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Chasing from the woods


#1

Since there are no qualifying Summits within about a 2 hour drive from home, decided to try some chasing from a local state park to at least get out in the woods. Figured I could also test out my gear for when I do get to go to a summit. This included transport, setup, use, teardown and making sure everything was accounted for before departing.

I had just finished building my SOTA Tuner and thought this would also be a good time to test it. I’d had a couple of impromptu chasing events while testing antennas in the park, so figured it would be a good field test for the tuner.

Everybody is probably already familiar with the Hendricks SOTA Tuner, so I don’t need to add details on that one. If not, the link is:
http://www.qrpkits.com/sota.html

I’d also bought a 20 foot (about 6 meters) fishing pole that would work with the tuner to get both horizontal and vertical radiation. Plus I just like to play with antennas.

So last Wednesday I packed up the 817, new tuner, pole, other accessories and 6.4 Ah LiFePo 12v and headed to the park. I’d already adjusted the approximate antenna and counterpoise wire lengths to the tuner with my MFJ 259 analyzer and made simple knots at the correct lengths for each band. After extending to the proper length for a particular band, I just rolled the remaining length of wire into a quick coil. With all the other variables involved, I didn’t think this would hurt the antenna that much. Besides being much quicker to change bands, I figured it would allow more contacts instead of spending the time switching and configuring wires. The tuner handled it ok, will have to have a few tests to see if it helps or hurts.

After arriving at the park and hiking to a relatively high area I found a nice fallen tree to use as a backrest and lash the pole to.

The pole is visible lashed to the tree, the blue bungee wasn’t needed, so it’s just relaxing. The 817 is on the left of the glaring white rain poncho serving as a ground cloth. Had both the mic and Palm paddles hooked to the 817. The tuner is visible near the center with the gray antenna wire running up to the top of the pole and over to a tree. The white counterpoise wire runs off to the lower right. A few accessories are on the log, with the white blob on my jacket being the logbook. Wx was sunny and about 60 deg F, so a great day to be out.

The tuner worked really well, and the small LED was very visible in the direct sunlight. Very easy to see the dimming effect when tuning. The sweet spot is pretty sharp when tuning, but easy to get the dim indication. Given the small components inside, I did expect the tuning to be a bit sharp. When in the “Operate” switch setting the noise peak was easy to hear. Very satisfied with the tuner’s operation and ease of use. Especially after starting with a bag of parts. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but it’s hard to beat the fun of having something you build yourself perform as planned. The SWR dip was also evident on the 817’s meter.

I do enjoy the 817, but one day looking at a KX2. Those were pretty expensive, so I spent a few bucks with W4RT to upgrade the CW/SSB filters and battery system. A bit expensive, but nowhere near the price of a new KX2/3. Plus I still use 2m/440 on the 817. Definitely helps the receive and the new battery system is great. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to spring for a new KX2/3, just not yet.

After testing the antenna and field setup for the whole system, it turned out that the bands were terrible on Wed. The INTERCON net could barely hear me, but they were having trouble with a lot of other stations as well. Same for the Maritime Mobile net. I mainly tried 20m due to time limits, with a quick try on 17m. No spots were showing while I was out, and the nearest alert was for after I had to leave for other errands on my day off. At least the antenna got a good test and the tuner/antenna combo integrated well with the rest of the system. Felt good to be heard even in bad cndx, even though decent QSOs were hard. Plus I got to get out in the woods and enjoy a really nice day. The whole setup played well together, which was one reason for going out.

The whole works packs up fine in my fairly small pack, and the pole fits well strapped to the side

As a final note, I’d really recommend pulling everything out of the pack every now and then to look things over. I usually keep the 817 and accessories in a case in my truck. While pulling some pieces out, I noticed the old 817 NiCd battery pack in the bottom had started to corrode. Instant panic, but it was in a separate compartment than the radio, and none of the accessories were damaged. I use the pack a lot, and never thought to look in the very bottom. Hope this saves someone some grief.

Overall a very nice hike in the woods on a great day to be out. Got to play radio and even got a nap in while relaxing in the sun. Will try again to do same chasing. I’m sure a weekend would have better luck, but have to take the days off when you get them. Had a blast, and can’t wait to try it again.


#2

Hi Mike,
You say you can configure your antenna to be horizonal or vertical? How did that go? I normally find that horizontal or Inverted-V antennas work a lot, lot better when in a forest, than vertcals. On a clear, rocky summit both work well but the vertical is often easier to get set-up.

73 Ed.


#3

Ed,

I believe it’s a little of both. The antenna bit going to the top of the pole gives some vertical radiation. The part running from the top of the pole over to a tree (with a bit of downward slope since I’m not that tall and the handiest tree had no higher limbs) gives some horizontal polarization.

I know verticals are affected by trees, so tried finding a spot without nearby larger trees. The ones within about 3-4 meters of the antenna’s vertical section were no larger than about 10cm thick. The Feb QST has an article on how trees affect antennas, so am still examining that one. Guess I need to look closely before setting up an antenna in the forest, but those trees do make handy supports.

Since the antenna wire I had lying around was not the lightest, I didn’t use the smaller top pole section for fear of breaking it. So about half the length (on 20 meters) went up the pole while the other half was almost horizontal. On 17 meters most of the wire was vertical with about 3-4 meters of wire running somewhat horizontal. According to the tuner instructions this would provide a bit of both polarization types. How much of each I’m not really sure, will have to research a bit more. Hopefully someone on here who’s worked more with this type antenna can provide a better explanation. This is my first try using this antenna/tuner setup, I usually use the LNR 10-20-40 TFR or dipoles, so still experimenting.

