This section will contain all of the hints and tips that we can offer to help you get into the VK0EK Log. All articles written by Rich, KY6R
Top Band Award Winner Vadym, UT6UD
The seasoned DXer has been in so many pileups that she knows the “usual patterns” that the DXpedition station uses to try to “thin out the herd” or spread out the callers so they can be heard (on Heard). This seasoned DXer gets in the log the first day the DX is on – and while the antenna is very important, (power less so) – operating skill is perhaps the most important part of the DXing equation.
First lets list the three “prerequisites”:
- VK0EK WILL ALWAYS WORK SPLIT. NEVER SIMPLEX.
(Split means they transmit on one frequency and receive on another that is usually a range of frequencies above or below where they are transmitting. Simplex means they would transmit and receive On The Same Frequency – and VK0EK will NEVER do this.) If you transmit on the same frequency – you will actually get yelled at and otherwise scorned by hundreds or thousands who are listening to the DXpeditions transmission – and they get angry when someone transmits on the DXpeditions frequency who is other than the Dxpedition operator.
- LISTEN. WATCH FOR THE OPERATORS “PATTERN” BEFORE YOU START CALLING.
- STUDY AND MEMORIZE THE BAND PLAN LISTED IN THE PLAN SECTION OF THIS WEB SITE. WHEN FT4JA IS ON THE AIR WE WILL USE THE COORDINATED BAND PLAN. IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS PLEASE CLICK ON “CONTACT US” ON THIS WEB SITE OR ON DXA
I always wondered exactly what all of the “usual” instructions are for DXers. They always say “Listen, Listen and Listen some more”. The problem with some of these articles, treatises and tomes is that they don’t tell you what to listen for exactly, and for how long. So – I will make an attempt to visually show you what to listen for – the DXpeditions operators pileup patterns. The quicker you can “get this”, the quicker you can get in the log.
The TX FR is where the DXpedition is transmitting, the RX FR is where the DXpedition is listening for the low end of a range up to a maximum top end listed as UPPER END in the above graphic
The “Round Trip” pattern is where the DXpedition operator goes up from the bottom frequency he is listening on and then slowly “walking” up to the top end of the frequency range. Then he comes back down. This is the classic and one of the most methodic methods.
The “Reset” is where the operator goes from lowest frequency in her range to top end of her range, then “resets” back down to the lower end and climbs back up. Another very methodical and predictable pattern.
The “Loiter” is a lot like the “Round Trip”, but the operator might decide to “linger” on each stop for several stations.
The “Ping Pong” might have the operator jumping methodically between a low and high frequency in the range.
The “Rabbit” hops all over the place and is totally unpredictable.
The “Loafer” says they are listening in a range but goes back and forth between 2 frequencies and hangs out at each as long as they can still run the pileup.
The “Trickster” might occasionally go above or below the range that the operator announces when they say something like “Up 5 – 15”.
The “Last Call” is some variation on the Loiter.
The “Camp Out” happens a lot on 40M SSB – where the DXpedition op targets a part of the world and sets a specific frequency – sometimes where say these two areas are not allowed on the specified frequency for that part of the world. This happens a lot where NA and JA’s have propagation and the op wants to separate these areas.
So – the answer to the question of what to listen for is a PATTERN. And if you only spend 5 minutes just listening to the pileup before you start wailing away with your transmitter, the sooner you will get in the log. There are other patterns too – but this is all meant to give you an idea. There are certainly debates on what is best practice or not – but as a DXer, these are the ones I remember clearly. Good or bad – when I’m chasing the DXpedition – they call the shots and I have to follow their lead. Else – we step on each others toes and I get no Q.
Jon, N0JK wrote in to remind us:
Another tip is if you are not sure the DX station has your call correct, don’t send just “599.” Send your call, then the report.
100% agree on that!
This concludes my series on How to Get in the VK0EK Log, and I would love to hear if anything in this series has helped you – either while you prepare in these last days before VK0EK is on the air – or perhaps after you snag a Q with the team.
Thanks to Alex, VE3NEA for reminding me to mention the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) and its value as a DXing Tool.
The Reverse Beacon Network is a wonderful tool that you can use to assess Real Time propagation for a DXpedition that you want to work. You need to bookmark this in your web browser:
And the real world example that we are using is tracking the VK0EK Team as they pass ZS8 – Marion Island (which is about the half way point):
This tool is actually much more useful than the DX Clusters because they consist of stations that are scanning the bands and then automatically posting what they heard. The station monitoring is listed, the DX that you set up to spot, the time, mode, code speed and signal strength.
