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.
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.
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.
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.
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 !