Friday, October 30, 2015

Some nice SSB contacts - Svalbard and Australia

Contrary to popular belief, I do sometimes enjoy some phone activity on amateur radio. I do, in fact, own a microphone, HI HI! Today I gave the voice a bit of exercise and enjoyed about an hour of phone activity on 17 metres. I worked mostly European and Russian stations, with a new North American stations in the log too.

Separately to that run, I enjoyed a couple of nice contacts. One was with JW7VRA in Svalbard on 20 metres using just 100 watts. Here's a video of that contact:

I also had a nice QSO with Tim VK3TJK in Victoria, Australia, also on 20 metres. He was booming in on the short path. It sounded at times as if all of Europe and half of Russia was calling him. Here's a video of the moment my call was pulled out of the pile and the ensuing QSO:

Thursday, October 29, 2015

3B7FA St. Brandon in the log - another ATNO, #315

St. Brandon is a remote archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
I knew 3B8FA was heading to St. Brandon in the Indian Ocean for some holiday-style operation as 3B7FA. I knew from reading the blurb about it that it would be tough work trying to get him as an All-Time New One (ATNO). The main reason for my apprehension was the fact that Patrice (Pat) operates generally only PSK63 or SSTV, with some occasional SSB activity. And I knew if he appeared on air all of Europe would be calling him.

There were some major 3B7 activations in 2007, but that was before I got my licence, so I missed out. I've never worked this entity before.

And so, when Pat appeared on 15 metres PSK63 yesterday (Wednesday), there was chaos. He was on simplex  and they kept calling and calling and calling him, with no time for listening. How was anyone going to make a QSO? I could occasionally decode Pat's reports in the gaps, but most of the time it was impossible to know who was being called or worked.

And when he appeared on the same band and mode again today, I didn't expect much, except QRM. And so it went, for a while, until he started calling "UP". So I tried split and called him one kHz or so up from his own TX QRG. This didn't appear to be working. Then I noticed his own TX frequency was moving about, and so a game of cat and mouse ensued.

This went on for ages, until I finally figured it out. He wasn't listening on a split. What he was trying to do was to get people to spread out so that he could pick out individual streams on the waterfall. A clever ploy! I picked him up a few times, moving around, but couldn't get that magic QSO.

Then I saw Erik EI4KF calling him and I saw the following (I didn't get a 100% decode, but close enough):

EI4KF TU  599tg99 EI4KF  pse c rt-- 

So I called immediately where Erik had worked him. Here is the somewhat imperfect print of the QSO:

3B7FA de EI2KC EI2KC  k
¨wci I
EI2NU  5599 EI2KCapse K
14:19:43> Main
3B7FA de EI2KC 599 599 EI2KC TNX K

  QSL TU 73!!
It initially looked like EI2NU but the second call is handy because if there is QSB you get two chances of seeing what he is actually sending.

I honestly didn't think I had a chance of getting Pat into the log, given the QRM, but I am chuffed and delighted to say that DXCC #315 is in my log. It's a great relief and delight for me.

I later saw Pat's print (briefly) on 20 metres SSTV, a mode I have only used once or twice in the six years I've been licenced. I did try to work him but being at the "back" of Europe, so to speak, I didn't have much of a chance against the big continental stations, some of whom, again, called and called and called with no time for receiving or decoding...... I sent what I thought was a fairly apt image given my interest in photography and ancient Ireland. It shows Newgrange, a 5,000-year-old Stone Age monument near where I live. I'm not sure if Pat received the picture of Newgrange, but ah well, I am happy with one QSO. Actually, over the moon.

UKEICC 80m contest was great fun

I took part in my first UKEICC contest last night, on 80 metres CW. This was a one-hour contest and was great fun. There was lots of activity and after starting late at around 20:10 UTC (I had to drop kids to music!) I immediately got callers after a quick CQ.

Many of you will know I am not a hardened contester. I am simply unable to devote 24 or 48 hours of my weekends to contesting due to family and other commitments. And that's what makes the UKEICC contests so attractive. They are one-hour contests on a week night.

Above is a quick video I made during the contest. The time zipped around very quickly. After an initial flurry of callers, my CQs went unanswered, so I went hunting. Contest activity is allowed from 3.510 up to 3.560 and there were plenty of stations on air. The furthest I worked was UT2II in Ukraine.

One of the brilliant aspects of this contest is that you have to upload your log within an hour of the end of the contest - and the results are made available within two hours of the contest finishing.

