Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lots happening - where do I start? !

There's been lots happening since I blogged the other day. The IRTS 2 metres contest was held on Sunday. I made a terrific 36 QSOs, more than double my score in the same contest earlier in the year. Of course,  this time I had certain advantages - a W300 antenna, a multimode rig and 160 watts of power! But overall I was thrilled with the reception.

Yesterday I worked a station in Wales on simplex. Nice.

This evening I overheard some English stations, including a gentleman mobile on the M6 motorway near Birmingham, coming in at between 57 and 59 on the same frequency as the Dundalk Repeater (EI2CCR), 145.675. This evening I will do a test with a couple of hams in Newry to see how well I can pick them up.

Digimodes have been working out well. I have made 56 QSOs on both PSK and RTTY so far. My best yet was Sudan on 15m RTTY. The station was ST2AR who I have worked on other modes and bands. I also got some nice stations in the Caribbean including Puerto Rico and PJ2 (Bonaire, Curacao), TI (Costa Rica, who gave me a new AG eQSL country!!) and some USA and Canada stations. Really enjoying it. Looking forward to getting more DX there. And I have been running no more than 50 watts, and in some cases less.

There has been a limited amount of CW and SSB. My most notable contacts there were YC1BJX on 20m CW on the 28th of August,  and 5H3ME in Tanzania on 15m CW. That's a new country for me, so I will QSL direct with the card some time in the coming weeks. I worked JH6CDI in Japan the previous day on 17m SSB. And last week I managed to get Argentina into the log on just 50 watts through my longwire on 40 metres. On the same day I picked up West Malaysia - 9M2TO - on 30m CW.

Right now I am off to do some testing with the boys in Newry on 2 metres. I will let you know how that goes. In the meantime, I will see/hear you on the bands!!


Saturday, August 28, 2010

My first foray into digital modes PSK31 and RTTY

It had been discussed for long enough. It was finally time. Months had passed and still it hadn't happened. Finally, EI2KC was going digital!

In the beginning, God created SSB. And it was good.
Then he created CW. And that was exceedingly good.
On the third day God created PSK31, RTTY and other digital modes.

And when EI2KC looked on these wonderful creations, and beheld them, and enjoyed them, he was exceedingly happy.

Indeed such was his delight that he worked 32 digital contacts in the first day and a half.

On PSK and RTTY I worked many European stations but also North America and Canada and even Puerto Rico, all on 50 watts. The new Signalink USB is working a treat! It's a great way of operating. I can mute the sound with headphones so that the noise is not there constantly. The great thing about digi is that it's all visual - you read everything on the screen. And it's not too difficult to operate either. I got the hang of it fairly quickly.

I will keep you posted as to how I get on.

Friday, August 27, 2010

My new 2m/70cm dualband antenna is working brilliantly

On Wednesday I acquired a new (well, secondhand actually) Watson W300 dual band antenna for 2 metres and 70 cm and it was installed by Tony EI4DIB on my chimney. What a difference it has made over my W30 and my discone!

I called on 145.500 and got GI0VKP coming back to the call and we QSYd to 145.475. I wondered if he was maybe around Newry but he told me he was in Comber in County Down. I looked on Google Earth and was surprised and delighted to find he was 64 miles away with the Mourne Mountains between us!

He could pick me up perfect audio 5 and signal 5 with just 5 watts from me. He was on 10 watts through a W30 and was 5/5 with me also. It was a great contact proving the antenna is working great.

I am looking forward to the IRTS 2 metres counties contest this Sunday.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Photo: Full moon and VHF dipole

I saw this shot last night and ran to grab the camera and telephoto lens to capture it. The full moon came over some nearby rooftops, just behind a VHF dipole on someone's house. I won't write an essay about it - I just thought it would be nice to share . . .

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Some antenna grounding work carried out today

Yesterday evening while sitting in the shack I suddenly noticed a beautiful red sky outside. So what did I do? What any sensible ham would do - I grabbed my camera to get a pic of one of the antennas against such a beautiful backdrop.

