DD5LP/P – April 25th. 2018 – DL/AL-149 Blender.

Preparation:

As the conditions seemed to be improving with the SFI up to 75 and K down to 1, on Monday Mike 2E0YYY suggested an early morning activation on Wednesday, looking for some long path grey line contacts into VK/ZL on 40m or 20m. As no rain was forecast until Thursday, I said I’d get out as well. The target time was 0700 UTC as it was expected that at this time there may be some chance of contacts. Equipment would be the X-108G, the 10m mini-mast, the Aerial-51 dipole and the LambdaHalbe 20m j-pole vertical (hence the need for the 10m mast instead of the normal 6m one). I would take the 6m mast as well, just in case there were problems with the DX-Wire mast again. As the lightweight Decathlon base had broken on the last activation, I planned to take the old sun umbrella base again and put it ready.

The Location:

I have been to this summit twice before, so I knew where I was going to park. After that there would be a steep climb up to the seat bank that Thomas DK1TK found for us on the last activation. At least the field shouldn’t be as wet this time.

The Activation:

I picked up my two “SOTA bags” and set off from home at around 0500 UTC leaving the sun umbrella base as I went past it half asleep. Luckily I didn’t need it later as I could strap the mast to the side of the bench seat. What stuck me was that at 7am local, it was already light, no sign of dawn at all. Thinking about this later, 2 and 3 years ago when I was regularly getting long path contacts into VK/ZL, I would be on the summit setting up at dawn as the sun came up. I have the feeling we are going out too late for the grey line propagation these days, even though the times are similar. The drive down was supposed to take about an hour and ten minutes. It took 20 minutes longer due to morning rush hour traffic around Kempton. Unfortunately there’s no obvious way to avoid this town to get to Blender from my home location, without taking a far longer route.

Once I had parked and grabbed my bags (still not realising I had forgotten the mast base) I set off across the fields to my planned location. The fields were indeed dry, so no problems there and on arriving at the bench, there was no one around. In fact I only had two groups come by during the time I was there – both times with dogs. It was already sunny but still cold with a little breeze.

As soon as I put the antenna up and got the rig on, I could tell this was going to be a difficult activation. The noise level on 40m was sat at S9! and on 20m it was S7. Unfortunately overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday the SFI had dropped from 74 to 71 and the K index had gone up from 1 to 3.

The first antenna up was the off centre fed dipole as I would need that for 40 metres (but it works on 20m as well). I started calling and looking for contacts on 20 metres after about 15 minutes and no contacts on 20m, I switched to 40 metres and bagged 6 difficult contacts in 5 minutes. Then when the calls stopped I decided to take down the OCF and put up the 20m vertical (J-pole) to see if that allowed me to hear any of the spotted stations on 20m. I couldn’t and getting any more contacts took some effort. I got a very good report on the antenna from Luk YO8SSB in Rumania. As well as Luk, who responded to my CQ SOTA, I also worked two Italian stations who I simply found on the 20m band. During these contacts, even though the mast was only supporting the vertical, the winds had built up so much that the mast was leaning over dangerously. As all amateurs do, I found a simple solution, by using three guy pegs pushed in around the base of the mast, I was able to stop the bottom moving. Of course if I had remembered to bring the sun umbrella base I wouldn’t have had this issue!

With the UK, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Poland and Rumania in the log, I decided to call it a day and packed up and headed back home.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G HF 20w transceiver.

Battery box containing two (selectable) 4S (16v) 5Ah LIPO batteries and automatic voltage regulator.

20m J-Pole antenna from LambdaHalbe.

DX-Wire 10m mini-mast.

LambdaHalbe 6m mini-mast.

Spiderbeam Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole.

Log:

Conclusions:

A day earlier would have had better radio conditions however I don’t believe I would have made any VK/ZL contacts then either. Band conditions are as bad as they can be at the moment.

I was surprised that I didn’t manager an S2S contact with Mike 2E0YYY/P in the UK during this activation but as the chaser contacts that I did make into the UK were 4-6 S-points down on what I would normally expect, I suppose it’s not surprising!

I’m wondering whether being out at sun rise would produce better results. WSPR doesn’t appear to suggest this but I have the feeling we are going out too late for the grey line.

I still have the visibility problem with the X108G display and have heard NOTHING more back from Xiegu, so my only hope is that the tilt mounts and magnifiers that I have ordered will come and be the solution for me.

I will need to recheck the J-Pole antenna on my analyser for its resonant frequency as, while the SWR trace on the X108G showed a dip when in use on the summit, the scale was too small to see if that dip was where it should have been. – NOTE: completed test at home – 1.3:1 at 14.285 and under 2:1 across the band – so that’s fine.

73 ’til the next Summit !

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DD5LP/P – April 21st. 2018 – DL/AL-179 Weichberg (For EU-NA S2S event).

Preparation:

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 ? ….

The Location:

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 Activation:

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.

Photos:

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Equipment:

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.

Log:

Conclusions:

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 !

DD5LP/P – April 14th. 2018 – DL/AL-170 Zwieselberg.

Preparation:

Ever hopeful of some long path contacts into VK/ZL, while John VK6NU/P in West Australia was to be out, I decided with a couple of other activators around Europe to go out. This was not an organised S2S event rather just another attempt at contacts despite the current horrible radio conditions. It also provided me with an opportunity to see if the changes I had made to my gear had brought any improvements.

The Location:

Zwieselberg is another Allgaeu summit not far from Auerberg and Weichberg. Access is through the viillage of Rosshaupten and overlooks Forggensee (Lake Forggen). One needs to drive into the unilaterally declared republic of Zwieselberg and in fact via the Berghof Eberle in Vorderzwieselberg village. The road is marked as use at your own risk, it is not restricted for access. So I drive carefully through the farm yard at Berghof Eberle and perhaps another 300 metres up the road to where it is no longer a tarmacced road. Given the steepness of the track and all the loose stones, only tractors are able to get past this point in any case. From my parking spot, just off the road near a farm out-building it’s an 89 metre vertical climb in about 300 metres distance, some of that over steep sections. This summit is definitely not disabled operator accessible, at least not from the Vorderzweiselberg side. Apparently cyclists get to the summit from the Hinterzweiselberg village up a much longer, but not as steep track.

The Activation:

The drive down took just about an hour and I had no problem finding the summit again. I did use my GPS Navi in the car (where I have SOTA summit locations programmed in) and it was fine until the last 500 metres or so where it wanted me to take a different route through the Berghof Eberle grounds. I decided to turn the car around, to save time on my return journey and parked the car off the side of the road where others had parked before. As the sun was shining, even though it was still only a couple of degrees above zero, I took a couple of photos looking across the valley.

