Monday, December 17, 2012

Hell to QRP - My Weekend

This was a lite activity weekend for me and propagation turned out not being that great anyhow. I started the weekend operating a bit of Feld Hell. The Feld Hell Club had their 24 hour Happy Birthday Rudolph Sprint. Hell is short for Hellschrieber, and Rudolph Hell was the inventor. A fun mode with a bit of a slow pace. During a poor band, the font selection alone can make or break a contact. Not a great weak signal mode but plenty of fun to operate with a great group of hams keeping this mode active. A big congrats to Dave, KB9MLE who received his Feld Hell Club Worked All States (WAS) with that mode, which he more than likely finished up this past weekend.  

Also on my target "To Do" list this past weekend was operating in the QRP ARCI Holiday Spirits Homebrew Sprint. Since winterizing our travel trailer a few months back, all of my QRP equipment is now fully functional in our igloo. I wanted to stretch my low power legs a bit and see how far 5 watts would make it this weekend in the sprint. The way the bands were, I was not very hopeful as QRP can be a huge challenge. Living here in Alaska, I've found 100 watts to be challenging on many occasions so 5 watts can be brutal. 

My Icom IC-703Plus
My QRP rig is an Icom IC-703Plus which I picked up off of eBay a few years ago. I'm a big fan of the now departed Icom IC-706 series and this is that rig, just a 10th of the power output. I like the ability to adjust my power output from 1 to 10 watts. I may have made one contact with this on SSB but otherwise, it's a 99.99% CW rig. I've operated this rig portable and while camping. As I mentioned earlier, when I winterize our travel trailer, this rig finds a home in the warm shack next to my Icom IC-756PRO. I have three different Morse Code Keys that I use with this rig, two straight keys and one Bencher paddle. I've thought about doing a bit of QRP contesting with this rig but have yet to take that plunge.

The QRP station 
I have a Dell Mini that I use when operating portable so I have it hooked up to the IC-703Plus. One of the disadvantages I have found with the Dell is the lack of COM Port assignments. It appears to only have a default of one, that being Com 3. I've been experimenting with virtual COM ports but so far, I'm not having much luck getting full interface capabilities between my contest, logging software and the rig. Something that I will continue to work with over the next few cold months. I would love to be able to do FSK RTTY with this set up and also have full functionality with Win-test but so far, I'm only half way there. As seen in the photo above, I also have an IC-706MIIG that I purchased from my CW Elmer, Ed, K8QWY. Ed upgraded to the IC-7000, so it was a great opportunity to get another 100 watt rig for the shack. And besides, I'm hoping to get back into UHF/VHF someday so this will come in handy sometime in the future.

Our Icom stack, double meter, to ensure 5 watts of output
In getting back to the QRP contest this past weekend, I managed only 13 QSO's (contacts) and a few were a bit of a struggle. I used N3FJP's QRP ARCI log to handle all of my logging but all CW was manually sent with my Bencher. I always have to reacquaint myself with the Icom's menu set up but once I started using the 703, it all came back pretty quickly. And now that it's winter, I can be operating QRP with a flip of an antenna switch. I will be using it a bit more often over the next few months. Unless the bands are HOT, QRP with a compromised portable antenna can be extremely tough up here. Having it hooked to my 4 element Mosley helps just a bit. My 5 watts at the rig is probably more like 3 or 4 watts by the time it makes it to the other end of the frozen coax but having the added 4 element bump makes up for it. 

The contest was fun and in the end, I only managed those 13 QSO's but I don't think it was half bad considering the band conditions. Funny thing is, I was working Bob, N4BP on 15 meters and we moved to 10 to try a contact. I figured I would do like I've done many times, tune to 10 meters and listen in vain. Well, that was sure not the case. As soon as I tuned over to 10 meters, Bob's great station was easily heard here in my part of Alaska, much stronger actually than I heard him on 15 meters! I think we both were surprised and once again, 10 meters showed why it's also the "Magic Band" in my band plan! 

I know QRP is not for everyone but my friend Steve, wG0AT was the one that sparked my interest. I'm sure he has done that for many a ham! As mentioned in an earlier blog, I had the privilege of meeting Steve personally and spending a day with him, which Steve caught on video and has on YouTube. So Steve, thanks for helping me realize how much fun QRP operating can be. It's awesome to be able to get outdoors with breathtaking views and enjoy the sweet sound of ham radio blending with the sounds of nature. 

My QRP ARCI contest summary as submitted, is listed below. Again, I hope to do a bit more of QRP in the coming months. As we approach the Winter Solstice, I can look forward to a few things. The return of the sun, however slowly it will be over the next few months. I can dream of those long days  under the midnight sun operating portable. Yes, it's several months away but until that time when I de-winterize our travel trailer and move my QRP equipment back to it's summer home, I will be enjoying some low power QSO's from deep inside our igloo. As our temperatures have been steady at -20F, I can think of no better way to spend a cold arctic day than to hibernate in the bear den and play radio. I've operated outdoors at these temperatures as well, but let me tell you, the Icom was able to handle it but the coax to my Buddipole was very unfriendly at those temps, unmanageable actually!  

Operating up here in this unfriendly propagational zone, I do have something I hope to add to my QRP equipment list. Maybe Santa will drop one off someday? I would love to have a portable beam such as THIS one! The recent reviews look much better than the earlier, but this would be nice for playing ham radio in the back country up here. My wants are bigger than my wallet but a ham can still dream, right?


QRP ARCI CONTEST: QRP ARCI Holiday Spirits Homebrew Sprint     MODE: CW

CALL: KL8DX  S/P/C(QTH): AK  QRP #/POWER: 13835  ENTRY: All band

Non-Member QSO's = 1

Member QSO's = 12


| 160  |      0 |     0 |
|  80  |      0 |     0 |
|  40  |      0 |     0 |
|  20  |     32 |     5 |
|  15  |     25 |     5 |
|  10  |      5 |     1 |
|   6  |      0 |     0 |
|Totals|     62 |    11 |

  Total   X   Total   X   Power   +   Bonus   =      Final

  Points      S/P/C       Mult        Points         Score

      62  X     11    X      7    +        0  =       4,774 



RECEIVER: IC-703Plus (same)

ANTENNA(S): 4 Element tri-bander, Mosley TA-34-XL @ 43 feet (A2)

COMMENTS: Bands were not QRP friendly but managed a handful of contacts. Was

          very surprised to get N4BP on all three bands. We moved to 10 meters
          after a QSO on 15 and Bob was very loud! I had a few I worked on two
          bands, W0UFO and K4BAI. Heard a few who could not hear me. 

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