DD5LP/P – January 15th 2020 – DL/AM-176 Rentschen – Antenna and grey line tests.

Preparation:

As we have had some sunspots from the new solar cycle 25 and the SFI index was up at 75, I decided to do an activation back at the just after dawn hours to coincide with the grey line and long path propagation to Australia. I wanted to see if this window was once again open to Australia as of late we’ve been using the later short path windows at around 1030-1130 UTC. The predictions were that the SFI should stay in the mid-70s for a couple of weeks.

I chose Rentschen as it is an easy access plateau type summit where I have lots of room and could put up my 40m VP2E antenna which I was still not happy was working as expected and I could also put up my 40/30/20m linked dipole so that I had a comparison. As conditions were unlikely to be “easy”, I would also take my recently purchased and boxed Chinese 70 watt HF amplifier to give the signal a kick. I considered also re-testing my new external DYC-817 dynamic speech compressor but then (correctly as it turned out) decided I would be testing too many things in one go.

So the aims were;

  1. Test if the old early morning long path/grey line window to ZL/VK was once again available as the SFI had risen.
  2. Test the VP2E against the linked dipole on 40 metres (the dipole also providing 20-metre coverage if required).
  3. Make sure the rig sounds OK, without the speech compressor in use.

 As it would be an early (8am) start, all the gear was loaded into the car the night before so that I could just get up, get ready and go.

The Activation:

As planned I was up early – and hit the road a few minutes earlier than expected. As I would be putting up two antenna systems, having some more time available before the activation time that I had alerted on SOTAWatch would be useful.

The SFI, while predicted to stay at around 75, had dropped to 71 and worse still the K index was up at 3 and hence the bands would be noisy.

I like to coordinate my activations with when Mike 2E0YYY/P goes out as he will more often than not get contacts into VK/ZL from his local summits in the North of England. Today he was going to a HEMA summit, Mow Cop which has performed very well over the last few months for him. Mike, however, was still going out for the later window, so it was quite possible that I would be packing up at the time Mike was starting up but we usually try for a contact. Mow Cop, however, has a strange “curse”, that it seems to be blocked towards southern Germany and the only way I have worked Mike from this summit is via aircraft scatter (the summit is quite close to Manchester airport and the Manchester – Helsinki flight seems to provide a nice mirror for us on 20m).

The run down to Rentschen was uneventful and I was happy to see that the field where the summit marker trig point stone is located was bathed in the early morning sunshine. That wasn’t to say that it was warm – it might have got up to 2 degrees Centigrade while I was there, mostly it was around zero.

I set up the 40m VP2E on my 10m portable mast supported in my modified surveyors’ tripod, pointing in the correct direction for VK/ZL via long path. The linked dipole, set to 20m initially, so I had the ability to switch bands quickly if needed, went onto my 6-metre pole which had its base supported by a screw-in sunshade base peg.

One of my planned actions was to test whether the early – (Grey line) connectivity was again possible given the improved conditions over the last week. I can tell you – it wasn’t! I called and called and although I got several contacts around Europe, there was nothing from further afield on 40m or 20m. Interesting on 40m was how weak Scandinavian stations were but Spanish, French and some UK stations were booming in like they were next door – so this suggests that the VP2E is indeed providing gain in the direction it is pointed while reducing signals from other directions as it should. I left it a bit too long before thinking about comparing signals between antennas (next time I need to take a simple manual antenna switch to make it easy (and quick) to compare. By the time I remembered that I wanted to compare directivity and signals, we started to have QSB affect the bands.

With the sunspots disappearing and the SFI dropping to 70 despite the fact that the predictions were for it to stay in the mid-70s, along with a CME, which probably was the reason that there was so much QSB and higher noise levels on 40m & 20m, meant that conditions were not good for me.

I did make another discovery – the bad audio which I put down to a problem in the speech processor on my last activations is actually RF getting back into the rig’s audio. It only occurs when the amplifier is on and switching off the amplifier and hence dropping from about 70 watts to 3 watts stops the “rasping” sound in the audio. I noted to investigate this further when I got home and as I was told the audio was perfectly readable at the higher power and hence higher signal level, I decided to put up with it as I could do little on the summit (see conclusions section below).

On this activation, I lasted over 3 hours in the cold which is more than previous activations.  I arrived on the summit at 0800 UTC and left at 1115 UTC one reason that I stayed so long was in the hope of making a contact with Mike 2E0YYY/P on Mow Cop. For a long time, I could hear stations working Mike but nothing from him. When I eventually heard Mike, it was after he had switched from his Antron A99 vertical to a simple inverted-v dipole. I guess this shortened the skip distance as the signals take-off angle would be higher. He was only a 3-2 signal when we managed a contact (I was 3-3 with him) and then only for a short period. In any case, the Mow Cop screen to Southern Germany still seems to be in place! I even tried swinging my dipole 90 degrees but I couldn’t tell if it made any difference as his signal had dropped back into the noise. There’s something about Mow Cop that stops it from being able to get signals down here!

I started packing up the station at 1045 UTC and found out later that Mike made contacts into VK about an hour afterwards. So it appears the short path is still working down to VK/ZL but not the early morning long path/grey line.

Photos:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • DX-Wire 10m mast and Lambdahalbe 6m mast.
  • Portable 70w PEP HF amplifier and cables.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase 4S LIPOs).
  • VP2E (Vertically polarised, 2 element, 40m directional wire antenna).
  • Surveyors tripod.
  • Screw-in sun umbrella base.
  • SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole.
  • Thick green plastic painters sheet and an orange plastic tablecloth.
  • Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.