You can use this to see what is going on in the real world vs. the propagation predictions. In fact, its fun to see how the real world matches or doesn’t match the predictions. For from a pragmatic point of view – you can find a spotting station near you – and then you will know what the probability is as far as you being able to work the DX. You also can see what bands and modes were spotted and at what signal strengths. Finally, you can find out what time of day seems to offer openings to your area.
A good friend of mine, Tom, N6BT and I use RBN as part of our antenna testing – its fun to try A – B comparisons and know where in the world did they hear our signal. In fact, you can even try aiming your antenna at different angles and see what the effect is.
There is so much you can do with RBN – but while the Team is on their way to Heard Island – why not get used to RBN and see if it might be a useful tool in your DX Toolbox.
There is one last feature that doesn’t work all that well for the ZL/ZS9HI/MM call, but should be great when VK0EK is on the air – and that is – you can turn on a map of the spots listed in RBN.
Now – also make sure you try to work them while they are on the boat. I did last night using 100 watts and a 2 element yagi pointed in the exact wrong direction. I was very pleased to work them as far away as near Marion Island – and propagation on 40M to that part of the world was MUCH better than when I made my only ZS8 ATNO with Team Member Pierre back in the Autumnal Equinox of 2010. They were a solid S9 and I worked them with a just a few calls – fantastic!
How to Get in the VK0EK Log (Pt. 8): DX Confidence
DQRM (Deliberate QRM or “DX Mischief”) is a very hard thing to deal with, but there are a few things you can do. You have already read the DX Code of Conduct – but you realize that you are a good “DX Citizen”, so that document, while well intentioned, doesn’t apply to you. You “follow the golden rule” already. You also aren’t a DX Cop – who in many cases are the worst DQRM-ers out there. So, what can you do?
- Learn to use your filters on your rig. Use Google with a search string like “filters elecraft K3” or something like that for your rig. You will find all kinds of videos, and combined with your manual, you will be very surprised at what you can do to shift the offenders from being “impossible” to “highly annoying, but at least I can now make my QSO” despite these despots
- Try a highly directional separate receive antenna that can null out the offenders on the same frequency as the DXpedition. This technique is very well known on 160M (Top Band), and I have found that it works wonders on ALL bands
- Leave the frequency and band where its become simply ridiculous and try to work the DXpedition on another band and frequency. Your blood pressure will thank you for it – and you will make your QSO. Then, you might even be surprised that when you go back to the other band and frequency that earlier was impossible, the DQRMers might have just left the frequency – or things might have calmed down
- Be realistic about when you will work the DXpedition. When I had 100 watts and a wire, I never expected to work the DX-pedition on the first day – UNLESS that DXpedition was a very close and easy catch (OC-PAC and Asia as well as anything near NA like Caribbean and Central and South America) for me here in the San Francisco Bay Area. HOWEVER, once I upgraded my antennas and power level, I have easily been able to get into the DXpeditions log the first day. But I will always remember knowing that with 100 watts and a wire my expectations were that I would work the DXpedition after all the big guns got into the log. The big guns were fast and did their work quickly – I was the one who had to “wait my turn” and set realistic expectations
- Use the grey line to your advantage. For example, on the West Coast and on the low bands – I might wait until EU and the US East, Central and Rocky states are in daylight while the West Coast is still in darkness. This means only the West Coast can work the DXpedition on the Low Bands. Of course – the opposite situation can exist – you might have total daylight and have access to bands that haven’t opened elsewhere. This might be the #1 most effect way to “filter out” DQRMers – you simply can’t copy them at all!
- If you have 100 watts and a wire, do what I did with P5/4L4FN – which was hands down the easiest ultra rare DX I have ever worked. I read all of the DX Bulletins and knew when Ed would be on the air – almost down to the minute. I camped out on the published frequency and knew where he would be listening in the split. Before he was even posted on the cluster I had my QSO on 10M and 15M – and that was with 200 watts and a Cushcraft MA5B mini beam
- Don’t add to the fray – the DQRMer wants a “rise” out of you, the earnest and well behaved DXer. He wants to see he disrupted the frequency and pileup. Don’t give in and let him pull you into a street fight. Take the high road. This means on the radio itself – but also on the DX Cluster and even on the DX Forums and social media outlets. The stronger you are in ignoring / avoiding / taking the high road, the more you will render the DQRMer weak and ineffective
- Go for a bike ride, do yoga, hug your significant other, go on a hike when all else fails – after all, this is only a hobby! A much nicer pileup will be waiting for you when you come back with a clear head and a relaxed state of mind
Be resourceful, be clever – and you can conquer DQRM. Take it on as a “healthy challenge” and laugh at these silly noise makers – with a sense of humor, you will laugh past these DQRMers.
