VK9MT – Callsign Issued

Mellish logo masked booby standing yellow final

It’s official, on Friday, 27 September 2013 the Australian Communications and Media Authority issued the call sign VK9MT for use on Mellish Reef. Thanks to Chris Chapman and ODXG for their assistance with the process.

The 2014 Mellish Reef dxpedition website is now online. More information will continue be added as planning progresses for this trip. The nucleus of the VK9MT team is formed from the EU- and US-based members of the ZL9HR dxpedition. Currently number 24 on ClubLog’s Most Wanted List, Mellish Reef was last activated in 2009.

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SOTA Stonetown High Point (Windbeam Mountain), W2/NJ-012

Windbeam Mountain (listed in SOTA as the Stonetown High Point, W2/NJ-012) is a peak in northern NJ, overlooking the Wanaque reservoir. This was the choice for my xyl and I for a hike and some radio on the Saturday of the 2013 NA SOTA weekend.

There’s a clearly-marked trail which leaves from close to the large parking area on Mary Roth Drive. The trail is indicated on the NY-NJ trail association map 115. After crossing the Stonetown Road, the trail heads into an occasionally-boggy boulder field at the foot of Little Windbeam. The trail is well-marked with red triangles. compressed-0499To begin with it deviates from the trail indicated on map 115, running closer to the road and along the flat rather than cutting across the hillside. Eventually, it turns left and starts climbing, intersecting the NJ Highlands trail, after which the red triangles are joined by blue diamonds. Then it’s a steep, rocky hike up Little Windbeam. The trail is partly wooded but there are quite a few open areas, both where the forest had burned years ago, as well as some large rock outcrops. Consequently, there are some good views from the top.

View from Little Windbeam.

View from Little Windbeam.

There’s still a bit of a walk after Little Windbeam, with a series of short descents followed by ascents to subsidiary peaks, before arriving at the relatively flat top of Windbeam Mountain. We were puffing a bit at times on the way up (too much fine dining, not enough fine hiking). However, the description of Windbeam on the NJ1K website made us feel a little less guilty: “At only 1040′, Windbeam is the fifth lowest mountain on our NJ1K list, but Windbeam actually takes more vertical climbing to summit than nearly any other mountain in New Jersey… The Highlands trail’s ascent up Windbeam from the south is one of the longest sustained steeps in New Jersey”. Ok, so that’s not saying much, but it helped dissipate some of the negative vibes from our rather slow ascent.

The top of Windbeam is very pleasant, a small plateau with open woods, and the occasional rock outcrop providing a somewhat comfortable operating position.

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K3EL operating from W2/NJ-012. KX3 and an iPad with hamlog and a piglet.

For my last couple of SOTA trips I’d taken a 31-foot vertical with a Z11-pro tuner used at the base. Although it seemed to work reasonably well, this isn’t a particularly lightweight setup. So this time I tried something different, a 54-foot inverted vee dipole fed with 300 ohm ribbon. This was connected to the KX3 via a few inches of coax and a 4:1 balun. The pole was set up on a rock outcrop, on the NE side of the summit. The ground in the immediate vicinity of the antenna was pretty flat, but within 100 yards or so it started dropping away. Looked like it should be a promising site, and the morning started off well-enough with a decent little pileup on 20 m. However, there were few callers from EU all day. Given that conditions seemed ok (indeed, bands were hopping when I got home in the evening), the lack of DX was a bit disappointing, and this prompted some comparison with my last two SOTA trips where the vertical was used.

date antenna SFI SSN A-index # qsos # EU # RBN # RBN EU
9th June 31′ vert 96 41 9 46 8 45 6
11th Aug 31′ vert 110 90 6 41 7 72 19
7th Sept 54′ dipole 99 35 4 45 5 55 0

SFI = solar flux; SSN = sunspot number; #EU = number of EU QSOS; #RBN = total number of RBN spots; #RBN EU = number of RBN spots from EU.

On each trip, bands used were mostly 40, 20 and 17. Looking at the number of EU qsos, it doesn’t seem too different between the various operations. However, this time, I’d mixed CQing with an effort to actively hunt out DX summit-to-summit qsos, whilst on the two earlier trips I’d just been CQing. The RBN results are perhaps more telling; zero EU spots this time! Puzzling, since you wouldn’t expect a huge difference between the two antennas. I’ve previously made A/B comparisons in my garden between the 31-foot vertical and the inv-vee (apex at about 27 feet). Switching between them resulted in a very similar or slightly better performance off the sides of the dipole on 30/20/17, whilst the vertical was better for signals coming from the direction of the ends of the dipole – all pretty much as expected. So, were conditions just not as good as expected this weekend, or what? Thinking about it some more, perhaps the dipole was compromised by the way it was put up on the hilltop. The wires got caught up in low tree branches, which bent the top of the pole down sharply, and forced the top of the dipole elements together. Modeling the resulting configurations in EZNEC, you get the following. First, the inv vee configured as in the back garden, apex at 27 feet, ends about 12 feet up:

SOTA inv vee 27 foot apexNext, a configuration similar to that on the hilltop, with the feed point at 22 feet, with a sharply pointed apex to the vee, and then the lower part of the wires gently sloping and closer to the ground:

SOTA inv vee 22 foot apex squashed

The radiation pattern has shifted upwards. Not so good for DX. Finally, here’s the 31-foot vertical. All antennas were modeled over average ground. The vertical has 30 ohms load resistance to ground, to mimic significant ground losses.

