VK0EK – March 6 – April 20, 2016

We have a VERY special guest Blogger tonight – who has written up a FANTASTIC article. I had the privilege of meeting Bill about a year ago – at an EBARC (East Bay Amateur Radio Club) meeting, and have since enjoyed his blogs, The Inquisitive Rock Hopper: https://inquisitiverockhopper.wordpress.com/

and the amazing progress he has made as a contester in the past year. Bill is someone to watch – you will be AMAZED at his performance on Heard Island – both as a VK0EK radio operator and scientist! Without further adieu, here is Bill (in his own words):

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It was the summer of 2014, and I had just finished my PhD in California and moved back to Minnesota. Eager to make some connections, I joined the Minnesota Wireless Association (MWA). Not long after, a few of the MWA members mentioned they were considering going up to North Dakota to help put W1AW/0 on the air. I, having not much better to do and eager to get into a pileup, joined in on the condition that someone else would need to drive (I don’t own a car).

A few weeks later, I stuffed some camping gear, my radio, and myself into a jeep with Matt (K0BBC) and Dave (W0ZF) and we drove out to Hankinson, ND, in the southeastern corner of the state, where there is a little campground with some trees in which to throw wire antennas. We set up and operated for a few days, though spent the majority of one day dodging some bad weather with a drive up to Fargo. One night we had storms roll through, with furious winds, heavy rain, and nearly continuous lightning. It was almost enough light to read by.

We had a lot of fun, and the pileups were intense. Each of us learned a lot; I had my first experience setting up a radio and computer for RTTY, and with running big CW pileups.

Come winter, the three of us started to plan out a few mini-expeditions for the spring and summer, including mobile/rover operation for the nearby state QSO parties and the June VHF contest. The North Dakota QSO Party would be happening April 18–19, and if we went up there, we could put some counties on the air and hand out new state/county contacts for people. In mid-April, the chances of a blizzard aren’t huge, so driving around operating mobile shouldn’t be a huge issue.

However, North Dakota in April has a good chance of simulating the cold, wet, and very windy conditions of Heard Island, but without the rough seas to get there—or the elephant seals. I decided that rather than being the CW op (or VHF op) for the multi-multi mobile effort with Matt and Dave, that I would set up a fixed station at the campground in Hankinson. I would operate all modes from my tent, and Matt and Dave could operate mobile or rover. That way, we would get two stations on the air on HF rather than just one with a mobile antenna.

As we watched the forecast before the QSO party, it looked like the Heard Island simulator was going to have the authenticity dialed up. Temperatures were forecast to be 40-55 F, and significant rain was likely. Wind in North Dakota is almost always present.

Saturday, the first day of the QSO party, turned out to be a fine day. I got the tent and antennas set up, and erected the screen tent to keep the generator dry. With warm weather, I operated at the picnic table until the sun went down. Night came to the campground, and with it I moved the station into my tent. The most recent forecast called for rain starting not long after sunset, and in the dark I would not see the rain coming in time to move the station. I operated a little while longer, then went to bed, listening to the wind flapping the rainfly of my tent.

By morning, the wind had shifted, and a light drizzle was coming down. My tent had been oriented to handle a southerly wind, allowing me to get in and out of the tent on the leeward side. Now, the north wind meant that I would not have the protection of the tent as soon as I opened the zipper on the rainfly. I checked the status of the camp. One of the antennas had more slack than I had left it, after the rope had been buffeted around in the wind overnight. The generator was still dry, and the screen tent had done a good job. Soon the antenna was back to its expected height, the cables were plugged back in, and the generator was on. I crawled back into my sleeping bag and operated the rest of the morning.

From this trip I learned, among other things, that having a metal paddle will mean that your hands will get cold fairly quickly, making it difficult to send accurate CW. Using a non-metallic insulating pad on the paddle would be a good idea to keep the hand warmer.

While it wasn’t as cold, wet, or even windy as I had expected, it was still a great experience. I had fun handing out a new state or county to many people, and getting practice pulling some weak signals out of the noise. Operating portable (field-day style) is a very different experience than fixed operation from home, and is a great way to build up skills in setting up and tearing down a station. It also is almost sure to lead to memorable adventures. I look forward to what will certainly be a particularly memorable adventure coming up November 10, 2015 (with radio operation likely to begin November 22).

See you on the air!

 

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