The results show me in 16th place out of 32 entries in the low power section. Not bad. I'm happy with that. The contest is scored by distance, and the exchange is your four letter maidenhead locator square - in my case IO63. There's no need to send 5NN. For results, see this page:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

HA/HG ITU Gold award received!

Having worked all the special HA/HG ITU stations, I qualified for the gold award, which I received this morning. I don't usually chase awards but this one was very worthwhile. Thanks to all the stations for being on air.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Fantastic band conditions for CQWW SSB 2015

CQ contest . . . EI2KC taking part in CQWW SSB contest 2015.
I took advantage of excellent band conditions during the CQWW SSB contest to work some new band slots and enjoyed dipping in and out of the contest. I wasn't actively participating, so to speak, but did enjoy my limited activity. All my activity on the 10 metre band was carried out with my Antron 99 antenna. It's a fabulous antenna on that band when conditions are good. And conditions were surprisingly excellent.

Here follows a summary of the nice contacts made (including a few that were non-contest QSOs):

4L0A Georgia - 10m SSB - new band slot.
XW1IC Laos - 10m SSB - new band slot.
SK3W Sweden - 10m SSB - new band slot.
AH0K Mariana Islands - 10m SSB - not a new slot but fab condx meant I got him with one call!
V47T St. Kitts & Nevis - 10m SSB - new band slot.
HG150ITU Hungary - 20m CW - last of the HA/HG special ITU call signs needed for gold award.
CR6T Portugal - 15m SSB - can't believe I needed Portugal on 15 SSB - new band slot!
TK/PB8DX Corsica - 15m SSB - new band slot.
C91B Mozambique - 17m SSB - operated by my friend Beth MW0VOW. New band slot!
4U70UN United Nations HQ - 12m CW - new country on 12 metres. Delighted to hear them strong.
4U70UN United Nations HQ - 17m SSB - new band slot.
A71CV Qatar - 40m SSB - new band slot.
4O3A Montenegro - 80m SSB - new band slot.
VK4SBB Australia - 10m SSB - not a new slot but an indication of the fantastic propagation.
C37N Andorra - 10m SSB - new country on 10m!!
TK/PB8DX Corsica - 10m SSB - new band slot.
4U70UN United Nations HQ - 17m CW - another slot.
VP2V/N3DXX British Virgin Islands -10m SSB - new band slot.
4U70UN United Nations HQ - 20m CW - new country on 20m!!!
KL7RA Alaska - 15m SSB - a late QSO and a nice surprise at 19:21 local time - new band slot!
JD1BNA Ogasawara - 30m CW - a non-contest QSO. New country on 30 metres!!
4U70UN United Nations HQ - 30m CW - a second new country on 30m!!

Below is a video I made during the contest. It shows my QSOs with A73A (Qatar), VU2PAI (India), VR2XAN (Hong Kong), VU2CPL (India), B1Z (China), A61ZX (United Arab Emirates), and VK4SDD (Australia), all on 10 metres, and all using the Antron 99 antenna.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Qualifying for the Hungarian ITU 2015 award

I don't normally chase awards, but having worked a number of the special HA*ITU/HG*ITU stations, I decided to see what might be involved in getting an award. When I looked up their online log, I found I'd had enough QSOs with the various Hungarian ITU stations to claim a bronze award, so I set myself the task of trying for at least silver, if not gold.

The special call signs are on air to celebrate the Telecom World Conference which is being held in Budapest this year. For the various award categories, and how to claim them, see this page.

To claim the gold award seemed like a difficult task. To get gold, you have to work EVERY station on the list at least once. They are listed in the image on the right. When I made out a list, I found that I was short five or six stations. Gradually over the past 48 hours I have worked lots of them and by today I found I only needed three more. One of these was the elusive HA1ITU, who is apparently using QRP home brew CW equipment. He finally popped up on 20 CW and 17 CW and I nabbed him on both bands. The chirp from his equipment suggested to me that he was indeed on a home made transceiver. The last one needed today was HG150ITU, who I nabbed on 20 metres CW. The logs are not yet all up to date, as can be seen in the above image, but I do have all the stations worked at least once, and some of them several times. This will be the first award that I have hunted for. I'm looking forward to getting it.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

EI2KC - chasing DX to the edge of my sanity

Homer Simpson shows exactly how I felt when I worked TX3X.
It has to be said that DXing on the HF bands is definitely not a pursuit for the faint-hearted. It requires skill, patience, and, perhaps more than anything, time. The TX3X dxpedition to Chesterfield Islands in the Pacific Ocean is ending tonight. Antenna tear-down is at 22:00UTC. As of this morning, here in Ireland, I did not have a QSO with them and had never worked Chesterfield before. I needed it as an ATNO (All-Time New One). The pressure was enormous.

