Monday, February 4, 2008

Equipment performance

We have received a number of requests for reports on the performance of our equipment. With the exception of our beach verticals which were damaged by the high winds and surf, and a laptop that failed, all of our radio equipment held up beautifully.

Here was the station set up:

Icom IC-7000 transceiver
LDG AT-7000 tuner
KD9SV Dxpedition II 80/160m preamp
Acom 1010 amp
Daiwa vswr meter
Dunestar bandpass filter
Microham CW Keyer
Heil Proset Quite Phone
Bencher paddle
Astron SS-30 power supply
Sony Vaio laptop running Win-test

Elecraft K2 transceiver
K9AY 80/160m preamp
Acom 1010 amp
Dunestar bandpass filter
Microham CW Keyer
Bose headset
Bencher paddle
Astron SS-30 power supply
Dell laptop running Win-test

Antennas - all beach mounted verticals near the high tide line
Force 12 Sigma 40XK - set up for 40m
Force 12 sigma 40XK - set up for 20m
Sigma 5 - band switchable from 20 to 10m remotely from in the shack
15m 1/2 wave vertical dipole built on a MFJ telescoping pole, and Fosters beer bottle balun
80m 1/4 wave vertical held up with a Spyderbeam 60 ft. telescoping pole
160m 1/4 wave inverted L held up with a Spyderbeam 60 ft. telescoping pole
17m / 30m dipole

Electrical Power - Shortly after checking into our motel room and before plugging in any of the equipment, we measured the 220 vac and found it to be about 204 vdc. It measured about 204 vdc on two different voltmeters. This concerned us somewhat, but there wasn't anything we could do about it, so we powered up the equipment with this as the mains voltage. We considered changing the primary voltage strapping in the Acom 1010 amps, but decided to give them a try first. The amps never complained, nor did the Astron 12 vdc supplies.

Once we had the equipment powered up, we did not turn it off during our 3 week stay. Our motel room was not air conditioned, and the humidity level was quite high. Turning off the equipment would have caused condensation to form and, potentially, cause electrical failures when turned back on, especially in the amplifiers. From previous DXpeditions to J7 where we also had had high humidity, we learned to keep the equipment powered up during the entire time of the stay.

IC-7000 transceiver - this radio performed well. It has an amazing amount of functionality for such a small package. It contains DSP, so there is no need for optional filters, thus allowing a wide range of bandpass options for various receiving conditions. Generally, I operated on CW with 700 hz or 500 hz bandpass, although occasionally, I would go down to 300 hz if the noise level was high, but that was rare.

This is a menu driven radio, and becoming familiar with all the various menu selections took time. This was a new radio for me, and I had used it only sparingly from the home station prior to the trip to E51. From home I concentrated on how to set up the radio for working split and adjusting the receive bandpass, as this would be key for working the pile ups. Once in E51, these menu functions quickly became second nature.

My only complaint with the IC-7000 was the effect strong stations would have on receiving. They tended to overload the front end and obliterate the other stations in the pile up. I had to "ride" the RF gain control down to levels where I could better copy the strong stations and work them quickly to get them out of the way. We have all experienced this effect, but I felt that it was worse than I had seen with other radios, especially my home station IC 756ProII. The dynamic range just wasn't what it should have been. In retrospect, I did not try operating with the AGC turned off; maybe that would have helped.

99% of our QSOs were on CW. I did work some SSB on 40m and 20m. The radio performed well in both modes. We did not operate any digital modes.

Acom 1010 - These 700 watt-rated amps performed without a hitch. We ran them anywhere from 500 to 700 watts for the entire operation. The amps will withstand up to 200 watts of reflected power before faulting off. These are sturdy units, and withstand the rigors of shipping without problems. It is not necessary to remove the single tube for shipping. One amp was packed in a GemStar case, and the other in a Pelican. In a GemStar case, the amp weighs in at about 51 lbs, so it not subject to overweight charges with the airlines. What more can I say!

