In this first UKAC of the new year many things have changed. Not my station or location but most notably changes to the rules. Causing much controversy a new B2 bonus scoring has been brought in to replace the M7 multiplier giving a heavy bias to Scottish squares. More than enough (and some!) has been said about it so I will not pursue it any further here. Instead of multipliers for squares like M7 we get a different bonus values for squares to this map:
Anyway, my plan is to crack on and see how it goes and hope the VHFCC’s promise of a review comes to fruition, and sense!
One more major rule change is the splitting of the club categories from one overall category to a local and general. As all our members (bar one!) are covered by the local category it gives us a bit more of a fighting chance not being grouped in with groups recruiting from all over (and outside) the country.
The other big change for me this year is in terms of my club, Hereford ARS. One of our existing members Matt G8XYJ is now putting his efforts in UKAC in for HARS and we have two new members Tristan M0VXX and Craig M0BUL. All three are winning VHF contesters meaning HARS will get four times as many points a month in 144MHz. Not only that but the several other club members are also joining in to build up the scores! Amongst these are Stuart G3WRA, Bob G3IXZ, Richard G4FAD (on SSB not CW!!), Alan G7RHF, Nigel G4XTF, Derek G3WAG and Duncan M0OTG. This is great to see and I hope we can get even more members interested.
Anyway, the actual contest went well for me. Activity was very good and I managed to work 153 QSOs, which in 150 minutes of contest is the first time I have averaged over 60 per hour for an entire contest. I’ve done 80 or so an hour in a couple of hours of a 24 contest but this is the first overall average over one a minute! Well chuffed.
Even better after adjudication I still had 153 QSOs, my second perfect log in a row!
My QSO map:
Claimed scores (top 10):
Final scores (top 10):
Full result list (PDF)
Hereford ARS Members results:
Hereford ARS standing in local club section:
For 2017 the RSGB VHFCC have moved the 50MHz (and 70MHz) UKAC events to a Thursday night. Whilst a lot of UKAC regulars are not happy about this it suits me much better than a Tuesday so I have made myself a 6 element DK7ZB yagi for the 50MHz series!
It was a rush to get it done in time as Xmas break slowed my building of the new yagi down but I managed to get it usably finished mechanically on Wednesday the 11th after work and then drove out to test it electrically, getting home by 10.30pm on Wednesday night. The match to 50ohms wasn’t as good as I would have liked at an SWR of 1.5:1 but I decided it was usable anyway so headed out on the Thursday after work.
This is a terrible phone picture of the yagi on the mast taken on the Wednesday test night. The yagi is actually longer than my normal size 6.1m scaffold pole mast:
On the evening of the contest several heavy snow showers were forecast and then changed to some light ones. I decided to head up to my usual spot anyway. On arrival on site I was pleased to see no snow at all. However getting out of the car to start unloading the car I nearly slipped over. The single track dead end road apparently was covered in frozen rain! Undeterred I started to unload the car. Shortly after the snow started! This is how much had fallen in the short time it took me to fit the mast to the base and set the guys (which takes a few minutes):
Boom supports set down for about a minute!
There was nothing for it really other than to carry on setting up and worry about getting down the hill after the contest.
This was my first time on 50MHz since the late 80s so it was a relatively first time for me. I found conditions weird. They seemed very poor but for the first hour I had a lot of activity. It was a lot harder work in the last 90 minutes though. I was surprised to have G4CLA call into me! Only two of the very controversial Red Scottish 2000 point bonus squares. It was pretty cold, the first time I have had to put on gloves whilst operating as I don’t run the car engine normally when operating.
The second the contest ended I switched off and started to pack away. The genny had collected a little snow despite being in its little shelter:
The snow on the mast base. This was actually on the sheltered side of the car:
Just as I finished packing away it started blizzarding again so I was lucky to have a small window without snow to tear down in. I used the Passat Alltrack’s descent assist to get down the hill on the 2 inches of fresh snow. It worked really well and felt completely in control and secure.
I ended with 104 QSOs which seemed disappointing, but it turned out to be the highest QSO count and highest claimed score of the event which I was very pleased with. All the frantic work on the long yagi looked to have paid off! Not many portable stations out tonight though.