Would you like to follow via amateur radio the VK0EK expedition from Cape Town to Heard Island to Perth?
It will now be possible via WSPRnet.org, the Weak Signal Propagation Reporter Network! WSPRnet is compromised of a constellation of lower power HF stations around the globe transmitting and receiving digital signals using the WPSR protocol originally developed by Joe Taylor K1JT and sustained by a community of WSPR enthusiasts. Many of these stations around the world send automated WSPR reception reports over the Internet to the WSPRnet.org web site where they are recorded in a searchable database and on a world map.
The VK0EK 2016 Heard Island Expedition will carry operate a 250-milliwatt battery-powered propagation beacon kit developed bywww.qrp-labs.com and assembled by expedition supporter Richard AB4ZT. The beacon is capable of transmitting on 40-30-20-17-15-10 meters. During the first day of testing by expedition member Adam K2ARB (using a dipole in NJ), signal reports were received by amateurs from as far California and Italy!
The beacon will be deployed in Cape Town as ZS/K2ARB, on the RV Braveheart during the voyage as K2ARB/MM, and on Heard Island as VK0EK. We will be cycling the beacon through the bands during the expedition. Given that we will be thousands of miles from the nearest amateur stations, it will hard to miss us on the map!
If you would like to follow along on the expedition, and gain insights into the state of propagation to the southern Indian Ocean, (1) visit http://www.wsprnet.org; (2) click “Map” in the upper right hand corner; 3) set the search parameters for “all” bands and “24 hours”, and (4) look for our callsigns, or search for them in the permanent database of real-time WSPR reception reports.
But do not rely on WSPR alone! WSPR is only one of many propagation tools available to hams chasing VK0EK and we recommend that you take advantage of all of them. Do not be dismayed if you do not see us indicated on the WSPR map on a particular day. It may simply be that we have chosen to transmit WSPR signals on a closed band in search of a possible opening.
So while we may not appear on the WSPR web site on a particular day, we will be banging out thousands of QSO’s on the other bands!
WSPR is a fun and interesting corner of the amateur world. Feel free to follow along!
Adam Brown K2ARB
Because solar conditions (point in the solar cycle, SSN, SFI, A and K and Vernal Equinox) will be almost identical to when the FT5XO team activated Kerguelin, and because Kerguelin is propagationally the same as Heard Island (and very close geographically), watch this fantastic video by James Brooks, 9V1YC:
KY6R Logbook showing FT5XO entries
I recently read a post on social media where a DX-er laments “VOACAP predicts a 40% probability for me to work them”. My response is“Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword”. While I love VOACAP, VOACAP Online and the K6TU prediction propagation tools, they are far from perfect. If you use them as a guideline or shall I say baseline, then its simply a starting point for your strategic planning on how you will get VK0EK in your log. In fact – if you have a healthy skepticism of propagation prediction tools – then you are thinking in the right direction!
The logbook entries for FT5XO at ARS KY6R shows that I worked this excellent team – the Microlite Penguins mostly during my morning hours. This is very similar to working FT5ZM and even the one 20M QSO I had with FT5WJ. So – there is a pattern here, and this is what it looks like on DX Atlas – and in my opinion, if you don’t have DX Atlas – you really need it as a serious DX-er. BTW – on the lower bands I had a vertical and the higher bands a 2 element SteppIR yagi when I worked FT5XO. My antennas are MUCH better now. And back then I had 200 watts. Now 1500 watts. What this means is I won’t be in the pileups calling as long as I did FT5XO, but I actually remember it was quite easy to work FT5XO.
DX Atlas showing the morning greyline for February 10, 2016 at KY6R
Every morning for at least a month now – I have heard and or worked stations in VK/ZL, ZS, SM and LA using my N6BT DXU-32, which has 2 elements on 40M and 3 on 20M and with 100 watts. Others have been working these same stations using a single vertical and (usually) at least 600 watts.
My antenna does the work – so I do not need an amplifier. Those with verticals can hear the DX, but need a tad more power than I do to work those stations. On receive, these stations have been S9 to S9 +20 every single morning, almost without fail. The Long Path from the West Coast to EU and ZS just happens to be the EXACT short path to Heard Island. Now – look at the map – if you couple the fact that this path is almost perfectly in the grey line – now you can easily see why this “terminator” has something to do with this strong RF “pipeline”.