Antennas - The beach mounted verticals performed spectacularly well....when they worked! We were loud. The only difficulty that we had with them was keeping them up in high winds and pounding surf, and preventing salt spray from shorting out connections. It took us 5 days to fully set up the 6 verticals. We initially set them up on the beach at the high tide mark. However, after a week of calm seas, the weather changed and high winds set in, making it difficult to maintain the verticals in the rough surf. We had numerous failures of PL-259 connectors due to salt spray shorting them out. We finally resorted to eliminating many of the PL-259s and twisting wires together and taping them with electrical tape to prevent the failures. On the Monday morning after the CQWW CW contest, four of the verticals had blown down. The next morning, the two Spyderbeam telescoping poles snapped in two like toothpicks.
The F14 Sigma 40XKs must be taken down and coils or horizontal elements changed to change bands. Taking the 40XKs down proved to be too difficult and time consuming for the two of us to do quickly or easily, so we simply fixed one on 40m and the other on 20m. Unless there is a lot of time and manpower available for antenna maintenance, any thoughts of using these antennas on multiple bands should be quickly squelched, in my opinion!

The F14 Sigma 5 worked well until salt spray shorted out the pc board on which the coils and relays are mounted. After several days of running this antenna with the amp (500 to 700 watts), an arch-over happened on the pc board resulting in high vswr. We disassembled the unit and found a carbon trace burned into the board. Although we could have scraped away the carbon trace, we figured that it would arc again, so we completely removed the board and reassembled the antenna without the coils and relays. The antenna resonated at 32 mHz. We added 10" wires to each of the four horizontal elements, and this brought resonance down to 28 mHz. Thus it became our 10m antenna. However, without the band switching, we no longer had the other bands, namely 17m, 15m and 12m that we needed. To compensate, we built the Foster's vertical dipole for 15m, and a dipole for 30m and 17m.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The E51A, E51MMM, E51NNN Story

The E51A, E51MMM, E51NNN Story

Faraway places with strange sounding names like Rarotonga called Ron Feutz, KK9K, and me, George Wagner, K5KG, for the CQWW CW Contest this past November. Rarotonga is the main island of the South Cook Islands, and we were there from November 12 to December 1, 2007. Not only had we gone there for the contest and to have fun running DX pile ups, but it turned out to be a more exciting and challenging experience than we expected.

Overall Experience
First of all, setting up and maintaining antennas on the beach proved to be exhausting. Getting to the beach proved to be difficult; the way down was steep, slippery, and over layers of volcanic boulders and loose coral that had accumulated over the millennia. It took us a full 5 days to get everything set up. When we arrived, and for several days to follow, the weather was mild and the sea was calm. Under these conditions, we placed our vertical antennas close to the water line; a mistake that would cost us dearly.

Second, about half way through our three-week visit, the weather turned nasty. A low pressure system put in causing gale force winds and hard rains for days on end — something that we were not expecting, and were definitely not prepared for. At one point, we did not see the sun for over a week. And lastly, getting acquainted with the local hams and learning about the Cook Island’s Maori culture proved to be both enjoyable and interesting. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

We had planned this trip since our last dxpedition to Dominica, J7, in February 2007. Over a few 807s in J7, Ron and I decided that a more distant location was what we wanted to try. Ron, being a low-band DXer, sought a location that was especially rare on 160M. Over the ensuing months, we considered a number of South Pacific locations for our trip, but settled on Rarotonga after consulting with Kenny, K2KW, and his web site. Kenny had had a successful operation at the Kii Kii Motel in Rarotonga several years before, and we were intrigued by the thought of vertical antennas on a north-facing beach in the Southern Hemisphere. We also spoke with Bob, W7YAQ, and Bill, N7OU who had operated from Rarotonga over the past couple of years. Although warning us that the beach at the Kii Kii was rocky and that we would have problems with corrosion due to salt spray, Kenny, Bob and Bill failed to warn us about the treacherousness of the beach during howling winds, crashing surf and driving rain storms!

The Shack and Equipment
Ron used his Elecraft K2 transceiver, and George used his IC 7000. Each station was equipped with an Acom 1010 amp, a Dunestar bandpass filter, a MicroHam CW Keyer, and a laptop running Win-Test logging software. Acom accommodated a last minute failure of two of our amps by loaning us an Acom 1010. Due to the humidity in the non-air conditioned motel room, none of our equipment was ever turned off. Electrical power at the motel was stable and reliable. All of the radio equipment and Win-Test performed without any failures.

We successfully installed 6 monoband verticals on the beach — 160M, 80M, 40M, 20M, 15M and 10M plus a low sloping dipole for 30M & 17M. We also installed two receiving antennas, a 300 foot Beverage and a pennant, both pointing northeast which worked very well. All of the verticals were easily within a few feet of high tide. At high tide some of the verticals were even in the surf, which later proved to be a mistake due to the rough weather. Performance wise, the verticals were fantastic, and we generally got excellent signal reports on all bands. However, once the weather turned bad, the winds, pounding surf and salt spray took their toll on the antennas!