I have been trying to work them since Friday, October 2nd - a whole ten days ago - without success. Every day, in the morning and in the evening, and sometimes (when I wasn't working) all day long. And every day I've been disappointed. Propagation was poor since about a week ago. Some days I could hear them, on 20 metres CW especially, and sometimes SSB. I never heard them on any other band. Not once. This was a tough one. Many times when they were "workable" into western EU, they would suddenly announce "QRX" or "QSY" or, on one or two occasions, they just disappeared without explanation. This was extremely frustrating for me, and for many other ops in EI and in the UK. After five or six days, only the very biggest stations in Ireland had them logged.

It came down to the last weekend. Yesterday (Saturday), I could hear them well on 20 metres CW and they didn't have a big pile-up so I was confident I could work them. But, just as their signal peaked, they announced "QSY RTTY". Nnnoooooooooooooo!!!! My attempt to work them had been foiled, again. Their signal was OK on RTTY, but they had the whole world calling them, and even the big EU stations were not making it into the log. It was JA after JA after JA. I hadn't a hope.

I had actually begun to resign myself to the notion that here's one new DXCC that I wouldn't be logging. I had begun to philosophically convince myself that I was beat. There was a conversation going on in my head like this: "Well, only the big guns got them. You're a small pistol, and even though you have worked the rarest ones, the miracles don't always happen. You have to accept the limitations of your restricted station and the fact that you are operating from a small garden in the middle of a housing estate."

When the alarm went off this morning (Sunday), I immediately checked the DX cluster. No sign of TX3X on any bands that I could hope to work them on. So I had a bit of a lie-in. But I couldn't sleep, so I got up and headed to the shack, thinking that I should at least keep the radio on the right frequencies in case they popped up. So on one VFO I had 14.023 on CW and on the other I had 14.185 USB. Fingers crossed.

Then on Facebook, Gerry EI9JU said they were on 14.185. I listened in. Yes, I could hear them. But could I work them? I had tried before without success. I began calling. Then I heard "Echo India" but I could hear nothing else because a contest station was working on 14.183 and obliterated the TX3X. A few minutes later I was calling again and this time I heard something along the lines of "Echo India Two Kilo Charlie you're in the log already, but you're 5 and 9". I went back with a "roger roger roger Echo India Two Kilo Charlie you're 5 and 9, 5 and 9. There was QRM and I could not hear you previously. Thanks for the new one!"

Of course giving him a 5 and 9 report was a bit overzealous on my part, because at best he was a 5 and 3, but that's the way exchanges are generally made with rare DX. They don't bother logging accurate signal reports in most cases. Many dxpeditions use contest logging software, which automatically logs 599 on CW and 59 on phone.

I was delighted. Relieved. Ecstatic actually. I shouted "woooohoooo" at the top of my voice several times. My youngest, Finn, came running into the shack and asked me why I was shouting. I told him I had just worked Chesterfield Islands and gave him a big hug. I doubt that he, or any of my kids, understands why I get so excited about making contacts on my radio. But that's how it goes for us DXers. In the above video, made immediately after my QSO, you can hear the excitement in my voice at having worked them.

A short while later I went to 20 metres CW, where they had a decent signal on 14.023. About five minutes later, I could hear 1KC? and then something like IZ1KC? and figured it was me he was trying for, so gave my call several times. Eventually, I heard the magic "EI2KC 5NN" and I gave him "R R R 5NN TU" and I had two QSOs logged within the space of 28 minutes. Fabulous.

I cannot describe the feeling of relief and ecstasy at having worked them. I was under serious pressure with this one. The days were ticking by, and they were proving impossible to work. When it comes down to the last morning, you wonder if they're even going to be active on the bands where you need them. I was even wondering if a CME might trigger some Sudden Ionospheric Disturbance (SID) and knock out the bands completely. In the end, I needn't have worried. Two QSOs is more than I could have wished for even yesterday.

Here's a video of my CW QSO. You can hear the squeals of delight:

Yet again I have proved a few things:

(1) You need to be absolutely mad in the head to be a DX chaser, especially if you have a small station;

(2) You need to devote hours, and sometimes days, to logging an ATNO;

(3) The reward is all the greater when the chase is tough.

And I can tell you that today, EI2KC is beaming from ear to ear. That was the toughest ATNO chase I've had in the six years I've been licenced.

TX3X Chesterfield in the log - DXCC #314!!!

TX3X Chesterfield is finally in my log!!! I worked them on 20m SSB and 20m CW. I am over the moon. Last day of a 10-day operation. Relieved, thrilled and delighted. Full update later.

