Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A quick PS regarding the IARU contest: On sunday morning, a chap with a camera came around and filmed us in action, here's the link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H20ib211YEs&feature=plcp
Warning: don't watch if you are prone to seasickness!

Monday, August 20, 2012

IARU 2012 @ EF5HQ

BACK TO MAINLAND SPAIN

After several years of absence, the URE (Unión de Radioaficionados Españoles) decided to field once again a multi-station team distributed throughout peninsular Spain as their representation in the 2012 IARU HF championship.

It was with pleasure that the organizers decided to invite the ED5T team (Torrent Contest Club) to participate in the contest, and we soon came to an agreement that we could best serve the cause by operating 15 metre phone.

The organization of a contest of this nature is quite complicated. It requires a calculated choice of 12 stations, on each of the 6 HF bands, one on SSB and another on CW. URE decided that they would place emphasis where possible on consolidated contest stations, that way ensuring both competitive stations and experienced operators.

PREPARATION

Preparation started many months ago, and after an initial selection and distribution of bands and modes, we set to work. One of the big handicaps we had to deal with was the callsign. Spanish regulations do not make it easy, and while URE did everything possible to try to get a single unique callsign, the authorities turned down our applications and eventually we settled on the EFxHQ format. This has a distinct disadvantage, since IARU rules state that on one band, the CW and the SSB station must have the same callsign. This means that we were not able to make the best possible use of the stations available, and that we were not able to make use of alternative stations in other parts of the country to take best advantage of propagation.

Apart from the callsign issue, one of the biggest problems was the IT, although to be fair, it only seemed like this because radio-wise, all stations were pretty much up and running on a regular basis. Based on previous experience, we decided to use WinTest, in part because many stations already use it, and also because it has a special HQ station option which allows all the stations to be connected online via a private internet connection, allowing real time scoring and multiplier checking between stations on the same band. The connection method used was Hamachi, which had previously been used successfully by the EF8HQ station.

This caused a headache for some of us. Running a successful contest station means that stations are often located at sites which are good for radio, but sometimes deficient in other aspects such as for example internet coverage. As already described in this blog, it took many visits to the station and a lot of head scratching and work before we were able to get a stable link with enough speed to handle the constant traffic of 12 online stations and corresponding DX clusters. In the end our solution was to use a Wifi link using a home-made bi-quad antenna, to our club president’s ADSL at around half a kilometer from the station. Similar solutions were adopted by other stations.

ED5T is designed for eminently multi-single use and so we had to make a bit of a change to adapt it to make full use of our hardware on one single band. There were two things to take into consideration. First was how to use more than one high power transceiver on the same band, if possible, without blowing the receiver of the other station, and second, how to make best use of the existing antennas.

The first problem was solved after speaking to fellow team member and friend Imanol, EC2DX, who made a station interlock system for us. This system is based on relays which means that when one station keys up, the antenna and amplifier going to the other station are disconnected, that way avoiding input of excessive RF energy to the receiver, and possible amplifier failure too. I would like to take advantage to publicly thank Imanol for making this for us in a short timeframe!

With regard to the antennas, our first idea was to phase the two 11 element Optibeam tribanders. However this required knowing the exact coax length of the antenna on our fixed tower, which was impossible due to tower climbing restrictions imposed by the club. We do not discard this option for some future occasion however. Our second idea was to install a 2 element vertical quad several hundred metres from the main towers, where we normally install the K9AY receive antennas for the low bands, and this idea was carried out.

The only other novelty for this contest was the use of two new rigs, an FT1000MkV Field, and an FT2000D with the AC0C 3 KHz roofing filter installed.

