Back from a month in VK2-Land…

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After almost a month as VK2/VE3DTI it was time to get back to VA3/VE3. A short early flight in a Quantas Dash-8-300 provided the initial hop to Sydney, NSW. The change from domestic to International terminals was smooth using the free airport bus. The huge Boeing 777-400 of Air Canada took off with some delay for its non-stop transpacific flight to Vancouver, where, according to the original schedule, a change of airplanes would be required to board a direct flight to Ottawa. However, due to Ottawa weather conditions the flight YVR-YOW was cancelled and replaced with a flight YVR-YYZ (in the same craft flown from Sydney) and a connecting flight YYZ-YOW the same day was added to the schedule. However, on arrival to Toronto all flights to Ottawa had been cancelled. The best hope was a morning flight the following day. It was time to buy the latest John Grisham thriller and find a comfortable airport seat near a Starbucks… (spending a night in an airport may seem an uncomfortable proposition, but for anyone having just flewn economic class over the entire Pacific Ocean, it may appear as a rather appealing improvement…). Luckily, in spite of Ottawa being under several feet of snow, the morning flight to Ottawa was on time. While fraying a path from the cab to the door of the house required some knee-deep wading, the appeal of home-sweet-home was too strong for the tall snow banks to deny entrance.

In the end, a large number of different species of native Australian birds had been photographed in their natural environments, around Armidale, in Katoomba and the Blue Mountains, and in the park surrounding the Wollomombi Falls. Also fourteen QSOs had been logged from Armidale, in three bands, four modes and seven different DXCC’s:

FK8IK, New Caledonia Is. (20M CW): 1738 KM
VK7CW, Tasmania: (40M CW) 1304 KM
ZL1MVL, New Zealand: (30M FT8) 2245 K
VK7BO, Tasmania: (30M FT8) 1285 KM
E51BQ, Rarotonga Is.(Cook Is.): (30M FT8) 4937 KM
ZL3GAV, New Zealand: (30M FT8) 2347 KM
3D2AG, Fiji: (30M CW) 3041 KM
VK3AHR, Australia; (40M SSB) 578 KM
ZL2IFB, New Zealand: (17M FT8) 2479 KM
YB1BML, Jawa Is.: (20M FT8) 5285 KM
VK7DD, Tasmania: (30M FT8) 1301 KM
JH7DFZ, Japan: (20M FT8) 7637 KM
FK8GX, New Caledonia Is. (40M FT8): 1703 KM
JI1LET, Japan (20M RTTY): 7529 KM

But that was not all… as a day before departure, face-to-face QSOs were also possible with prominent members of the Armidale & District Amateur Radio Club: Rick VK2RR, the current President of the Club, had provided pertinent advice on how to operate as a VK2 station and I insisted on thanking him in person. The ADARC meets every Saturday morning, in this occasion at the Cedar Lodge Motel owned by Rick. The following picture shows VK2/VE3DTI (wearing a RAC t-shirt)  flanked from left to right by Steve Lisle VK2SL, Rick Rodgers VK2RR-VK4HF and Richard Katsch VK2EIK. My appreciation goes to all of them for their kind reception, the opportunity to meet and find out about their careers and radio achievements:

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QRP/P from VK2-Land

After the CX experience, VA3PCJ decided to cross the mightiest ocean in the world and land in Australia to play grandpa and, on occasions, even try his luck in QRP/P as VK2/VE3DTI. VK2-Land (modern New South Wales) is home to the most amazing diversity of birds that Mother Nature has ever imagined. Here are only two of them: the Sulphur Crested Cackatoo and the Crimsom Rosella (photographed with a Canon PowerShot SX730 HS camera, in the wild of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains):

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My Portable QTH was the backyard of my son’s home in Armidale (QF59ul). The rig was the KX3 at 10W or less, and the antenna was the W3EDP Jr. (https://thewakesileave.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/a-42-portable-multiband-hf-antenna-with-no-wire-on-the-ground-the-w3edp-jr/) strung horizontally East to West across at about 2 metres from the ground (the best I could do) between his backyard porch and a small (maple?) tree:

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The KX3 had no trouble tuning the W3EDP in 40m-10m, which in this orientation would clearly favour signals to and from North and South. HF propagation being what it is I was not expecting any miracle, particuary since on first impression Amateur bands appeared less in use in OC than in NA. Also, I was able to fire up the rig only sporadically. Nevertheless, so far, two 20m CW QSOs have been logged, one with New Caledonia (Mic FK8IK) and another with Tasmania (Steve VK7CW), and two 30m FT8 QSOs were completed with New Zealand (Ian ZL1MVL) and Tasmania (Alan, VK7BO). The two CW QSOs have been already eQSL’ed. The QSO with Steve VK7CW was particularly special because he was calling CQ as the SKCC K3Y-OC station, in the very last day of the SKCC K3Y 2019 Event, and we were able to complete a full SKCC straight key CW QSO (for which I quickly rigged the Palm single paddle as a straight key):

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I hope to still be able to log many other QSOs as VK2/VE3DTI, but given the main purpose of the trip I feel already quite satisfied with my radio progress so far.

The updated log of VK2/VE3DTI can be seen here: http://www.hamlog.eu/vk2/ve3dti

 

QRP/P in the CQ WW DX CW from the 35º South Parallel

Last weekend CX7RT/VA3PCJ participated in the CQ WW DX CW, operating /QRP/P from Piriápolis, Uruguay (GF25id).

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The picture above shows the details of the station and the one that follows shows the valley as seen from the top of “Cerro del Toro”, one of a handful of volcanic peaks (no longer active) surrounding Piriápolis (the climb was hard work —and the descent even worse…— but well worth the effort).

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The CW was also hard work. Many times, the CW had to be slowed down and the call and exchange had to be repeated manually several times. However, each logged QSO was much to the credit of the other stations and their operators, who patiently persisted in decoding this weak QRP signal coming from the north shore or Río de la Plata.

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In the end 46 QSOs were logged in 17 DXCC’s and 10 CQ Zones (see picture above). If the errors were within 10%, this result will be even better the one achieved last year. The only difference was in the antenna: last year I had used the mini-W3EDP (which for 15M operates much like an end-fed dipole), and this year I used a Par EndFedZ dipole 15M monobander. However, I ignore if this PAR antenna would have a much-improved efficiency over the mini (i.e., the PAR has its own end-feeding transformer but does not require a 4:1 unun or a T1 tuner).

Also, in the absence of a better score from another CX operating SOQRP 15B, this also means that CX7RT will continue being the CX SOQRP 15B record holder in the CQ WW DX CW (https://www.cqww.com/records.htm)

Although a few EU and one EA8 stations were heard calling CQ, no contact was possible beyond the Americas’ East coast. The Japan station has yet to confirm in either LoTW or eQSL but KH6J has since confirmed in LoTW. Contacts this far into the Pacific have been a regular feature while operating during sunset in past years. More surprising is to have been able to contact a VE station (Todd VE5MX from Weyburn, SK, promptly confirmed in LoTW. Thank you,Todd!). It is always a special thrill to contact Canada from Uruguay (the only two entirely sub-tropical countries in the Americas…).

Glad to be back on track operating CW /QRP/P and ready for the onset of Sun cycle 25…

First VE in the log from CX-land this year…

VE1JBC-3

A QRP contact with a VE station from CX-land is always a special pleasure for CX7RT. More so given current limitations in HF wave propagation.

After trying for several VE stations calling CQ in the WSJT-X FT8 waterfall, a QSO was readily completed with Brian VE1JBC in Tusket, NS. John has also since confirmed the QSO in LoTW.

This was an 8822 Km QSO, which is not an everyday achievement for an Elecraft KX3 with a 5W output into the 15m PAR EndFedZ monobander spanning the front of the balcony in an inverted “V” configuration.

This was the 17th time (out of a total of 408 QSO’s as CX7RT so far) that CX7RT reaches a station in Canada.

Thank you Brian VE1JBC, VY 73!

Need for a New FTDI Driver after Installing Safari v.12.0.1

This problem occurred without any warning or further instructions, so I am posting this just in case this happens to anyone else.

For a while I have been operating QRP with an Elecraft KX3 interfaced to a MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Late 2013) via a USB Signalink. The MacBook Pro is running macOS High Sierra v. 10.13.6.

Today, Safari v. 12.0.1 became available among the Mac updates. It was uploaded and readily installed and the computer restarted as required to complete the installation.