It took a good 15 minutes to climb up the track with my two bags, the 10m pole and a 6m one “just in case”. Once I arrived at the summit I started to set everything up. The expectation was that “perhaps” a contact into VK or ZL might be possible on 40 metres as 20 meters had been so bad of late. I was about 30 minutes ahead of my expected start time and Mike 2E0YYY had spotted himself as on 40m and on Billinge Hill (G/SP-017). I put up the 10m DX-Wire mini-mast and strung out the Aerial-51 OCF antenna, which I hadn’t used for a while, roughly north/south to give a little directivity east/west. I noticed that the connection from the plug on the coax seemed a little intermittent but managed to get it stable and made a note to look at it when I got home. I managed to work Mike at 06:03 UTC (8:03 am local time). He gave me a better signal strength that I did him, however just a few minutes later, after we had finished our QSO, his signal came up – there was a lot of QSB on the band it seems. John VK6NU in West Australia had also spotted so I went to see if I could hear anything of him on 20 metres. Nothing! Tuning around 20m, I could hear a Russian and an Italian station, both relatively weak (S4 – S5), so band conditions were not looking good. I decided to go back to 40m, find a clear spot and start CQing. My first contact was probably the longest for the day with OH9XX in finland – but he seemed rather quiet and normally that station comes booming in. I turned around to see that the DX-Wire mast had done its usual trick and collapsed into itself so that the antenna was about 1.5m off the ground instead of 10m I asked OH9XX to wait and I raised the mast again and signals came up in both directions. With the Off Centre Fed dipole, I could switch easily between 40m and 20m. Well it should have been easy, but I had the problem with the display on the rig being unreadable even when a little sunlight got on it. The anti-glare plastic that I had added, had not helped, in fact it had made it worse and I took it off. Because of the inability of being able to read the display, I eneded up at one point calling CQ on 20m on lower sideband! It was only as I tuned around and couldn’t resolve a Russian station that I realised. After realising I was on the wrong sideband and changing, John in Australia had spotted again and I took another listen – nothing heard. Then I decided I would see if the rule that verticals are better than dipole for DX is true. I lowered the mast, removed the OCF dipole and put up the Lambdahalbe end-fed 20m vertical (J-pole) – I could still not hear anything on John’s frequency and tuning around I could still hear a Russian and an Italian station but I think a little quieter than on the dipole (but this could also have been conditions). Down came the J-Pole, back up went the OCF Dipole and back onto 40m to at least qualify the summit with the needed total of 4 contacts. In the next 7 minutes I worked 6 different stations. I kept trying for another hour before deciding to pack up and head home. The conditions were simply not there.

I did however have a few items to follow-up on when I got home…

Investigations/changes done after returning home:

Rig Display: This was again difficult on this activation with the sunshine it was a little better by shading it with my hand but this is not n acceptable or practical solution. I searched around and found another way to contact Xiegu, the manufacturer of the rig and they have confirmed that the contrast on the display cannot be adjusted but the brightness should be able to be – their website advertises how easy it is to read in sunlight! This is not the case with my rig. Although only a few months old, as I bought the rig from a private seller the conditions of Xiegu’s warranty does not cover me. I am hoping for some more technical details so that I can investigate and hopefully resolve the problem myself.

Spiderbeam Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole connector – I had changed this to a BNC plug from the original PL-259 when I used the antenna with my FT-817. As this BNC plug was now having problems, I have cut it off and added a PL-259 plug back onto the lead which not only means I avoid the problem BNC plug but I also no longer need to use the BNC to PL259 adapter (as the socket on the X-108G is a SO-239).

Shortcuts using keys on the microphone – there are two programmable keys on the microphone, F1 and F2 that can be set to do special functions. Given the problems that I have had with seeing and changing the band and mode on the rig, I thought I might set these up to do that rather than switch menus on the (unreadable) screen however when I looked at the details of the other buttons on the microphone, there is already a button to change modes (e.g. LSB to USB) and one to switch between VFO A and VFO B which was how I was going to switch between 20m and 40m in any case, so F1 and F2 can stay as Pre-amp and Attenuator on/off switches.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G HF 20w transceiver.

Battery box containing two (selectable) 4S (16v) 5Ah LIPO batteries and automatic voltage regulator.

J-Pole antenna from LambdaHalbe (20m).

DX-Wire 10m mini-mast.

Spiderbeam Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole.

Log:

Conclusions:

As confirmed by others that were out, band conditions were very bad and 20m was probably above the MUF, hence nothing but ground wave contacts would be possible, if at all. The OLED display on the rig remains a major problem but at least the Portable PSU box now seems to be working reliably as the rig did not go off at any time during the activation and I was running full power the whole time.

I had forgotten how practical the OCF dipole is compared to the linked dipole when I want to quickly switch bands. In previous years I have tested the OCF against the linked dipole and there was no noticeable difference in performance. The OCF is twice the weight of the linked dipole because of its BALUN however.

With conditions they way they are, I’m wondering whether it makes any sense to go out next saturday for the EU/NA S2S event although the weather forecast is for a sunny day, so even without any DX contacts it could be enjoyable IF I can find a way to make the rig’s display visible.

73 ’til the next Summit !

DD5LP/P – April 7th. 2018 – DL/AL-171 Eisenberg.

Preparation:

Ever hopeful of some long path contacts into VK/ZL despite the solar conditions and following my last attempt at this summit being rained off a week earlier, I wanted to activate Eisenberg, while at the same time testing the QRP-GUYS tri-bander 20/30/40m loaded vertical which I had  rebuilt in its standard form after I had problems with it in my revised 20/40/60m version. During the week before this activation I adjusted and tested the QRP-GUYS antenna at home in the garden and while it still appeared to change resonance depending upon the length of the feeder coax, I went for a simple solution, soldering the coax directly to the antennas switch board, to ensure that the feed length stayed consistent and set up the length of the driven elements and the number of turns on the two toroids to ensure the antenna was resonant on 20m (1.2:1), 30m (2:1) and 40m (2:1).

As the most likely band to get long path contacts into VK/ZL is 20m, I would also take along the commercially built 20m end-fed (J-pole) antenna from Lambdahalbe. As I would only be taking my two 6 metre high poles with me, this antenna would be put up in an inverted-L configuration which I had physically tested in the garden some weeks earlier.

As I would hope for time to make some contacts on 40 metres and as a comparison for the two other antennas on 20m, I would also take my SOTABeams band hopper linked dipole.