Log:

Conclusions:

The propagation was not as good as I had hoped for, there was a lot of QSB around that meant any antenna comparisons would not be valid. Even swinging the linked dipole around on 20m to try to get a better signal from Mike had no apparent effect but as Mike went into the noise at that point, we’ll never know if the linked dipole’s positioning was important or not

The problems of “raspy” audio when the amplifier is turned on, appears to be RF getting into the rig and as the accessory cable carrying the Tx/Rx PTT switching also has the Auxilary audio input pin wired up but going nowhere, my modification of cutting that wire in the cable near to the rig end of the cable along with adding ferrites to several of the other cables might resolve the RFI – we’ll see at the next activation. If the RFI is now stopped, I can again look at testing the external dynamic speech processor.

What is with the cell phone networks? From the Rentschen summit, I can see the cell tower but despite that, it stopped working during my activation making spotting and communicating via email, difficult to say the least. I have a SIM for each of the two major networks in Germany (Telekom and Vodafone) in my smartphone and I seem to be having issues with both networks!

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – January 8th 2020 – DL/AM-001 Peissenberg – Intending to test new speech compressor.

Preparation:

As we are now in a new year (2020) all the summits I activated last year, will furnish activators points again, and some, such as Peissenberg, 3 winter bonus points as well.

I have recently bought a DYC-817 speech processor “kit” from FunkAmateur/Box73 and modified it to work with my Xiegu X108G transceiver (they are wired to work with the Yaesu FT8x7 range of transceivers normally). I have tried using this unit on a previous activation and I did not get the expected results. Following this I have been involved in a thread on the SOTA reflector where others are also trying to get the unit to work correctly – some with great success.

As Mike, 2E0YYY had arranged to go out on the 8th of January as the weather forecast looked good in the UK (after some recent rainy days) and he had lined up skeds with Jonathan VK7JON, Ernie VK3DET and John VK6NU to listen for him, we agreed I’d tag-on to the schedule and activate Peissenberg at the same time as he was on Shining Tor in the UK.

I would test the speech processor now that I had the controls inside the unit set where others had had success and at the same time, perhaps manage an S2S with Mike in the UK and contacts also into Australia.

As I was not going to use the VP2E antenna, to keep the things being tested to a minimum, so while I would still use the HF amplifier I would rely on the good old linked dipole antenna and 6-metre fishing pole mast. Then the only variable from items that I know work would be the speech processor.

The Activation:

The 40 minute run down to Peissenberg went without any problems. This time I had decided to go back to my usual location, right on the summit beside the church, as I didn’t need the room to put up the VP2E.

Here’s a 360-degree picture of the bench location by the church, on the exact summit thanks to Google maps: https://maps.app.goo.gl/nGJb47z2JbqHpMen7

Upon arrival, I checked the Internet connectivity via my phone and was surprised to see an indication of 4G+ on my phone on both networks that I have (Telekom and Vodafone) – so no spotting problems on this activation, the internet access was really “snappy”. I wonder if they have installed 5G already in this location and as my phone is “only” 4G capable it was indicating this? This was certainly the first time I had seen 4G+ on the phone and the network was stable the whole time I was on the summit.

After setting up the station on my usual bench (about 30 minutes earlier than I had alerted for) I tuned around 20 metres and found activity from Russia and Italy – so nothing out of the ordinary but more importantly the band wasn’t dead.

I found a free frequency of 14.290 MHz (which for most of my time on the summit, stayed clear of QRM), spotted myself and started calling CQ. I actually started with the speech compressor in circuit but turned off and using it with my Leson amplified microphone that I have re-wired to look like a Yaesu Microphone.

First CQ call, no response, second call no response, so I checked my spot was up – yes no issues there. After 15 minutes of getting no calls, I decided to take the whole speech compressor set up out of circuit and plugged in just the standard Xiegu microphone. Another self spot on SOTAWatch and I got my first call – Lars SA4BLM from Sweden called and gave me a 5-5 report. When I asked him about the audio, he said it was strong but occasionally with a little crackling. Given that this was with the standard microphone, and that I wanted to get 4 contacts in the log to get the summit’s points, I decided to leave it at that and see if anyone else was hearing me now. They were, Lars was followed by Jack OH3GZ – a booming 5-9 signal which he also said I was. The next contact was with Jose EA7GV in Spain who was even stronger than Jack, so the band was definitely opening up! Number 4 contact to get the summit points was a surprise – it was John ZL1BYZ from New Zealand “You BUTE!”. We exchanged 5-3/4-2 reports but I knew it was John’s antenna system that was doing all the work. He is often the first ZL SOTA Chaser to come back to calls from EU. He has a good station and good ears! After John, there was a call from Hans SM4CJM where we exchanged 5-7 reports. About 15 minutes later I heard John ZL1BYZ working Mike 2E0YYY in the UK and while I couldn’t hear Mike, John had gone up to a good 5-5 signal!

For the next 45 minutes, I couldn’t “buy” a contact and signals that had been strong were suddenly weak and later strong again. Looking at Propquest when I got home, it seems the MUF (Maximum Usable Frequency) was bouncing up and down like a Yo-Yo around this time and sometimes dropping below 14MHz, which would, of course, explain the stations disappearing.

During these 45 minutes, I also took a listen for Ernie VK3DET who I had an email conversation running with and we “blind called” each other. Based on the contact with John in New Zealand, this should have been about the right time to have got a contact but it was not to be. I also heard nothing from VK7JON or VK6NU either (but in John VK6NU’s case, it may have been too early for Western Australia).  Interspersed with my attempts for a contact into VK, I was also putting out CQ calls and also listening on Mike 2E0YYY/P’s frequency. Nothing!

