Mt Gawler VK5/SE-013

On Sunday the 27th of October, I activated Mt Gawler, VK5/SE-013 for the Summits on the Air Program.

I thought I’d kill 2 birds with one stone, as this date was also the day of our 1 year anniversary lunch for SOTA in VK5, to be held in at the Kingsford Hotel in the town of Gawler, just a short distance from the mornings activation. I thought I’d go down early, and knock over the summit before enjoying a nice meal and catch-up with the great bunch of VK5’s that participate in the SOTA program.

Not surprisingly, just as I got going 1st thing on the Sturt Highway coming down, I found myself driving behind a familiar vehicle…Larry, VK5LY was travelling in front in his distinctive Toyota Hilux, bristling with antennas! I had gathered Larry was on the way down for the VK5 get together, so I gave him a shout on the local repeater, and sure enough, he was heading down early to activate Mt Gawler as well!

Great minds think alike, and I was pleased that this was going to be a dual activation. Larry is great fun, and a very knowledgable fella as well…we chatted most of the way down to Truro and beyond on 2M simplex to pass the time which made the trip less boring. Before we knew it, we had stopped for fuel, a quick bite to eat and were now scouting out Mt Gawler…

Mt Gawler is just north of Adelaide, and is worth 2 points. It’s an easy access Summit and can be activated from public roadside land at a couple of places that are well within the activation zone.

Mt Gawler

We found a location where there was a small clearing not very far from the actual Summit itself to operate from, parked the cars and walked to set up the gear.

We decided to just use the one squid pole and share the activating with just the one antenna/rig combination…Larry mentiond that he had a new “experimental” antenna he was willing to try but doubted, and was also keen to give his newly acquired X1M qrp Rig another workout.

Larry's X1M QRP rig...

Larry’s X1M QRP rig…

We strung up the Larry’s doubtful endfed contraption with its mystery matchbox, plugged it in to the X1M and instantly found that  we weren’t hearing much…at all…not even band noise…after self spotting on SOTA watch, we put out a few calls but it became obvious that our signal was waaaaay down, as local VK5’s were barely copying and our best report was 3 x 1!!! The decision was made to change the antenna to a link Dipole, which Larry pulled out from his trusty antenna box. We quickly pulled down the original antenna and hoisted the replacement up in record time as we were keen to work some stations before and after UTC changeover…this was a vast improvement , and we began to make contacts, but signals were still down a bit. We then switched rigs to my FT817ND an i noticed an immediate increase in the background noise, whether this was because of increased sensitivity or just having louder audio, it was a lot easier for me to work stations, which had now had started to form a nice little pile up for both Larry and myself.

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Larry, VK5LY working the pileup on 40M…

Daytime conditions on 40M were not that flash, something I have noticed on 40M since the spring equinox at the beginning of this month. We switched to 30M briefly before packing up to head of for lunch, and self spotted on SOTA watch. Ed, VK2JI/P on VK2/HU-076 popped up with a very nice signal for a S2S…followed closely by Tony, VK3CAT with an equally strong signal. I feel 30M is the way to go heading in to summer for these morning activations, signals just seem that much better than 40 lately. Hopefully more activators and chasers will use this band.

VK5LA operating 30M...

VK5LA operating 30M…(VK5LY Photo)

All in all a successful activation, even though conditions weren’t all that great. I was a bit disappointed in the X1M QRP rig, It doesn’t have enough volume in its recovered audio for me to be even remotely interested in purchasing one. As a wearer of hearing aids, I need my audio to be LOUD! The display, although bright enough in daylight to read, was too small for my liking. It also seemed a little “deaf” on RX, like me!!! Larry mentioned that there was no AGC action in the radio either. They are considerably cheaper than an FT817 though, and would be a consideration for those looking for a SOTA capable rig on a budget…

Larry and I packed up afterwards and headed into Gawler for the 1 year VK5 SOTA anniversary lunch at the Kingsford Hotel. This was extremely enjoyable, and I was able to catch up with some of our other VK5 SOTA tragics, including Paul VK5PAS, Ian VK5CZ, John VK5BJE, Keith VK5OQ, and Andy VK5AKH and others, where we all enjoyed a few beers/wines and some fabulous food. Various bits and pieces of radio gear were pulled out of a variety of bags for show and tell, which capped off the afternoon nicely!

See you on a summit!