Everything looked normal. However, WSJT-X (v1.91 r8747) failed to handshake with the KX3. PTT was no longer possible via Hamlib and the frequency in the VFO ceased to be reflected on the window of the program. The same was true for Fldigi 4.0.18. The problem seemed to be that the FTDI driver for the KXUSB cable was no longer functional or detected by any of these programs.

A visit to the FTDI site for these drivers (http://www.ftdichip.com/Drivers/VCP.htm) allowed the download and installation of the 64-bit 2.4.2 FTDI driver released 2017-05-12 and “signed by Apple” for Mac OSX 10.9 or above. (It is possible that until now I may have been using a 32-bit version of the FTI driver).

Upon installing this driver and restarting the computer the “serial port” or “device” dev/tty.usbserial-AD01W0AF was again readily recognized by the digital software (WSJT-X v1.91 r8747 as well as Fldigi 4.0.18).

 

73 Jose CX7RT/VA3PCJ

First 15M QRP QSO’s Logged This Year from CX-land…

This afternoon, The SSN was zero, and propagation was indicated as “poor” for all HF bands higher than 40M… Nevertheless, in mid-afternoon, five new 5W DX QSO’s were possible using the FT8 mode in the 15M band. Also, during sunset, a Japan station (JA0PE) showed up in th WSTJ-X waterfall.

I never cease to be amazed at what is possible, even with no extraterrestrial help (the Sun, I mean…)  with a 7-meter resonnating inverted-vee with a 5W stanting wave…  Here are the QSO’s logged in this trip so far:

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Halloween Flight Turnes VA3PCJ into CX7RT…

After a 26-hour trip that spanned the entire Halloween night, VA3PCJ arrived in CX-land already turned into CX7RT. Within a few hours from arrival, the 15M PAR EndFedZ dipole went up as inverted-vee spanning the front and balcony of the small 3rd floor QTH in GF25id. The length of the wire, similar to that of the mini-W3EDP, is perfect for that kind of deployment. Also, being being naturally resonnant in the 15M band (a quick check with the miniVNA ensured that no ATU woud be needed) it is hoped that it will help given the prevailing poor HF propagation. By the time the KX3 was rigged and fired up (~10:00pm local) it was already past dusk and no signals were heard in CW, but the WSJT-X screen got quickly populated with calls in FT8.  Just a few CQ calls were enough for PSK-Reporter to show that CX7RT’s QRP 15M signal was being heard locally (PY and LU) and at least as far as VE9 and W6:

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Hope to have more to report in the coming days…

CQ’ing with Wolves…

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Considering the previous posting in the blog (https://thewakesileave.wordpress.com/2018/10/16/amateur-radio-in-literary-narrative-the-portable-transceiver-in-never-cry-wolf/), quite à propos, this morning I found an envelope in the mailbox containing a nery nice diploma with the beautiful artwork by C. Platt, representing… a wolf howling in the winter outdoors in front of a transceiver !

It would appear that last February, my only QSO in the MNQP-2018 (QRP, 20M, CW, with Randy N0C, who was also operating QRP) was enough to win “First Place” as W/VE SOQRP (http://www.w0aa.org/docs/mnqp/MNQP_2018_RESULTS.pdf) !

Thank you Minnesota Wireless Association. 73!

 

Amateur Radio in Literary Narrative: The Portable Transceiver in Never Cry Wolf

Never Cry Wolf

Farley Mowat published “Never Cry Wolf” in 1963. It is a first-person account of the “Lupine Project” that the main character of the story —who happens to have the same name as the author— conducts in the Barren Lands in 1958. Farley Mowat (the author), himself a renowned Canadian writer and naturalist (1921-2014) did have his own share of time in the Artic, and “Never Cry Wolf” clearly benefited from his personal experiences in the Canadian North and the Canadian government. However, the book pertains to the kind of literary narrative that, in Farley’s own words, lays “somewhere in between what was then a grey void between fact and fiction“, and though the truth may not have been altered, the facts may have been artistically doctored as in the case of some of Tristan Jones’ cruising real adventures. In addition to the narrator two other main characters appear in “Never Cry Wolf”: the wolf, portrayed with kindness and respect partly following actual observations made by the author while in the Canadian North, and the “homo bureaucratis“, also clearly portrayed following first-hand observations and treated with the respect that it deserves.

