Saturday, 14 June 2014

Activating (almost) ZS/GP-001

I have just returned home after my first attempt at being a SOTA activator (goat)

Yesterday, I spent quite a long time carefully packing my kit in preparation for the trip. We awoke before sunrise and SWAMBO and I hit the road early, we arrived at our destination with some time to spare. In fact on the way I stopped to survey yet another summit: GP-002 on the way.

I immediately erected the telescopic fibre glass mask and hauled up the 20/40m linked inverted vee dipole. With that all done, we quickly took a few photographs for prosperity and then sat down and started connecting the Elecraft K2 to all the paraphernalia: Paddle, microphone, feed line and battery….. It was then I discovered a huge problem. The battery cable was not in the bag, I had inadvertently left it at home.

I had no choice, but to pack up and return home.

Even though no QSOs were made it still was a most pleasant experience. I recon I will do this again sometime.

Click on images for higher resolution.
Perdekop ZS/GP-001 view SE
ZS/GP-001 Perdekop

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Ultralight portable station - batteries

A while back I blogged about methods of reducing the weight of my ultralight portable station:

I believe I have found the ultimate battery for my ultralight portable station. 

There is nothing new about the product below, but I have not had the opportunity to get first-hand experience with these newish devices.

Normally I would use a 7 AH SLAB - Sealed Lead Acid Battery (typical alarm type battery).

The abovementioned SLAB's had served me very well through the years, but there is only one small problem, they weigh 2350 g each. This weight is fairly substantial and would become an issue on long hikes.

I discovered on e-Bay that there are many Lithium-Ion batteries available with different mAH ratings and IMHO they are pretty reasonably priced.

The 6800 mAH LiON battery (same capacity as the SLAB) weighs is at 162 g. This is only 7% of the weight of the 7000 mAH SLAB and it is a fairly compact unit.

Assuming the “blurb” regarding the LiON batteries can be believed then I think this is the way to go. As some insurance I decided to get a 9800 mAH battery complete with charger.

I cannot wait to field test these units……

9800 mAH LiON battery pack

Saturday, 7 June 2014

SOTA statistics

Looking at the SOTA web site the following information can clearly be derived:

·         CW is still the most popular mode by a good margin. 46% of QSOs were made in CW, followed by SSB 32% and FM 22%.

·         The most popular bands are 40m followed by 2m thereafter the 30m band. This is understandable, but also a pity since it virtually excludes South Africans from participating on an international level.

Click on image below for a better view.

SOTA statistics

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Ultralight radio

Keeping the weight low…. 

The above statement is easier said than done. I have been aware of size (bulk) and weight for a while now, but never approached the subject too seriously in the past.
Having a light, yet efficient trail friendly radio setup has become my new challenge.
It is quite amazing how quickly the bulk and weight adds up.

HB1-a CW QRP transceiver, paddle, battery, notebook and antenna system.
If I assume a weight of 400 grams for the antenna system. EFHWA + QRP AMU.

If I use a 3 AH SLAB then I am looking at a total weight of: 2,340 grams
If I use 8 AA batteries of about the same capacity then the weight = 1,280 grams

It seems the setup above is fairly compact, but I am not happy with the almost 2.5 kg weight. That equates to 2.5 Litres of water…. IMHO That is way too heavy.

I really should finish the Small Wonder Labs SWL-40 QRP transceiver and possibly have that powered by one of those fancy new LiPO batteries.

HB-1a powered by 3 AH SLAB

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

True HAM spirit

The link below points to the blog of Josep EA3AKY.

I believe Josep was approached by some locals to see what he could do to get C3 - Andorra active on 6m. Andorra is very rare and has not been heard or worked during this solar cycle.

The blog explains clearly why 6m activity from this tiny country is somewhat of a problem.

During this activation I spent the entire time from 0700Z to 1900Z listening out for them. During the late afternoon the South African operators were rather desperate. It seemed as if the band was not going to cooperate, then without any warning there was a brief opening and three of the northern stations managed to work C37AC. The best I got was a feint trace from them on Spectran and that was it.

Unfortunately, I did not have a QSO with them, but sincerely appreciate the time and effort Josep and his father made. This clearly shows that there are still a few very adventurous and unselfish radio amateurs around.

Thank you Josep

Andorra C3

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Mapungubwe trip feedback

Monday 24 March

We arrived at Leokwe camp at around midday 1000z.

I Immediately set to work erecting the mast and assembling the 6M3SS  M2 antenna.

