Manual Keying for QRP DX QSOs in the ARRL DX CW

As expected, given current propagation conditions, fewer QRP contacts were possible in the ARRL DX CW than in previous years (https://thewakesileave.wordpress.com/2017/02/21/the-arrl-international-dx-cw-and-the-conundrum-of-the-three-tees/, https://thewakesileave.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/three-years-in-the-arrl-dx-cw-with-5w-and-a-small-wire-antenna/). Actually, the surprise was that it was still possible to make QRP DX contacts in four HF bands (40m, 20m, 15m and 10m) in five continents (EU, NA, SA, OC & AF) and even with DXCC’s rarely seen in the log (i.e., KL7, KH6, MD2). Also, as is usually the case for this contest, many DX IOTA were contacted:

QSO map

The rig (Icom 703+ @ 5W) and the antenna (endfed long wire hanging from a silver maple in the backyard, with a single set of elevated counterpoise wires and the LDG RT-100 at feed-point) were the same ones used in previous contests. The major difference I introduced this year was the use of the MacBook Pro running RumlogNG instead of the IBM ThinkPad T60 running RCKLog. For this, one of the USB ports in the MacBook was connected to the Signalink USB and the other to the serial port of the CT-17 Icom CV-1 level converter (via a Keyspan US- 19HS high speed USB-to-Serial adapter).

RumlogNG (version 3.10.1) is a superb and free radio-amateur logging software with contesting capacities developed by Tom DL2RUM specifically for Mac computers running OS X 10.11 and up (http://dl2rum.de/rumsoft/RUMLog.html). It also has sophisticated keying capabilities, which I decided to ignore in an effort to reproduce as close as possible the CW operating mode in the pre-computer era. My only concession to technology was to let the keyer in the 703 create the dots and dashes for the iambic paddle (whose iambic capabilities were also otherwise ignored). Reception was in the mind (a great practicing oportunity), though more often then not I still require the callsign to be repeated more than once. Background noise was only a problem in the 40 meter band, but QSB was huge in the upper bands. Character sending speed was fixed at 25 wpm but I prolonged the spacing between characters as required. Several times the callsign had to be broken into preffix and suffix. The “VA3” was usually readily acknowledged, although a few times it was heard as “KA3” or “VE3 or even “VE2”. The suffix was more of a problem, with the “PCJ” being returned as “PC”, “WCJ”, “PKJ” or even “PCW”. Since keying was manual, it was easy to tailor the transmission to the needs of the remote operator, the main limiting factors being his patience and his determination for completing the exchange. Receiving the power used by the other station was easier than receiving serial numbers: usually it was “K”, “KW”, “5TT”, “1TT” or “ATT”, but also “7TT” and “NN”.

Sixty-five DX QSOs and fifty DX multipliers in five continents are unlikely to yield any certificate or award. However, the above self-imposed limitations, the challenges of operating QRP with just a long wire antenna, and the prevailing propagation conditions did add to the excitement felt each time a new DX station acknowledged reception of the complete exchange…

 

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Sitting Pretty under a Silver Gown and a White Cloak

Since October 6th last year, “Sassy” has been sitting pretty on her trailer, under her big tarp, at the back of the yard. The Spring thaw sometimes happens fast. However, it will take some time for the snow to thaw enough for the tarp to be removed and for the tall snow banks around her to allow the trailer to be hitched out from its current location.

IMG_2012 2

When this happens, the Spring thaw also likely will cause high waters throughout the Ottawa Valley and possibly even some flooding of the river banks, though hopefully not as much as last Spring when high water levels in the Ottawa River forced her launching to be delayed until May 27th. With some luck this year it will happen much sooner.

For the last six years Sassy has been using a wet-mooring in the marina (before, in 2010 & 2011, she used a dry-mooring). Records during this time show that on average she has been afloat for 4.5 months each year having been launched at the earliest on May 5 (2015) and at the latest and on June 1st. (2014), and hauled out September 6 (2016) at the earliest and October 12 (2014) at the latest.