During my time on the summit, I had two different couples come up and ask what I was doing, so they got an introduction in Amateur Radio and a brochure in German.

It was 50 minutes after my last contact that I got another call and that was from Christos SV2OXS down in Greece. I had activated this very summit with Christos when he was visiting Bavaria two years earlier, so he commented that he remembered the summit.

Jack OH3GZ then called me again and asked if I was still on the same summit as my signal had dropped considerably and I could confirm that I was indeed still on the same summit. Jacks signal, although still easily readable was down from the earlier good S9 to an S5 level, so the band was dancing all over the place.  After Jack, Ricardo EA1DHB came in with a good solid 5-9 signal and gave me a 5-4.

All of this time, I had not had the opportunity to get any reports on the speech processor as the signals were varying too much. For some of my CQ calls, I put the processor in, some not. In any case, none of my SOTA contacts were made with the speech compressor in place – so I still don’t know if it works!

After being active for almost an hour, I decided to take one last listen for Mike 2E0YYY/P and suddenly he was there at about 5-7, so I gave him a call and we made the contact. 3 minutes later, he was gone again, I couldn’t hear anything from him, only the chasers calling him. Strange band conditions indeed.

A quick last spot and CQ call and then it was time to pack up and head back to the car.

Photos:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Equipment:

Xiegu X108G 20w HF transceiver (running at 3w)

50/70watt HF portable linear amplifier

LambdaHalbe 6 Metre telescopic “Squid Pole” mast.

SOTABeams “band hopper” linked dipole antenna at about 5m AGL in inverted-V format.

Painters plastic sheet.

Battery Box with 2 x 5Ah 4S LIPO hard-case batteries

Smartphone using PocketRxTx app to control and display the X108G display

Log:

Conclusions:

The main purpose of the activation was to test out the speech processor – that was not possible with the 20m band the way it was. The contact into New Zealand was a nice bonus but why wasn’t I able to get through to the VK stations?

Coldness (even in the sunshine) remains a limiting factor to the length of my activations. If I had been able to stay another hour the contact into VK3 may have been possible, even though those into VK3 and VK7 failed. A small tent could help with this problem but it needs to be one that is an instant pop-up type as I wouldn’t put it up if a lot of time is needed. It would not work at the bench location at Piessenberg but it would in the field near the lower car park.

I was using the bench effectively as my table for the radio equipment but I ended up crouching in front of it, which was uncomfortable. I have some small lightweight camping stools in the car, which I need to think about bringing up to the summit next time.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – December 30th 2019 – DL/AL-167 Falkenstein – Winter Bonus points activation.

Preparation:

As the end of the year got closer, I realised there was one more summit that I might be able to squeeze in, that I hadn’t activated in 2019. In fact, the last time I had activated Falkenstein was in 2017, so I missed the points from this summit in 2018 somehow!

Looking at the weather forecast, Monday the 30th. December looked like being a dry day and as it turned out, while cold enough that the ice and snow on the summit hadn’t melted, it was actually quite sunny.

This summit does not need a cable car to get to it. It is a “drive-up” summit, at least to about 70 vertical metres below the summit. It does have a novel access restriction however, in that the road up to the summit is a private, one-track road with tight hairpin turns and sheer drops off the mountain face at some points! The road is owned and maintained by a hotel that is located just below the summit and there is a charge of €4 for the use of the road, which is paid at a ticket machine at the start of the road by the traffic lights. To avoid vehicles meeting each other going in different directions (there are no passing spots) the road is controlled with traffic lights on a timer and cars are allowed to drive up the road between a quarter past the hour and 5 minutes to the next hour and drive down the road between the full hour and 10 minutes past. As it takes 5 minutes for the drive, the no-drive gaps of 5 minutes allow for those risking a last-minute sprint (usually the hotel supplies van).

So that I could get on-air at my planned time and return home for some afternoon shopping, I had to plan the trip precisely so as not to be delayed too long if I arrived at the traffic lights at either the bottom or top of the road, at the wrong time as that could cost me 30 minutes easily.

I decided that I would once again use the small set-up with the photo tripod and the Komunica HF-PRO2 loaded HF mobile whip. But, just in case, I would also take along my 6-metre mast and a couple of Inverted-V dipoles. My operating position is on the summit, upon a platform within the ruins of the castle. This does not allow a lot of space to run out dipole wires so it would be simpler if I could get my required 4 contacts just with the mobile whip.

Falkenstein is the highest castle ruins in Germany and it was to be another hunting lodge type castle for King Ludwig II but he was drowned in Lake Starnberg before the work could be completed. The location therefore also has a Castles on the Air and a World Castles Award designation of SWB-13014 and DL-0246 respectively.

As there is no cable car involved I decided to take both radio bags, so including the amplifier and various spare cables and things “just in case” i.e. twice as much weight as I really needed! All was packed the day before however for me it was a relatively late start at 9:45 local time for the estimated 75-minute drive. To arrive just as the road would open for traffic to go up it.

The Activation:

The drive down went well and I actually arrived 15 minutes earlier than I expected, meaning as I arrived I saw the light change from green to red. As I hadn’t paid my ticket at that point, to dash through the light would have been a bad idea. I waited the 15 minutes and then took off up the road. I have driven this road two times before but some of the hairpin bends were interesting to negotiate, as was getting past a parked truck, in use by a crew installing Armco barriers a little further up the road. In any case, I was back in my schedule when I arrived in the “day visitor’s” car park and loaded myself up with two bags and the HF-Pro2 antenna in a protective tube that I made for it.