I had hoped to have some anti-glare film fitted to the screen of the X108G but unfortunately this only arrived once I had left home and so would need to wait until the next activation for a test. I had however once again packed my SOTA Baseball cap and hoped that would help with shading my eyes so that I could read the display on the X108G in sunlight and with the weather forecast, it looked like I was going to get some sunlight, in fact it looked like being a really nice spring day.

The Location:

Eisenberg is just over an hours drive away from my home along roads that bring me to several SOTA summits and so a well-known route for me. No need to use the GPS Navi for this summit. In the valley there is a village called Eisenberg but I would need to drive through that to the next village call “Zell” and from there the “Berg Strasse” can be driven all the way up to the Schlossbergalm Zell. A wonderful friendly small restaurant with fantastic views and a very convenient car park from where to start the 10-15 minute climb up to the castle ruins on top of Eisenberg. There is actually a second castle ruin on the next hill – called Hohenfreyberg. Although not a SOTA summit (as Eisenberg is on the actual summit), if you have time to visit it, it’s only another 5-10 minutes walk and combining the two castles with lunch at the Schlossbergalm Zell would make a lovely morning out even without the SOTA component. The views are amazing. The restaurant opens at 10am and food is served from 11am every day apart from Monday (except if the Monday is a public holiday – when it is also open). In the winter the (single track) road can be closed but Spring through Autumn this is a lovely place to visit.

The Activation:

The drive down went without any problems. On arriving at the Schlossbergalm, I was not-surprisingly, the first car in the car park and one of the owners set off down the track to bring fresh produce up for the restaurant as I was unloading the car. I had thought that I may be able to get to the restaurant and sit outside in the sunshine with a nice cool beer on my way back. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to do that this time. Next time I will as it is a great way to relax after the activation.

The track up to the castle is steep, one reason why I decided the week previously that climbing it would not be possible in the pouring rain. Good shoes are required to get up this path especially when carrying two packs as I was. there is a less steep route that goes to the back of the hill, which may be worth investigating but the gate to it was closed and the intention is that the public take the more direct, steep path. So up I slogged, stopping at about half way to enjoy the views. This is a summit I have activated before but I had forgotten how steep the path is. This is as much a problem coming down as going up as the surface is slippery so care is need not to twist an ankle.After about ten minutes I approached the entrance to the castle ruins, emptied my loose change into the collection box which looks like a converted bomb case and noted that the castle is also listed as a museum, making activation of it valid not only for Summits on the air and castles on the air but also for the annual Museums on the Air event.

After walking through the centre of the ruins, that have some accessible sheltered rooms, which while being very basic are welcome should the weather turn bad, you come to a large wooden platform that has been built onto the side of the castle ruins and this would be my base for the activation as it gives several mast supports and room to run out the linked dipole wires. There were a few other visitors while I was there but they all kept clear of the antennas and no one asked whet I was doing. When I left around 10am local there were more tourists arriving and the car park was full, so it looks like I chose the right times. in fact that saturday seemed to be the day, the local farmers had decided to repair all the fences and there were several tractors and workers under way as I descended the track back to the car park and the road back down into Zell.

But back to the activation itself. as I knew mike 2E0YYY was going to be out and a contact on 40m would be most likely, I put up the linked dipole first of all. Mike soon spotted but I could hear absolutely nothing from him. I put out a “blind call” (i.e. I called him on his frequency hoping he may just be listening and respond to me) – nothing. Conditions are bad!  I switched the links in the dipole and spotted myself and put out several CQ calls – no response and the band was really quiet. I tuned around and found Yuri RA3QVQ with his big station (500w and a 10 element beam on 20m!). Of course with that beam and an IC-7300 he came back to me with my 20 watts at a dipole He was 5-9+20dB and he kindly gave me a 5-9. We had a short chat and then moved on. It had been a 200km QSO without me realising it, he was so strong! I then saw Mike 2E0YYY spotted again – this time on 20m – I tuned there … nothing, blind-call … nothing. A QSO with Mike wasn’t going to happen today. After several more minutes of calling CQ on 20m and getting no contacts, I decided to try out the QRP-GUYS tri-bander on its fundamental frequency of 14 MHz and while it still seems to receive OK (perhaps 1 or 1.5 S-points down from the dipole), on transmit it was a disaster. Luckily the X-108 has a built-in SWR scan feature and that told me straight away, not to use that antenna any more. Even though it had been set up fine at home, on the summit it had lost resonance – the antenna is simply no good for portable operation while it can be affected by so many things. I also tried out the LambdaHalbe 20m end fed vertical (J-pole) only to find it had a high SWR as well apart from a narrow dip, which was out-of-band! (See notes further down in this article for what I found when I got home).

So that was then clear – the only workable antenna was the good old linked dipole which showed 1.5:1 or less on whichever band it was set up for.

Thankfully after a long period of no contacts, my spot on 40m brought back eight contacts around Europe, one after the other. Once they completed I tried 20 metres again and finished off with another Russian station and then the OH9XX club station. Both easy, strong contacts (again around 200 km away) but then that was it – no more stations on 20m, so I packed everything up and headed back down to the car park. It was 10am as I arrived back at the car park, so the restaurant was just opening but my plan was to get back home around 11am, so I would not have the pleasure of a nice cold wheat beer outside the “alm” in the sunshine this time! Maybe next time …

The journey home was uneventful and I arrived home just after 11am as planned.

Investigations/changes done after returning home:

As is often the case with activations with new or modified equipment, a review is valuable when you get home to see what had caused problems or what can be improved.

Rig Display: This was again difficult on this activation with the sunshine however when I arrived home, the anti-glare plastic for Smart phones had arrived and I added this to both my smart phone and the rig display – we’ll see on the next outing if this helps. i suspect the glare will be reduced but the brightness will still need to be increased and so I’ll be looking at the circuit diagram to see what I can do. Putting my SOTA baseball cap on did help visibility of the rig’s display a little and I have ordered a larger brim to try to see if more shade to my eyes will allow me to read the display easier.

Rig powering off: On a couple of occasions I caught the power lead and power dropped. Although I checked and re-soldered the cables prior to this activation, it appears still to be a problem. I also starting to suspect that the regulator may be generating RF Noise – so I will need to investigate this before the next activation. Upon investigation, I found the fault – the base of the regulator was able to touch the output socket, shorting the unit out. a liberal application of electricians tape will stop this from happening again (I hope). As for RF noise I did a direct comparison between powering from the battery box with the regulator and running the rig off the shack (linear) power supply – there was no difference. As it was easier to hear stations with my headphones on, I will now turn my attention to the speaker in the X108G which seems a bit lacking in clarity. Depending upon the size, I may be able to exchange it with a better speaker.

