Sunday, February 22, 2015

2015 ARRL International DX CW Contest - My QRP Maiden Voyage

My 20 Meter EndFedZ Indoor Configuration
I recently started putting my small shack together here at the house. I have yet to even think about any exterior antenna's but for now, my goal was to "antenna up" indoors. In my previous post, I ran my 15 meter Par EndFedZ antenna from the top of our steps to the shack. Since the 20 meter end fed antenna is obviously longer, I needed to adjust the configuration a bit. All I did was utilize some Command Strips to make wire supports. Since they are plastic, the wire attaches directly to them or runs through them. The top photo shows my weekend configuration, running the wire down to a lower level wall and then down into the shack. Open concept works pretty well for indoor antenna configurations!

Into The Shack
I temporarily set up the radios on Saturday, but then found a more permanent set-up on Sunday morning. The end fed antenna now runs into an antenna switch where I have both of my Icom 706MIIG and my Icom 703+ connected. I wanted to at least get the 706 hooked up and ready for any QRO use (no contacts made with it this weekend). For now, I just wanted to get a radio hooked up and see what type of propagation I'll have at this QTH. Since the utilities in the neighborhood run underground, I'm finding much less noise here than in previous locations. The only RFI I have is from my computer monitor, something I'll tackle at a later date. 

My Initial AK7DD Station Setup
I wanted to start QRP during the contest weekend on 20 meters. I chose 20 meters as I felt this was the best high band that would allow contacts during most of the day or night. I also wanted to begin tracking propagation paths since I live on a hillside. In looking at my current QTH on the hillside, due north would be my most challenging path. I have a nice open view of the south and west with my eastern path being partially obstructed by some hills. I'm close enough that my path east, as I discovered, was not really compromised. All in all, this is a much better location than my previous and I'm excited to once again have the opportunity to get on the air.

CW Weekend
Once the shack was setup and the ARRL International DX CW Contest was in full swing, I fired up my Icom IC-703+ and began taking notes. I documented times and stations heard as I tuned across the band early Saturday morning. Again, I wanted a good understanding of propagation as this is critically important, especially when running a setup like mine, QRP and an indoor antenna. Saturday was exciting as I found 20 meters was full of great DX! I tuned up and down the band seeing what I could hear. I decided my listening needed to change to working something as a contest QRP QSO would be the true test. My first QSO was with JA7ZFN. I was running 5 watts and he was in the logbook after the first call. 

Saturday Stations Heard & A Few Worked
I did not exceed 5 watts of output power all weekend. Most of the time, I was running 3 watts output. Of course, there were many stations who I copied well who could not hear me. I told myself that if I could not work them with 5 watts or less, I was moving on to the next one. The list to the left shows several of the stations I heard on Saturday and of course, a few I actually worked. I decided to make use of my cellular phone and video a few that I heard / worked. Highlights were working my old neighbors and the awesome Alaska contest stations; KL7RA, KL2R and AL1G. The links will take you to my YouTube page where I shot some video of how well they sounded at my QTH with my current setup. 

Some more of my Saturday QRP success stories were QSO's with; PY2ZXU, CR2X, CS2C, WH7M, PJ4X, XE2B, KP2M and FY5KE. A few I have links to video I recorded from my cell phone that I uploaded to my YouTube page. Simply crazy was working CS2C with 3 watts! What a great receive CS2C had! Of course, we can't leave out favorable propagation but I waited for peaks in signals and yelled. My QSO with KP2M was with ½ watt!!! Again, big stations with great antenna's helped me reach out and make these contacts. I found that Sunday, the propagation was much worse. I did not begin hearing DX until late afternoon with the best propagation being heard over the last 2 hours of the contest (for me anyhow). Sunday, the only real DX I heard were a few from Saturday, but I was excited to hear ZL3X early in the morning. YC1DOL was also heard first thing in the morning but not strong enough for me to even think about transmitting my callsign. 