My QSO map:
Claimed scores (top 10):
Final scores (top 10):
Hereford ARS member scores:
50MHz Local club standings so far:
Full result list (PDF)
After I made a post on the UK VHF Contest group on Facebook I got a reply from Dave G3WCB showing his cool car portable setup. I had already very recently thought of doing something similar but seeing his setup gave me an idea for a simple and quick update to my plank of wood.
I already locate it over the steering wheel for some security to stop it toppling over and trashing my radio gear but seeing Dave’s set up I realised I could secure the other end with two simple locating pegs and make it virtually idiot proof. Out with the 3D design and quickly knocked up a tapered peg to fit the headrest sockets. I included a recessed hex to take an M4 nyloc to save having to over tighten a bolt onto wood and split it:
Shortly sent the file to my very generous friend Santa Paul who 3D printed me some and they were in the post!
A quick measure in the car and drilling and job done:
Fitted to top of driver’s seat:
Just needs a radio and rotator controller:
Since the last round of the 144MHz UKAC contest series I have been busy constructing for more improvements to the set-up. My goal this time was a custom drive on base to enable me to be able to erect the mast single op must faster and securely. I had to buy a welder, welding table, chop saw, steel and various other tools. Also learn to weld! But I designed my own version of a drive on base and made it up and it works a treat! I can get the mast fitted and guys set up in a couple of minutes on my own now (This video is from a test run, it was dark setting up for this contest):
This was a good job as I am later getting out to the Tuesday night events now so have no slack time, especially single op. As it turned out I had over half an hour extra time before the contest kicked off so I was very pleased with that.
Activity was great! Over 1 QSO a minute for first 2 hours and I ended up with 143 QSOs from 150 minutes operating. By far the best score QSO wise so far. Some late mults helped bump up the score again too.
I have missed the last two instalments of the 144MHz UKAC series, August was an aborted attempt thanks to an important forgotten part and September I was away on a USA road trip.
For this contest in the continuing goal of improvement I have got a slightly taller mast (6.1m aluminium scaffold pole) to enable a faster set up and tear down time. The 2 or 3 guy sets lightweight mast is quite time consuming to put up. I have made a temporary drive on base with the rotator at the base to help. Actually setting up on my own as I was involved adding the 3 guys and lifting the mast up and down to find the right lengths for the two ‘downhill’ guys until they were set and then tie off the 3rd guys that stops it falling back down. This would have been way faster with a second op but I got there.
Once up there was a nice sky behind it at least:
My other improvement was to dig out the ‘old girl’ my venerable Yaesu FT-225RD. Of all the radios with 2m I have available it still has the best front end for contesting. It also lets me achieve the full 10W in my section (the FT-817 only provides 5W). I’d planned to modify it to take an 8 pin MH-31 style mic cable to use my CQ caller on it but it was easier in the end to knock up a simple interface box run off a battery to power it.
Once I got going in the contest I happened to hear an OZ calling CQ and worked him early on for my best DX of the night which was a great start. Activity was good too and I think I got my highest QSO count in the UKAC this year. A late run of multipliers helped bump up the score too.
This 4th session of the RSGB Backpackers series 2016 is the make or break session for us. Due to being away for the 5th and final session we go into this with 2 wins and a 2nd place. Rob G7LAS is hot on our heels with a win and two seconds. If we didn’t win this then Rob most likely would, and would also win the 5th session making 3 wins to two, an unassailable lead.
So the pressure was on!
All we could do was continue with our busy work rate and rack up the QSOs as best we could whilst hopefully finding some good multipliers. The tropo forecast was for good conditions to the South and extended just up towards where our location in the Welsh Mountains is. Fingers crossed.
It was a glorious day when we arrived to set up, in fact when I got in the tent it was too hot, I had to take my top off and catch some breeze. Here is a 360°+ pano of our view (click here to view better):
This 4 hour contest starts 1 hour before both the RSGB Low Power and WAB QRP contests, which are 25W and 10W contests respectively. This meant we had a free band to get started on and didn’t expect to suffer too much QRM an hour in. This turned out to be the case and apart from local strong stations working a weaker running station 4KHz from us we had very little in the way of QRM.