Ingenuity at its best
Some days into the operation, our multi-band Sigma 5 vertical failed. Salt spray took its toll, and an arc developed across its relay-switching/coil board, rendering it unusable. Ron reasoned that the antenna without its coils would be self-resonant on 10M, so we simply removed the burned board and reassembled the antenna. It turned out to be self-resonant at 32 mHz, so we added 10” wire extensions to each of the horizontal aluminum elements, thereby bringing its resonance down to 28 mHz. (Walla, a 10M antenna that would ultimately yield 476 QSOs!)

The failure of the Sigma 5 left us without antennas for 17M, 15M and 12M. Ron, being the antenna wizard that he is, did two things: he added 17M elements to our 30M dipole and built a 15M dipole. For the 15M dipole he used a Foster’s beer bottle as the coil form for a balun which he wound with RG-58/U coax. We then taped the element wires to an MFJ telescoping pole and mounted it vertically on the beach. This was one of our best performing antennas that did not fail even during the strongest winds.

Operating Results
In total, for our 20 days on Rarotonga, we amassed a total of 12,797 QSOs, excluding 545 dupes. (Too much antenna maintenance due to bad weather prevented us from having more QSOs.) With the exception of a handful of SSB QSOs, all QSOs were in CW, reflecting our undying love of running CW pile ups. (All QSLs for these contacts should go directly to K5KG with an s.a.s.e. NOTE: There is no QSL Bureau in the Cook Islands!)


















































Our daily operating routine was to get on the air about 3 am local (1300z), and work 40M & 80M thru sunrise, and then switch to 20M and later to 15M. Conditions at these times were excellent. By mid-day, however, the bands would drop out, and that is when we would do antenna work and catch up on sleep. Then late afternoon, around 4 pm (0200z), the bands would pick up, and we then operate up until about 1000z for the night. Unfortunately we missed many the East Coast sunrises due to our sleep cycle.

North and South America and the Pacific were easy to work. Europe, on the other hand, was most difficult. We got the best European openings on 40M, but they were sparse. The JAs were usually always present, and it was fun accumulating them on the various bands. The biggest operating problem we had was the relentless “Chinese Dragon” —said to be an over-the-ground radar from BY-land. It was especially bothersome on 40M where, at times, it would blanket the entire band, and be nearly impossible to work through. Fortunately, it was quiet at times, and then 40M was like a dream.

We enjoyed the hospitality of the local hams, all two of them! Victor, E51CG, Victor’s YL, Eleanor, and Jim, E51JD, were very cordial, and made us feel right at home. In advance of our arrival, Victor obtained our E51MMM and E51NNN licenses and assisted us with logistics. Victor met us at the plane when we arrived at 6 am and helped us greatly by transporting us and our excessive luggage to the motel. After that, we would often find ourselves at Victor’s QTH scrounging one thing or another. (Two days before the CQWW CW Contest, we requested a contest-only call sign, E51A, which was courteously granted without question by the Telecom licensing chief. According to Victor and Jim, this was the first single-letter call sign issued in the Cook Islands!)

I have been on many DX operations, but one thing distinguished this one from the others – the Internet. We did not have access to the Internet at the motel, but we could buy access time at the local Telecom office. Since this broadband service was both slow and expensive, we did not take time to answer all the incoming emails. We were, however, able to arrange several 160M contacts by coordinating times and frequencies with the zealous 160M ops in JA-land.

With no availability of the Internet at the shack we, of course, did not have access to a Telnet DX cluster. This proved to be a limitation in the CQWW CW contest, and relegated us to being two “run” stations with little time for “searching and pouncing”. In addition, we did not have a third “multiplier” station or a third operator to run it. We used our back up radio, an IC706, to listen for 10M openings by monitoring W6, KH6 and JA beacons on 28.2 mHz.

I mentioned earlier that locating our antennas too close to the water line would cost us dearly. In advance of the contest, the weather turned bad, and we had increasingly strong winds and hard rains throughout the contest week end. On Monday morning after the contest, four of the verticals had either been blown down or knocked down by the surf. Two nights later the wind reached its peak around 3 am, and the two 60 ft. fiberglass poles supporting the 80M and 160M antennas snapped in two like pretzels! Fortunately, everything held up during the contest.