Days afloat.jpeg

Hence, with some luck she will be back in the water in 3-4 months, and with further luck maybe even earlier…

Keying Basics, a Lonely Sunspot and a “Glass Arm”

Last weekend was the SKCC WES (WeekEnd Sprintathon) for February 2018. For the last couple of years, in these sprints I had favoured the use of a sideswiper neglecting the use of straight vertical keys. Hence, for this WES I decided to go back to basics and try the Sheunemann Kleine Hantaste (previously known as the Schurr Kleine Handtaste): http://www.scheunemann-morsetasten.de/handtaste.htm.

kleine-1

This is a small and flat key clearly designed for “American-style” keying: i.e., with the arm resting on a flat surface, the wrist fixed but relaxed, and the “rocking of the forearm up and down slightly” doing most of the work. (http://www.mtechnologies.com/wordpress/?p=16). The concave “bowl-shaped” wooden knob helps in this regard. The small length overall conceals the fact that this key actually has a relatively long arm, since its pivot is not at its center but at its very far end. Another significant detail is that the contact is made a couple of centimeters from the knob, on a small piece of gold placed on a block of acrylic. This softens the contact at the beginning of each dot or dash while dampening any vibration that might linger on the end.

However, I was out of practice, which meant that some use for the wrist was difficult to avoid, and soon I found my entire forearm frozen solid while still pumping at the key from the shoulder. Little was left from having to stand up and jump on both feet to create each dot or dash! Well, maybe not as much, but clearly not a most satisfactory technique. Conclusion: more straight-keying practice is needed while keeping the forearm and wrist fully relaxed.

Nevertheless, in spite of the frozen arm and all, more than a handful of QSOs were logged. The 20M band had a very low noise and – to my surprise given recent results – several signals were being heard at S5 and above. I concentrated my efforts in this band and at the end was able to log 16 QRP contacts, four of them in Europe (FRA x3 & POR) and the rest in nine different US States (CO, FL, KS, LA, MO, MS, OK, SD & TX) (see picture at the top). It has been a while since I was able to claim such kind of harvest in an SKCC WES.

Clearly, this was not the result of any advantage provided by my unique straight-key performance, but rather of the HF propagation in the 20M band being supported by the surprising emergence on the face of the sun of a rare sunspot: Group AR2699 (https://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/assets/usermovies/20180212044424/movie/20180212044424_1024_hmiic.mp4).

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2017 Wasn’t Such a Bad QRP Year After All…

In the 2nd semester of the year, VA3PCJ/VE3DTI succeeded in contacting 10 RAC stations operating for the “RAC Canada 150” (nine as VA3PCJ and five as VE3DTI). Not a spectacular result, but not bad considering that all contacts were QRP and using only CW and SSB mode (i.e., no digital modes):

RAC 150

Also, the results from this year contests have been quite encouraging so far :

ARRL International DX Contest (CW) 2017
First VE (Class: ALL, PWR: A)

RAC Canada Day 2017
First VE2 (SOABQRP) (Listed in error as SOABCW)

ARRL Field Day 2017
ONE 1C Portable Afloat)
8th out of 46 (it would have likely been much closer to the first, had ARRL assigned the correct PWR multiplier (5 instead of 2), since the radio was not powered by the boat engine or batteries but by an independent portable P-BOX Li-battery used only by the radio).

GM DXA 2017
First NA, First VE (SO-20-CW-LOW)

KSQP
13th VE (regardless of power)

NAQP RTTY February 2017
First VE (SOABQRP)

Ontario QSO Party 2017
First Place QRP in United Counties of Prescott & Russell

W/VE Islands QSO Party 2017
2nd as Expeditionary QRP

And there are still many more results to come:

CQMM 2017
CQWW DX 2017
CQWW DX SSB 2017
CQWW VHF 2017
FLQP 2017
GAQP 2017
IARU HF Championship 2017
His Majesty The King of Spain CW Contest 2017
MIQP 2017
MOQP 2017
MSQP 2017
NAQP CW August 2017
NAQP RTTY July 2017
NAQP SSB August 2017
NEQP 2017
OHQP 2017
SA Sprint July 2017
RAC Canada Winter Day 2017

An Old Friend that Never Aged and Still Can Come to the Rescue

In 1999, in June 16 to be precise, I journeyed to the Maryland School of Sailing & Seamanship in Norfolk, VA, where I joined the crew of “SV Teal Monday”, a full-keel, cutter-rigged yacht, an Island Packet 38, designed by Bob Johnson in the 80s.