Andy – VK5LA

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SOTA VK5/SE-005 Mt Lofty

Date: 08/06/2013 – 09/06/2013

Time 23:20 – 01:00 UTC

Weather: Overcast. Forecast Fine 18 . Activation Temp. on Summit 9 Deg C

On Sunday the 9th of June (local), I successfully activated Mt Lofty, SE-005 for my very first SOTA summit…

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The view from VK5/SE-005…

This was a going to be a lot of fun! After leaving my accommodation nice and early for a breakfast stop,  (Think ridiculous clown and a big yellow “M”) a leisurely drive up the South Eastern Freeway had me in the summit carpark with plenty of time to walk out and back into the activation zone before finding a place to set up and be out of the way of the hordes of people flocking to this place!

Mt Lofty has a very nice, well patronised Cafe right at the summit that is a Mecca for the Lycra/ Gym  Junkie types of all shapes and sizes, from dusk ’till dawn. It’s busy. REAL busy! Cyclists ride from near and far to it, and Fitness freaks traverse up the very popular but steep walking trail from Waterfall Gully some 7.5 Km away. Walking in and out of the activation zone the required distance just about killed me! Must work on the fitness Andrew!!!

There was no way I was going to set up near the cafe, so I chose a spot just to the north/north-east of the car park, just off of one of the many cycling/walking tracks…

The operating position at VK5/SE-005 Mt Lofty...

The operating position at VK5/SE-005 Mt Lofty…

This seemed as good a place as any, so I set up the trusty End Fed Half Wave for 40M inverted L style on the 9 M squid pole and occy strapped it to the trunk of some foliage and ran the top part out to a high branch out of harms way. WX wise I was protected from any wind but I didn’t have to worry as it was actually not bad, 9 degrees. I was lucky!

My FT817ND in its Crumpler "Haven" bag...

My FT817ND in its Crumpler “Haven” bag…

Firing up on 7.090 Mhz, I hit the airwaves at 23:28 UTC and Paul,VK5PAS/P came up from in the Pt Clinton Conservation Park, on his way to activating some SOTA and Parks on Eyre Peninsular was the first to answer my CQ call. I was then immediately spotted by VK2JI on the SOTA goat and the stations came thick and fast. It was evident that I had a problem though, as soon as I dropped the PTT, an awful switch mode noise came over the frequency at S9 for a few seconds then disappeared, enough to momentarily block out the stations calling. I soon realised that my new u-beaut DC DC converter for dropping the LiPo battery voltage down was a dismal failure in its current form! I had seen Andrew VK1NAM, using one on his activations in his photo’s so I decided to try one, but it looks like it might have to go in a metal enclosure with some bypass caps…

After disconnecting it I hurried back to the waiting pileup and worked VK3PF, VK1MDC, VK3JM and VK2UH before Marshall VK3MRG/P called me from VK3/VN-017 for my first S2S! Grinning uncontrollably, I continued with VK2JI, VK3CAT, VK3TCX, VK3MCD, VK3PI and Allen,VK3HRA/P called from VK3/VN-012, for S2S number #2. Rick, VK4KRX/5 wanted a contact for the VK Shires Contest and I happily obliged…Things then quieted down so I took a short break and checked the gear and had a drink and a bite to eat before starting again after the UTC rollover…

I self spotted on SOTA Goat and was instantly welcomed by VK5PAS, VK3PF, VK3TCX, VK2UH, VK3DET, VK3AMB, VK3PI, VK3MRG/P on VN-017, VK1MDC,VK5UG, VK5LY, VK3BYD, VK5EMI, VK5FMID, VK3HRA/P on VN-012, VK5NRG, VK3GHZ,VK3KAN/P and VK2JI…This site is also part of the Cleland Conservation Park so I was able to qualify this park for several stations chasing the VK5 National and Conservation Parks award

After things went quiet again I packed up the HF station and tried 146.500FM. I called CQ and  listened for a while after self spotting on the SOTA Goat but the front end of the handheld I was using was pretty much swamped by RF and I didn’t hear anyone!

I finished around 1:30 UTC and headed into the previously mentioned Cafe and intergrated with the fit looking by rewarded myself with one of these…

Mmmm...coffee!

Mmmm…Coffee!

All in all a great morning, a lot of fun and I learnt that I’ll need to equip myself a bit better in the back pack department and get some proper walking/hiking shoes if I’m going to do many more activations… As I knew Mt Lofty would be busy people wise, I left the VHF Yagi at home, but it will definitely come with me on the next summit!

