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:

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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:

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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!