Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January 2009 Update

Since being named as Section Emergency Coordinator (SEC) for Alabama ARES in August, I've been too busy to be on the air much on VHF/UHF. Fortunately, over the New Year's break, I did manage to do a little 2 Meter WSJT Meteor Scatter work, and picked up grids 39 & 40. Thanks for the new ones!

Then geared up for the ARRL VHF Sweepstakes. Exactly one year ago, I participated in the January event as my first ever V/U contest. My score for that outing was "40" with a total of 8 QSO's. Considering what a newbie I was, and the poor equipment, I should not have been surprised with the results.

What a difference a year makes. This years outing netted 50 additional contacts (58 QSO's), over 2000 points, and a new grid on six meters. I also managed to work my first ever 2.3ghz contact with Jimmy Long, W4ZRZ from a makeshift operation in the front driveway.

I mounted a 1 watt DEMI transverter on a painters pole, anchored to an umbrella stand. At the top was a single 30 element 2.3ghz loop yagi. I carried a small gel cell battery, an my Yaesu FT-817ND IF rig out to the truck, and set everything up on the hood.

In the cold, I nervously coordinated the contact using 2 Meter's and sent CW using the FT-817ND's micrphone keys! Jimmy commented on my poor fist, but we exchanged grids and I put 2.3ghz #1 into the logs. What fun!

Still, I confess to some frustration. None of my 2M WSJT skeds worked out, which I had hoped would net me some more grids towards VUCC on 2 Meters...and conditions were poor, so I didn't pick up anything new on the other bands.

As an operator and contester, I was pleased with the improvement. Basically I worked most of the local regulars, and didn't miss them due to silly practices as in the past. But as a grid chaser, it was disappointing.

I'm considering a portable operation from a nearby high vantage point for the Spring Sprints or possibly the June contest. June isn't great for this, becuase if six is open, then you can forget about working anyone on the higher bands. September would be the better choice.

I hate to give up on working them using only the indoor antennas, but my progress is very slow this way. On 2 Meters it may prove possible given enough patience and some decent Sporadic E openings, but on 222 and 432 it seems out of reach. I can work nearly everyone I can hear, and that doesn't allow for much wiggle room.

Still, the old hands tell me it's the worse year that they can recall for Tropo---and we certainly didn't have any in the Fall. So maybe I'm just getting discouraged.

The IC-910H is proving to be a much better rig than I first thought. Added the DSP noise reduction and that helped a lot. Easy to operate, and makes band changes on 2, 432, and 1.2ghz a snap. Need to get a keyer interface going so that I can work CW easier. Maybe another Navigator?