QRP-Guys Antenna and LambdaHalbe J-Pole tests: Both antennas showed a high VSWR reading on the summit. In the case of the J-pole, it suspected it could be that it doesn’t like being operated as an Inverted-L antenna. I tested the antenna at home on a 10m pole – the result was that in its normal vertical position it was resonant at something like 13.5MHz! I folded back roughly a metre of the vertical element on itself and the antenna is now sub 1.5:1 across the whole 20m band. The antenna is supposed to come cut to length and I believe the 15 & 17m versions of this antenna were correct when they were supplied to me (I’ll re-check them). Willi from Lambdahalbe will be getting an email from me, letting him know he forgot to trim this antenna!

The QRP-GUYS tri-bander was tested at home before the activation and had an acceptable VSWR (especially on 20m where it was around 1.2:1 across the band). On the summit it was 6:1 or worse. This antenna design is simply bad. The antennas resonance continues to be affected by external factors that it should not be. I cannot recommend this antenna for portable operation – lucky it was only $15 (plus $15 shipping), I might recover $15 worth of parts out of it.

Photos:

 

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G HF 20w transceiver.

Battery box containing two (selectable) 4S (16v) 5Ah LIPO batteries and automatic voltage regulator.

J-Pole antenna from LambdaHalbe (20m).

LambdaHalbe 6m Mini-mast.

Standard QRP-GUYS tri-band loaded vertical (20, 30 and 40m).

SOTABeams Band hopper linked dipole (20,30,40m).

Log:

Conclusions:

This was the first activation this year where the weather was nice to me. Unfortunately the radio conditions were pretty bad. I did manage to qualify the summit and get the two points (no winter bonus now – it’s too late). I did get to test two antennas and the new rig and power supply and found there are still some actions to be completed before this set-up can provide the level of confidence that my old set-up did. I am in fact now carrying less weight however, so that is a move in the right direction.

73 ’til the next Summit !

DD5LP/P – March 30th. 2018 – The race for winter bonus points DL/AM-180 Berndorfer Buchet, DL/AM-060 Laber, DL/EW-001 Wank.

Preparation:

The original plan was to activate Eisenberg DL/AL-171 on Good Friday 30th. March 2018 to try again for long path into VK/ZL after failing about two weeks previously. In the interim I had addressed some of the gear problems and hoped for better success. At least  I should be able to grab the 3 winter activator bonus points (which cease at the end of March in the DL region). This summit, which while still some distance from home, given the clock change a week prior, would be accessible hopefully in time for the long path window. I did not want this to be an organised S2S event as the previous had been but did ask a few people if they were likely to be on. One, Rod VK2LAX said he would probably be able to get out to Mount Elliot VK2/HU-093 while Mike 2E0YYY and John VK6NU also planned to get out as well. Due to a few problems, I decided to reschedule the early activation to Easter Saturday, the 31st. of March and announced this on the reflector. Given that I now had Friday clear, I could go and activate the normally easy Laber and Wank summits on Good Friday, to grab their winter bonus points.

On the Thursday before Good Friday, Rod sent me a short note asking if I was still set to go out early on Friday as he had arranged a small group from the Central Coast ARC to come along. At this point I realised that as Rod doesn’t follow the SOTA reflector he didn’t know of my (and others) reschedule to Saturday. With the clock difference and the short time window after first letting Rod know that Eisenberg would only be on Saturday morning not Friday, I decided it would only be fair to fit in another (early morning accessible) summit on Good Friday prior to the Laber and Wank activations and planned for Berndorfer Buchet, my closest summit. I have contacted VK previously on a few occasions from this summit. Berndorfer Buchet does not gain winter bonus points but I had not activated it in 2018 so it would still be another activator point and the purpose was to try for some contacts into VK/ZL rather than the activator points. So all was set, I thought, except I found out early Friday morning that in parallel Rod had rescheduled the group at his end to Saturday. Never mind, the plan was there now and I’d catch Rod and group on Saturday all being well, now to concentrate on the three summits planned for Good Friday.

Equipment-wise I was determined to use the new Xiegu X108G rig rather than the FT-817 and amplifier however for safety sake the 817 would be packed as well. The antenna was the issue. My experiments with the QRP-Guys tri-bander vertical were not going well with my modifications to add 60m being reversed but the antenna would not be ready in time. The Komunica Bazoka Pro was not looking like a good solution after previous trials but I knew on the second two summits, especially Laber, I would have very little space for an antenna,. I decided to go back to my Diamond RHM-8B loaded vertical whip which had worked from a summit in the past. As I would not have room for a tripod and while this antenna is designed to fasten directly to the rig, I added a mounting plate to the back of the X108G where the antenna would mount. I would also take the usual 6m squid pole and the linked dipole as I knew for sure this works well from Berndorfer Buchet where I have more than enough room to put it up. I would however also be taking a new base for this mast – much smaller and lighter that the sun umbrella screw-in base that I had used before. The battery box now had a new regulator that should handle up to 10 amps (the rig can draw up to 7.5 amps) so this is another change in the equipment. These activations would have the risk of something failing or simply not working – hopefully I have enough alternatives to try if something lets me down.

Time would tell …

The Locations:

Berndorfer Buchet is about 30 minutes drive from my home and located in a forest. From the car park to the summit is a good 15 minutes walk. The hill is located above the village of Pähl at the southern end of the Ammersee lake.

Laber is accessed by a sixty year old cable car taking you up from Oberammergau (the village famous for its “Passion Play” every 10 years). Space at Laber is restricted at the best of times with it under several feet of snow safe space really is limited.

Wank is the “house mountain” of Garmisch-Partenkirchen on the German, Austrian border and is also accessed by a cable car plus a short walk up about 30 vertical metres to the summit which is covered with radio equipment both commercial and amateur and a large golden holy cross which is very much a tourist attraction.

The Activations:

Berndorfer Buchet.

The weather at home when I set off at about 7am local time was cold with a little drizzle.The drive over to Berndorfer Buchet was uneventful and I was at the car park near Kerschlach by 05:30 UTC. The track into the forest was very muddy. It looks like they had just finished harvesting some trees out of the forest and the large vehicles used had torn up the track. In addition to the mud, this track is also used often by a local horse stables, so there were quite a few “deposits” from the horses to be avoided as well.