Our 15M vertical dipole built on an MFJ mast held up through the roughest winds because it was very lightweight and, therefore, presented little wind resistance. We will consider more of these lightweight antennas on our next venture. Not only are they lightweight, they are inexpensive, easy to transport, and save on excess baggage charges.

In conclusion, we declared the trip a raging success. How could we not? We made in excess of 12 thousand QSOs, scored well in CQWW CW, made life-long friends, enjoyed the beautiful Maori culture, and came away without a scratch! Now we are asking ourselves, where to next?

73, George Wagner - E51MMM / K5KG

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

E51MMM - NNN Update - 27 Nov

We worked CQWW CW as E51A, and had a successful finish with 5500+ QSOs and 6.4 meg. Very pleased with our reslts.

Wx has turned very bad. High winds - 60 mph+ plus gusts - driving rain and high surf. On Monday morning after the contest four of our antennas were knocked down, and today our two 60 ft. fiberglass masts holding our 80m and 160m antennas were snapped in two. We will attempt repairs to try and get back on 160. Pse don't expect any more 80m operation. We should be able to get back on 20, 15 and 10, but no WARC bands. We are safe, and that is good!!!

Plan is to QSY home on Saturday night flight back to LAX.

I will try to post some photos to the blog.

73, Geo...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Top Band Operations - JA

Yosi, JA3AAW, provided the following information about 160m meter operation in JA:

JA stations can transmit only 1810 - 1825 kHz.

There is QRM on the following frequencies in most JA areas:
1818, 1820, 1827, 1832, and 1836 kHz. We will try to avoid transmitting on any of these frequencies.

73, George K5KG / E51MMM
QSY to E51 in 3 days and counting!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Top Band Operations

We have been receiving many requests for 160m and 80m QSOs from European stations, and we will do our best to honor them. In reviewing our operating plan, it is only a guess at this point as to what times will work out best for Top Band QSOs. However, European sunset and E51 sunrise coincide nicely, so be on the lookout for openings from 1330z to 1430z. Also, watch at E51 sunset time (0450z) for an hour or so as EU is coming into sunrise. Openings to the US could occur from about 0700z to up to 1400z or 1500z. Openings to JA could occur from about 0800z to our E51 sunrise at 1552z.

E51 Sunrise - 1552z
E51 Sunset - 0454z

Our plan is to be QRV with two 700 watt stations using Acom 1010 amps, so we can be on any two bands simultaneously. Antennas, as mentioned in our previous post, will be as follows:

160m - Inverted L on 20m fiberglass pole
80m - Vertical on 20m fiberglass pole
40m - Phased F12 40m Sigma vertical dipoles
20 - 10m - F12 Sigma vertical dipoles

All antennas are planned to be near the high water mark on the north shore of Rarotonga, in S. Cooks.

Any additional information that can be provided about optimal times for 160m and 80m openings will be appreciated. Also, please let us know what are preferred tx frequencies for us in E51.

73, George, K5KG - E51MMM

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

E51 Planning

Ron and I have been planning this trip since early in 2007. With the help of Victor, E51CG, we obtained our E51 licenses several months ago. Visitors are limited to 3-letter call signs, so we opted for E51MMM and E51NNN, as those seemed best for our planned concentration on CW.

Here is the run down on our two stations: Elecraft K2 and Icom IC 7000. Antennas will be "verticals on the beach" - one Force 12 Sigma 5, two Force 12 Sigma 40XK's fed through a Comtek phasing box, 160m inverted L, 80m vertical, two beverages and one pennant antenna. The 160m and 80m antennas will be held aloft on 60 ft. telescoping fiberglass poles. Our QTH is the Kii Kii Motel on the north shore of Rarotonga, the main island of the Cooks. The Kii Kii, which comes highly recommended, has been the home of many DXpeditions to Rarotonga.

Logistics: Ron and I will each be carrying all the gear with us. Nothing has been shipped in advance. In addition to our carry-on bags, each of us will check through four pieces of luggage. Weight limits have been carefully checked with the airlines - United and Air NZ - and we are expecting to pay a reasonable amount for excess weight.

Victor, E51CG, Bob, W7YAQ, and Bill, N7OU have all been invaluable in answering our many questions about operating from Rarotonga. Victor lives there, and Bob and Bill have recently operated from there.

Time to departure: 11 days and counting!

73, George, K5KG