Microlite Penguins FT5XO Kerguelin DX-pedition, March, 2005
It just so happens that Kerguelin is so close to Heard Island that you can count on propagation being the same. Furthermore – and here is where the “forensic data search” really scores in a huge way – FT5XO activated during the exact same point to the solar cycle (23) as VK0EK will be activating Heard Island during this cycle. Both also happen to be right at the Vernal Equinox, where the grey line will look like this:
You can see how both FT5XO and VK0EK share the same propagation characteristics as far as greyline goes. But that’s not all of the GREAT news! Look at this:
The day I worked them on 40M, the SSN was 39. Here are the predictions for VK0EK – March and April of 2016:
The last two lines – the predictions for March and April – when VK0EK will be active, will be almost identical to when FT5XO was there.
Just to show how much better this is than when VK0IR was on the air – 19 years ago, the sunspot number was mostly Zero, but some days reached 10:
So – with a little logbook and DX Atlas “forensics” and coupled with the VOACAP based predictions, you will have a much better idea about the probability that you will get in the VK0EK log.
What YOU have to do as the DX-er is put the best antennas up that you can and have “requisite” pileup skills.
Good luck – we will do everything we can at both Atlas and Spit Bay to get you in the VK0EK log!
P.S – I notice that I had duped this DX-pedition a couple of times. I don’t remember exactly why – but I know that they did NOT have online logging (Clublog or other web based), and I had been a DX-er for 4 years and was still a newbie DX-er. Sometimes I hear my call come back as YY6R, and so occasionally I will work them again because I do not want to rely on begging a QSL manager to fix a busted call. Instead, I want to work them and make sure its clear as a bell that they get my call correct. For me – DXA would have prevented me from calling them a second time for sure. And sometimes propagation will only open to a particular area for maybe 10 – 30 minutes. So – while I don’t think online logging prevents massive numbers of duping, it certainly does prevent some – and maybe reduces some DQRM due to reducing the “frustration level” that is today inherent in pileups. No hard statistics available – just anecdotal thoughts.
Home brewed 17M Moxon Beam up 30′ at KY6R
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed how DXA will be “your best friend” as far as working VK0EK goes:
And in the next installment of this series I will discuss the propagation tools – both Stu, K6TU’s fantastic propagation tool as well as VOACAP Online and the very important HFTA. But EVERYTHING in the DX space relies on your antenna, so lets spend a little time on antennas. If you are lucky, you have a tower and at least a 2 element 40M yagi and a 3 or more element 20M yagi – such as the N6BT DXU-32 that I have:
But not everyone can have such an antenna. In fact, I worked the first 300 DXCC toward Honor Roll entities using just wire antennas and 200 watts (or less) – using mostly doublets and extended double zepps – but also Bruce Arrays and the Moxon beam. I still use an Extended Double Zepp (3 dB gain) on 30M, but it is fixed perfectly for VP8STI – South Sandwich – 130 degrees from my QTH – but not oriented so well for Heard Island – at 215 degrees from my QTH. Therein lies the rub regarding Doublets, Dipoles, Extended Double Zepps and even Bruce arrays, Bobtail Curtains and other vertical arrays. Pattern – and directivity are important. You need to be able to beam your signal in the right direction.
So – enter the Moxon!
The Moxon antenna is probably the best “bang for the buck” antenna you can build – and do it for about $100 dollars US. In fact – you can build one for that price that either has one band (at 4 dB gain and > 25 dB F/B), or have a nested 2 band model that gives up 1 dB forward gain for the added band. It can be turned using an inexpensive TV rotator (such as the one Radio Shack has on sale now – for $30). If you can put up a dipole – you can put up a Moxon – and get two bands (non adjacent) out of it, and get gain, directivity and awesome front to back ratio!
Here is what VOACAP Online says about VK0EK for me:
and what K6TU’s propagation site says for me at KY6R:
The US West Coast is one of the more difficult areas to reach Heard Island – but overwhelmingly – all signs say that I better have serious antennas on 40, 30, 20 and 17M, and perhaps 15M.
My N6BT DXU-32 has 40 and 20M covered, and I have no worries there, but it looks like I need to pay more attention to 30M and 17M. VOACAP Online says 17M and K6TU says 30M. My Extended Double Zepp on 30M will have to do – its oriented more towards VP8STI, and I will just hope it does well for VK0EK. But on 17M – I have the chance to improve my antenna situation with maximum bang for the buck, so I decided to add a 17M Monoband Moxon to my antenna “arsenal”. Two elements on 17M will be perfect, and the Moxon fits the bill for the space I have out in the back yard . . .
So, lets build a Moxon for 17M. I’ll list the exact steps.
- Purchase 5 Cabela’s “Crappie” 17′ fiberglass fishing poles. I ordered 5 for $5 a piece on a special sale.