The walk from here up the rest of the road to the hotel entrance is steep – especially when carrying the weighty bags, but the road was fairly clear of ice and so no problem to get up. The next stage after passing the hotel, on the final path and stone steps up to the ruins were more of a challenge and I stopped and added spikes to my boots, which made all the difference. Where other tourists were having some real problems with lack of grip, my spikes were cutting into the ice-covered stones and giving me good traction with my heavy load.

Upon arrival at the ruins, I found the gate open (as it’s supposed to be) and went in and up the wooden tower that has been built inside the stone walls. On arriving on the top, I was happy to see the same wooden table that was their three years ago – much better than having to put the equipment on the floor, especially as more and more people were arriving as I set-up.

The tripod and HF-Pro2 went up quickly and then it took a while to untangle the eight counterpoise wires and run them out. Once that was done, I set the loading coil on the antenna to the position for 20 metres connected the rig to the battery. I decided not to bother with the amplifier despite having carried it up to the summit, I also left the speech compressor and power microphone in the bag and stuck with the standard microphone. As I turned on the rig I wondered what I would hear. On my last two activations at this summit, QRM from the hotel or the microwave relay station behind it wiped out 20 metres on one activation and 40 metres on another. This time although there was some background QRM on both bands, it wasn’t enough to be a problem, so it looks like whatever was causing the QRM previously has been fixed.

I started on 40m but the band was busy and the first two frequencies where I called CQ and spotted myself were immediately swamped by splatter from stations just off frequency, so I’d hear someone call me – I’d go back to them, pass it back and then hear nothing more from them as I presume, I had been flattened by the other station. Perhaps I should have put the amplifier on? In any case, my third frequency worked fine and I got a nice series of seven contacts including one S2S contact with Rudi OE7RDI on Laber. When the calls dried up (bearing in mind, my wish to get back to the car to be there at the right time for the 10-minute window when one can drive down the hill) I decided to give 20 metres a quick try and made two contacts there before shutting down, packing up and heading back down to the car. The trip home was uneventful and I managed the planned shopping trip as well.

All in all, it was a successful activation, getting me the 4 activation points plus 3 winter bonus points and proving again that the simple loaded whip on a tripod can get a signal out all around Europe.

Photos:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Komunica HF-PRO2 HF bands vertical whip.
  • Converted Photo tripod and counterpoise wires.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase LIPOs).
  • SOTA Beams linked dipole (not used).
  • 6-metre Lambdahalbe fibreglass portable mast (not used).
  • Plastic painters sheet (not used).
  • 2 Smartphones one running PocketRxTx App and USB cable as an external display for X108G and one used for spotting and taking pictures.

Log:

Conclusions:

Keeping the operation simple is the best solution and when I receive my birthday present of a slightly larger rucksack, I’ll be trying to cut back to include all essential equipment in the one bag, but not more than is required.

Overall the outing was worth it as I got my points and some time out in the sunshine.

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – December 26th 2019 – DL/EW-001 Wank – Winter Bonus points activation.

Preparation:

I have been wanting to get an activation of Wank mountain which lies above Garmisch-Partenkirchen in, for a while but had to wait for the cabin lift to start running again after having been closed for annual maintenance, as most are around Southern Bavaria at this time of year. The cable car was supposed to start running again on Christmas Day (25th December) but it didn’t because of high winds. I could see from the webcam near the summit that the tracks had not been used, let alone cleared on Wednesday so my trip on Thursday (Boxing Day) was in the balance until the last minute. As it was the lift would only start operation at 10am instead of the more usual 8:30 or 9am.

At least the weather forecasts said that this activation would be a nice sunny one albeit quite cold on the summit.

Given that this is a favourite tourist summit and that there are a lot of people and visitors in Garmisch who would most likely be glad to get out after two or three days inside because of the storms, I expected cramped lift cabins and a busy summit and so would not take the normal gear rather just one bag and the Komunica HF-Pro2 loaded HF whip antenna and a photo tripod. No amplifier or large tripod or large antennas on this excursion. Of course, as a backup, I squeezed the small fishing pole and the linked dipole into the small rucksack, making it quite heavy.

As usual, all gear was prepared the day before and put ready to take near the main house door.

The Activation:

After waking, I still wasn’t sure whether I would be setting off as I was worried that the drive down would be wasted if I found the cable car not running. The website now said that the lift was scheduled to run from 10am and the weather forecast did not indicate high winds, so in the end, I decided to head off and hope for the best. Leaving 30 minutes later than planned at 09:15 local time, I arrived at the car park for the lower lift station at 10:30am and was glad to see the car park was not nearly as full as I have seen it before. They still get you for the fee though. The car park costs €5 for a day and €5 is the minimum fee. The lift cost a further €22.50 so this was to be an expensive outing if I didn’t manage my needed four contacts from the summit.

After getting my ticket and heading into the lift station, I was surprised to see no queues and empty carriages, so I took the next one in the queue and had it all to myself, all the way up. The lift to the top has two stages and the cabins move from one system to another at the middle station, where at some times of year people can join the lift to go back up however as the ski-runs down from the top are not yet open because of lack of snow, the middle station is also closed to passengers getting on or off.

As I went up the lift, the temperature probably dropped about 10 degrees. At the bottom no snow was to be seen, at the top, there was lots of snow. So as soon as I got out of the lift station, it was on with the spikes on my hiking boots before setting off for the summit which is around 30 vertical metres higher up a winding track, which while compacted snow was still slippery. With the heavy rucksack and the whip antenna in its transport tube, I was glad of the extra traction that the spikes gave me. Those in just boots, or worse still, running shoes! were having more issues getting up the track.