In the book a “portable transceiver” is used to achieve a DX QSO. This may well be part of the fiction. Nevertheless, it may be of interest to speculate which radio rig the author may have had in mind when he wrote the book. Here is a summary of the paragraphs related to this radio:

At the end of chapter three, the main character finally arrives in the Barren Lands where he is left alone at a point that the pilot of his “chartered air transport” accurately pinpoints at “Say about three hundred miles northwest of Churchill“. His instructions were to establish “a permanent base and immediately proceed by means of canoe and utilizing waterways…“. However, noticing the ground frozen and covered in snow he decides to call his bosses in Ottawa for further instructions. For this he goes “to work uncovering the portable radio and setting it up on top of a pile of boxes.” Upon opening the manual, he was “a little taken aback” to find that the rig was “intended for the use of forest rangers and could not normally be expected to work over ranges of more than twenty miles.” He nevertheless “connected the batteries, rigged the aerial, turned knobs and pressed buttons according to instructions — and went on the air.” The battery “was good for only six hours“. According to the text, such “mobile transmitters” were “licensed” by the Department of Transport and his own “call sign” was “Daisy Mae” (improbable call sign, an inverted euphemism for Mayday?). After one hour he “caught the faint echo of a human voice” and was able to “make out a gabble of words” that he identified “as Spanish.” The story goes to tell that the contact had been made with an “amateur operator in Peru“, due to what an “expert” later explains as a “mysterious phenomenon known as ‘wave skip’” caused by a “combination of atmospheric conditions” (a likely reference to Tropospheric ducting?).

From all this it can be deduced/speculated that the radio mentioned in the book must have been:

  • a portable/mobile transceiver available to the Canadian government/army in 1958,
  • possibly mobile, since it had to be set “on top of a pile of boxes“,
  • able to work in cold weather,
  • licensed by the Depart of Transport (?),
  • with batteries “operating as long as six hours” (and likely external as they had to be “connected“),
  • with a “manual” with “instructions“, “knobs” and “buttons“,
  • needing an “aerial“,
  • with maximum normal range of 20 miles (VHF?),
  • able to operate in phone mode (AM?),
  • transmitting in frequencies able to occasionally undergo DX propagation (Tropospheric Ducting or E Sporadic propagation?).

A VHF QSO between the Barren Lands and Peru would have been extremely unlikely since it would have needed to cover 8,000 to 9,000 kilometers. VHF DX QSOs have been documented, however both Tropospheric Ducting and E Sporadic Propagation seldom surpass distances in the order of 2,000 – 3,000 Km. However, quite intriguingly, the early Spring of 1958 corresponded to the very maximum of the biggest solar cycle (the nineteenth) with the highest SSN ever recorded happening in March 1958 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cycle_19).

The “forest rangers” was a TV series (1963-65) but the “Canadian Rangers” are part of the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve and the author was perhaps referring to a radio set in use by the Canadian Rangers in 1958.

Perhaps other radio amateurs better versed on vintage rigs might wish to speculate further as to which portable radio rig sporting the above specs would have been available to the Canadian government in 1958…

HVE FUN ES 73!

Haul Out 2018 and Some Statistics…

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Well, it happened… since last Saturday, for the seventh time since 2012, Sassy is again on her trailer and in the dry, ready for another Canadian Winter.

She was brought to Canada in March 2010 and stayed in “dry dock” that year and the next. However, every season since 2012 she has been occupying slip 16 in the X-dock at the marina of the Nepean Sailing Club. Here are some statistics:

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Estimating an outing every 2-3 weeks Sassy may have made close to 8 outings each season for a total of 50-60 so far. Estimated each outing at 10 nautical miles (NM), she would have been underway 80 NM each year for a total mileage so far of 500-600 NM. To these one would have to add her week-long cruising and gunkholing adventures in Georgian Bay and the upper Ottawa River in 2010-2015, which would add some 300-400 more miles for a total of 800-1000 NM already under her hull (belt?).

So far, thanks to the very able care of Alex C. (seen wearing rubber boots on the first picture in the composite above) and his colleagues at the J&S Service Station in Blackburn Hamlet, Sassy’s road-auxiliary (the 2006 CRD Jeep Liberty) is still going strong at over 150,000 Km. And also —knock wood— so has been so far Sassy’s skipper.

Looking forward to re-launching Sassy in 2019.