Ice in the Bay…

I went to check the dock at the NSC marina today and installed three fenders to facilitate docking in crossed winds. 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!

IMG_2220

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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:

100-1056

“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):


IMG_0966.JPG

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:

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…

 

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.