in all, my first impressions from the purchase and build of this antenna would rate it a 9.8 on a scale from one to ten.  I think having a reinforced section of the 1" thick fiberglass spreader where it attaches to the base plate would be a plus as it's obvious that even slightly over tightening these will cause the fiberglass to crack. I was also missing the one stop clamp on a 3/4 inch spreader but again, I had a similar one on hand.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend this company for their customer service, prompt and safe shipment, and ease of an antenna build. I like the fact that everything is pre-measured and well marked. Once I get this antenna in operation, I will post an overview of the performance. This antenna will only sit at about the 30 foot level so it won't be high but from other reviews, I'm hopeful that this will put many contacts in my logbook for 17 and 12 meters and also act as a back-up to my Mosley for 20 meters. I chose this company mainly from the reviews on e-ham dot net and also from some information I found on YouTube. I have no investment in this company other than telling it like it is. Stay tuned for part two of the Hex Build. Now I just need some free time and for the weather to cooperate. Something tells me that won't go as easily as the build did.

Monday, November 15, 2010

As Luck Would Have It...

I braved the weather and a large amount of snow on our metal roof to replace the repaired driven element on my Mosley HF antenna. I took my time as this is not the place to be this time of year but thankfully with the help of my wife, all went well. I told her I was going to see about getting on the roof and I phoned her when I made it up there. Needless to say, she was not real happy with me but due to her marital obligation, she helped this bravely, stupid ham. My jacket pockets were filled with tools but I forgot the screwdriver but it all worked out in the end.

After hooking the antenna back up and safely getting my butt off the roof, I was excited to see the results. I have wondered what my chances were of only having the one trap meltdown on my beam. When I got into the shack, I found a very high SWR on all bands so apparently, I have more issues that I probably won't have a chance to troubleshoot until spring. I was looking forward to seeing it back to normal and putting out my usual moderate signal from Alaska. Seems that won't be the case as it will remain nested for the rest of the winter.

On a positive note, I did get my Hexbeam in the mail last weekend so I will begin to put that together. With any luck, I can temporarily set that up and who knows, maybe even get it parked on the small tower which is on the left side of the photo above. That will be the final resting place for the Hexbeam once I get it constructed. 

This is probably a sign from someone my wife is connected to. She knows that if I am not playing radio on the weekends, I will want to finish our home improvement projects, mainly the master bath and the arctic entry. Something tells me she will be getting her wish. I will be on with my vertical and I will possibly put up a wire for 20 meters that will get me through the winter months. But one things for sure, once the spring thaw arrives and the temperatures warm up, I will begin my much needed upgrade of the station. I plan on replacing feedlines, continue my fix of the 4 element, and install another 6 meter antenna along with adding my replacement UHF/VHF vertical. I can buy a few pieces and parts as the winter goes along so I will have my stock ready to go before the skeeters arrive. 

I continue to work on my APRS project which should be completed by next weekend. I will hopefully get a wire antenna up here soon for 20, so maybe the winter won't look so bad after all. However, I'm still obligated to get the home improvement projects done. I'm bound by contract, that same marital contract that is...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

APRS & Hexagonal Beam Addition

ARS KL8DX has been rather quiet over the last few months. Reason in part due to my HF energy overload sent along to my TA-34-XL. I have the director back together after receiving my replacement part quickly from Mosley. The weather however has kept me from putting my 4 element back in service. It has been hard to miss a few of the major contests that have taken place over the last several weekends but with any luck, it won't be long until I get my signal broadcasting outside this great state of Alaska. With the fact I have not been able to really get on HF like I would want, I have been concentrating my time on APRS. This summer I purchased two Kenwood TM-D700A's from a ham in southern Alaska. My plans are to run one mobile and the 2nd will be used in the shack. I also plan on putting a DIGI here that will rebroadcast any APRS activity northward. I needed some pieces parts to complete this project and now that they all arrived, I'm about to do the mobile install.

Living where we do, I enjoy ham radio as there are many places that we have no cellular service but we have 2 meter or 440 coverage. Of course there are many places in our area that don't have either but this is just another form of communication that helps fill that void. 

I found the Kenwood a bit complicated but once I got used to the menu system (pretty much an Icom person myself) things started to make sense. It took a bit of reading and I also had my long time friend and old neighbor Sean, KL1SF, on echolink. He helped me with a few of the settings and today, I put it all together and everything worked as it should. I downloaded the free Kenwood software from their website so I just need to copy the settings so I can upload them to the 2nd rig when I put it in service (with a few tweaks of course).

Losing my ability to use my 4 element HF beam over the last few months has made me look at other antennas. I wanted something that was small, that had good reviews, that could be used as a back-up or in addition to my Mosley. After doing research, I opted for the Hexagonal Beam by K4KIOI had this configured for 20, 17, and 12 meters. My goal is to use this for Asia during the winter contest season on 20 meters when I don't want to crank my beam 180 degrees from the lower 48. It will also give me two bands that I want to be a bit more active on. That beam should arrive this next week and I will construct it as time allows in the ol garage. It does not look like it will take too long to put together but the weather will probably keep me from getting it on the tower for a few months. But hey, I may be able to set it up temporarily and give it a spin.

With the holidays fast approaching, other priorities will take the front seat to this great hobby. Sometimes, life leaves no time for ham radio but that's the beauty of it, it's always waiting for you when time allows. Twenty-two years later, I enjoy this hobby as much as I did when I first took my Novice test back in December of 1987. It won't be long now before I will be eligible from AARP and QCWA! Where has the time gone?