The captain – David Appleton – filed a report of this trip (see “Report 3” in http://www.mdschool.com/bermuda_1999_tealmonday.htm). But he does not tell there the entire story…

First, he does not report that I was the “student navigator” who faithfully traced the Columbus-style dead-reckoning for the entire trip and – against all expectations – didn’t miss Bermuda… and that it was also I who first spotted Bermuda on the morning of June 24…

But more important, David never mentions that one day I totally dishonoured myself by failing to come on deck at 4:00am to fulfill my duties as watch-captain… While travelling to Norfolk I had fallen down in a wet-floor stretch in one of the connecting airports and had developed a severe back pain that accompanied me for the entire trip. Before departure I told David that I did not want to be just ballast both for the boat and the crew and that I rather not leave in the trip. His answer was to show-up a few minutes later with a rubber water-bottle, which I used to keep my back warm while at the wheel… Nevertheless, on one hideous morning I just could not possibly stand up and had to accept some strong painkillers from our First Mate: Dr. Bud Holmes. It was not to ever happen again, but to my eternal sea-faring shame, the Captain had to take my place during that watch, while down below I struggled to rise on my two feet.

Also, the Captain mentions “a couple of catastrophe drills” executed on the 23rd. But never mentions that for most of the crew this was a first blue-water experience and that earlier in the trip, as we were coming out of sight of land, and David Searles (my very able watch-mate) and I were in control of the vessel with myself at the wheel, the Captain surged from down below with two life-jackets fastened together, casted them overboard and yelled “this is a drill, man overboard!”. The entire crew dashed on deck and several hands reached for the ignition key at my right foot. I put my boot over the key to prevent such deed from happening and yelled: “we will do it Canadian-style, follow me; Bud, keep your eyes on the crew-over-board no matter what, and count boat lengths from it to the stern, beam-reach!” (grunts of disapproval), at 4-5 boat lengths I yelled: “ready about, tacking to a starboard broad reach!” (what? you’re crazy! it’s over there! the captain will throw us all overboard…!). When the life jackets appeared to be almost abeam I yelled: “heading up to a close reach!, prepare to retrieve to port!” (that was the “Canadian” thing: the CYA retrieved to leeward while the ASA retrieved to windward…)- and then they all started cheering… As the two life jackets were handed back to the captain he just said: “I am reassured, you can go on with the trip…”

The last thing that David also failed to mention is that the “squalls” that he refers to in his report were in fact “leftovers” from “Arlene”… one of the first a tropical storms of the year that on June 17, 1999, two days before departure, was passing north just east of Bermuda: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1999_Atlantic_hurricane_season#Tropical_Storm_Arlene.

While all that was happening on the deck and cabin of “SV Teal Monday”, I was being protected from the wind, the spray, the rain and even from drowning, by a unique piece of gear: the Mustang “Integrity” Survival jacket and pants that I seldom used ever again… until today, almost two decades later: I found the Mustang in mint condition inside a closet and put it again to good use… if only to shovel snow in the driveway at minus 35 degrees centigrade…!

The picture is from today… it really never aged!