I found my way to the very summit, behind the cross where several other radio installations are located (thankfully none causing any interference as far as I could tell) and set my station up on my piece of painters sheet on top of the snow. The small tripod and HF-Pro2 antenna went up easily and I ran out the counterpoise wires in all directions. I decided to start on 40m so I set the antenna to 15 which is the position I have calibrated it with my antenna analyser at home, for 7.100 MHz. I think connected up rig, battery box and Smartphone acting as an external control panel for the rig as the X108G’s OLED display was totally unreadable in the sunlight.

As I tuned 40 metres on this Thursday morning, something suddenly became clear. The band was full with contest stations (it turned out later, that the DARC – the national society in Germany had decided to pollute a weekday with their contest rather than sticking to weekends – which is the usual situation). Having good contest operators who follow the “DX code of conduct”, it would just have been an inconvenience finding a free frequency but with the “wanna-be”, un-skilled contesters in this contest, my patience was going to be tried. During my activation, I had to change frequency five times. I ALWAYS check whether a frequency is clear before starting to call CQ – it seems this is not the case for DARC contest operators – they just chose a frequency and call, whether or not there’s a station there. Worst of all is that these same twats start calling CQ in the middle of me having a QSO – now I could perhaps excuse the crocodile station for not hearing me, but I am SURE they heard the chaser station!

In 50 minutes, I managed 7 contacts around Europe, so the station was certainly getting out but all of the chasers commented about difficulties in hearing me due to over modulated contest stations splattering all over the band. After about an hour on the summit, I was getting a little cold and more and more tourists were finding their way up to the summit area, so I decided it was time to pack-up and head home. At least I had some good mountain air, some great views and even some sunshine – as you can see from the photos below.

For once all equipment worked as expected.

The trip home was uneventful and I had another 9 points towards my activator totals.

Photos:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Komunica HF-PRO2 HF bands vertical whip.
  • Converted Photo tripod and counterpoise wires.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase LIPOs).
  • SOTA Beams linked dipole (not used).
  • 6-metre Lambdahalbe fibreglass portable mast (not used).
  • Plastic painters sheet.
  • 2 Smartphones one running PocketRxTx App and USB cable as an external display for X108G and one used for spotting and taking pictures.

Log:

Conclusions:

Contests bloody CONTESTS! I should have guessed being a public holiday, the contest virus would have spread to spoil this day also for “normal” radio operators. This appears to have been an 80m & 40m only contest, so I could have tried getting enough contacts on 20 metres instead of going onto 40 metres. I was more concerned as to whether the summit was going to be accessible at all, than worry about the incompetent contest operators.

Overall the outing was worth it and I got my points and some time out in the countryside.

I also proved that the lightweight, small configuration of just the photo tripod and HF mobile whip plus the 20w X108G does work well enough to get the contacts (in this case despite the DQRM).

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – December 18th 2019 – DL/MF-082 Schwarzerberg – Winter Bonus points activation.

Preparation:

As the weather forecasts said that this activation would be a nice sunny one with being scheduled to start late morning and run over noon, what could be better?

Tests being carried out by Mike 2E0YYY, Ernie VK3DET and I seem to prove there is a short path window from UK/EU to VK around 1100 UTC (noon with me here in Germany).

To increase my chance of a contact into VK using this window, I would take along my portable 50/70 watt amplifier and my new dynamic speech compressor – normally I would also include the directional VP2E antenna in the equation as well however as I was already including two “unknowns” I decided that I’d stick with the known linked dipole. As for a summit for the tests, most of my local summits I have already activated several times this year and those that I know and I haven’t yet activated this year need a cable car or seat lift to access them and all of those lifts are stopped for maintenance before the ski season starts just before Christmas. Schwarzenberg however, is a drive-up summit and although I had activated it only six weeks ago, that was before the start of the winter bonus points for activators, so by re-activating this summit, I would gain 3 activator points for what is normally only a 1 point summit. If I activate it again in the new year before the winter bonus stops, it’ll be worth 4 points then. I for normal activation plus three winter bonus points. This summit is also close to another amateurs QTH who I wanted to invite along but unfortunately, as it turned out, he wasn’t well enough.

As usual, all gear was prepared the day before and put ready to take near the main house door.

The Activation:

I set off from home at 9:30am local time expecting to arrive at the parking spot at 11 am local, as it turned out the 90-minute trip didn’t take that long and I was there by 10:45 local.

I carried all the gear up to the same spot as I used last time and was set up within 30 minutes. As I was setting up I got an email from Ernie in Australia to say he had already worked Mike with 4-4 reports both ways.

As soon as I was set-up I took a listen for Mike 2E0YYY/P on a HEMA summit – “Mow Cop” – I could hear him strong enough to work him but call as I did several times he just kept calling CQ, so as he confirmed later he wasn’t hearing me. As we were both running 50 watts to inverted-V dipoles, this would perhaps point to the X-108G receiver being more sensitive than Mikes FT-857D but, more likely, his local noise level could have been higher than mine. I emailed Ernie back to say I couldn’t get Mikes attention but that I would call him down 10 kHz on 14.310MHz. Ernie didn’t hear me but I could hear something in the noise on the frequency, which I believe was Ernie calling me. But he was too weak to work, even if he could have heard me. Ernie was running 400 watts into a 3 element beam I believe.