The last climb up to the summit was difficult with lots of small branches left behind from the tree harvesting and a moss like ground underneath. Some care was needed to get up the slope with my two equipment packs without twisting an ankle. Once at the summit, everything was as previous visits and I was able to quickly put down my painters plastic sheet and start unloading the bags. The first new item was the stake from Decathlon that Luc ON7DQ had tipped me off about. I’m glad to say it went straight into the ground without any problem and the squid pole was dropped into it, with a couple of pieces of wood that were lying around at the side to stabilise it. Then I ran the SOTABeams Band-hopper out, un-did the 20m links and put the mast up. Then the battery box and Xiegu rig came out of the bags. I connected everything up, get out the log and pen – and then it starts to rain… Luckily not for long though (the rain came and went and was never too hard). So I tuned around 20m and finding nothing on, picked a frequency, spotted myself and started calling CQ. Nothing … The band was so quiet I checked that the rig was working, that the antenna had a good SWR (the X108G has a nice SWR scan feature) and everything looked fine. OK I was quite early for 20 metres, I had started at 05;50 UTC. I lowered the mast, put the links back together and raised the antenna to use it on 40m. This time I could hear stations OK so I found a clear frequency and again spotted myself and started calling. After a while I heard a weak call from Terry G0VWP in York. As we talked there was a lot of QSB on both signals but slowly the strength seemed to be getting stronger. It was as if someone had turned the bands off overnight!. After talking with Terry, I switched backwards and forwards between 40 & 20 metres trying to get the needed extra 3 contacts to at least qualify the summit. At 06:55 UTC I found a Special Event station in France and worked him with no problem, so I was getting out OK. After this contact, I again found a free frequency and spotted my self. There then followed nine contacts in eight minutes, all on 40m, nothing on 20m. As I wanted to activate the other two summits, it was time at 07:10 UTC to pack up and head back to the car. No 20m contacts this morning not even within Europe. Conditions were bad.

Once back at the car, I selected DL/AM-060 Laber in the GPS Navi and set off for the next summit. The GPS took me a slightly different way than I expected but I was soon on the back roads that I know well and after about an hours driving I was at the car park for the Laber cable car.

Laber.

This lift is the oldest in Germany and celebrates its 60th. year of service this year. It consists of just four gondola cabins and the runs in 1/4 rotations and then stops. That means once you are in the cabin, you travel half way up the mountain and stop. This is to allow people to embark and disembark at the top and bottom of the lift in the cabins ahead and behind you. The fourth cabin is alongside you at half way, but on its way down the mountain. This means the cabins don’t have to connect and disconnect from the cable except when the cableway is out of service over night. A simple system that has worked well for 60 years!

The run up the mountain takes about 13 minutes and once you leave the cable station you are already on the summit. at this time of year a few skiers are there, sometimes there are hang-gliders setting off and quite often people come up in the lift and then take 2-3 hours to walk down sometimes with their dog. Laber is a friendly summit, that has a cosy restaurant in the cable car station but rarely gets very busy due to the limited capacity of the cable car system.

Today Laber WAS busy though as with the snow falls over the last few weeks there was only limited space available. I quickly headed to the bench and put down my painters sheet and gear. This was now time to use the Diamond RHM-8B antenna to pull in the needed 4 contacts, pack up and leave to go down the mountain after taking a few photos. Starting at around 09:30 UTC, I could get no responses whatsoever to my calls using the Diamond antenna. So I decided I had to get the dipole up “somehow”. I strapped the squid pole to the back of the bench and the run of the dipole back down towards the cable car station was at least off the ground but the run in the opposite direction, that I managed to tie off part way up a flag pole was literally laying in the snow! Not a good configuration! It worked though! From 09:49 I managed the needed 4 contacts and packed up at 10:00 UTC. the people I had ridden up with in the cable car had been watching me and when we saw each other in the valley, they asked what I had been doing and I explained a little about amateur radio to them. I think they may have just been being polite but all left to our cars with a smile.

Wank.

The third and last summit for the day was Wank, near Garmish-Partenkirchen. I lost some time in the car park here as the parking meters only take the exact amount. parking is 3 Euros for up to 24 hours and in small change I only had 2 2 Euro coins which all three machines rejected. as I went to the place you buy tickets for the cable car, the lady knew exactly what was coming and had two 1 Euro coins ready for my 2 euro that I asked to change. What a crazy system. in any case once I got the ticket for the car, i then went back to the same lady to buy the ticket for the ride up to and down from the Wank Summit.

The cabins at Wank are about the same size as the ones at Laber however there are a lot more of them. there are in fact two lift systems one from the valley to the middle station and one from the middle station to the summit. the cabins automatically go from one system to the other at the middle station. Interesting technology. It takes about 20 minutes to get to the top station of the Cabin railway but that’s not the end of the journey. The actual summit is a further about 30 vertical metres above the top of the railway, so it’s at least another 10 to 15 minutes before one reaches the summit, which is behind a very large golden holy cross. On this day getting from the cross to somewhere that I could set-up was “interesting” as the snow had drifted and at one point, I was up to my knees in snow! Luckily I got safely through that and flattened my own area out in the snow before laying out painters plastic sheet and my gear. I tried the new stake here as I had at Berndorfer Buchet – no chance the snow was too soft, it just kept falling over, So as there was a bank of snow handy, I simply pushed the squid pole down into that. With two sections under the snow it was stable enough to support the dipole and I ran out the dipole ends in opposite directions. Here as well, the dipole ends were close to the snow, but I just hoped it would work and it did, at least to a good enough extent. several youngsters then came by playing in the snow and really enjoying themselves and letting everyone know by their screams, so it was out with the headphones and switch on the blocking of outside noise.

When I looked at the rig I knew I had a problem. I could not see what was being displayed on the LCD screen. It had been difficult to read at Laber but here it was impossible.the sunlight reflecting off the snow simply raised the light level to a level where the display could not complete. Trying to shade the display didn’t help and thinking about it later, it was probably my eyes that needed the shade not the display as my pupils will have drastically reduced in size to reduce the light input into the eye. If only I had, had a SOTA Baseball cap in my bag! Wait a minute – I did ! but of course as I didn’t realise what the problem was at the time i didn’t wear the cap. I did try my auto-tinting polarised driving glasses that I had brought up with me as I thought they might help – but they actually made things worse as they went black and then there was no chance of seeing anything.

l could not see what frequency I was on, but I hoped it was still 7090 KHz which was the last frequency I had used on Laber, so I self spotted on that frequency and started calling CQ SOTA from the snow. Ivo 9A1AA was the first to respond at 12:17 UTC and he was then followed by a further ten contacts 15 minutes. All through this I had to fight interference from another station on frequency. I can’t say who was on the frequency first but I knew I couldn’t move as turning the tuning dial, I would not know where I was, as I couldn’t see the display!