IMG_1998

QRP/P with the Mini W3EDP – Two QSO’s Half-a-Globe Away: Confirmed

Two DX QSOs

During the recent visit to Uruguay, operating QRP/P as CX7RT, with the Elecraft KX3 at 5W and the mini-W3EDP (1/4th version of the original W3EDP), two QSO’s were logged in FT8, both in the 17M band and at distances of almost a full meridian: Kazuo JF8EVE in Hokkaido , Japan, and Evgenij UA0CA in Khabarovsk, Asiatic Russia. Both were at a distance surpassing 11,000 miles. They were short of only one other QSO in the CX7RT log: Kim HL2CFY from South Korea, a CW QSO in the 10M band logged in November 2014, when conditions were much better than those in recent months. Needless to say, I was eager to receive both QSL confirmations. Here is a composite with the eQSL card from Kazuo JF8EVE and the LoTW QSL from Evgenij. Much appreciated to both since stations like theirs are what made possible for the mini-W3EDP to reach half-a-globe away. It is also no coincidence that all three were made close to UTC-midnight, when the Sun is vertical to a point in the Pacific Ocean equidistant from South America and the Asiatic East Coast.

CX7RT is now QRT

IMG_1605

This visit to the north shore of Río de la Plata started over a month ago with a trip to downtown Montevideo, to the central offices of the “Regulatory Unit of Communication Services” (URSEC), to renew the radio-amateur license as CX7RT.

Operating QRP with the mini-W3EDP (https://thewakesileave.wordpress.com/2017/11/07/the-mini-w3edp-in-the-vagaries-of-the-southern-sun/) and given current propagation conditions, not much was hoped in terms of new QSO’s. So much that before departure I had debated whether to add to the carrying luggage the additional weight of the Sygnalink and its cables, particularly since I had not yet used the new FT8 digital mode.

After an initial couple of CW contacts (ZP and a surprising ZD7) in 15M and 17M, I started using the FT8 mode and was able to quickly log contacts in 17M, 15M, 12M and even 10M. On the weekend of the 25-26, 33 CW contacts were logged in the “CQWW DX CW” (https://thewakesileave.wordpress.com/2017/11/27/mini-contesting-from-rio-de-la-plata-qrp-p-in-the-cqww-dx-cw-with-the-mini-w3edp/). In the weeks that followed I returned to FT8, almost exclusively in 17M. Several new DXCC’s were logged, which included two big surprises: JF8EVE and UA0CA. Overall, 79 new QSO’s were logged, half of which have been confirmed already in LoTW.

The position of the Sun seemed paramount to facilitate DX contacts in NA and more particularly in Asia (at sunset), but European stations proved very difficult to reach even during morning hours. Contacts in the US spanned 13 states and three contacts were made with VE stations.

FT8 proved to be able to get through when all other signals were absent from the bands.

Overall, the total number of QSOs logged as CX7RT after seven visits to the country was increased to 387 in 51 DXCC’s, 34 of which have already confirmed via LoTW.

Hope to be again QRV as CX7RT sometime in 2018.

Mini-Contesting from “Río de la Plata”: QRP/P in the CQWW DX CW with the Mini-W3EDP

IMG_1681

Over a month ago CX7RT/VA3PCJ wrote in this blog: “The 2017 CQ WW CW is scheduled to take place Nov 25-26. If I find myself available on those dates, I may try my luck in it, hoping this time to be joined (and likely beaten) by more able CX amateurs with better QRP stations than myself.” (https://thewakesileave.wordpress.com/2017/10/23/hoping-for-another-cq-cx-record-not/).

The CQ page of the all-time records in the CQ WW DX CW shows no entry for a CX station in the SOSB 15M category. Hence, the effort would concentrate exclusively in the 15M band.

On Saturday November 25th there was family around and the radio remained silent. But the situation reversed on Sunday. Nevertheless, given current propagation conditions (propagation for the 15M band was deemed to be “poor”) and the challenged nature of the portable set-up, there was little hope for more than a handful of contacts in the 2017 edition of the CQ WW DX CW.

The radio was the Elecraft KX3 set at 5 Watts. The tuner was the Elecraft T1 operated remote (i.e., at feed-point of the antenna), and the antenna was the Mini-W3EDP (one fourth version, at scale, of the original W3EDP) deployed as an inverted “V” at the front of a balcony (facing NW) in the top (4th) floor of an apartment building (https://thewakesileave.wordpress.com/2017/11/07/the-mini-w3edp-in-the-vagaries-of-the-southern-sun/).

Several contacts had to be dropped and others required manual repeats of the exchange via the single-paddle Palm key. However, each logged contact provided the instantaneous reward of realizing, in real-time, that it was nevertheless possible.