THE DAY OF THE CONTEST

We arranged to meet on the Saturday morning at 9am, I was a bit late after having to load lots of things in the car and when I arrived Juan EA5GIE and Elías EB5KT were already preparing the 2 element quad and Paco EB5TC and Jose EA5GS had cleared out the bunker, ready to install the rigs and amps. First in was the Field and Acom 1000, second the FT2000 and then we had to wait for Victor to bring his Acom and the patch leads needed to connect up the interlock. Vic had unfortunately had to work on Friday night until 5am so we let him get at least a bit of beauty sleep! In the meantime, we tried to wade our way through the outstanding updates on the logging system, not an easy task and we got a bit frustrated at some points.




Finally Vic arrived and we installed the rest of the station. In the meantime Elías had finished installing the quad, all looking good on the antenna analyser. Once the shack hardware was installed, it was time to test the interlock. First time, nothing happened. No noise from the relays made us realize pretty quick there was no DC power, a quick change of PSU and the familiar clunk-clunk of relays. Sighs of relief. Then, looks of worry since there was noise on the receivers that were supposed to be cut off from the antenna, but in the end we could tell that the stations really were getting cut off so it was working ok. But….hot switching on one of the Acoms, seems the relays were too slow. We took stock of the problem and I decided that with an hour to go before the contest, the best solution was to put the Acom back in its box and put our trusty old Ameritron AL1200 back on the bench. Problem solved.





Then, after connecting the quad to the sixpak and checking everything, back to the computer and phone calls to Jose Ramón EA7KW for help. At the start of the contest, I started running on the mult station since we still didn’t have super check partial or the updated .dat files on the run computer! Not a great situation to be in. After 10 minutes I switched over to the run station, then my first problem with Wintest…how do I edit the call field??? I hit the tab bar and it takes me through the reports and exchanges but not the call…help! Vic to the rescue: “Hit space bar!”. After an hour running I feel I need a break, it’s been a long and frustrating morning so I hand over the running and go to hit the sack for an hour or two.

I wake up and check the whatsapp chat on the phone that Jesús EC1KR created for the event. Seems like everyone else had time for a proper lunch and was prepared and are now running like crazy. I make myself a cheese sandwich and wander over to the bunker. Running is good but I see that our CW partners have extended their lead and are nearly 100 QSOs ahead of us. Other stations don’t appear, it seems from the whatssap chat that there are internet issues at some stations, and then its us that have a temporary disconnect. But as the afternoon progresses, everyone returns and we can see progress. The running is fast and furious and its difficult for the mult station to manage to find a moment to first listen and then make QSOs. But Jose EA5GS is a trained mult hunter and little by little, between his efforts, the calls we get on the run, and our CW partners, the mult counter creeps up.




Our next worry appears on the horizon: a CME (solar Coronal Mass Ejection) is heading our way and due to hit earth at some stage during the afternoon/evening. How will it affect conditions? On 15 we notice a drop in signals, it starts to get really hard to hear the weak stateside stations (as opposed to just hard). We struggle on, noting that our 20m colleagues have had a blackout for about an hour. José and I decide that the best thing to do is leave Vic to suffer and head to the McDonalds drive in…..

At about 2 am local time the band is now dead. We have around 1350 contacts in the log. Taking into consideration the dead hours ahead of us, plus the CME, we reckon we will have a hard time making our target of 2000 qsos. We take advantage of the dead time to figure out how the digital voice keyer works and hook it up to writelog. Ahh, long live the F1 key! I have already slept so Vic and José get some shut eye while I entertain myself with the F1 key.

The band doesn’t come to life again until 5 hours later when we finally bag the India HQ mult. The only station we heard all through the night was DA0HQ. I leave the guys to get cracking, go and have some weetabix, and off to sleep. Short lived sleep, as my inflatable mattress now has a slow puncture. Oh well, back to the station I go, strong coffee in hand. The rate is agonizingly slow, but we see a decent score now, the night shift on the low bands has shown its fruit and now Imanol has packed the 40m SSB station in his car and gone off to work portable from a Trig point to see if he can rustle up a bit more interest locally, now that we are in daylight there’s no more DX to be had so, why not? We plod on, there is little to be had in the way of DX on 15 either and its one zone 28 contact after another. We keep the stints short and rotate the operators, there is little to be had on the mult station but Jose keeps at it and finally works a zone 32 out of the blue who is not spotted on the cluster. In the last hour, we are caught off guard when a P29 calls us from Papua New Guinea, in amongst a pileup of Germans.

