Sunday, March 28, 2010

Comedy in the woods

As someone who likes a walk in the great outdoors I enjoy reading accounts of people who take their radios out into the countryside for a bit of QRP fun. Today I thought I would try to emulate them. However although I did make a few contacts the attempt was a bit of a disappointment on several counts. Even the photos I took with my camera self-timer were disappointing as the operator completely obscured the radio and a picture of myself sitting on the ground at the foot of a tree apparently talking to my hand is not something I feel should be preserved for posterity on the internet.

As the CQ WW WPX SSB contest was on I thought this would be a good opportunity to make some QRP SSB contacts. The batteries in the FT-817ND seemed to be less than fully charged, and the battery endurance of that radio is poor enough already thanks to its power-hungry receiver. I decided to take my K2 instead, which would give me the benefit of 10W output and really punchy audio. So the local dog walkers witnessed the odd sight of someone setting off up the forestry track into the woods near Watch Hill wearing boots and rucksack and carrying a small Pelican case.

Fifteen minutes later they would have witnessed the even odder sight of the same person trying to throw a stick with a bit of wire attached over a tree branch. Now I know why the MP-1 was invented! After about ten minutes of persevering I managed to get the wire over a branch about 12ft high. The stick hung down the other side tantalizingly out of reach and I spent the next five minutes trying to hook it with the end of my walking stick so that I could pull the wire taut and secure the end of it.

I had previously prepared two lengths of wire for my portable antenna. One is about 22ft long, and has a few feet of nylon cord attached to the end for tying to sticks or rocks to hurl over branches and then secure in position as the radiating element. The other is about 16ft long and is laid out along the ground as a counterpoise. They are fixed to the red and black terminals respectively of a BNC to binding post adapter which is plugged in to one of the antenna sockets of the K2. The reason for the selection of these particular lengths is that I seem to recall them being suggested by Elecraft as good lengths to use with the T1 portable auto-tuner.

There are no picnic benches or tables in the forest so I just sat down on the ground and used the Pelican case as a table. The K2 sat on that, and the antenna ran off directly behind it at about a 45 degree angle, over the tree branch and down a few feet at the other side. The counterpoise ran off at right angles.

I switched on the K2 which was still on 15m from my last mobile outing and immediately heard many strong signals. However signals didn't seem as loud or as plentiful as I would have expected during a major contest. I pressed the Tune button and the K2 ATU whirred away and finally delivered its verdict: 9.9:1! It couldn't match it!

I didn't hear anything on 10m so that wasn't worth trying. I got a usable SWR on 17m but there was hardly any activity on that band. On 20m the best SWR was between 2:1 and 2.5:1, and on 40m I managed to get 1.5:1. Unfortunately the K2 is a bit SWR-sensitive - something I never noticed during the years I used it as my main home station when I could always get a 1.2:1 or better - and it flashed up Hi Cur (high current) when I tried to use 10W on 40m. So I had to back my power down to use that band, which didn't help matters.

I made nine contacts in less than an hour's operating, which included a break to eat my sandwiches:
1130   7.113  ON5SY   59  609  59  001
1131 7.123 PI4Q 59 801 59 002
1133 7.167 PA6Z 59 1022 59 003
1138 7.123 SP4TKR 59 1130 59 004
1143 14.286 YL6W 59 2416 59 005
1212 14.292 HG1S 59 1821 59 006
1215 14.315 OG6N 59 1450 59 007
1217 14.321 SN2B 59 2772 59 008
1218 14.335 SP9LJD 59 1876 59 009
But these were not nice easy contacts like I made using the same radio and the same power from the car using the MP-1 antenna. My thanks, as well as my apologies to the stations that wasted valuable minutes trying to pull my call and serial number out of the ether.

It was getting a bit cold and I felt a few spots of drizzle so I decided to call it a day. I think I'll stick to taking VHF on hikes in future.
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