The photo won't really show it too well, but this antenna is something like 25 years old. It once belonged to a GI ham who is now, sadly, silent key. It lay around at the Dundalk Club (EI7DAR) for a number of years before it was rescued to be brought to my shack. I can tell you it has done a fine job for me, and I've worked some fantastic DX on it.

The antenna is located about 10-12 feet from the shack window here - as I said before it's a smallish property so I am very limited. But I am happy to put RF through this old beast. It has done me some fine service. I recently took it down and shined it up a bit - it was black and is now a dull silvery colour. I also tightened up some of the joints.

I spent some time properly grounding my longwire antenna today. I've been having some "RF in the shack issues" with it. I have a magnetic balun on the feed end, but the problem is the balun doesn't have a ground lug on it. It is claimed it does not need to be grounded.

However, on advice from other hams on a forum, I took steps to put a clamp on the outer of the PL-259 today and ran a very short ground wire to a copper pipe buried about three and a half feet into the ground beneath. So hopefully that will improve things a bit. The photo shows the balun with the longwire coming out from the right, and the clamp all taped up on the left. In the background (the black object) is the top of the copper pipe to which I attached the ground wire using a good jubilee clip and then taped everything up with about half a mile of insulation tape just to keep the copious Irish rain out!

I have read that other amateurs who own the magnetic balun (believed to be a 9:1 unun) are very happy with it. However, reports of serious RF in the shack issues would appear to be substantiated. The manufacturer claims no ground is needed but this goes against all theory! I certainly can say that I have had RF in the shack, but on the other hand I can also say that this antenna has worked very well for me. When I came back in from finishing the job I worked Indonesia (YB4IR) on 17 metres CW!! So it's obviously working well!

I also put in a better ground system for the station here today too. That involved a four and a half foot length of copper into the ground just outside the shack, about two feet from the window. Again, that should improve things a bit.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A decent night makes up for the ones that got away

It was shaping up to be one of those days. There was some decent DX to be had, some new countries. And some very distant stations. The problem was that I just couldn't get them in the log. Their pile-ups were too big and my station was too small. Many hams would have just switched the radio off. I came close. But I persevered, to my eventual reward.

I had taken a note of the stations I wanted but couldn't get. The list depresses me when I look at it now because it includes what would have been three brand new countries for me if I'd been able to get them. Here's the list as I took it in my notebook:

9V1SV 17m SSB
5H3ME 15m CW
V85TX 17m SSB
9M6JC 20m SSB
T6MB 20m CW
9L1BTB 20m CW

9V, 5H3 and T6 would all be new countries for me. I heard 9V1SV at the beginning of his CQ and was probably the first to call but he never heard me. For 5H3 I went mobile up onto a hill to try get him but sadly it didn't happen. T6MB was weak and had a huge pile-up. He seemed to prefer working North America. I am lucky to have 9L1BTB in my log already so I was not too despondent about that.

Just like the good old Irish weather, the wind suddenly changed. I stayed up late and was rewarded. While I didn't get those new countries, I worked a lot of decent DX and was pleased, so it made up for the loss to an extent. Here are the interesting stations that I worked:

OH0/YL7A - Aland Island 20m SSB
BP100 - Taiwan - 20m CW
CO6LP - Cuba - 20m CW
VA3GA - Canada - 20m SSB
HC2SL - Ecuador - 20m CW
LU5FC - Argentina - 40m SSB
ZB2FK - Gibraltar - 40m CW
V31BD - Belize - 20m CW
ZP6SAL - Paraguay - 40m SSB
PY3UA - Brazil - 40m CW
OX3KQ - Greenland - 40m SSB
CW1A - Uruguay - 40m CW
4K6FO - Azerbaijan - 40m CW

Some notes: VA3GA worked me as his last contact of the day and went QRT afterwards; LU5FC has a good antenna height - that's his antenna system in the photo above; OX3KQ - I heard his first CQ and was his first contact - I told him that I had only just received his QSL card via the bureau today! A nice coincidence. BP100 was my first contact into Taiwan!! It is a special call - a CTARL Commemoration Station celebrating the centenary of the founding of the Republic of China.