- Order a DX Engineering Boom to mast plate – BMP-2B and U bolts that they sell (see below)
- I also purchased 100 feet of the DX Engineering antenna wire – that is 14 gauge flex weave.
- I’ll assume you have coax – if not – check out DX Engineering’s Max line of low loss coax. I use DXE 400 Max – which is similar to the Davis LMR 400
- Here are the 4 Cabela’s Crappie Poles being sprayed with “Plasti-dip”. This is because fiberglass, when up in the UV for 2 years can be reduced to a splintered white powdered mess.
- Once dried, I insert 1″ aluminum sleeves to the ends of the fishing poles – and add them to the DX Engineering boom to mast plate. The U bolts on the plastic “collars” and bolts hold the poles tight:
By the way – the markings on the plate keep the elements leaving the plate at 40 degrees apart, and I used a simple school protractor to make those marks.
- Underneath, we have a “floor flange” that you can purchase at any hardware store:
The bolts will go through the aluminum sleeves, through the plate and through the 4 holes on the Floor Flange.
- Now we need to calculate the wire sizes of the elements. I use this web site:
I cut the wire to size and take in consideration that I will need to solder ring lugs to the spacers as well as the 1:1 current choke at the feedpoint
- Speaking of the feedpoint, I use a high power 1:1 current choke – and Balun Designs and DX Engineering both sell great 1:1 current chokes for running “full power”. I had to create some special “platform” to hold the choke onto the feed point fiberglass pole:
I had a spare “Carlon” box and I used it upside down on the fiberglass pole. This way, I could use nylon bolts and nuts to bolt the 1:1 current choke onto the pole:
I had sprayed this platform with the Plastidip as well. Here you see the nylon bolts and nuts holding the 1:1 current choke to this Carlon “platform”.
- The wire is attached while making sure that I keep true to the dimensions from the calculator:
And I use wire ties and electrical tape to hold the wire on the Cabela’s poles at the right place. The spacers between the driven element wire and reflector are extra pieces of fiberglass fishing poles – and with nylon bolts and nuts:
I used some “liquid electrical tape” to cover all of the nuts – so they would come loose (not shown here). Also note – the gap spacing of the wires is critical, but made easy by using wire lugs that are bolted through holes drilled at the right gap distance. Remember to measure the wire length for the antenna that takes in consideration that you are using wire lugs. Measure “hole to hole”.
- That’s pretty much it – I tested the antenna on the ground and it was “close enough”. Testing an antenna 3′ above ground will show the reasonant frequency to be higher than reality. Once I got the antenna up 30′ – the SWR was 1.1:1 and was flat for the entire 17M band.Success!
If you use VOACAP or the K6TU web site – you will find out which bands will be best for you. On the West Coast in the USA – 30, 20 and 17M will be the best – with 40, 15, 12 and 10M possible. Lower than 40M seems less possible.
A great resource on Moxon antennas is managed by our good friend and VK0EK Sponsor, Steve Hammer, K6SGH:
If you can’t put up anything large on 30M or 40M, you could phase two verticals using the Christman Method, and with a Stack Match II Switch by Array Solutions, get four directions for about $300 – $400 for all parts. SeeHTTP://ky6r.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/optimized-40m-vertical-array-built-tuned-and-tested/ it was an excellent low band vertical array, giving me years of great service.
I’m a DXCC Chaser and DX-er who will be home chasing VK0EK – just like you will. I hope to do everything I can to help you get into the VK0EK log, and hope you will ride along with the team on this most fantastic, rare and fun adventure.
During the March – April 2016 VK0EK DX-pedition, DXA will be your best friend. Not only is it fantastically entertaining – where you can watch (in real time) you making your QSO and your friends making theirs – it will cut down on Duplicates and (if TX5K is any indication) – cut down on DQRM since you will have live proof that you are in the log. You also won’t worry if you think – but are unsure if you made a QSO – because you can retry if you don’t see your call come up within 1 minute of your QSO – and while propagation is still good. Our operators will not have to break rate and worry about dupes at all – and far fewer people will be duping. Also – this will thwart the DQRM-ers, because you will know for sure that you made your QSO – and you can then move onto another band and mode and work us again. We even believe it will help ensure higher ATNO’s / Uniques as it seemed to for TX5K.
This is far, far better in many respects than daily log updates to the various online logging services – where people spend time and worry “wondering”. Of course, after the DX-pedition ends the various online log service uploads (Clublog and LOTW) will be made – and we will have an early QSL service for those who donate BEFORE the DX-pedition. Stay tuned and watch the QSL page for further details.
But while the DX-pedition is on the air – DXA is where you will want to be!
For more details please see this page: