“QRP” is also back afloat…

In spite of very poor propagation conditions, due to the sun inching down in its 24th cycle towards a minimum, “QRP” is well and afloat… at the Nepean Sailing Club marina, as Sassy Gaffer’s tender…

 

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Launching was not totally uneventful, due to rain and to very wet and slippery ramp and docks, but QRP was eventually rowed to the Sassy’s stern and then rolled over on its cockpit to await further instructions before committing itself to the waves… the lake waves, that is…

Why “QRP”…? because “it does more with less”, of course…

 

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Habemus velam…

et mastilis…!

Sunny and bright but windy, with winds from the South gusting at 30-40 kph. Not the best day for rigging a sail in a boat moored almost in a N-S line. Nevertheless, it had to be tried. The mast was open at the hinge and the sail was rigged by threding first the bolted rope to the slot in the gaff, then the slugs for the luff went into the track in the lower portion of the mast (after removing the gaff tack from the mast), and at the end the bolted rope of the foot was eased into the slot in the boom. To avoid entanglements with the many lines and stays, the sail was rigged from the port side leaving all lines to starboard except the port shrowd, which stayed to port. The sail downhaul was rigged on the port side of the luff and the bolts and nuts of the hinge placed back. The anchor light and the windex were reinstalled and the cables for the lights in the mast, connected at the mast hinge. The mast went up at first try and so did the sail. In the picture the sail was not completely hoisted, it still lacked battens and the reefing lines, and the boom was attached to the gallows to prevent accidental gybes: it was just to check for entanglements and for the pics…

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Back afloat…!

Since this morning at 10:30am, Sassy is back in her slip at the NSC marina…

Water levels were still very high (59.72m at the gauge at Britannia, i.e., 1.82m above datum) with the edge of the water at the ramp reaching the road at the limit of the cement blocks:

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A precarious plank had been added for accessing one of the side docks (see picture), which were still far from the ramp and of difficult access.  Hence the two-people launching technique was the one preferred: one person on the boat and another one backing the car and trailer into the water and releasing the boat once afloat. Here is the process in pictures:

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‘E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle *

* “And then we emerged to see the stars again.”
Dante Aligieri (1265–1321),
Divina Comedia, Inferno, Canto XXXIV, 139.

Before:

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After:

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With some luck she will be returning soon to the marina “Purgatory”… and then to blue beyond…

And the magic of the Tohatsu is working too…

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However, launching will be better not done single-handed since water levels are still high (59.7m at Britannia on May 7 2018 & 5:35pm EDT, 1.8m above datum) and the docks, though attached to the ramp, will remain of difficult access until the plates sitting on top of them can be installed reaching the end of the ramp:

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The plan is to launch in duo (i.e., without docking at the ramp) this Saturday… Keep tuned!

Ice in the Bay…

Today I went to check the dock at the NSC marina and installed three fenders to facilitate docking in crossed winds. The fenders were hanged from butterfly knots along a line spanning the entire length of the dock (yes, I still remember how to make these knots – they are particularly useful since they can be easily made without access to the ends of the line, to produce mid-line loops from which to attach items and prevent their slippage).

Water levels in the Ottawa River are only half a meter above datum, which is a major improvement with respect to what it was a year ago. However, there is still a thin layer of floating ice covering the water everywhere around the docks. Also, the two docks at the end of the ramp (seen in the background in the middle of the picture) are still anchored away from the ramp. Still some time before launching is made possible!

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Remote Automatic Tuner: with Balun, Unun or Nothing at All?

BL2 Elecraft balun

The multiband wire antenna in my QTH is an end-fed wire thrown up a Maple tree in the backyard. The wire is about sixteen meters long with the shape of a long “S” (with an open hook at the bottom and a closer one at the top). It is complemented by a single set of counterpoise quarter-wave length wires (cut for about mid-band range frequency) for each of the HF bands (80m to 10m). These counterpoise wires make a horizontal “L” elevated about one meter from the ground and running around the fence that encloses the yard. (the 20-meter long wire used for the 80m band is folded at its end back on itself for about five meters). The antenna and the counterpoise set are fed via a short 50 Ohm coaxial (about 30 cm), going through the wall. Inside it connects with theLDG RT-100 tuner, itself connected to the transceiver via a 5-meter coaxial, an Elecraft WII wattmeter and the RC-100 remote controller Bias/T that provides power to the RT-100 via the coaxial.