Addendum: As if to further make up for missing the DX, I worked both Japan and South Africa today - both from the car, and both on 17 metres CW. The Japan station, JA1KIH, was responding to a CQ I was giving from the car while stationary outside the shops here in Drogheda! And the ZS was worked mobile coming in to Drogheda from Clogherhead. Nice.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nice pile of QSL cards arrives from the bureau

I received a nice little pile of QSL cards from the bureau today. All of these cards, 37 in total, are for my old callsign, EI8GHB. They include two new confirmed countries for me - OX Greenland and LX Luxembourg. I am also expecting a few cards for EI2KC since I have become quite active in sending out QSLs via the bureau in recent months.

The picture on right shows the latest batch all lined out on the floor of the shack here. The two new ones are in the bottom row. I will process them now just to see how many are answering QSLs that I sent and how many are not. That should be an interesting exercise. Many of the new QSLs are from Germany, some from Poland and Spain.

I sent another batch of cards to the bureau just yesterday - some for EI8GHB and some for EI2KC. Because my old callsign expired at the beginning of March I would expect the number of EI8GHB cards going out and coming back to significantly reduce in the next month or so.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My first direct QSL card with US dollars

I forgot to mention that I recently received my first US dollars with a direct QSL card. I had previously received some IRCs but never the old green stamps as we hams call them. The two one-dollar bills came from LA4RT for a contact we made on 6 metres CW. Apparently I was his first contact into Ireland on that band, so I was particularly pleased to receive this QSL card, which I have since replied to. So thanks indeed Jon and it was a pleasure to be your first Echo India on 50 Mhz. 73.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Got into the Philippines, Mongolia on 30m and 40m CW

They say patience is a virtue, and I can tell you that I have tested this mantra to its utter limits with ham radio. I have sat for an hour, and in some cases more, trying to break a pile-up with my puny 100w signal. And in many cases I have eventually done so. In some, I have failed. Sometimes you just have to let it go and accept that conditions just weren't right.

When I heard DU9/DL5SDF CQing on 30m CW last night, I couldn't resist a try. Especially when I could actually hear him, albeit fairly weak with sometimes severe QSB. At times he was 559, sometimes he would disappear into the murk.

It turned out not to be one of those strenuous nights - I was able to work him within ten minutes of dialling the frequency on the radio. It made me very happy too because it was my first contact into DU / Philippines which was a big deal for my low power station.

The elation was further added to when I worked JT5DX from Mongolia on 40m CW. He was listening around 1kc up, with a growing pile-up. But I got in there before things got too hectic. In fairness, he has a good station and a strong signal would not be unexpected from JT5DX. But it was only my second contact into Mongolia, the first being a mobile 20m cw contact with his QSL manager, JT1CO, some months ago.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

Up to the hills for a bit of portable lunchtime HF

I headed for the hills above Dundalk at lunchtime to put out a CQ on 20 metres CW. I went to the car park beside the old graveyard on the hill, one of my favourite spots. On days like today it really is one of the beautiful places of the earth. The sun was poking out between the billowing clouds and the landscape was lush and green. The Cooley mountains loomed up to the northeast and to the east was the Irish Sea.

Fuaghart graveyard is located in the following grid square: IO64TB. Those who asked for a QTH were given the grid square!!

The following are the stations who made it into the log during my brief half-hour stint:


Equipment used: Rig: Icom 706MkII 100w Antenna: Watson Multi-Ranger on a triple magmount.

Thanks to all for the nice contacts.