At the end of the day 33 QSOs had been logged in 8 DXCC’s and 8 CQ Regions. No contacts were possible outside the Americas but 19 were in NA (including two in Canada: VE3EJ and VA2WA) and 3 in the Caribbean. All the contacts logged were uploaded to eQSL and LoTW and can be seen here: http://www.hamlog.eu/cx7rt.

CX7RT past success in CQ contests has been due to it being the only CX station participating QRP, a participation that has pursued two major objectives: fun and the hope of promoting QRP contesting among CX amateurs. The first of these two objectives has been fully attained. Now CX7RT hopes for the second.

From CX-Land the mini-W3EDP Hears NA Stations Calling “CQ SS”

IMG_5634

The mini-W3EDP success a couple of weeks ago allowing two CW QSOs was not repeated. Propagation conditions continued to be extreme and CX7RT was only able to log a handful of QRP FT8 QSOs during the last two weeks. Furthermore, FT8 signals seem to be all what the mini-W3EDP is able to hear. As per the PSKreporter (https://www.pskreporter.info) The FT8 5W signal from the KX3 has been reaching South and North America both in 15M and 17M but not beyond. Seven 15M FT8 QSOs have been logged, three with US stations: WB2REM (FL), W4RQ (FL) and K1HTV (VA) (all three confirmed in LoTW).

The main radio contest taking place today (November 19) is the “Phone ARRL SweepStakes”. This old competion is only for US and Canada stations. However, if offers an opportunity to check for reception from NA. During a full hour (18:00z – 19:00z) ten NA stations were heard calling “CQ SS” in 15M (9 from the US and one from Canada). The signals were week (54 or less) but reception was clear with no PreAmp needed. Here they are:

N0MA 21.235.0 17:58z IA
VE6SV 21.290.0 18:02z AB
K7RAT 21.300.0 18:04z OR
N8OO 21.312.0 18:05z LA
N9RV 21.319.3 18:07z MT
WC6H 21.292.5 18:39z CA
N4TP 21.340.9 18:44z FL
K6IJ 21.331.0 18:46z CA
K4BBH 21.286.0 18:48z GA
WA2VYA 21.309.5 18:51z TX

 

The Mini-W3EDP in the Vagaries of the Southern Sun

One week without HF radio was a bit too much to endure…  Hence, I used the same small “Tacuara” cane (i.e., a local kind of bamboo) I had found on the beach years ago, to hoist the mid-point of the wire in front of the apartment. It took some effort but the little antenna already spans the entire front of the apartment configured as an “inverted Vee”. Its vertex forms an angle slightly larger than 90º at about eight feet from the apartment floor (the apartment faces NW and is in the fourth (top) floor of the building. The twin-lead section reaches midway inside the balcony. The feed-point is held hanging behind the back of a small patio chair connected to the 4:1 Unun followed by a toroidal choke and the Elecraft T1 tuner (operated remote). A short RG-174 coaxial connects the T1 to the Elecraft KX3 used with its own ATU bypassed.

IMG_1351

With a Coronal hole facing the Earth, the K index at 4, an SFI at 69 with the SN = 0, and all the HF bands conditions labelled as “poor”, I was not expecting any miracle. Just hearing a small signal would have been considered a success.

The Elecraft T1 readily tuned the mini in all HF bands 40m to 10m. First I scanned 20m and heard a handful of LU, CE and PY stations chatting in SSB. I then switched to 15m and saw PU2WSQ and PY5EW calling CQ in RTTY.

Then in the CW portion of the 15m band, at 16:56z, I was able to complete a QSO with ZP6CW 1,076 Km away: the first contact of the year as CX7RT.

One thousand kilometers spanned using 5 Watts and a 7-meter wire may not appear as too impressive. Yet, given current conditions, it was a result above expectations and a very promising start for the mini-W3EDP in this new deployment from the balcony that it was originally designed for (https://thewakesileave.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/the-mini-14th-w3edp-a-special-design-for-a-balcony-down-south/).