SWR for CW
When I checked my SWR in the CW portion of 20 meters, I found it to be a bit high early on. The EndFedz antennas are normally broad banded but this may be due to in my indoor configuration. I'll know more when I finally put this antenna up outdoors without anything near it. It will be the true test to see how respectable the SWR will be where I do most of my operating, CW. I found the phone band flat but I had to take into account this SWR when running QRP. When running low power, it's obvious you want as much power going out the antenna as possible. The run from my rig to the antenna was about 15 feet, so my power out the antenna was a bit less than what left the rig. My IC-703+ has a built in tuner but that was just fooling the rig, keeping it happy. I was still seeing some power loss once my CW hit the antenna. But the SWR dropped quickly the further up the band I moved. Still very respectable when you see from the photos at the top of this blog entry on how I had the antenna running on the inside of our residence. Plenty to make any antenna unhappy.

This weekend was a great experiment and there is hope that I might be able to set up a small contest station here. Being in residential neighborhood, it won't be antenna towers but at least a few wires and maybe a vertical or my Hex Beam. But for now, my indoor set up will do and first impressions are good. Next, I need to get my digital software working once I get my new shack computer running. I've unhooked my Vibroplex and hooked up my straight key again. I did hear lots of DX on 10 meters but after realizing I did not have a end fed antenna for that band, I quickly ordered one. I should have most of the high bands covered once my 10 and 6 meter antenna's arrive. I'm looking forward to playing on 10 meters again. Of all the bands, 10 is my favorite and I think I missed some good DX on that band over the weekend. Well, on all the other bands for that matter, too. 


Monday, February 16, 2015

Finally - Hearing Stations Again!

Par EndFedz 15 Meter
I finally took a few minutes to throw up my first indoor antenna here at our QTH. The first one that went up was the Par EndFedZ 15 meter wire. I ran the wire from the top of the upstairs stairway down to the shack. I just had the itch to start hearing signals and decoding CW again. After running the antenna and checking he SWR, I hooked it up to my Icom IC-703+ QRP radio. As I tuned 15 meters, I noticed a constant noise level of S5 but several stations were heard above the noise. The first station heard was AD8Y in Ohio followed by a great signal from C6AUM in the Bahamas. It was nice to hear CW coming from the speaker of the 703 again!

Icom Mini Station
I have both Icom radios stacked together but I only fired up the QRP rig. I got my Navy Flameproof key hooked up the radio in anticipation of my next QSO. Even indoors, the antenna has a respectable SWR. At the bottom of the 15 meter band, SWR was 1.7:1 followed by the phone band showing a flat match, 1.1:1. Once I get the antenna outside, I'm hopeful the lower end SWR might drop a bit. Again, considering my indoor configuration as seen in the photo, I have no complaints. 

Stations heard in addition to the two I listed above was JO1KKD, YV5IUA and the strongest coming from XE2ST. I did not check propagation numbers but my initial reception reports seemed promising. Much better than what I was hearing at our temporary quarters near Crater Lake. As time permits, I plan on getting a few antenna's outside. But for now, I'll string my 15, 17 and 20 meter EndFedZ indoors when I get some time to play radio. I'm looking forward to my next QRP QSO's.     

Monday, February 2, 2015

Home Grid

I still have yet to set up a portable antenna but that day will soon arrive. I did break out the portable equipment box and fired up the Garmin to see what my current grid square will be. After relocating to a more permanent location, I hope to finally unpack for a long while. The weather had been unseasonably warm (or so I'm told) here for the last few weeks at least. It appears we will be in a wet and breezy pattern through this next weekend. But that should not stop me from putting up an antenna inside the house until I can put something outside. Thankfully, most of the utilities are buried in our current neighborhood so I'm hopeful most QRN will be tolerable.

Most of my equipment will remain in the box or go on the auction block as I begin to downsize my station. For right now, it's all piled up in the corner of the shack. My Rohn tower and accessories will be the first to go and then I'll slowly weed through this stack. I hope to erect my Hex Beam and my 5BTV vertical this spring. And of course I will be putting my end fed antenna's to the test before things warm up. I would love to get back into contesting a bit but my AK glory days are long gone. For years I put many of my awards and certificates in frames. Now it's time to remove them from those frames and put them in a photo album. A photo album only another ham would understand or appreciate.