While packing up, I was approached by a young woman whose husband and son kept walking and left her behind. She showed a real interest in Amateur radio and I gave her a brochure on the hobby that I have with me and I hope that something might come out of that. It’s a real shame she didn’t come by 10 minutes earlier when I still had all the equipment connected and working.

The trip back down the mountain gave me a chance to catch up on my emails and the drive home, considering this was Good Friday, went reasonably well if a little slower than normal.

 

And what about DL/AL-171 Eisenberg on Saturday morning?

I’ve had to bail (cancel). I set off from home at 06:40 local (04:40 UTC) and as I stepped outside, after no rain overnight, it started to spit with rain – nothing to worry about I hoped. It’ll stop and even if it doesn’t, it’s bearable. After about 20 minutes driving, the rain had become a constant down-pour, so I pulled into a lay-by to asses whether continuing the 1hr+ drive was sensible. Looking in the direction I would be going the skies were full of black clouds and at that point the regional weather forecast came on the radio to say the rain would be continuous until about midday at least.Given that the walking track up to Eisenberg is both steep and slippery even in the dry, it would most likely have been a bog with a river running down it, by the time I got there.

I considered going to a different summit, just to get on but the weather was looking fairly threatening, so no matter where I could have gone, it would have been questionable as to whether I would have got to the summit. As the SFI (Solar flux Index) hadn’t raised as predicted, it was still down at 68, I decided the best option was to call off my activation and wait for a better day (Terrestrial and Space weather-wise). After returning home, I saw that as well as SFI still being at 68, the K index has gone up to 3 so not only hadn’t the RF conditions got better, the noise level had also come up.

Eisenberg will have to wait until December to get the bonus winter points this year but I may activate it before then in any case as it is a nice trip out in the sunshine.

Photos:

   1. DL/AM-080 Berndorfer Buchet.

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  2. DL/AM-060 Laber.

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  3. DL/EW-001 Wank.

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108-D “outdoor” version.

Diamond RHM-8B 40-6m vertical antenna.

SOTABeams “Band-Hopper” linked Dipole.

LambdaHalbe 6m telescopic fishing pole.

Decathlon push in mast base.

Battery box with 2 x 5Ahr 4S LIPOs and regulator to 13.8v.

Logs:

 1. DL/AM-180 Berndorfer Buchet.

  2. DL/AM-060 Laber.

3. DL/EW-001 Wank.

Conclusions & actions:

  1. The diamond RHM-8B antenna is a real let down. It is only worth using when conditions are good and any antenna will do. In bad conditions as we have at the moment, it’s a waste of effort.
  2. I will need to do something about operating in the sunlight, whether it be a matt plastic cover on the Xiegu’s OLED display or a cap with a large sunshade – something has to be done.
  3. The new small lightweight base from Decathlon was a success.
  4. The X108G (apart from the display visibility problems) and the new regulator work fine.
  5. With using the 4G connectivity on my smart phone during the activation along with the inbuilt GPS, the battery drains fairly quickly and the phone did not charge in the car between summits – an investigation there found a faulty USB cable which has now been replaced so next time a car recharge of the smart Phone battery between summits should be possible.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – March 15th. 2018 – DL/AM-178 Ammerleite.

Preparation:

After a poor activation for the VK-EU S2S on the 10th. of March I had returned home with some things I wanted to check in my equipment and possibly improve things ready for a new attempt at long path VK contacts on Good Friday morning – 30th. March. In addition to that I had finished my QRP-GUYS lightweight tri-band HF antenna and this would be an opportunity to try this out along with the commercially made J-Pole antennas for 15, 17 & 20m from LambdaHalbe. The weather was a little better than it has been for several months and the winter bonus of 3 activator points was valid until the end of the month.

So my intention was to give all the new equipment – the Xiegu X108G rig and antennas a good try out and see how they performed from a summit that I didn’t include in my 5 summits in a day action about a month earlier – Ammerleite. I also had downloaded a WSPR beacon program to my smart phone which I had tried from home, with the intention that if I could not find any contacts on a particular band, I would send out the 2 minute long WSPR signal and check where my beacon was heard when I got home.

The Location:

Ammerleite, whose correct name is Schnalz (Ammerleite is the whole region alongside the Ammer river) is a one point summit with an impressive cross and importantly, two nice bench seats and a fence to keep the cows away and provide mast supports. It’s located above the village of Boebing and is about a 45 minute drive from my home so definitely a “local” summit for me. In nice weather the views are lovely and at least for this day any rain would only come after lunch time.

The Activation:

Upon arrival at the summit there was actually some sunshine, the first we’ve seen for some time. I decided I would perform my tests methodically one band at a time and start with 21MHz (15m) and then go in sequence down in frequency. I had only brought the one, 6 metre mini-mast, so tests of antennas would have to be done one at a time, at least until I got to the QRP-GUYS tri-bander.

My first problem was that with the rig sat on the bench, I could not read the LCD display. I have had this problem before with the FT-817, and so I had a small fold-up box in my rucksack to provide shade but no matter how I set it up, I couldn’t get the X108G’s display screen shaded enough to be able to read it. I ended up putting the rig under the seat bank on top of the re-flattened box and operated that way. I would research what was possible to have greater contrast on the display when I got home.

After setting up and tuning around 15m, I could hear no stations – this didn’t bode well, but I sat myself on 21.285MHz put out a spot and started calling CQ SOTA – nothing, tried again – nothing. Is all the gear working and the antenna connected – yes. It was band conditions! I was prepared for this in that I had bought a WSPR Beacon App for my smart phone that can create WSPR messages and send then out time-synced to fit the WSPR beacon system. Ideally this should be wired into the rig but I had tried it out at home and simply holding the phone to the microphone and pressing the PTT before the 2 minute sequence starts and releasing it afterwards works fine. So I tried it, set the rig to the correct frequency and keyed the PTT 8 seconds before the sequence started. Then I waited and waited until the whistling finished (2 minutes is a long time – luckily this was at a time before I got my three separate visitors, all with a dog with them (this appears to be on a favorite dog walking route) otherwise the dogs and the owners would most likely complain about the noise). When I released the PTT something was wrong. There was no sound from the radio, the display was off. What had happened? I looked at my intelligent voltage regulator – voltage – zero volts! I turned it back on again and tried again – this time watching the red Tx light on the microphone – the same thing happened again after about 40 seconds the power was cut to the rig.

