Monday, April 18, 2011

Weekend Forecast from Michigan to Europe

Michigan State QSO Party Counties Worked
This past weekend was the Michigan State QSO Party. The only band that I had good propagation for the contest was 20 meters (go figure). And it was up and down but at least I had a path for most of the contest. My goal was to Search & Pounce only and to work K8MR/M (mobile) as many time as possible. I have worked Jim, K8MR for years in various contests. I also wanted to support the Michigan hams and the other mobiles especially  being a lifetime 8lander myself (Ohio) prior to moving to Alaska. Jim is a fellow Buckeye who has driven thousands of miles activating counties in several QSO Party contests. My surprise encounter was when I worked N8LC and another long time frequenter of my logbook Dale, K8RO was at that key! My old callsign was KE8RO and I would run into Dale often during the UHF/VHF contests. The colored counties reflected in the map above are the ones that I was able to work (stuck with CW for about 98% of my QSO's) so I hit the 50% achievement mark I would guess. Many of these were due to the handful of mobile operators driving from county to county and kudos to them!.

My score summary was:

CONTEST: State QSO Party - MI
CLUB: Northcoast Contesters
SCORE-SUMMARY:    80         0             0
SCORE-SUMMARY:    40         0             0
SCORE-SUMMARY:    20        59             4
SCORE-SUMMARY:    15         0             0
SCORE-SUMMARY:    10         0             0
SCORE-SUMMARY:           -------    ----------
SCORE-SUMMARY: Tot QSOS     59             4
SCORE-SUMMARY: QSO Pnts    118             4
SCORE-SUMMARY: Total Points       122
SCORE-SUMMARY: Multipliers         45
SCORE-SUMMARY: Final Score       5490

I did record one instance of what Jim, K8MR sounded like here in Alaska while he was mobile in Michigan. This recording was when Jim was in Crawford County around 0027z. You can hear this recording in .wma format or .mp3 by just clicking the link of the format you wish to download. You may have to crank up your volume a bit as my recording is done through the headphone jack of my Icom so to save my ears while recording, it's a bit toned down. 

Now that the sun is making a return, so is the longer hours of propagation on 20 meters. The last few nights and mornings have seen some great European propagation on 20 meters. I was also hearing stations on 15 & 17 meters! I listened to 10 meters a few times over the weekend but not a peep. Hopefully as the solar cycle peaks in the next few years, 10 meters will be a band that will yield some activity well into the evening hours.

I have been practicing my CW for years but have never perfected it.  I still enjoy pointing my HF beam over the North Pole and CQ'ing for Europe! I can normally generate a few calling, enough to work split anyhow. I was able to work several stations on Sunday and then again, Europe was booming in on 20 meters Monday morning when I got up! Highlight was working Stan, SQ8X in Poland. I had been chatting back and forth via Twitter and email with Stan for a sked. I sent Stan a note on Twitter that I was hearing Europe on 20 meters yet (1700z) and that we should try. I sent off the frequency and to my surprise, Stan's CW signal came booming through my headphones! I easily worked Stan on 20 CW (Morse Code).  And immediately after working Stan, Andrea, IZ2LSC called from Italy! Andrea was also booming in so two of my Twitter followers were now in my logbook. Nice way to start a Monday!

I had plans of operating portable /QRP in Denali today (at Primrose) but the K index shot up and the Aurora Index hit 8 just prior to my departure. I left the portable equipment at home and my wife and I headed out anyway. It was a beautiful afternoon with a slight haze. We did not get to see Denali but it was still worth the trip to Teklanika Rest Stop.

By this time next month, our RV will be summer ready and the camping season will have begun! I'm looking forward to plenty of portable ham radio fun under the midnight sun!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Curing Cabin Fever by Analyzation

Since the bands have been less than optimal this last week or so, I decided to get my portable setup ready to go. We will be camping in another month or two so I wanted to make sure I was ready for that first trip with my annual inspection of my portable antenna (Buddipole) and other hardware. I was experiencing some issues getting my SWR down while using the Buddipole as a vertical. With some experimenting this weekend, I was able to get things lined up and back in business once again. One of the crucial points is the right length of counterpoise. This was my critical issue when I last used this antenna I'm sure. It was very cold outdoors then and I did not have the time nor did wires and feedline become friendly in temperatures below zero. I took advantage of the lower 30 degree temperatures this weekend to work on getting this tuned.

The Buddipole has worked well for me as I was looking for something portable that I could carry along with my IC-703 Plus running portable QRP (low power). Since I am contemplating a new 100 watt portable rig for the camper, I'm also looking for a vertical antenna that would work in a tight place such as a campground, something that requires no radials that I can mount off of the ladder on the rear of our travel trailer. I also need a telescoping pole to about the 30 foot mark that I can hang wire antenna's from. Wanting to chat locally here in Alaska, 75/80 meters is the band of choice. I'm still shopping and the research continues for that magic antenna that does 10, 12, 15, 17 and 20 meters in a vertical format. I want something without radials only because, in a tight campground, I would be limited at the amount of wire I could string out. This won't be a problem when we are camping in the back country but we do anticipate hitting some campgrounds this summer.

My operating recently has been hit and miss as I have been busy doing other things. My activity as of late has been CW and JT65 on HF. I am looking forward to the temperatures warming up another 10 degrees so I can begin the project of putting up my Hex Beam. I'm looking forward to getting on 17 and 12 meters with a beam and of course, I will have another antenna for 20 if needed.

The days are getting longer and the sun is beginning to melt our accumulated snow from this past winter. We will have a few weeks of mud but when things begin to dry up, it will be time to hit the trails and enjoy the best time to be in Alaska. I have already noticed that 20 meters is staying open later. I have plenty of antenna work to accomplish this summer.
Fine Tuning

One of the best investments I have made is my antenna analyzer. A great investment for any ham and it sure takes the ass out of assumption when trying to guess where any HF antenna is resonant. If this was just about 50 percent smaller, it would be perfect. I keep a healthy amount of AA batteries on hand just for this unit. I just wish life was this easy to tune.

My wife keeps telling me I have the knack of tuning her out but if she had one of these, she might be able to see what frequency I'm tuned in to. Little does she know that I am on frequency with her, I just exercise my use of internal filters on a regular basis. Being a CW operator has helped me achieve a natural 250Hz filter. As with any filter, I tell her it's not that I am filtering her out, I just narrowing my focus on what I really want to hear. This natural filter is often used during those times that the TV is airing something I really want to watch. Outside of that, I'm tuned in to most everything that is going on around me. At least, I think so...