When I went back to Mike on 14.320MHz he had sunk into the noise – I could tell he was there but not make out what he was saying. Twenty metres had taken a dive and it stayed that way until 1100 UTC when it opened up as if someone had turned the light switch on! By that time, unfortunately, both Mike and Ernie were gone.

In any case, I now had another problem. My cell phone signal was never great on this summit on either of the two main networks but I was receiving and sending emails, so it was at least working giving an Internet connection. The problem was that the SOTA spots that I sent whether via data or via SMS were not appearing on SOTAWatch so I couldn’t attract the chasers attention to work me on 40 metres, where I had now switched to. I tried calling non-SOTA stations on 40m with no success for a good 20 minutes. This was crazy – I must get 4 in the log or I wouldn’t get the winter points. Luckily then, Jon, EA5INS/P had spotted his activation and I could hear him and we managed a summit-to-summit contact.

After this though … nothing. As we were approaching noon local time (1100 UTC) when I was hoping for the short path window to VK to open I re-set the linked antenna for 20 metres again and switched back. As I was still unable to spot myself, I was lucky that Lars SA4BLM heard my CQ calls and came back to me. He was an armchair copy and not only became my third contact in the log but also helped me with testing the amplifier and speech compressor. He then spotted me. Upon completing my QSO with Lars, I had a run of VERY strong chaser calls on 20m (the band had opened up but just around Europe, it seems).

To finish off the activation, I saw that Rudi OE7RDI had spotted he was on 40 metres on a DL summit so I once again switched back to 40m and we had a nice S2S contact to close out my activation before packing up. Unfortunately during pack-up, I managed to stand on the antenna wire and it broke at one of the links.

Without being able to self-spot it’s difficult to work anyone and hence continuing on would have been difficult. I also needed 30 minutes to pack up and get back to the car and then a possible 90 minutes or more drive home (actually it was another good run only needing 75 minutes). In any case, once I got home I looked into why my spots were not getting through and it appears it was a password issue in my SOTA Spotter App configuration. I reset the password and re-tested and everything worked fine (at least from home).

Photos:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Leson amplified microphone & FA DYC-817 Dynamic Speech compressor.
  • Portable 50/70W HF amplifier and cables.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase LIPOs).
  • SOTA Beams linked Dipole at 8 metres AGL.
  • Surveyors tripod.
  • 10 metre DX-Wire fibreglass portable mast.
  • Plastic tablecloth as ground cover.
  • 2 Smartphones one running PocketRxTx App and USB cable as an external display for X108G and one used for spotting (or trying to) and taking pictures.

Log:

Conclusions:

I managed enough contacts to grab the 3 winter bonus points that would otherwise have gone to waste but it would have been a LOT easier had I been able to self-spot. Hopefully, that problem is now fixed.

The broken antenna wire is already soldered up and ready for the next activation.

I am still not convinced that the portable amplifier is giving me the boost that it should do.

Lars’ comments around the audio punch seemed to infer that I might be getting RF into the audio path or that some audio stage is being overdriven – I will need to investigate this further.

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – November 2nd 2019 – DL/MF-082 Schwarzerberg – UK/EU – USA S2S event.

Preparation:

All weather forecasts said that this activation would be a nice sunny one being scheduled to start early afternoon and run for a couple of hours, what could be better?

I had a summit that I hadn’t activated before but as I didn’t know what to expect at the summit, I excluded it from any early start exercise but with a midday start, I should be able to solve any set-up issues without time pressure. Schwarzerberg – or Taubenberg as it is indicated on maps and local signposts also has a “Gaststatte” (restaurant) near to the summit and the public track up to the restaurant is open to cars and gives easy access to the lookout tower on the summit as well.

I had wanted to invite another ex-pat Brit along to one of my activations for some time. Rob DM1CM was previously active in SOTA but has moved on, but as he offered to give me a hand (and doing an activation with someone else along is fun as well as spreading the load a little). Schwarzerberg fitted well as it isn’t too far from his home QTH and by planning the restaurant into the day we could make a social event out of this, and get to take part in the SOTA EU-NA S2S event as well.

A couple of days prior to the activation, the weather forecasts changed drastically and there was a chance I would have to cancel the trip but in the end we decided to go ahead and while it did rain on us as we set-up the equipment about 3 or four times with just a few minutes between each shower,  the rest of the time it was dry and there was even a little sunshine.

I had been hoping to use my VP2E antenna that I have been using on some recent activations and that I have been trying to track down some problems on. My last change was to go back to single-band versions of the antenna and I have one built for 40 metres and one for 20 metres meaning that switching bands would take about 15 minutes if there is not enough room to put up both antennas without them interfering with each other. Looking at maps, there’s looked to be a clearing but whether this would be large enough to get the 40m VP2E into I wasn’t sure. So although I actually took the two VP2E antennas along, I decided that I’d either use my Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole or my SOTABeams linked dipole. Added to these and the X108G transceiver was my newly built portable RF amplifier, which in ideal conditions should produce up to 100 watts PEP output – 50 watts is a more believable figure.

All gear was prepared the day before and put ready to take near the main house door.

The Activation:

I had arranged to meet Rob at the bottom of the track up to the restaurant at 11am and as Google Maps told me it was a 90 minute drive, I set off at 9:30am only to get a call from Rob to say he was already there at 10am while I was still at least an hour away. It seems we Brits like to get to places early! The route chosen as the shortest by the GPS Navigator in my new Peugeot car was “interesting” in places as it wanted me to turn off the main road and go through villages rather than use the by-pass road around the village to save a few metres on the route – as I knew the first 90% of the journey, I simply carried on along the roads I knew and the GPS sorted itself out after a while.

