Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Adventures in Six

I dabble in 6 meters, but it's never been a passion like Satellites have for me. Like in the AMSAT world, one of the ultimate goals of a 6 meter op, is getting the 488 grids in the continental US confirmed. In the 6 meter world, this is known as the Fred Fish Memorial Award (FFMA) and there is an entire sub-culture of Ham radio operators dedicated to just this thing. There are rovers that travel to some of those rare grids for 6 meter operations, just like there are on Sats. Therefore, I pay close attention to what's happening in the 6 meter world, cause you never know when you'll have a cross-mode rover somewhere.

Before this summer, all the 6 meter contacts I've ever made myself have just been for a laugh. I'll make them on the whip in my Jeep while driving thru the country, or I'll take a dipole to a SOTA peak during a big opening, things like that. This spring though I decided to up my game just a smidge, and built a Moxon. I had plenty of wire, and after seeing some 'stressed' leg designs, I figure I could do something out of some spare parts I had lying around the shop. I fired up a Moxon Calculator and went to work. A few hours later the project was finished, and I just needed to wait for the epoxy to dry. The next day I set it up on my push up fiberglass mast, and was pleased to see the calculator was almost spot on, giving me < 1.3:1 from 50mhz to about 51mhz. And then, as promptly as it went up, it came back down again.. waiting for the right time for it to be deployed..

A little while later, just at the start of the Sporadic E season, the mailing list dedicated to the FFMA came to life. There are a handful of chasers that only need 3-4 more grids to complete their 488 list. There are another big group that only need 20-30 more grids. One of the gentlemen that was in that 20-30 category reached out to me, to ask about grid EM43, which is about 90 miles southeast. It's a grid I rove to probably once a year for Satellites, and I'm familiar with the area. This particular request was about 6 meters though, specifically the propagation type known as Meteor Scatter, using a digital mode called MSK144. I've messed around a bit with PSK31, and I'm no stranger to using computers to control my radios, but this was a new thing for me. This new mode required me installed a piece of software known as WSJT-X, and it contained several very interesting weak signal modes.

I slowly worked thru getting everything setup, and we set our first schedule on a Saturday afternoon from the house. It took a while (about 45 minutes) to make the QSO, but it was a success! Now I just need to find a time to get to EM43. Soon™ - I promise :)

Of course since I had the WSJT-X software now installed, I began exploring the other modes too. I discovered JT65, and was instantly hooked. I could make QSOs, via my remote station, while at work multi-tasking on project? Fantastic! Several very good openings in June netted a good number of QSOs, and as of the date of this blog, I have actually completed 6m VUCC, with a pretty massive help from the WSJT-X software.

6 Meters has been a good time time this summer. I got a new award, and made a fair number of fun new contacts.  My heart in this hobby still belongs to the Satellites, but once in a while, it's fun to take an Adventure to a different band, and see what fun you can have.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Notes from Belize

I got back from Belize 2 weeks ago, I've just been swamped with work and school since I got back, so this blog will be short.

We spent a full week in Belize, primarily on Ambergris Caye, with a few trips to the mainland. The house we had was in grid EK67, and the majority of the passes were done from there. However EK68 and EK57 are accessible on the Caye as well, though via several miles of golf cart mobile gravel roads. I managed to activate EK57 on SO-50 one afternoon, and went to EK68 for 2 different FO-29 passes. I feel good about getting as many people worked as I possibly could.

I ended up making 98 QSOs, worked 9 countries, as as of last count, had 68 grids confirmed in LOTW as V31CI. I didn't think that was too bad at all for a vacation style satellite operation.

I also brought equipment to work some HF and 6M, but after one particularly bad squall blew through, the Inverted-v I had hung from a palm tree no longer would tune. I wasn't able to figure what happened until I got back to Arkansas, and still am slightly unsure what went down.. I just know after re-soldering all my links on the dipole it's working again now. It was disappointing going that far, and not making a single QSO on HF/6M during decent atmospheric conditions, but it is what it is. Travel is hell on equipment.

On the topic of squalls, the weather in the Caribbean, while many consider it paradise, is hell on radio work. On the beach, the wind only dropped blow 20kts a couple times during the trip, and mostly was between 20 and 30, which occasional gusts one day close to 45kts, or tropical storm strength winds. There were 15 ft waves that day off shore, and the fishing and ferry boats weren't operating. It rained every day, though mostly for just 20-30 minute periods.. and with all the rain, getting away from the coast, the mosquitoes would carry you away. For chilling and relaxing, it was just fine.. for operating radios, conditions sucked. 

The good things about Belize though definitely outweighed the weather difficulties. The food was amazing, the scenery was gorgeous, the people were nice, and the rum was cheap. The XYL and me took one day and went inland and hiked to the Lamanai Archaeological Site, where we got to climb some old Mayan temples. That was probably the highlight of the trip for me. Seeing 4000 some odd year old temples was awesome. I will definitely go back again to see this sort of thing. 

So, Remember your noise cancelling can style headphones, otherwise you won't be able to hear in the wind. Make sure to not leave ANYTHING outside in the elements (even well build wire dipoles). And most importantly, enjoy your time in this beautiful country. There's nothing else quite like Belize.