I was not sure why this was happening – perhaps RF getting back into the electronics in the regulator that I use to reduce the LIPO4 16.5v down to 13.8v? So I turned down the RF to 10watts from 20 and tried again. This time the transmission completed. OK, that’s a solution, I thought.

I now took down the 15m J-pole antenna and put up the 17m one and repeated the process – still no takers on 17m SSB, no reply to the spot and this time the WSPR spot action dropped off even with the rig set to 10 watts so I decided to leave the WSPR actions until I knew exactly what was causing the problem. I left the rig set to 10w for the rest of the activation “to be safe”.

Testing the 20m J-pole I actually heard a couple of stations on the band but again there was no response to my CQ SOTA calls despite the fact that I spotted myself.

My operations at this point were interrupted by a young guy who was interested in what I was doing as he had been in the communications section while in the military. He and his dog were quite entertaining, with stories about how he had loaded up a barbed wire fence to get an NVIS antenna as their other antennas couldn’t make the needed contact just over the next hill and that his senior officer had come along and exploded worrying that he would damage the equipment! His dog brought pine cones for me to throw so he could catch them. It’s interesting who you meet on summits sometimes!

At this point, I had planned to go on and test the QRP-GUYS tri-bander vertical but as I had lost so much time and the sky had grayed over and the temperature dropped (the sun was gone), I decided that it was important to qualify the summit, so down came the 20m J-pole vertical and up went the SOTABeams linked dipole after moving the mast along two fence posts to give me enough room.

I left the links closed for 40 metres and breathed a sigh of relief as I got my first contact for the summit from Jan OK2PDT. After that the calls came in quick succession with a couple of breaks as QSB hit the band and I had to change frequency once because of QRM. At the point that I thought the calls had finished and was prepared to start packing up, the second wave of calls came in. In all I worked 35 stations on 40m from this summit – I’m sure there were more calling but either I couldn’t pull them out of the noise as they were weak or (more often) a stronger chaser came on top of them. So, my apologies to those who called but could not get a completed contact.

As I had tidily packed away each antenna as I took it down, the pack-up action went well and relatively quickly. The drive home was uneventful and the rain started just as I got home.

Investigations at home:

As is often the case with activations with new equipment, a review is valuable when you get home to see what had caused problems or what can be improved.

Rig Display: Looking at the manual, I though the LCD visibility issue would be simple to solve by increasing the contrast and brightness settings in the engineers menu in the rigs firmware. Not so – the menu option to adjust contrast was not in the menu and the brightness option was already set to 100%. I have sent an email to the manufacturer and posted a question to the help forum for the rig. My suspicion is that my (latest model) version, has the OLED screen rather than the LCD, which is a high contrast screen in any case and so perhaps there is no way to increase its contrast. As this is the “outdoor” model of the X108G, I hope the manufacturer has a solution for me. In the meantime, I’ll look into creating a sunshade specifically to fit around the display.

Rig powering off: One should ALWAYS read the specs! I had thought that for a 20w rig 5 amps at 13.8v should be sufficient. It would be just for the PA stages but all the other stages before that also consume power and the drain can peak at 7.5 amps. The intelligent regulator that I bought and built into the battery box is rated at a maximum of 5 amps – hence the reason when on the 100% duty cycle WSPR transmissions, the regulator closed off the power thinking a short had occurred. Solution – order a 10 amp, non-intelligent, “buck” voltage down converter to replace the intelligent 5A one. I have found one rated at 8 amps continuous and 10 amps peak current and found a supplier in the UK who can supply this within a week as opposed to 4-5 weeks from China. Hopefully I will be able to test and install this before I want to make my next activation, where I will test out the QRP-GUYS antenna.

QRP-Guys Antenna and LambdaHalbe J-Pole tests incomplete: while I do not expect any problems with the commercially built Lambdahalbe antennas, the QRP-GUYS antenna that I built will be tested on my next activation.

Noise when trying to do WSPR: I already have a data interface that I have used to send and receive FT-8 with the X108G and my laptop. I should be able to add a cable adapter to go from the current 2 x 3.5mm mono audio jacks to a 4 pole jack suitable for the smart phone. this will then mean no loud audio to disturb visitors. I wont bother with any vox-ptt solution as this set up will be used only rarely to test antennas.

5 amp intelligent regulator

10 amp non-intelligent buck regulator

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G HF 20w transceiver.

Battery box containing a 4S (16v) 5Ah LIPO and automatic voltage regulator.

Separate J-Pole antennas from LambdaHalbe (20/17/15m).

LambdaHalbe 6m Mini-mast.

Modified QRP-GUYS tri-band loaded vertical (my version for 20, 40 and 60m).

SOTABeams Band hopper linked dipole (20,30,40,80m).

Log:

Conclusions:

Unexpected problems with the power supply regulator turning off the rig mid WSPR transmission can only be resolved with a regulator that is capable of handing higher currents. I have ordered one and hope it will arrive in time for me to test it out in another action prior to the VK-EU one on Good Friday.

I’m not sure what I can do as regarding the readability of the screen in sunlight – I have sent an email to Xiegu in the meantime I will try to build a sunshade.

The QRP-GUYs antenna still needs to be tried “in the field”.

The SOTABeams inverted-V linked dipole and the 6 metre Mini-Mast are the most reliable parts of the pack.

73 ’til the next Summit (s) !

DD5LP/P – March 10th. 2018 DL/AM-176 Rentschen (for VK-EU S2S event).

Preparation:

I was involved in organising and publicising the VK-EU S2S event for several weeks before it would happen. At the end we had stations from Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa, the UK, Germany, Russia, Austria, The Slovak Republic, Rumania and Canada committed to taking part. My initial plan was to activate from Roemerstein, a 10 point summit over 2 hours drive away from where I live. The weather and radio condition forecast 10 days out was very good but that soon changed. An expected sunspot fizzled and died meaning conditions on the day were probably the worst so far : here is the space weather from later in the morning on the 10th:

SFI of 67 (The formulae given in the June 1996 edition of the IPS Solar Geophysical Summary states 67.0 as the minimum possible value.). K index of 4 means REALLY noisy.

As well as the propagation conditions being expected (and proved) to be bad, the expected 15 degrees and sunshine was moved back by a day by the forecasters (and then never came). These factors along with the fact that I took a pretty hefty tumble on the ice in -15 degrees temperatures a week before the event meant that if I was going to take part at all, I would have to go to a more local summit. All of the 6 point and above summits are accessed via a chair lift or cable car and none of those start service until 9 am local. In fact several are not even running again until the “summer season” which starts at Easter. My next choice was Eisenberg while only a 2 pointer it is relatively close but requires a good 10 minute steep walk. Two days before the event I was in a great deal of pain from my back injury so I decided even that summit might be too much and switched my activation to Rentschen, which is a literal “drive on summit”. Unfortunately as I have already activated this summit this year, I would get no points for it, but at least I would be taking part in the event.