I met up with Rob at the restaurant shortly after 11am and we went in and had lunch and a beer before driving back along the track and parking at the end of the 200-metre long track up to the summit.

The activation brought lots of contacts within Europe including 5 S2S contacts but nothing from over the pond. In the first 12 minutes, I made 24 contacts on 40m. There were a couple of US super stations on 20m belting in. I kept trying to call one of them but couldn’t get through. I get the feeling that “something” is wrong with the amplifier on 20m but it certainly belts out the RF on 40m. At one point I was calling another activator 4 or 5 times with no success on 20m, then I took the amp out of the circuit and put the coax directly to the rig and turned up its power to 20 watts and the other station came straight back to me. I don’t think it’s the amp as much as the low pass filter board – I’ll have to do some re-wiring so that I have a position to run the amp without the Low Pass filters and see what happens when I switch there for a test.

After two hours of operation, the number of contacts had dropped to zero, so we decided, with more dark clouds on their way, to pack up, head back to the restaurant for a drink and some cake and a good chat before both leaving to head home. Even on the way down the track to the car, there was a problem – the shoulder strap on the tripod broke and will need to be repaired. Oh well!

Photos:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Equipment:

Xiegu X108G.

Leson amplified microphone.

Portable HF amplifier and cables.

Battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase LIPOs).

Aerial-51 404-UL OCF Inverted-V dipole antenna.

Surveyors tripod.

10 metre DX-Wire fibreglass portable mast.

Plastic tablecloth as ground cover.

Smartphone PocketRxTx App and USB cable (only used for spotting and taking pictures this time).

Log:

Conclusions:

I wish I hadn’t gone so early to the summit! Going 2 hours later would not only have avoided the showers (which weren’t too bad) but probably also bagged me some S2S contacts into North America!  Hindsight is a great thing though!

Plus and Minus points from this activation:

Plus – I had another ham along – Rob DM1CM – another Englishman living in Germany and actually got him on the air making some contacts. Rob helped with set-up and took some photos and in fact, brought his professional audio gear along and recorded most of the two hours we were on the summit.
Plus – it was a new summit for me gaining me an extra activators point. The summit is really easy to get to as there’s a publicly accessible track where you can drive up to 200 metres from the summit.
Plus – I was very happy with how well the simple off centre fed dipole antenna (Aerial-51 404-UL) worked. (I had decided not to put the VP2E antennas up and there wasn’t space enough in any case for the 40m VP2E).
Plus – I was happy with the extra “punch” on 40 metres that the amplifier gave me (but not on 20m – see below). Straight after setting up I had a run of 24 contacts in 12 minutes.

Minus – the summit is over 1.5 hours away from home for just one activator point.
Minus – the timing was off – we were there far too early to get contacts into the US that others managed two to three hours after we closed down.
Minus – the amplifier had a problem on 20m where I simply was not getting the reports that I should have been and in fact, taking the amplifier out of the circuit and turning up the power from the rig I was able to make one contact that I failed to get with the amplifier in circuit.

Plus and Minus – The weather was variable and overcast with rain showers which were inconvenient but it meant that I could read the OLED display on the rig.
Plus and Minus – Five Summit to Summit contacts but only within Europe. Without the amplifier problem on 20 metres and if we had started 1-2 hours later, I think I would have had some transatlantic S2S contacts in the log – which was the intention of the event.

An activation to learn from!

My plan of action is as follows:

Amplifier problem – I will re-wire the band switch to allow me one position without the low-pass filter board in-circuit – this will allow me to isolate if the problem is the amplifier or (as I suspect) the 20m Low pass filter.

I would have liked to have used the new VP2E 20m antenna but its high SWR meant I went with the standard off centre fed dipole instead (which worked well). This could be an element length problem through the changes I made and then removed for dual-band operation. I will validate all lengths against the calculator and adjust and test, hopefully to correct the problem before my next activation.

Repair the shoulder strap on the tripod.

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – October 19th 2019 – DL/AM-176 Rentschen – UK/EU – VK/ZL S2S event.

Preparation:

I had planned to be on Attenberg in southern Allgau for the bi-annual UK/EU – VK/ZL/JA S2S QSO party however as the wife caught a rather nasty strain of Flu, she was told by her doctor not to travel. The plan had been to stay with wife and dog in the hotel that has Attenberg in its back field. We have done this before and I have worked both ZL and VK from there. OK radio conditions are not as good as they were last year, so the chances of a contact into Australasia were reduced and indeed that was to be the story of the activation. I had hopes that with a lot of luck and some ‘Pre-Auroral-Enhancement” created by ionised solar winds ahead of plasma from a CME from a coronal hole on the sun, I might just be able to get at least a contact with an Australian or New Zealand chaser.

In place of Attenberg, I had to look for another summit, which I could get to by 0530 UTC (0730 local) if not earlier, which ruled out a lot of the better summits as they require the cable car or seat lift to be running and they don’t start until 9 am local. As I intended using the 40/20m VP2E the summit also needed some space and the ability to put the antenna up in the correct direction. Rentschen is a drive-on plateau with plenty of space and only 45 minutes from home, so rather than not take part in the event, I decided to go back to Rentschen for my third time this year (which of course means I would get no activator points for it).

Knowing a summit, allows you to try out new things and as well as the VP2E antenna (which two others in the event had also built on my recommendation and would be testing), I also had a new HF portable amplifier which should give out up to 100 watts PEP on 40 metres. This might help a little in the bad radio conditions but brings with it, extra power supply and cabling needs, all of which I had tested at a local GMA summit Kramerberg, a couple of weeks earlier.