And finally 1200 UTC comes around again, we take the headphones off and we check the score. We didn’t reach our QSO goal, but we did reach our multiplier goal, together with our partners on 15m CW down in Alicante at EA5RS’s place. Our colleagues had varying success too, but all in all we did OK.



And then our usual teardown routine. The quad was already taken down beforehand, so it was a case of taking out the rigs and amps and putting back the usual rigs. The Torrent Contest Club is based at URE Torrent, so we have to combine our activities with the rest of club members, half an hour later the door was closed and it was as if nobody had been there all weekend….

My contest reporting is never complete without giving thanks to those make all of this possible. As always, thanks to our families, the tech team, and our colleagues at URE Torrent. In this particular case, thanks are also due to URE for counting on us for the contest, to Imanol EC2DX for the Interlock, and to all of the team colleagues at the other 11 stations who made this an unforgettable event!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

ACTIVITY FROM GM7CXM

When in Scotland, radio isn't top on my list of things to do. But, I do take my 2m handie with me in my rucsack, and occasionaly get on.

First sidestep was up to Calton hill, 5 minutes walk from the central station and with great views all round


True to scottish form, it rained. But I was able to access a couple of repeaters and have a nice chat from here.


Next stop, Portobello beach. Nice view, rubbish place to play radio.


So it was time to hit the highest spot in Edinburgh, Arthur's seat


The only real advantage over Calton hill was that I could get into GB3CS repeater. I was in a hurry to get down the hill for lunch so didn't stay long.

Next stop, my HF station which I set up at home


Yes folks, if you worked me in the European HF championship, this is where I was. And this, my super 20m antenna:


Ahem. Enough said.

And my last activity, back on 2 metres again. In the spring, I went up a hill near our mountain house in León with my dad, and it seemed like he enjoyed it. So this time, I asked if he wanted to go somewhere similar and he said sure. So we chose Dumyat, a hill relatively close to home and which is not a difficult climb, but being close to the forth valley, has a great view on a clear day. We were lucky, it was a nice sunny day (well, almost) and we had a pleasant stroll up. Almost near the top, I wondered out loud if that might be a SOTA summit. It wasnt long before I found out. I got a reply right back to my first simplex CQ call, and then was broken in by Jack, GM4COX, to advise that yes I was on a SOTA summit, and he gave me the reference (SS-216). I don't think they have any time rules like DVGE and I was able to make a few people happy, and even make a summit to summit contact with a guy called Robin (whose callsign I forgot), out east of Fort William. Not bad for 5 watts.


Yes, standing on the cairn does make a difference to the signal.

I had no idea about SOTA so I checked out their nice website when I got home at http://www.sota.org.uk/ . What really surprised me was the amount of mountain activity in the area. I must look into this further, it looks like fun.

And finally, last stop on the tour, a visit for coffee, cake and antenna work at GM1DSK, Meeeester Steve, from Perth


The smile on his face is due to us finding (and fixing) a silly fault in the twin lead of his ZS special. Always a really nice visit.

It was great to be back!






SPANISH INLAND ISLANDS - A TRIP TO TANCAT DEL SALADAR

Spanish Inland Islands? What on earth is that? Well, you can find out here , clicking on "Directorio DIE", and as from page 34, you can see all the Inland Islands.

So how the heck did I decide to do this? Well, the answer is that after the fiasco at the Cerro Salada trig point (see my earlier entry today), while I was working away on saturday I was thinking that maybe I ought to give the trig points another chance. And when I was done working I called Vic EA5KV and asked if he fancied joining me. He was a bit reserved about it, but we went on the website anyway, to look for somewhere either never activated, or not activated in the last year. We found a couple of possible sites, but a long drive away and with the probability of having to hike to the top with all the gear in very hot weather.