PS: Any by the way, all contacts were made with a home brew CW paddle very similar to this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmG8FxnIMF4 In fact, it was made from the same block of wood and is extremely similar in design. Must upload a photo of it!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

An interesting week on the DX front

It's been an interesting few days on the DX front. Just when the bands seem dead and propagation seems awful, up pops some decent DX. For instance, take Sunday night as an example. Having not been greatly active on HF for a number of weeks (although making a couple of QSOs a day just to keep my hand in it!) I decided to put out a "CQ DX" on 40 metres CW on Sunday night. Within a short time I had the United States and Canada coming back to my call. -.-. --.- -.. -..- -.-. --.- -.. -..- -.. . . .. ..--- -.- -.-.

About 20 minutes into my session, I heard "dit dit dit dah, dah dit dah". That's VK to all you non-CWers out there! Now most hams and SWLs will know VK is the prefix for Australia. I assumed that what I was hearing was a suffix, so I gave "dit dit dit dah, dah dit dah, dit dit dah dah dit dit" which translates as "VK?" - in other words, the station containing VK give your call.

He came back with "VK6BN". I couldn't believe it - my first Australia on 40 metres! The operator's name was Alan and we exchanged reports and names before giving the 73. (That's Alan in the photo). I was delighted. Especially because I am working just 100 watts into a 55-metre random longwire (arranged in a W-shaped configuration because of my short garden). So it just goes to show what's possible on a limited setup.

On Monday I could see from DX Scape that 10 metres was open to South America, something that hadn't happened for a while. There was a station from Chile on SSB - CE2WZ, David in La Serena. I could hear him although he was very QSB. As I very often do in these situations, especially when he is working a bit of a pile-up and the European zoo is shouting, I sat with the headphones on and listened for a while as I did other things on my computer. After about ten minutes I noticed he suddenly became louder and, sure enough, he was coming up and down from about 4 and 1 to about 5 and 7 with heavy QSB. So I gave him a holler. After being beaten to it by four or five European stations David eventually heard me. He gave me a report of 5 and 1 which was respectable given my 100 watts and a multi-band vertical.

Yesterday I received an AG eQSL from David confirming the contact so I was delighted with that. Thanks again David and best DX.

Last night (Wednesday) things were quiet on 80m, 40m, 30m and 20m. I had to content myself with some European contacts. I could hear Argentina and Paraguay on 20m SSB and 40m SSB respectively but they could not hear me. Ah well, you can't win them all!!

73 for now and enjoy the DX!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Aurora alert - Northern hemisphere sees northern lights

Amateur radio enthusiasts are advised to keep a listening ear on the VHF bands as the earth is hit by geomagnetic radiation from the sun. Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) were seen last night as far south as Germany and there are warnings of possible further waves of geomagnetic storms in the coming hours.

Spaceweather.com says the following:

The solar storm of August 1st sent two CMEs toward Earth. The first one arrived yesterday, August 3rd, sparking mild but beautiful Northern Lights over Europe and North America. The second CME is still en route. NOAA forecasters estimate a 35% chance of major geomagnetic storms when the cloud arrives on August 4th or 5th. High-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras.

We have no reports yet as to whether any Irish amateurs experienced any lift on VHF as a result of auroral activity but a coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth's magnetic field on August 3rd (yesterday, Tuesday) at 1740 UT. The impact sparked a G2-class geomagnetic storm that lasted nearly 12 hours - time enough for auroras to spread all the way from Europe to North America.

Keep an eye on things at www.spaceweather.com and the NOAA POES site.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Working France with my home brew CW paddle

I made two of these home-brew CW paddles a while back, about two months ago now. I use one on my main HF rig, the FT-1000MP, and the other is in the car. Both were fashioned from the same block of wood, a length of wire (cut into two lengths), two headphone jacks, some screws and picture brackets, and some hacksaw blades. I estimate that both cost about 12 euro to make (6 euro apiece!). They work a treat, as you can see in this video.