Equipment: I wanted to use the Xiegu X108G for this activation and as I had repaired the linked dipole after the problems at Attenberg a few weeks earlier, that would be my 40m antenna. I had also bought but not yet used 3 commercially made J-pole antennas from Lambdahalbe. One for 20m, one for 17m and one for 15m. All of this new or repaired equipment was to be tested out on the Wednesday or Thursday in the week prior to the S2S event with an activation of Ammerleite – again a close summit, only 1 point but up until the end of March it earns another 3 winter bonus points and I hadn’t yet activated it in 2018. Well that activation never took place as I was suffering with my back and there’s no way I could have managed the climb up to Ammerleite. Friday allowed a quick test in a local field and I was all prepared with a WSPR beacon program installed on my smart phone, so that I could connect up the antennas in turn, send a transmission and then check later via wspr.net how they performed. We decided to combine this short 30 minute test session with taking the dog for a walk and my wife agreed to come along and take the dog for her walk in the fields while I “did my radio stuff”. Long story short, the tests did not get completed as the 10 metre DX-Wire fibreglass support mast caused me several problems. Compared to my shorter (and much lighter and cheaper) 6 metre mast, the DX-wire “Mini-mast” bends far too much even before it is at full height. I have had problems before with this mast collapsing into itself without warning – this time the opposite occurred. When it was obvious I was not going to be able to complete my tests, I wanted to lower the mast but then sections jammed meaning I had to man-handle it down and bring it home in sections not collapsed in the car and totally disassemble and rebuild the mast (again) once I got it home.

One thing was for certain – that DX-wire 10m mini-mast was not going on my Saturday activation! It was replaced with one of my two Lambdahalbe 6 metre masts, which would impact the use of the J-pole antennas due to their length.

So Saturday would be a risk. As well as having to get up early to be in time for the long path window to VK/ZL several parts of the equipment were untested. The activation may not even take place if I felt bad when I got up  – we’d have to see …

The Location:

Rentschen is a drive-on plateau just outside Wildsteig according to Google, 47 minutes drive away from my home. I managed it this time in just under 40 minutes but the return journey took over 50 minutes. The difference a bit of traffic makes. In any case one of my closest summits. I have activated here many times before, so I knew the layout and for that reason packed the screw-in sun umbrella base to support the mast as there is no convenient fence post or small tree around (see photos below).

The Activation:

The run down was uneventful and with relatively clear roads, I was able to get a good run down leaving home at 6:15 am local time. The weather was cool but not cold and it wasn’t raining – the ground was wet from overnight but not muddy, so compared to the last couple of weeks a very good situation. As well as not being any available support for the mast, there’s also no seating, so the plastic painters sheet was put down and my two bags sat on top of it until I sorted out the mast and antennas. My idea was that I would put the SOTABeams Band-hopper linked dipole up as usual for 40 & 20 metres and then from a carabiner under the dipole feed-point hang the end of the J-pole. Initially I put up the 17m J-pole but later tried the 15m one as well. I initially set the links on the dipole to be 20 metres as I could already see some spots for that band.  Once the antennas were up in a relatively stable condition (leaning a little but not as bad as I have had), I turned to unpacking and laying out the station. With the new rig (the XIEGU X-108G) I do not have the convenience of an internal LIPO battery as I have on my FT-817ND, so I have constructed a battery box that holds a hardcase 5AH 4S (16.5v) LIPO and an electronic regulator that reduces the voltage to a constant 13.8v for the rig. What I found on this activation was that if I close the (see through) boxes lid, it can press on one of the regulators buttons, which turns the power off! Not ideal. After I realised that, I left the lid open but the unit did switch off a couple of times later without warning – more investigation needed – I did say this configuration was not tested didn’t I?  On turning on the rig on 20 metres there was immediately a high noise level (around S7) – this did not bode well but when I tunes the band there were spots where it was not as bad and the noise also seemed to move around the band. My first thought was that the voltage regulator was causing this problem however I did not have this problem the last time I used this configuration, so either something is failing in the (new) regulator or the problem was external – possibly something to do with the overhead high voltage lines or some new equipment in the nearby buildings. In any case there was nothing I could do on the summit apart from try to hear stations through the noise. As I would find out after the event from other people’s reports 20m was dead and very noisy at this time and I had arrived just as the band had closed to VK/ZL – the thought is that the last hop into Europe was actually Sporadic-E which would explain the hour earlier time than had been the case earlier in the week and the sudden band turning-off rather than fading.

Here’s my log of attempts to get contacts (after having searched for spotted activators and self-spotted):

  • 20m 0620-0625 UTC – N/C
  • 40m 0635-0640 UTC – N/C
  • 17m 0640-0645 UTC – N/C
  • 20m 0705-0715 UTC – N/C
  • 15m 0725-0730 UTC – N/C

Luckily from 0730 UTC I had a run of contacts on 40 metres including one S2S. Once that run finished, I decided to check 20m again and found Herbert OE9HRV/P booming in talking to another summit so I waited until he had finished and then called him for my 2nd. S2S. Another fruitless 10 minutes spotting and calling on 20m and I decided to call it a day!

Photos:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G HF 20w transceiver.
  • 6 metre Lambdahalbe mast
  • Screw-in umbrella base
  • Plastic painters sheet
  • SOTABeams linked dipole (repaired).
  • Three Lambdahalbe single band J-pole antennas for 20, 17 and 15 metres.
  • Battery box with hardcase 5AH 4S LIPO battery and electronic regulator.

Log:

Conclusions:

After tests at home, I am happy to report the interference did not come from the voltage regulator so it must be something on the summit creating that horrible noise. That added to atmospheric noise being so high and there was inevitably going to be problems.

The regulator did not turn off at home, so I can only think that something managed to press on one of the buttons during the activation. I have now found how to lock the buttons to avoid this happenein.

The Xiegu appears to have worked correctly on this activation, so I can rely on the rig in the future.

The antenna situation needs work. I have looked around and there does not appear to be any good quality 10 metre mini-poles on the market. The only one is the DX-Wire one where the fibreglass sections simply have walls that are too thin to be reliable. My options are therefore to either buy one that is longer to carry (and hence has less sections, each of which with thicker walls) or find an alternative way to support the J-Pole antennas – perhaps I can install them in an Inverted-L format?

73 ’til the next Summit!