A regular SOTA event as well as the EU-VK S2S events is the annual NA-EU S2S event and this one had been planned months in advance with no way of knowing what the climatic and Radio weather would be like. As it happened in Southern Bavaria we had come into an early summer after so long with ice and snow, we had sunshine and warmth. the days up to the event also looked a little better on the radio conditions side – that was until a CME on the sun though a lot of Solar winds at the earth on Friday. The result of this was a high noise level – up to a K index of 5 by late Friday afternoon. Luckily this reduced a little on saturday but despite the SFI raising above the 70 level that it had been under for several weeks, background noise on the bands was probably at least 3 S-points higher than normal. When Solar winds like these hit, it not only raises the noise floor but also reduces the maximum usable frequency (MUF). Often 15 or 17 metres can provide good contacts between EU and NA – this would not be happening and even 20m would find it difficult to delivery. Who knows perhaps 40 metres can come to the rescue?
I had originally planned to travel early to a 10 point summit in Baden Wurtemberg, to be on the air at around 1300 UTC and then be packed up and coming home by 1500UTC at the latest. it then turned out that many of the North American activators would only be getting to their summits after 1500 UTC. With a 2.5 hr drive in each direction, the lovely 10 point summit wasn’t going to be practical if I was to stay into early evening on the summit. So I decided to plan to activate a simple 1 point local summit that is about 40 minutes away from home and then expect to be on the air from about 1500 UTC. On hearing that I would be going to the local summit (Weichberg), my wife suggested we make a “family event” of it and she and our dog would come along as well. She would provide a picnic. Given the nice summer like weather this was decided upon as a good solution. Equipment would be the X108G despite its continued visibility problems, it’s LIPO battery box with regulator, the Aerial-51 OCF dipole and the Lambdahalbe 20m J-pole antenna. Given their small size I packed all three J-pole antennas for 15, 17 & 20m. I decided to give the DX-Wire 10m portable mast another chance as I would need that height for the 20m J-pole antenna. I would take one of my 6m masts as well as back-up. As a base (foot) for the mast, I have my new Decathlon one packed in the rucksack. what could go wrong ? ….
Weichberg in Allgaeu is near the village of Rettenbach and has a large radio transmitting mast and a small chapel on top of it. It also has a nice wooden bench with banks behind the obligatory holy cross. Importantly there is an open space with enough room to run out the dipole in inverted-V configuration. There are no convenient posts to strap the mast to however, hence the need for the base foot.
There is a convenient car parking area under the summit and a track that leads up along the edge of the woodland to the small chapel area. There is also a longer, less steep access route around the rear of the hill past the radio tower and that is what my wife and dog would take as the direct route is full of tree roots and other trip hazards.
The drive down took just about 35 minutes. I have been to this summit so often that I needed no GPS/Navi or map to find my way. Once we were parked, Gabriele and Bonnie set off on their route and I took the more direct route, hoping to be set-up by the time they arrived.
As I approached the summit, I could see several people there and over the next hour it would be a constant coming and going of cyclists. What do these people think they’re doing on MY summit? It got even more interesting later when as well as a second dog, two Shetland ponies appeared on the summit and the 5 year old leading one of the ponies had to lead it over to where Bonnie, our dog was sat! Of course it shocked the dog – some children need to be kept on leads, not just animals. Nothing serious happened but it didn’t help operations.
Anyway back to the set up. I chose my spot in the middle of the grassed area and put in the decathlon mast base spike but when I then took the 10 metre mast to put in it, I realised it wouldn’t fit – the outside diameter of the mast was larger than the inside diameter of the cup on the top of the spike. I was just happy that I had brought the old reliable 6 metre mast as well. So that now went in the cup and I dropped the Spiderbeam aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole onto the top of the pole and ran out the elements / guys. I tied one end off to a fence post and put a peg in the ground for the other end. I raised the mast and while it was leaning a lot moved the ground peg and tried to tighten things up a little. While my back was turned the mast slowly tipped over and rather than stopping the mast from falling, the cup on the top of the spike on the Decathlon base smashed itself ripping the spike out of the bottom of the cup. This is NOT a well built unit! So I then unscrewed the bottom off the mast and dropped it over the top of the (still in the ground) metal spike. This served to hold this up for the whole of the activation.
Once I checked my Smart Phone, I could already see that there were some European activators operating on both 40m and 20m. I listened for them but could not hear any of them. 20m was particularly dead but 40m was active, so I tuned around and found a strong station calling CQ, GB2GM (this was the Pohldu ARC with their Marconi Day station) so I gave him a call to make sure I was getting out. Nothing, he just kept calling CQ. Then someone else called him – same reaction – he just kept calling CQ. Perhaps they were using a Crystal receiver? Whatever it was, it was deaf! Just at this point another spot came on my phone from Stavros SV2RUJ/P saying last calls before he packed up and headed to his next summit of the day. I found him, called him and we managed a contact. It was difficult because of the atmospheric noise and what was this booming station 1KHz away – Aha a contest station! This was going to be the story of this activation fighting QRN and QRM the whole time. I “searched and pounced” a little more on 40m making sure I got a few in the log (not that I needed to qualify the summit as I have already done so earlier in the year) before spotting and putting out CQs on both 40m and 20m. I made no contacts whatsoever on 20m and a total of nine on 40m, two of which were summit-to-summit contacts within Europe. I did not hear one North American station unfortunately and I packed up at 15:50 UTC so that we could eat our picnic and then head home.
Investigations/changes to equipment that previously had caused problems and new problems:
Rig Display: I’m not sure if the new large brimmed cap helped or not bit I found that tilting the radio at some angles made it easier to read the display. Not ideal but at least readable. On arriving home I looked to see what tiltable platforms I could find that might be usable and came across a simple wire system used to support laptops – I have ordered this and now have to await delivery from China which could take a few weeks.
Spiderbeam Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole connector – The replaced connector worked without problems on this outing, so hopefully that’s one less problem in the future.
Shortcuts using keys on the microphone – I tried these out and especially the A/B switch option allowing me to switch quickly between 40m and 20m (and be on the correct sideband on the band chosen) worked particularly well.
Mast base foot – although the Decathlon base is small, light and had worked on a couple of previous activations, it’s now been thrown out. It was damaged past repair from the simple mast fall. I’ll be going back to the solid sun umbrella foot from now on. Both sized masts will fit this base as well.
Xiegu X108G HF 20w transceiver.
Battery box containing two (selectable) 4S (16v) 5Ah LIPO batteries and automatic voltage regulator.
J-Pole antennas from LambdaHalbe (15, 17, 20m).
DX-Wire 10m mini-mast. LambdaHalbe 6m mini-mast.
Spiderbeam Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole.
Decathlon mast base spike.
As confirmed by others that were out, band conditions were very noisy on both 20m and 40m. The additional problem of contest stations blocking most frequencies on 40m (as they were getting no where on 20m) made life very difficult.
It appears that had I stayed 2 hours longer, some S2S contacts were made between NA and EU but the majority of these were on CW.
The Decathlon spike was rubbish. It wasn’t that expensive but I’m surprised that it broke so easily. I will go back to the stronger Sun Umbrella base for summits where there are no fence posts.
When putting up the mast not strapped to a post in the future, I should add at least one if not two additional cords to act as guy wires in addition to the antenna elements.
I still need to find a way to make the rig’s display visible. Perhaps the tilt base will be the answer as Xiegu aren’t able to provide a solution to the non-working brightness setting.
73 ’til the next Summit !