As I would need an early start, all the gear was loaded into the new car, the night before so that I could just get up, get ready and go.

The Activation:

As planned I was up early – in fact even earlier than I thought I needed to be but in the end, it worked out about right as setting up the antenna in half-light just after dawn took longer than I expected.

The run down to Rentschen was uneventful and I was happy to see that the field where the summit marker trig point stone is located had been recently cut so the farmer hopefully wouldn’t be coming up and moving me on. (The guy is really quite nice and understanding about what I am doing – his wife, not so).

Despite the weight, part of my standard gear to take to a summit is now the surveyor’s tripod and the 10m DX-Wire “Mini-mast”. This allows me to set up where it is best for the antenna rather than only where I might find a mast support. I decided to set up the tripod and mast right next to the trig point stone (i.e. on the absolute summit). I also noticed a nice looking hut at the edge of the woods that might be worth checking out next time as it open, it would give nice protection from rain and wind.

I was lucky with the weather despite some dark cloud overhead during the whole of the activation, the first rain I saw was just a few drops on the windscreen on the drive home. It was still cold though.

Setting up the VP2E antenna in the required direction took a little longer than expected as I misjudged the distance out to where I would put the walking stick posts and guy rope pegs meaning I had to do a couple of changes until the antenna was up as I required. In order to keep the ends of the antenna at the correct distance off the ground, I run the guy cords that are on the end of the antenna through a hole that I drilled in the tops of my telescopic walking poles. This simple solution seems to work quite well.

Once I had the mast and antenna up, I went back to my operating position and my painter’s sheet to set up the gear. Although the farmer had cut the grass he hadn’t yet collected it all and with the morning dew, the grass stuck to my boots and stayed there all the way home.

With the addition of the amplifier setting up the station was made more complex than usual but I decided to have it in-circuit ready for use although my first couple of contacts were made using the X108G “barefoot” at “only” 20 watts output but as I realised what a rat race 40 metres was going to be, I put the amplifier on full time on 40m. As 20m conditions were not good everyone was on 40m – including many of the contest stations who were getting ready for the “Worked All Germany” which only started in the afternoon, but it seems individual operators were running these QRO stations under their non-contest call signs to check out the equipment. This was also JOTA weekend and so there were also additional stations on the air for that. Normally I would be very happy with extra activity on the band but the problem turned out to be two-fold. One problem was that even with my extra power, within minutes of finding a free frequency, checking it was free and then spotting myself on the SOTAWatch cluster – some other station would fire up 1kHz above or below me and splatter all over the frequency. The second point was that when ZL and VK stations spotted their frequencies these would always be where a QRO European station was (correctly) operating – so I had no way of seeing if I could hear the DX station.

These are normal problems on 40m in Europe on a weekend. I believe it would be better to have our S2S event on a weekday when less is happening on the bands.

So how did I do? In just under2 hours of operating, I only worked 27 stations with a big part of the time being wasted on 20 metres. While activity was less and so more free frequencies were available – there was no propagation to speak of. 40 metres, on the other hand, had propagation and I actually heard a VK4 home station but could not call him as he was in a net. He was about 5-5. Mike 2E0YYY/P on G/SP-004 managed a short contact to Ernie VK3DET but the majority of stations didn’t manage any intercontinental QSOs and had to make do with intra-regional S2S and chaser contacts.

As you’ll see from the log below, I managed six S2S contacts and 2 JOTA contacts within my overall 27 contacts. That isn’t bad.

As is normal on my activations, I came back with some tasks to complete before the next outing, which is likely to be the North America – Europe S2S QSO Party on November 2nd. These are – it appears that the amplifier has stopped working on 20m – it’s fine on 40m so I suspect this could be a problem in the relay switched low pass filter module. The HB9SL Vertically Polarised two element (VP2E) antenna has an SWR of 2.2:1 which is higher than I would like and I suspect adding the links may be part of the reason for this, so I will need to get out in a large enough area (local farmers field) and run the analyser on the antenna and try to improve the SWR ratio by either shortening or lengthening both elements of the antenna. The old problem of the X108G display becoming invisible once there is any sunshine around, was less of a problem on this activation with the dark overhead clouds but towards the end I did have to plug in my smartphone to check settings, so this is still a problem with only one phone that supports the needed OTG feature.

I was fairly sure that the long path window to VK/ZL had passed by 07:45 UTC and I was not getting the flow of calls that I had previously so I decided to pack up and head home after watching a black hot air balloon travel down the valley (I would think they would not be travelling so well in the cold air).

Photos:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Equipment:

Xiegu X108G.

Leson amplified microphione.

Portable HF amplifier and cables.

Battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase LIPOs).

VP2E (Vertically polarised, 2 element, 20m wire antenna).

Surveyors tripod.

10 metre DX-Wire fibreglass portable mast.

Thick plastic painters sheet.

Smartphone PocketRxTx App and USB cable.

Log:

Conclusions:

The propagation was not as good as I had hoped for. The problems with operating portable on 40 metres in Europe, especially when a contest or special event is also planned makes operating unnecessarily difficult.

The 20m performance of the amplifier will need to be investigated as will the reason that the VP2E now has an SWR of 2.2:1 rather than the previous 1.1:1.

The Leson microphone is better that the standard (ICOM) Xiegu microphone but the internal audio compressor in the X108G should not be turned up to 3 (out of 10) – it’s OK at setting number 2.

73 ’til the next summit!