The short coaxial connecting the RT-100 to the antenna is a compromise for keeping the tuner inside the house (actually, in-between walls) protected from the elements. This tuner was chosen for being both able to operate QRP and QRO. This was important because, although the antenna is mostly powered by an Icom 703+ operating QRP, mainly for SSB and net participation, it is often connected to an ICOM 706MKIIG operating at 50-80 Watts.

The LDG RT-100 is a very reliable remote auto-tuner, initiating a tuning cycle whenever the SWR exceeds a preset limit (usually beyond 2.5:1). However, a push button in the RC-100 Bias/T allows to trigger a new tuning cycle when required.  The Elecraft WII meter is a good visual improvement over the meters in the ICOM radios for determining when minimum SWR has been reached.

As many other users have also found, the LDG RT-100 tends to stop at SWR values close to 2.0:1. This does not seem to significantly affect the output power. Nevertheless, it is puzzling to see it reach lower levels as it tunes, but then settle on a higher value closer to 2.0:1.  One way to influence this is via the use of a balum or an unum.

Here is a table showing the SWR minimum values at which the LDG RT-100 stops cycling for mid-range frequencies in the CW portion of each HF band, when using different balums, unums or nothing at all (minimum values are shown in italics):

Freq. Unun Balun None
10:1 4:1 4:1 1:1
28.0250 1.5:1 1.5:1 1.7:1 1.7:1 1.5:1
24.9100 2.0:1 1.7:1 1.7:1 1.5:1 1.7:1
21.0250 1.7:1 2.0:1 1.5:1 1.7:1 2.0:1
18.0800 2.0:1 2.0:1 1.7:1 1.7:1 2.0:1
14.0250 2.5:1 2.5:1 2.0:1 2.5:1 2.5:1
10.1150 2.5:1 2.5:1 2.5:1 2.0:1 2.5:1
7.0250 1.7:1 2.0:1 1.4:1 2.0:1 2.0:1
3.5250 2.0:1 1.7:1 1.5:1 1.7:1 1.7:1

Although the differences do not appear to be too significant, the use of a 4:1 balun seems to offer to the RT-100 the best matching opportunities for the antenna described above. Furthermore, the possibility of using a Elecraft BL-2 wideband balun switchable between 4:1 and 1:1 (see image at the top) seems to offer the best possible arrangement (even if the antenna can hardly be described as “balanced”).

Hovering over Mount Olympus…

Seventeen years ago, I bought “Vándor” and created the “Alberg 22 Site”. The site has been long gone, but recently I was able to find a short text I wrote about the Alberg 22, likely around that same time. I forgot the occasion, but it seems that I was trying to explain how well an Alberg 22 can sail using some kind of semi-humorous philosophical style while still meaning every word I wrote. There is a clear reference to the theory of relativity but at least I refrained from making any allusion to “Alberg Einstein” (oops! I think I just did…). I found the article posted in a Google site created by a fellow sailor, Peter Deppisch, whom I thank for having saved my writing during all this time: https://sites.google.com/site/peterdeppisch/alberg22_1. Here it is:

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“A boat sails as the result of dynamic forces imposed on its structure by water, air and gravity, all distributed along the line-forces in the hull according to her design. This permits her to remain afloat while changing space-time coordinates in a predictable and pleasurable manner.

As such the forces on a boat are largely determined by the sun, the rotation of the earth and gravity itself, all forces that humans may aspire to use, but have less hope of ever being ever able to control or even completely understand. Hence, the only way in which humans can exert some degree of control over the behaviour of a boat is via the design and construction, and perhaps to some extent, through the abilities of her crew, which in a way are also highly relative to the design and the construction of the vessel.