SOTA 31 foot vert

So although the peak gain for the half-wave vertical is lower than for the dipoles, the gain at useful DX radiation angles is competitive, especially when compared to the the compromised vee configuration. Sure, band conditions probably had a lot to do with the results from atop Windbeam Mt., but still, next time I’ll pay a bit more attention to how the dipole is actually strung up!

QSLs received – XZ1Z

Compressed XZ1ZHearing XZ1Z on the air was a very nice end-of-summer surprise. Even better was managing to work Zorro, find out that the operation was confirmed for DXCC credit, and then quickly receive the QSL in the mail.

This is a very beautiful card, nicely printed. Definitely one to be displayed. I’ve been scanning some of my favorite cards and displaying them in an electronic photo frame as a rotating slide show. XZ1Z will be added to the sequence. Thanks Zorro, JH1AJT, looking forward to your next operation from Myanmar.

TX5RV – callsign issued

Callsign TX5RV has just been issued for our upcoming mini-dxpedition to Raivavae (DXCC: FO/A, Austral Islands; IOTA: OC-114). Don, VE7DS, and I will be operating from  Raivavae from 30th October until 5th November, running two medium-power stations into verticals at the water’s edge. Operation will mostly be CW, but we may find some time for digital modes or SSB. More information will be added to the links on the DX section of this site over the next few weeks.

SOTA Bald Hill W2/NJ-006 (11 Aug 2013)

Bald Hill (or Mountain) is a summit in the far north of New Jersey, just a mile or so from the New York state line. Scott, WB2REI and I set up two stations (both using the callsign K3EL), for a first SOTA activation of this summit. Although there’s not been much SOTA activity from here, there is plenty of other RF floating around…

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We chose locations for our stations a couple of hundred yards away from the radio tower, on a trail running to the south from the summit. There was no rf interference from the summit tower on the amateur bands – the audible noise from the roaring fans of the HVAC systems in the radio room at the base of the tower was more troubling.

Scott was using his K2 with a LNR Precision 40/20/10 m “trail-friendly” end-fed wire. There are clearings off the track with some conveniently-placed trees and Scott made full use of his abilities with a throwing line (note the collapsible nylon bucket – no tangles as the line heads up in the air). Once up in the trees, wire was pretty much horizontal, one end of the was close to 40 feet up, the other around 30. Got out pretty well.

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My antenna was a 31 foot vertical supported by a dxwires pole, with a dozen radials and a tuner at the base, with a KX3 running 5 – 10 W. This time, I used a piglet and iPad to log. Luxury! Still had a pad and paper in the pack, though, just in case. compressed-0418-2

We compared RBN spots afterwards, and just based on the spots it looks like the station running the 31 ft vertical was getting out better. The number of spots was dissimilar, about 25 for the station with the horizontal end-fed, about 70 for the station running the 31 foot vertical. The latter had many more EU spots, but perhaps that was because I spent more time on 17 m which was pretty open across the pond. This was a bit of a contrast to our last trip, to W2/NJ-010, when we used similar setups. On that occasion, the end-fed wire (approx horizontal, at about 25 feet)  resulted in about 120 out of 160 RBN spots (although 40 of these were from one station which was reporting spots every minute!). Stil, also on that occasion the vertical seemed to be better for DX; all EU spots were for the station running the vertical, none on the horizontal end-fed. However, most of these were on 17 or 15, bands which were not used on the end-fed horizontal wire. Overall, it’s difficult to say one of the antennas strongly outperformed the other. The greater number of DX spots on both of our recent SOTA trips seems to give the 31-foot vertical (w/12 radials) the edge. On the other hand, the vertical is heavier (the pole alone is nearly three pounds) and even with 22-gauge wire the radials add a couple of pounds. Then there’s the tuner at the base, another couple of pounds (LDG Z11pro with batteries).

Bald Hill does not seem to be a popular hiking destination (there are no really good views), although there are a few trip reports describing visits at peakbagger.com and a description and pictures at the NJ1K website. We accessed the peak via Mountain Road. Shortly after the junction with Stag Hill Road, the blacktop ends; there are a few spots to pull off and park near the junction of Mountain Road and Stag Hill road. Mountain Road becomes an increasingly rough dirt road suitable only for high-clearance 4×4 vehicles. Power lines (for the radio tower) lead all the way to the summit. Following these, you cross a utility easement and follow the track which leads to several ruined farm buildings (a local hang-out, judging from the hundreds of beer cans and bottles – we arrived early on a Sunday morning and smoke was still rising from the remains of the previous night’s bonfire). At the ruins, the power lines and the track turn sharp right to head steeply up to the top. We saw no-one in the morning. Coming back in the afternoon it was much busier with several high-speed dirt bikes and ATVs.

There is a cross and well-maintained memorial near the ruins. I wasn’t aware of for whom or why this memorial was there, but a little research upon returning revealed this interesting article in the New Yorker.

Next planned activation somewhere in NJ – NA SOTA weekend 7/8 Sept.