Belgian HF Devils ride again – part III
After two episodes in 2006 and 2011 it was time for OT1A and ON5ZO to give it another try. This year we didn’t plan much and I did almost zero preparation except loading up the gear on my little trailer. OT1A was in charge of location, RF and IT. That translates to his huge garden, his TRX, his laptop and keying devices. I brought along a K3 just in case. My main contribution was the homebrew tilt-over construction and the aluminum tubing, guying stuff and coax / wires. We settled for OT1A’s MFJ autotuner with DC injection over the coax. My SGC antenna coupler was there as a spare. We had the luxury of having a backup generator (my classic model), while we actually used a Honda 20i with inverter technology. That one turned out to run quieter. And much to our surprise it consumed very little fuel over the whole period. Clearly a good choice if you’re in the market for such a device.
The week leading up to the field day event I made two extra aluminum sections. Thus we gained three meter in height. Last year in my ‘one man show’ I raised this tower with the dipole already attached but this year I mounted a pulley. This way I can raise the mast with the winch, and pull up the antennas after the mast is erected and guyed. All this wisdom comes from hard lessons learned in the previous editions where setting up always turned out to be problematic. Bottom line is that my welding evening course has paid for itself by now.
Friday was boiling hot and the day ended with serious thunderstorms. Over my QTH there was a fierce one with VERY strong gusts. It even shifted the yagi-dipole combination out of line once again. Slightly yet visible. This reminded me of the 2014 scenario. I’m pretty sure the tent would not have survived this one. The long thunderstorm blew away the tropical heat and lightning was seen for hours after. The forecast for the weekend was ideal for FD.
Saturday morning the forecasters turned out to be spot on. Sunny and not too warm. I hooked up the trailer and with the trunk of the car piling up with a portable station, I arrived at OT1A’s forty minutes later. The tent was already in place. To cut a long story short: all went according to the scenario and without any problem, really not a single problem. The mast and antenna were up in the air, guyed, ladder line attached and the ends suspended seven meters above the ground. The only problem not even worth mentioning was the holes in the aluminum sections. I drilled and aligned them at home so it was a perfect fit for the bolts. In the field, in a less stable and flat environment, I learned that it might be better to drill the hole half a millimeter bigger than the bolt size. But in the light of the problems we had to overcome in the previous years, this was nothing. That took us two hours at a gentle pace. No sweat, no blood. Only a light sunburn I discovered afterwards. We couldn’t believe we were done already. With so much time to spare, we drove to town for lunch.
After lunch we set up the station the tent. Again: a breeze. I set up the N1MM soft and tested the messages. The rig worked and the antenna coupler presented fifty ohms on all three bands. We entered ‘restricted’ (160+80+40). We were done almost two hours before the start. That felt weird. Usually we are ready two minutes after the start. Not so this year. Not even a drop of sweat. No stress. And no juicy goofball stories about who messed up what.
The field day itself ran along as predicted. A few hundred contacts in the first hours. Then the rate dropped. Along with the sun. Along with the temperatures. It was very cold after sunset and even colder during the night hours. Both of us were tired and we operated in shifts of roughly two hours. We tried to sleep some but it was too cold for a quality nap and the rate too slow for fun on the bands. Moreover 160 turned out to be a problem. Either the antenna is crap there or the band was in poor shape. Much noise and static, little or no signals. So I stuck to 40 and when K3ZO called in for the USA mult I asked to QSY to 80 but I got a ‘too early’ from him. Makes sense as it was about half an hour before his sunset if I remember well. Later on he called me on 80 but mult credit there goes to K1ZZ. Too bad it was useless to drag someone to 160. Not much other DX logged on either band.
As soon as the sun came up the tent warmed up and soon it reached a pleasant temperature. With the sunrays heating me up I think I had a good nap. That caused probably more QRM than the silent generator, sorry for that! Two constants for the rest of the event: little or no rate and many, many dupes. We took half an hour off to have lunch together with the families and resumed operations. We counted down the minutes because there was not much to count up in the log. With one hour to go we were visited by UBA official ON6HI. We had a nice chat and he was so kind as to provide a helping hand with lowering the mast and disassembling it. It took us 75 minutes to clean everything up, even the tent.
In retrospect it is very time consuming and much work for a bunch of local HF contacts. You really have to be crazy to keep on doing this. Before the CW part I considered doing the SSB part too, now that the antennas go up so easily. But calling CQ in SSB for ten minutes on end before someone answers? Even with a DVK, there is no fun in that.
I wonder how the competitors did?