Thus, the design and structure of a boat are central to her ability to sail, and particularly to her ability to sail in a way as to elicit positive endorphins in the basal nuclei of the brain of all those on board as well as in those watching from outside the boat. Now, this is an interesting scenario, clearly analogous to the one that at the beginning of the 20th century triggered some important changes in the way humans understood reality, and more particularly space and time.

Similar, but with clear differences, as the actual scenario used in those momentous studies involved a train and an embankment rather than a boat and a landmark, a rather unfortunate choice as it led to ignore the relativity of the pleasure derived from sailing: i.e., whether a person inside an Alberg 22 sailing at 7 knots while heeling at 30 degrees in a steady breeze of 15 knots can feel the same or distinct pleasure from another person observing the boat from a nearby fixed landmark (or for that matter from another boat, provided that such boat is not an Alberg…).

Here we will argue that such pleasure is indeed relative to the position of the observer, as the pleasure in the bystander can only be derived from its visual perception and imagination, while the person in the boat feels in its own flesh and bones (sometimes more that it might have wished to bargain for) the same forces being imposed on the structure of the vessel by the mysterious, cosmic sources indicated in the beginning.

This narrative version of the special relativity of boat enjoyment is the result of years of Alberg experimentation, a design permitting those forces to be felt amplified through their dynamic integration and subsequent decomposition along the lines of the boat design and structure to which the crew is momentarily invited to be part thereof while on board.

Not having been designed or built for performance or endurance, and neither for comfort or for aesthetics alone, but for a balanced blend of all those parameters, an Alberg is probably the quintessential representation of equilibrium in boat design and construction, an equilibrium which is readily experienced both by the boat and the crew and which results in an explosion of pleasure for the boater on board.

This pleasure is not only an inner reflection of the equilibrium attained, but also a response to the indirect feeling of the cosmic forces at play, a feeling made even more intimate by the fact that those forces remain and are likely to always be beyond human control and comprehension.

How does an Alberg sail? Any sailboat can sail, but an Alberg, she hovers over Mount Olympus!

José
 (“Vándor”, Alberg 22 #284, 1986).”

First Minima Blues…

Our Sun is slowly drifting towards its new minimum following its meager 24th cycle. These minima occur roughly 11-year apart and greatly affect HF propagation in the higher bands. I did not recall experiencing a solar minimum before, so I decided to go back to my records to find out how I had fared through the previous solar minimum in 2006-2008. It turns out that since December 30, 2006 (after the 2006 RAC Winter Day) I had not logged a single QSO for three-and-a-half years. Work-related travel explains the lack of radio activity in 2008, 2009 and the beginning of 2010, when I started operating QRP. However, I fail to recall why not a single QSO was logged in 2007. It is possible that the solar minimum may have had a bearing in this regard. However, my boat at that time was “Vándor” (the last “Alberg 22” hull ever to leave Alan Nye Scott’s yard in Bloomfield, Prince Edward County), which since the Summer of 2005 had been moored in Collings Bay Marina, west of Kingston, Ontario, and I was driving to Kingston on weekends to sail her in Lake Ontario, which would explain the lack of weekend-radio activity during the Summer of 2007. Then, as I prepared to retire from the Public Service, I sold Vándor and in the Fall moved to Vancouver, B.C. with only a 2-meter handy. I was not to return to HF until May 2010 when, already fully retired, I bought the Icom 703+. Hence, I cannot say to have experienced a real solar minimum, until now…

BTW, this was the actual picture I left outside the door of my office after my last day at work in the government of Canada (September 17, 2007):


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This very evocative ink drawing – a couple of fishermen dozing in a spritz-sail and boom rigged wooden dory running on port tack while surfing down a passing wave at an angle – is signed “B. SmitH, 76”. The sea, the wave, the point of sail, the movement of the boat, the half-cloud and the sailboat heeling on the horizon at the center make one “feel” the breeze… And how confident must be the sailor sitting to port on the ability of the helmsman to avoid an accidental gybe…! I have been unable to identify the author further. If anyone knows more about him or her, please let me know.

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:

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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…

 

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.

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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.

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