To keep us going we had the backpackers essential supplies:
Activity was good and so were conditions. The tropo forecast seemed to be on the ball and we worked several French stations, Germany, Netherlands and even Spain. Again no Belgium. One glaring omission for us was any Scottish stations, but we did get Guernsey, Jersey, Northern Ireland and Isle of Man.
By the time the contest was over it was so windy we were concerned about the antenna and mast even though it was engineered knowing the winds on the exposed point could be strong. The very second the time turned to red in Minos the radio was off and we were out taking down the antenna. That itself is interesting as one thing with telescopic masts is once you start to lower them your guys are no longer doing any good and the lightweight mast is at risk of bending. However we have developed a process for coping with this and soon had the antenna down. Here are some clips of the wind Paul took towards the end of and after the contest:
We did really well on both QSO count and multipliers and best DX a little under 1000km. Our score is I think the first score over the 2 million mark in the backpackers this century, certainly the 4th session.
So, job done!! With 3000 normalised points from 3 sessions we have an unbeatable score! Woohoo! Rob G7LAS (as GW7LAS/P) kept us well on our toes but we managed to do the job. I can’t help notice that Rob and us having a good tussle at the top were the only entrants lugging our gear up to 800metres ASL for a great VHF take off. Good to see an even bigger tussle going on in the 10W section.
For this next instalment of the UKAC we have gone all posh. We are basically using the equipment we use in the Backpackers series with the slight exception we can use the full 5W power available from the FT-817. We are allowed to use 10W in the AL section and I think next session we are going to dig out the old Yaesu FT-225RD I have and used to use in the ‘old days’ to make use of that as we are finding 5W a struggle in these busier events. I have a month to make some mods to the 225RD to allow it to be used with my CQ caller mic which will save me also digging out the old (and large!) volatile RAM based CQ caller I still have that we used to use.
But the Armstrong rotator and lock system I have for the lightweight mast is designed to be used at ground level in a tent not sat in a car. Additionally with electric windows all round turning the beam is a bit of a pain with the ignition of car kept off. So I have bought a new Yaesu G-650C rotator to use. Whilst I do have 2 petrol generators I have only started one in recent times and that doesn’t run properly and needs a service. So I have bought a 150W 12V to 240V inverter and am running that off a small LiFePo4 battery. In use the rotator uses about 5A on the battery and about just under 1A when idle so I am turning the inverter off between rotations (when I remember anyway!).
Here is the set up, one battery for the FT-817 and one for the rotator:
Outside the rotator is sitting on the ground rotating the whole mast which saves having a stub mast and hoisting up a relatively heavy lump of rotator atop the mast. The currently in use lightweight mast is too thin for the rotator to be used on it higher up anyway. The 3 sets of guys on the mast are very low friction by design and the whole thing weighs less than 10kg so nothing for the rotator to deal with. Titterstone Clee Hill can be seen at the end of the road:
It’s all about evolving the station and future improvements will see a drive on base and the use of a single ali scaffold pole for the mast rather than the lightweight telescopic one. This is mostly to speed up assembly and take down.
Once all set up we seemed to have great North South signals but really deep QSB. Once under way we found the band very busy and also had other stations calling CQ contest on the frequency we’d been on for over an hour. Quite irritating and didn’t help our QSO rate as we couldn’t be sure if stations calling in were calling us or someone else.
Paul G1YFC took a short video of me working Phil M0NVS/P:
QSO wise we did well on squares North but I don’t know what we have done to upset PA and ON as we haven’t worked one for a few contests in a row now. Not a single European station worked this time!
This 3rd session of the Backpackers series is timed to coincide with the last 3 hours of VHF NFD which meant finding a quiet frequency was going to be interesting.
On the up side it was a glorious day when we arrived at the summit site to set up:
Building the 9 element portable DK7ZB yagi:
Antenna up and ready. Some strange coloured background behind it!
