ZL9HR Operations – Looking Back

Several of the pages on this site address antenna planning, propagation, etc, prior to the dxpedition. So, looking back, what worked, and what didn’t? (note – these are my thoughts alone, no doubt other members of ZL9HR would have other ideas to add)

Operating Plan – Before we left, we expected that we would not be able to operate during the overnight hours due to conditions of the landing permit. We were also expecting approximately ten days on the island. However, there was always the possibility that these best-laid plans would need to be revised due to the vagaries of the weather, and indeed this is how it turned out. In the days before the expedition left the port of Bluff I was glued to   http://www.oceanweather.com to see the effect of a series of storms passing south of New Zealand. With wave heights of 10 m or more reported in the vicinity of ZL9 and gale-force winds an on-time arrival seemed unlikely, and once we boarded the Evohe the captain explained that a delay was inevitable. In the end, we arrived at Campbell Island on the morning of 1st Dec, three days later than planned. We also knew there was little chance of extending the stay to compensate for this due to the boat’s schedule as well as individual travel plans. On the other hand, there was always the possibility that the weather might require an earlier-than-planned departure! So Plan A was out the window, and Plan B had to address how to give an all-time-new-one to as many as possible given the reduced operating time. It was decided to cut back on some aspects of the operation to allow for as quick as start-up as possible, and reduce the time spent putting up/taking down antennas and stations. So, there was no 6 m operation, only two Spiderbeams were in the air instead of three, 80 m operation was on a Steppir vertical instead of the planned inv-L, and on 40 m we used a quarter-wave vertical alone, and not the 2-ele Moxon. Neither were the Beverage antennas used. Going with a reduced operating plan, a couple of stations were on the air on the first evening we were at Campbell Island.

Antenna Siting – This was pretty much as planned. One group of antennas was close to the Met Building (which was the site of both SSB and CW stations in two different rooms) with a good hillside takeoff towards the east and south.The other group was further to the south-west.

Beeman Base with marked operating postions A 5-band Spiderbeam and a 17/12 m Optibeam were located by the Met Building (blue line on the satellite image above) along with the 40 m vertical and the Steppir vertical. These beams pointed mostly NA (which was also EU long-path) or SA and generally worked very well in these directions. The image below shows the Optibeam, pointed down Perseverance Harbor in the direction of southern NA or Central America. Immediately behind the beam the ground drops away down to the water’s edge. We often had excellent signals from EU-LP and the north-east US on these antennas. Feedback from our pilot was that signals into the north-west US were less strong than to the east coast or southern states. Probably this was due to the mountain ridge to the left of the picture below – low angle takeoffs were increasingly obscured as the beams were turned more to the north.


The second group of antennas were further away from the operating location, in the area of clear ground marked by the lower red oval and the nearby area circled in blue on the satellite image. This ridge-line location gave a commanding view in almost all directions, including to the west and north west which were poor takeoffs from the other antenna location, so the Spiderbeam and 15 m Moxon located here were used a lot for EU short-path for which they worked well. A 10 m Moxon and the 160 m Spiderpole inv-L were located a little below the ridge, closer to the track leading to the Met Station building.

One surprise when actually on the ground was how thick and tall the vegetation was over much of the base area. The Dracophyllum scrub growing around Beeman base is very dense and several feet high in many places making most of the area difficult or unsuitable for antenna placement – the picture below shows Dracophyllum growing on either side of the boardwalk which runs from the old Met station up past Beeman Hill.


According to the DOC representative who accompanied us, the Dracophyllum has grown considerably in the vicinity of the base in recent years, a result of an increasingly warm and dry climate on Campbell Island and the removal of sheep and other mammals. Despite the density of the bushes, it is possible for sealions to pass through the Dracophyllum by following openings at ground level between the plants.

Another challenge was achieving an adequate ground for the verticals. Shoreline locations were off-limits, and although the peaty ground itself seemed likely to be quite good, we obviously wanted to also lay out good radial fields when possible. The HARAOA-supplied 40 m and Steppir verticals were ready for quick set-up, with radial plates and extensive radial wires already attached. However, it doesn’t take a sealion long to turn a neatly-arranged radial field into a tangled mess! Reordering the radials was a frequent task. The Dracophyllum also presented a challenge, limiting where radials could be placed. The 160 m inv-L probably suffered the most, with only a few radials so as to avoid sealion entanglement. An 80 m dipole was added during the dxpedition, strung from a pole on the hillside above the base. Although the apex was very low above the local ground, with the ground sloping away towards the sea it performed ok.

Propagation – The propagation gods didn’t particularly favor us (low Solar Flux for most of the dxpedition) but they weren’t too unkind either with only relatively minor disturbances while we were on ZL9. 10 m was only open occasionally (or else no-one was listening!), 12 slightly more so. 15 and 17 were often good, open long hours.  However, 20 was the money band, being open with productive pile-ups much of the day and night – we were on 20 most of the time and made nearly twice as many qsos on this band compared to the other higher bands, hopefully maximizing the number of ATNOs by doing so. LP to EU was very productive on the higher bands. 30 and 40 were busy especially during hours of darkness. We never claimed to have a strong low-bands focus, and in the end put in a relatively modest effort on 80 and 160 – we were not on all night every night because with excellent openings and much higher rates on other bands during the hours of darkness we focused more on ATNOs than new bands. 160 was particularly affected by local noise. We never could identify where this was coming from but based on the tracking that was done suspect it may have been from equipment in the DOC building.

As mentioned above, conditions didn’t seem so great to the west coast US – mostly I’d been worried about the problems of working the east coast before the expedition! The path down the sound towards the ocean looked so inviting, perhaps we were seduced into pointing that way (it’s all towards NA, right?) rather than swinging the beams towards the mountainside to the north west…

Missed Opportunities? – Perhaps we could have put up the 6 m station later in the trip. Around mid-day and early afternoon it got quiet on many bands and so not all stations were on the air. Maybe 6 m would have offered some openings. On the other hand, it would still have taken time to put up and take down the station, which would have meant some impact elsewhere.

Probably we could have been more organized in coming up with a new detailed operating plan once the weather moved us from Plan A. On the other hand, following the propagation and generally favoring the high-rate bands as we mostly did was fairly effective but we no doubt missed some good openings.

The next ZL9? Conditions at the Beeman base area continue to evolve. Currently the Met service building we were allowed to use is in reasonable condition. In another ten years, who knows? Dracophyllum scrub will probably not get any thinner and may encroach some of the areas we used for antennas, although those close to the buildings will likely remain reasonably clear. Although facilitating amateur radio dxpeditions is not top on the NZ DOC’s list of priorities, they were flexible and ZL9HR showed that this can still be done with suitable regard is given to DOC’s interests. I’d certainly encourage anyone to try (ZL9 is still on my “wanted” list!).

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