Vic suggested we go to an inland island instead. He explained it to me, we had a look at the web, and since Victor lives quite near the Albufera lake, he knows where these places are. It would be closer, not so hot, and probably just as sought after as a trig point.

So bright and early on sunday morning, I picked him up and we set off. We drove through the rice (paddy) fields, a lovely natural environment full of wildlife that is a lush green in an otherwise yellow and burnt landscape.


Finally we found the place. Really, its nothing more than a piece of land surrounded by the small canals that feed into the Albufera lake, but somebody said that was an island, so who am I to argue with that?!

We set up shop. gave out a few calls, and got to work.


I did most of the operating, while poor Vic was trying to remember what it was like to log with paper and pen. I promise. the netbook log won't be long in coming now! After about an hour and a half and 150 contacts in the log, we decided to stop for some breakfast. Triple decker sandwiches for some....


And then since it was getting hot and we both had things to do, we called it a day, in spite of someone who was not happy about having his fun cut short


It's not the same as real DX'ing, or contesting, but it was fun. We might do it again someday.

CERRO SALADA - TRIG POINT?

On friday 27th July it looked like I was not going to be playing radio. I had the afternoon off work, and a plan for a leisurely long and spanish-style lunch with some colleagues, to be followed by dinner and drinks at the beach until the wee hours.

As it turned out, I had to be up at 5.15 the following morning to bid my guests goodbye from our holiday house, and so dinner was not a sensible idea. And it turned out that not everyone was available for lunch, so after a nice but short stop at the local Teppanyaki, I was at a loose end.

Knowing I was in for a busy weekend, and since it was hot, I decided on the spot to go pick up the dog from home, and head up to Cerro Salada, an abandonded military base about an hour and a halfs drive from the city and 1581m altitude. A nice place to play radio and walk the dog, in a cooler atmosphere.

I arrived and took a nosey around (this was my third visit) and contacted Victor EA5KV on whatsapp to say that I had completely forgotten there was a trig point there. I had used it last year to support my buddipole, but at that time didnt know about the spanish DVGE award (see my June 13th 2012 entry regarding the contest). He looked it up on his computer and gave me the reference and so I went on to 40m and started calling, to see if I could oblige anyone and make them happy with a new reference.


I managed to get a nice small pileup going, but about half an hour into it, a station called in to say that my operation was "not valid". I was stopped in my tracks and asked what he meant. He explained to me that according to the diploma rules, if a trig point has been activated by someone, then contacts from that trig point will not be accepted for the award until a year has elapsed since that operation. I was dumbfounded, never having come across anything like that in the 24 years since I've been licenced as a ham. It's like if I go on an expedition to say, San Marino, and I get told my contacts don't count because somebody else was there recently! I mean, I was there, they were making a contact with the trig point in question, why shouldn't it count?

So I asked the guys what they wanted to do. Did they want me to continue? A kindly soul gave me a nice solution: I was in a semi-rare town for the DME (spanish towns) diploma, so surely folks would want to contact me for that. However there were several other stations who complained, saying that they needed the trig point for the award and why wasn't it valid? I had to explain that I had just gone there to walk my dog and cool off a bit, any problems with the diploma, they should go contact Radioclub Henares. the sponsor.

I suppose the organisers have a good reason for it, and its their award and they can organise it however they feel best, but for me, it's lost a good deal of the possible fun that I might have had out of it, having people arguing about it, and I don't think I'll be doing it again in a hurry.

At least Golfo had fun!

IN BETWEEN HOLIDAYS

Been away in sunny Scotland for the last 10 days and before that, pretty busy. And this coming Sunday I am off up to the mountains of León, in northern Spain, for a bit of rest'n'relaxation. In the meantime, let's see if I can get this page updated a bit.....