WSPR on the 2M band 144.489 Mhz

WSPR – having fun on HF/VHF while doing other things…

One of the best things about Ham Radio is that if your interest level wanes or you’re just too damn busy with life to sit at a transceiver and make contacts then there is always WSPR!

A few stations in VK land are using WSPR to see just what happens on a daily basis propagation wise. Interestingly, stations are hearing each other out to 750+km (VK1 to VK5) at low power levels, even when the time of day and WX conditions would have conventional thinking saying, “no way!”

So what is this WSPR stuff, anyway?

WSPR stands for Weak Signal Propagation Reporter, and is a mode of transmission that is ideally suited if you don’t want or can’t spend time in front of as radio. Its software that runs on your PC (Win/Linux/Mac) and the PC connects to your rig just like if you were using a digital mode like RTTY or PSK31. You probably have all the stuff you need.

WSPR works on all bands to 2 M and beyond, indeed,  WSPR on the HF bands is extremely popular and you’ll find many hams on all of the common HF and WARC bands spotting signals from around the world in real time, and uploading the data to the wsprnet site.

What kind of computer and Rig do I need?

WSPR will run on a fairly low spec computer, and most shack computers will run it fine. I’m actually using an old Toshiba satellite pro laptop that has a Celeron processor  – running Linux – and it works a treat. As for the Rig, again, just about anything will work as long as it’s frequency stability is good. I’d probably give Valve, or Valve hybrid jobs a miss though. At VHF however, the rigs need to be all the more stable…I use a little Yaesu FT817 as my WSPR radio, and i’ve modified it so that it is frequency locked to a Rubidium standard. This ensures that the radio wont drift when it cycles between TX and RX., or is affected by the temperature in the shack. This would be overkill on HF WSPR, but I WSPR on the 2M band, where drift is an issue. Some rigs like the TS2000 drift too much on 2M and above to be unsuitable for the mode. It’s also important to observe the usual precautions when using a sound card mode with a transciever – make sure any speach processing is off, and adjust the rig so there is little or no ALC indicated when TXing. This ensures you are not overdriving and splattering all over the band…

For the interface between the PC and the Radio, then a Tigertronics Signalink or similar interface is the way to go if you don’t want to bother with building anything.

Signalink1

These things work marvellously and you can order it with a cable for your particular radio for a solder free plug and play experience…

If you just want to do HF WSPR, then the Icom 7200 is just about the ideal rig, as it has a built-in USB port that provides a 1 cable solution  between the pc and Rig. other USB capable rigs are equally awesome for hooking up to WSPR…

With WSPR, once it’s up and running, you can just set and forget. When you have a spare moment, at work or home just look at the wsprnet page and see who’s hearing you, and who you’re hearing…

How?

Download the software for your operating system from the below site…note that the Linux packages are broken and don’t work.

http://physics.princeton.edu/pulsar/K1JT/wspr.html

If you want to use Linux then the very aptly named George Smart has some instructions here for getting it to run under Linux…

http://www.george-smart.co.uk/wiki/Compiling_WSPR

On time, every time…

Next, make sure you PC’s clock is set EXACTLY – be anal about this as it won’t work properly if it’s out by more than a couple of seconds…make sure it’s synchronised with an internet time-server…http://www.timesynctool.com/ is one of the better ones. alternatively, you can just use set windows time and date to sync with a time server.

Once the software is  installed you’ll need to configure it with some basic info, like your call sign, grid locator, soundcard input and output, PTT method, CAT control (if any) and how much power you’ll be running…you can then set your Rig to the desired band and tune it to the “dial” frequency (displayed in the software screen) – i.e for the 30M band the dial frequency is 10.138700Mhz USB

WSPR1WSPR2

When all is well, set the TX slider to say 10%, make sure upload spots is checked and TX idle is unchecked. Your rig will listen in 2 minute blocks, and if it hears a station and successfully decodes the call/locator/power level information from a Transmitting station, it will upload the info to the wsprnet site for display. At 10% TX, it will switch to transmit for a 2 minute block every 20 minutes or so…and you will hopefully be heard far away!

Then What?

WSPR’s main “port of call” if you like, is http://wsprnet.org/drupal/wsprnet/spots this is where everyone goes to look to see where and how far their transmissions are being heard at any time of the day or night. Don’t be surprised to see your 5 watts get spotted by stations 1000’s of km away on HF, and 100’s of km on VHF. There are lots of statistics available on the site, along with maps, various forum and even chat.

WSPR3WSPR4

So there you have it, if your time is precious but you still want to keep your finger on the pulse of ham radio, then a little WSPRing might be for you…