Sometimes you've just got to live in hope

It's down to the last day of TX3X and I still don't have a QSO. It's not for the want of trying. I've spent hours upon hours monitoring their frequencies this week, and a couple of times I was sure I was going to get in the log. Saturday morning was the best chance. They were strong on 20 metres CW around 9.30am or so, and I didn't hear much of a pile-up going back to them. But just as they started to peak, they sent "QSY RTTY" and my chance was gone. They were hearable on RTTY, but the whole world was calling them and I woudn't have stood a chance. They came up on SSB too and again I was hopeful. At one stage I heard "Echo India" and thought I had made it, but it was another EI. This is definitely the toughest DX to work that I can remember. I am here at 9am local time sitting at the radio waiting for them to appear on 20 metres - hopefully on CW.

This is the last chance saloon. It doesn't get much closer than this. Either I work them today or I will miss the FK/C DXCC and an opportunity to log country #314. However, I am philosophical about it. The majority of the EI stations that are in the log are big stations, with large antennas and in good locations. The small pistols just aren't making it - well, one or two maybe. It has been an extremely tough dxpedition to work, and even the biggest stations only have one or two QSOs.

So today is the day that the small pistol will try once more. And hey, remember, DXing is a hobby. And it is a challenge for a ham operating from a small QTH. These are all things that must be borne in mind when chasing islands on the opposite side of the earth.......

Monday, October 5, 2015

TX3X - very difficult to work, and their operating pattern doesn't help

Is TX3X the most difficult-to-work dxpedition ever? I only ask the question because it seems impossible to log them. This is in part due to conditions. But it's also got to do with common sense, or the lack thereof, on behalf of the TX3X team. For the past two mornings, when they have been audible (and thus possibly workable) on 20 metres CW, they have abruptly gone QRT. This seems to be a trademark of this dxpedition. Sudden QRX, QRT and disappearances without explanation. To be fair, some of these were caused by severe wind which has hampered them to some extent.

However, this morning when they had action on both 20 metres CW and 17 metres CW into EU, they abruptly went QRT on both those slots, but for some unimaginable reason they remained on 20 metres SSB, with most of EU unable to copy them. That's poor form. For several mornings now, I have listened to their signal build on 20 cw only for them to suddenly pull the plug.

Overnight (our night time) they were inactive for several hours. When they finally did appear on several band slots, with EU stations working them, they migrated down to the lower bands even though they had a decent EU rate. Meanwhile, they continue to exploit the easy openings to Japan/Asia and the USA. There are still very few EIs and indeed UK stations who have managed to work them - and those who are in the log generally have super stations.

I don't normally give out too much about dxpeditions. These are hams who have paid their own money to go to a remote location to activate it for our benefit. However, in this case it seems that there is something of a lack of experience and expertise. The openings on 20 metres into western EU are relatively short - there's a chance in the morning and there's a second chance around tea time here in Ireland. TX3X don't seem to appreciate that. Several disgruntled EU ops have complained about the persistence with SSB over CW on the cluster today. I have NEVER heard them on SSB since the beginning of the dxpedition. And even the big stations have only heard them weakly. On CW, however, I have heard them several times. As I write this, they have stations on 40m CW, 40m SSB and 20m SSB. The USA and Asian stations are having a great time. The EUs are really struggling to get logged, albeit with the exception of the southern EU stations in the likes of Spain and Italy, who seem to have propagation to the whole world at all times of the day, night, and year, in all conditions!

The above video shows their signal on 20 cw a few mornings ago, and just when they were strong into EU, they were working the JA stations. An example of naivety in relation to openings?

Just as I published this post, at 12.35pm local time, they are back on 20 metres CW, but their signal is really, really light. This is not a dxpedition for western Europe I'm afraid . . .

Edit: Now, at 13;00 local time (12:00 UTC), they are on 28 Mhz SSB looking for Europe!!! What madness.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The next ATNO? - TX3X Chesterfield Islands coming on air

Chesterfield Islands, in the Pacific Ocean three days' sailing from New Caledonia, are being activated beginning, hopefully, tonight, by the TX3X team. This is potentially an All-Time New One (ATNO) for me, if of course I can get them into my log. I'm looking forward to giving them a call. I'm sure the pile-ups will be huge.

Chesterfield Islands, with the DXCC designator FK/C, is the 21st most wanted DX entity, according to Clublog. It's just behind Glorioso (FT/G) and just ahead of KP1 Navassa, which fell considerably in the most-wanted rankings following the K1N dxpedition there earlier this year.