I especially wanted to have 17m included with some vertical polarization so I could have better luck with you folks across the pond.

I’ll keep playing with the new antenna setup, and may at least have some subjective results after a few attempts. Hope to hear more detailed results from others who’ve already used this type antenna. Hope that answered your question without “building a watch when someone asks the time”.

73,

Mike


#4

Mike,

Thanks for your interesting report on your setup! You know what you’re doing, and I’m looking forward to hearing you on a SOTA summit when you can get to one.

I think I see paddles in one of your pictures!

Please consider 40M and 30M. With the solar flux so low, 20M is now often very long, and 40M and 30M are often the best bands to use for most of an activation. A few years ago 40M was often marginal at mid-day, noisy, with weak signals due to absorption. Now signals on 40M are often 599 and numerous, and it’s often possible to work chasers over 1000 miles away, even near noon! 30M is definitely longer than 40, and it really resembles what 20M was. 20M and 17M are long, and capable of DX even with QRP!

To use these four bands 40-30-20-17 requires some horsing around with tuners and wires, so it may take a while before you decide what to do and how to do it. The possibilities are many.

Most of the time I use a 66-foot #24 teflon wire for my activations, supported on a smaller and lighter pole than the one you have. I have a more complex tuner than the Hendricks one, similar in concept, with two variable caps and several switches to to allow covering a wider range of bands and impedances. I can match the 66-foot wire perfectly on all four bands, and often I just use it that way, with no counterpoise other than the gear. I also have a 52-foot wire with a 12-foot counterpoise, and that’s also an excellent system on all four bands. Both wires have links that can be used to achieve resonance on various bands, and I use them as well - but my RBN spots often show little difference between the various options.

I know it sounds crude, but the truth is that if you can get most of your power matched into the wire, with a very low SWR into the tuner - and you put up enough wire at least 10-15 feet up, on a summit, you are going to have a fine time, even with solar conditions as they are!

Going to the woods is a great idea - and if you can get away from local noise, even better.
I often go to local peaks that I’ve already activated, just to chase other SOTA ops from a good location!

73

George
KX0R


#5

George,

Thank you for the good words, but I always seem to be learning with this stuff. And I checked my logs - looks like we chatted in Feb 2016 while you were on Emerald Mountain. And it was on 30m CW. I did try some CW on 17,20, and a little on 30m, but only heard a few very low signals. I thought at first that I’d messed up the antenna, but then noticed how the signals were all fading in and out, so felt a bit better. Will have to make another trip and hope for better cndx to have a good test.

You were right on the paddles, I had planned to use my Palm paddles, but didn’t hear any signals that stayed up long enough. I did send a couple of CQs on CW, but no takers. If I’d had more time I’d have stayed longer and tried more on 30/40 before running off to work on more errands. Plus most folks were working in the middle of the week, so a Saturday would probably have been better.

I’ve read about your antennas in your previous posts, and it’s been interesting to see how you make those work. Looks like you’ve spent quite a bit of time and effort developing that antenna setup, And it works really well. I’ve used mainly dipoles and the LNR 10-20-40 Trail Friendly Antenna. The TFR works great, but I wanted to have 30m available for my MTR-3 and 17m for when the signals will reach across the pond. Also have a ZM-2 sitting on the workbench to finish, so hope to complete that one soon and try it out. Just have to wedge the time in to sit down and work on it.

As for using verticals near trees, I did have a GAP Challenger way back, about 32 feet tall. The manual did have a note about not erecting it near trees due to ill effects. The QST article (Feb 2018) also mentions tree losses in a vertical as well as overall forest losses in any antenna. I did try to pick a spot away from any large trees or trees in general. If time permits on the next outing, I’ll try more bands and antenna configurations. I know in the field you use what you have, but I’m sure it helps to try and optimize as much as possible.

Another reason for the story was to pass to other chasers that it’s fun and a bit more challenging to chase from the field, but also a lot of fun and helps prepare for being on a summit when able. You get to check and optimize your antenna system as well as the same for your pack. Plus you find what is and isn’t needed with a short hike vs carrying unnecessary gear on longer hikes. And finding how nice it would have been to have something (like bug repellent) on a short hike so you remember and don’t have to do without it and suffer on a much longer hike. A couple of folks have passed their technique for having checklists, and I’m also working on that. All hints are appreciated.

Aside from all the fun radio stuff, it’s amazing how much better my attitude gets after being out in the woods for a while and getting some exercise.

73,

Mike, N4VBV


#6

Aha, so it was an Inverted-L antenna set-up in that case, as you say some vertical, some horizontal radiation. It sounds as if you were effectively in a clearing, so the effect of the trees would not be that great.

Band conditions on the higher bands (20m and up) are aweful at the moment and I echo what George said, your better trying 40m & 80m at the moment.

If you are just starting in SOTA - either portable chasing or activating, I would strongly suggest you look at buying or building either a linked dipole or an off centre fed dipole. Both of these horizontally polarised antennas work very well and require no ATU as they either are near 50 ohms in the case of the linked dipole or has a 4:1 balun matching down to 50 ohms in the case of the OCF. I have worked from Germany to Australia using just 5w of SSB ( a couple of years ago whn conditions were better - I’d need 20-30w these days). So you don’t have to use a vertical to get DX, horizontal antennas can do it aswell.

Both of these antennas only require one fibre-glass mast for support as you run them in Inverted-V format and the elements themselves act as two guys by attaching a small length of cord to the end of the elements. That with the base of the post strapped to a fence post or similar is usually more than adequate to support the antenna.

73 Ed.