Shack up and ready for us:
Shack views don’t come much better than this:
To keep us sustained we have proper contester food:
Once on air we scanned the band looking for a slot between the strong VHF NFD stations. We found one a fair way from the strongest ones but one near from the North lifted our noise floor each transmission and made receive pretty tough. However we persevered and activity seemed pretty good though DX apart from Scotland was scarce for us.
We like to run mostly and keep the work rate up to keep the QSOs coming in and search and pounce when it goes quiet. The last hour was very slow after the NFD closed down but on the up side we had a receive back! We managed 120 QSOs which we were pretty pleased with and a best DX of nearly 800km to the Orkneys which was great. And he was booming down too. No ON or PA at all though.
The 2nd event in this series of contests coincides with the Practical Wireless QRP contest so we decided we would do both. This contest starts earlier than most of the other Backpackers event so it was an early start for us, or I should say even earlier.
The weather this time was fairly poor. Lots of rain and quite windy. So we arrived on the top pretty soaked through with terrible visibility and a pretty dense low cloud.
The summit site is pretty exposed so if there is any wind at all anywhere, it’s usually very windy on the summit. We were ready for this though. The lightweight mast I have built was made in 3 sections and purposely designed for such an occasion. For lower less exposed use in contests where we are OK to use its full length all three sections are extended and we have a set of guys for each section. (the lower guys are really only there to hold it up while we extend it etc). But for the backpackers series section 3B we are only allowed 4m high, which just so happens (it was designed that way really) to be the height with the mid section extended. This means we have the option of double guying the highest section of the mast. We have separate pegs for every single guy as this negates the need for knots and saves us set up time by just putting the peg in the loop, and putting the peg in when the guy is taut. This also means on a 4 metre mast we have 8x 550lb breaking strain guys on 8 decent sized pegs, so despite the scary wind noises when inside the tent the antenna is pretty safe.
Double guys shown here (one on left is the lowest set up guy going to a tiny tent peg):
Once in the tent we were pretty cold thanks to the liquid cooling we were enjoying. We’d allowed plenty of time to deal with any unforeseen circumstances or issues setting up in the bad weather so we had time for a few warming cups of coffee.
Once under way we forgot about being cold and set about the job in hand:
We got pretty decent activity in first hour or so, and to be honest not bad in the first 4 hours, which is all of the Backpackers contest. However DX was rare we managed a French station at Calais and one Belgian station. It was nice to point to Guernsey hoping to pick some mults up and within 5 minutes we got one, thanks for that! The last 3 hours to make up the PW QRP entry were best described as dire. Without the CQ caller I made I am pretty sure we would have quit and gone home. On the plus side we never heard anyone with a higher QSO count, but PW is a square multiplier contest and I feel we are going to suffer with a low square tally.
There was no post contest looking around and chatting. Radio straight off and try and pack up before the looming black cloud making it’s way towards us arrived. Here we are ready to roll (taking turns holding the mast for the camera):
This session I had company in the shape of Paul G1YFC to help set up and operate. Another pair of ears is always welcome with the weak stations or when we are suffering from QRM from other stations. On reaching the bottom of the ascent of the hill we were greeted by flashing flooding from the lashing storm that was hammering the car. The lower roads where more level had 4 to 6 inches of flowing water over them and even the higher steeper sections were a brown rushing river about 1 or 2 inches deep. This is a picture of the very last section of hill with hardly any catchment area above it:
Once on site we sat in the car to wait out the heavy rain. It eased a little so we started to put the mast up but the rain picked up and it felt like someone was pouring a hosepipe down the back of my non waterproof trousers so we abandoned ship to the car. It eased again so back out we went and this time it stopped and the sun came out. By the time we had the antenna up we were bone dry from soaked through.
We had a few QSOs before the start and fisnished the last rag chew with the first QSO in the contest but found it a slow start. Conditions seemed quite odd and we could hear a lightning strike crash every now and then for most of the contest but we didn’t see any. Paul had time to take an arty low sun shot of me in action:
We also had an interested visitor:
Anyway, we got 105 QSOs but didn’t work one single European station not even Frank PE1EWR who always calls us. Although our QSOs were respectable and points per QSO also not bad, we just didn’t have the multipliers.