The antenna was installed and equipment all connected by 1200z. But there was this uncanny silence. The noise level almost nil. On CW the S meter only intermittently illuminated the S1 LED on the K3 and this was with the preamp switched on. On SSB there was about 2 LEDs illuminated. I was worried, was the antenna working? The SWR was nice and low, all seemed to be OK.

The 6m band was dead quite, not a hint of any activity. Then some two and half hours later the band opened up, much to my relief.

First station heard and worked was ER1SS 1443z
During the course of the afternoon and evening I made some 60 QSOs.
I don't think there were any new countries worked.
I was rather tired and called it a day fairly early. This might have been a mistake I subsequently see that a EA9 was worked by my friends down south. Oh well, maybe I will get lucky and work him before I leave.

Tuesday 25 March

The band opened up at 1215z and I worked some 20 stations. The band reopened again at 1620z and lasted until 1748z, but did not yield much surprises and signals were generally weak.

At 1817z the band opened up this time It behaved differently. I worked many stations from EA8 Canary Islands and worked a new station in TR8 Gabon and worked TJ3SN in Cameroon. During this time I worked Ian ZS6BTE and Braam ZS6AYE via back scatter. This most certainly was not a common occurrence.

Total QSOs from Mapungubwe National Park now stands at 163.

I hope I am able to include the image of what my antenna sees. I tried to show the constraints of my location.

Pointing due north is OK. In fact if one looks carefully you will see the confluence of the Limpopo river and the Shashe river. This is where The borders of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe meet.

If I beam 15 degrees either to the west or the east I have a problem with close in rocky outcrops some 50m higher than my antenna.

Some have asked if I will be operating from A2 Botswana. Unfortunately not. The actual border might be some 3 km away, but the border post is not that close. Then there is the issues with licensing, border formalities, safe venue etc.....

 Maybe in the future I will consider planning a excursion to this 6m RF devoid country.

Such expeditions require substantial time, effort and expense. All this, only to rewarded with facing a rude, undisciplined and unruly  pile up?

Wednesday 26 March

Started monitoring the 6 m band at around 1000z and called it quits at 1900z.
First signals heard was from IT9 and 4X at 1650z followed by a short run up to 1739z
Only the usual Mediterranean countries were worked. A total of 25 QSOs of which two were QRP and there was one mobile station.

I worked several EA stations, but still no illusive EA9 :-(

Thursday 27 March

Wow !! What a afternoon.

The band opened up early and was open for a very long time, some 210 QSOs were made. Most, predictably most were from the Mediterranean area with a few countries slightly more north: Germany, Switzerland and Belgium.

I worked several QRP stations and including one station that was using a simple dipole antenna. Just goes to show that it does not take much when the band is open.

At one stage there was a pipeline into Spain, with many stations giving me S9+40 reports, but still no EA9 in the log :-((

Managed to work: 9K, TK, HB9, OE, DL and ER

At times the action was fast and furious. For the most part running the pile was a exciting and rewarding experience, but sadly there were a few LIDs that made me very angry. Calling out of turn and ignoring the instructions given. I some times wonder why I subject myself to this. This poor behaviour is simply not acceptable.

I was very close to calling it quits and returning home on Friday i.e. Returning home one day early, due to the pesky LIDs, but this would have been a huge waste of money and effort. So I decided to stick with the plan. I will be QRV until Friday night as planned.

What is the best way to deal with these despicable operators?

Friday 28 March

This was my last day and the band opened up briefly on several occasions, but the openings were pretty poor for the most part.

At one stage there was a pipeline into Azores - CU this was most peculiar especially so early in the afternoon. Quite a few CU stations were worked.

The highlight of my day was when I was called by EB9SCW he was very weak and I sure hope I have his call correct.  Conditions at the time was very poor and moments later the band closed.

This single QSO will make my trip worthwhile if I have it correct, since it is a new DXCC entity for my 6m log.

Total of 455 - 6m QSOs were made from Mapungubwe national park.

All said and done this was a interesting few days and I am looking forward to comparing notes with the other 6m friends (down south) when I get home.

The venue is interesting, we came face to face with a Leopard yesterday during one of our game drives.  The chalets at Leokwe are comfortable, air-conditioned and well equiped.

Leokwe chalets

Shack visitor
Antenna view to the north (Europe)
Image showing the 144 grid squares worked

QSOs VS. Date and Time

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Another great 6m opening….

Today we had another great surprize on the 6m band.

We had a short (30 minute) opening to China. Quite a few South African stations made several QSOs into China.

I managed to make only one QSO and that was with Li BA8AT on CW

So what is the big deal? 

It appears as if this is a first. According to the info at my disposal there has never been any prior QSOs between South Africa and China on 6m.

Now I understand why it is called the “magic band”