Tuesday, July 27, 2010

T Minus 3...2....1

What a great summer it has been, despite the nearly complete lack of E-Skip in July. June was one of the best months ever for E-Skip including several 2 Meter openings. As Murphy would have it, I missed nearly all of them due to work and family commitments. But I did manage to work three new states, and a few new grids. I'm at 97 grids worked now on 2, all via the indoor antennas. 

I'm hoping that the August Perseids meteor shower will be a good one this year, allowing me to move over the magic 100 grid mark. Or we'll see a nice tropo opening here as the summer draws to a close. It's been well over 100 degrees here for the past two weeks, but despite the presence of a lingering high pressure system, conditions have been only slightly better than average. I think if you're going to endure "heat advisories" warnings on NOAA Weather Radio, then you should at least have some tropo to go with it! 

Some other highlights of the Summer of 2010 so far: 

  • The ARRL June Contest saw this station working VUCC in a single weekend of limited operating time, on 100 watts, all using the indoor 3 element beam! That's one I won't soon forget. 
  • Worked Joe Taylor, K1ST, one of my radio heroes using his new WSJT 8 software on ISCAT mode via 6 Meters. What a thrill! Can't thank Joe enough for his invention which has made most of this possible. 
  • Added a 30 watt 1296 DEMI transverter, which should help me on that band. 
  • In the process of upgrading antennas for 2 Meters, 902, and 1296--should be ready for the September contest. 
  • A new "serious rover" Austin, K4AMK moved to Helena, AL only a few miles from my home. He's in the process of building a very serious contest capable rover, and should really change the game here. He's also interested in Optical DX, so we're working on some transceivers to make a VUCC attempt in that region soon too. 

VUCC In a Weekend, On Indoor Antennas!

This past weekend's ARRL VHF Contest began with a healthy dose of Murphy. At
the request of my good friend, Marcus Thomas, KF4YHP, I had planned on doing a
multi-multi operation using his 75 foot portable tower, 7 element M2 6 Meter
beam, and 17B2 Boomer, along with my compliment of rover antennas for the
other bands thru 1.2 Ghz.

Only days before the contest, Marcus injured his hand while working on a tower
for another ham in the area. The injury was severe enough to not only stop our
work on the feedlines for our effort, but to keep Marcus out of work and off
the air for the duration.

With only three days to prepare for the effort, I debated my options for the
contest Rebuild the rover rack and try to visit some nearby grids as a rover?
Throw up some portable mast in the driveway, and attempt a 6 band effort from
home? Forget the whole thing and go fishing with the XYL?

Murphy continued his domination at this point, as a major project at work
resulted in a lot of late nights and early mornings, with no time for hobby.
Thursday night saw me in a state of despair....no antennas in the attic
connected...no antennas on the rover rack...radio's and feedlines lying in the
shack floor. AHHHH!!!!

To complicate matters, our nephew had decided to pay us a visit over the
weekend. I quickly pressed him into service after I got home on Friday, and
together we managed to reinstall the hardline and antennas in my attic to get
me on 6M thru 1.2 Ghz.

Alabama experienced near record temperatures of well over 95 degrees, and
inside the attic, it must have been well into the 100's. Work progress was
slow, and breaks were frequent. As midnight neared, I began checking each line
for SWR...problems arose immediately. High readings on several bands, with no
apparent cause.

At 4AM, I finally called it a night, with only 6, 2, and 432 working
correctly. I resigned myself to a very limited effort on those bands.

As the contest began, 6 Meters roared to life, and filled my receiver up past
50.250! Even more amazing was that it lasted for hours on end. While I enjoyed
the runs on 6 Meters, my main goal was to work new grids on 2 Meters towards
the VUCC effort.

Mid-afternoon saw 6 Meter contacts grow very short, with my station working
into nearby South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee via E-skip. I quickly tuned
to 2 Meters and began listening in earnest for E-Skip there. None was heard,
however, and back to 6 I went.

Murphy stuck his final blow when I attempted to work nearby powerhouse, Jimmy
Long, W4ZRZ on 432. I recently purchased Icom IC-471 failed to operate
properly. Jimmy could hear me, but I couldn't detect his signal at all. We
switched to FM and worked using my 50 watt Icom FM rig! Drat!

Late in the day on Saturday, I finally gave up on the affair, and decided to
spend some quality time with the wife and my nephew. We went fishing at a
nearby lake until nearly 3AM..and had a blast. I got a ton of Bream, and tried
to enjoy my family.

Sunday morning saw exhaustion and heat taking their toll, and I slept right
thru my 6AM wake up call. Finally staggered into the shack around 9AM...to
find 2 Meters dead, and 6 again wide open. Having no other options, I
concentrated on working 6 Meter contacts, determined to have some fun and just
enjoy renewing friendships.

By 11AM, I noticed that I had already worked 78 grids, despite very limited
operating time. A thought crossed my mind; "I wonder if I could work 100 grids
before the contest ends"? As a few more new ones were logged, the possibility
of earning VUCC in a single weekend using only 100 watts and the indoor
antenna seemed a real possibility.

The push was on....and by 1PM, I passed the century mark. VUCC in a weekend,
using nothing but a stock Icom 746 Pro and an indoor antenna. Wow! No wonder
they call it the Magic Band! By contest end, I had worked 126 grids, four
countries, 33 states, and had a ton of fun!

Thanks to all the wonderful operators who struggled to pull out my weak
signal, and even more to those who stopped for a brief moment to encourage me.
Great contest, and despite not working any new ones on Two, one that I won't
soon forget.


Les Rayburn, N1LF
VUCC 6 Meters #1,712
Grid Bandit #222