Field day CW 2011

Belgian HF Devils ride again – part II

After all the preparation on Thursday, I had to load everything on the trailer and in the car to haul it to ON4CCP’s place. Friday afternoon the sun was burning and the wind was blowing – hard! CCP sent me a text message: wind too strong to put up tent. I can imagine, since the gusts were pretty strong at my place too. Soon sweat was dripping from my body: three concrete blocks each 50 kilograms, the generator (estimated 70-80kg), the coax, the metal tripod holding the telescopic mast, all the boxes etc etc. I even had tons of spares and prepared an extensive toolkit to have the right tools at hand. It would have been easier for ON4CCP to come to my place with only a tent to carry but then again his location is much better while I would have to look for one and it would not feel like a field day to me.

I arrived at Koen’s house around 17.00 local time, just in time to start the preparation. Indeed the wind was blowing hard so setting up the tent was immediately postponed to Saturday. We unloaded everything and went to work. Sweat, burning sun and me running to catch my blown off sun hat that became a toy for the wind several times. Unrolling coaxes, extracting fiber glass fishing poles, mounting the concrete blocks to the tripod base. Hard work! I really wanted to have the antennas ready today. Then it was time to put up the mast. “How high does it go?”, Koen asked. I concurred with his view that 12m is not high. But high enough given the wind. We both had justified worries. The wind did NOT work with us but blew hard against us. It was a struggle to get it up (three trials, two fails) and once it was up, it got bent by some strong gusts. Even if it was guyed! Maybe the bent was due to one of our two failing (and falling) efforts? The long wire antennas proved to be a heavy load to bear. We used SpiderBeam poles to keep the dipole’s ends as high as possible. And looooooong ropes to fix the 160m antenna and keep ‘m high.

We were already working for almost five hours. That’s long given the simplicity but with only two men doing all the work… We had troubles driving in the poles that would hold the fishing poles. With the long draught, the soil was hard as concrete. We used a ground drill but the soil didn’t really ‘clamp’ around the poles so they were wiggling. Then finally came the first resonance check. As I feared, the resonances were off. On 80m, 200kHz and 100kHz on 160m while ballpark figure on 40m. That would be job n° 1 on Saturday morning. Now it was time for a cold drink, a snack and an overview of a bent antenna installation in the setting sun.

Back again on Saturday, around noon – more than 5 hours to go. The wind had settled a bit and the tent was already put in place when I got there. It was a nice brand new tent but CCP better had bought the airco option instead of the sauna module! A smiling Koen welcomed us. He was relaxed: “More than time enough!”. I was stressed: “Something will go wrong.” Running gag left over from 2006: we don’t have any gas yet to fuel the generator! That year we were filling up the jerry cans 10 minutes before the start!

I set up the station: my K3, switching PSU, laptop, Winkey. We decided not to use the bias T’s and the A/B relay. I had a second long run of RG-217 we could use, and why add more possible ‘points of failure’ when we could eliminate that? Let’s not give Murphy a stick to beat us! We would switch A/B with CCP’s manual antenna tuner used as a simple switch.

Then we adjusted the antennas. My fear became reality. The 40/80m antenna and 160m dipole had been perfectly resonating with low SWR at my place, but NEVER when the two got used together. That’s one of ON5ZO’s laws!

The clock was ticking so on 160m we deciced not to prune anymore and use the manual tuner to match the antenna and make the K3 happy. ON4CCP does not agree but I did not buy the K3 ATU option (yet 🙂 ). We could leave the tuner untouched since it would only be used on 160m. Then finally we got 80/40 with a perfect match, but on the shack’s end the values were off. Huh? Let’s get real: use the tuner? But then we would need to readjust the tuner on each QSY. So we ended up with Koen’s Mark V in the shack. That one has 2 antenna inputs and ATU so we could also eliminate the manual tuner.

Back to antennas. Now the 40/80m dipole. That one had a promising SWR plot the night before. But now: sometimes a perfect match, sometimes infinite SWR. Things were looking ugly. No 40/80 antenna (it did work yesterday!) and still no gas for the generator. After extensive trying, testing and swapping it boiled down to a faulty PL connector on my RG-217 cable. Hey I tested that. Twice at home. And yesterday it worked. But now it doesn’t. Exit RG-217 so ON4CCP took one of his coax cables and we were all set.

We still had about two hours to go. We take down everything we don’t need anymore and move it into the garage, safe from harm. Stuff like the K3 and PSU, and the manual antenna tuner. Still no gas for the generator, but after I connect my laptop and WinKey to the FT-1000 MkV, plenty of time left to fill the jerry cans. I plug in the jack from the keyer and the rig starts sending dits. What gives? I don’t know this rig, probably a button or menu setting. Nothing obvious as the rig keeps ditting away. Koen runs through the menus, we try a couple of things but no go. The manual shows a drawing and I unscrew and open the jack plug. I don’t remember the drawing’s details but my conclusion was that the stereo jack was shorting something in the transceiver’s keying input. I checked with my DVM for tip-ring-sleeve, and just like the cliffhanger scene in a thrilling movie, I decide to leave the blue wire and cut the red one. An well thought over gamble. Sweat pouring down in the sauna-tent. The rig does not send dits when I plug in the keyer’s cable. I try sending from the paddle: that works. Success! I launch N1MMLogger with WinKey support and try the messages: all ok! YES, we’re almost there. But still no gas for the generator, about one hour to go.

I hook up the USB-to-serial cable, or at least try to: gender problem! My cable ends in a male DB9, but so does the FT1k’s CAT port. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH… Dozens of gender changers and reverse gender cables at home, but not here. I report the next road block and CCP runs off to his shack. He didn’t seem hopeful to find the necessary item to get CAT going, so I sit down in a chair, wipe off the sweat and come to terms with not having CAT. Not a show stopper, but it will be dangerous to forget to change the logger’s frequency when QSY’ing on the rig. This is as much as my flexibility can handle. Then Koen comes running, waving and cheering: gender changer found! I insert it and hook up the cables. We’re up and running with CW keying, CAT, logging and ATU-ified antennas. Still no gas for the generator, half an hour to go. I quickly change clothes to start with a fresh outfit and we’re off to fill the jerry cans. While we’re at it, CCP fills up his car. Then he inserts his card a second time in the paying terminal but gets a ‘rejected – please wait’ message. For security reasons, you cannot use a card twice in a short time span. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!!! We wait a minute or two and retry. Bingo, card accepted, we tank about 15 liters of fuel for the generator. We drive back with 15 minutes to go. CCP jokingly says we’re making progress. We had 10 minutes left in 2006, and now we’re heading to the station 15 minutes before the start of the contest err… field day.

Once there we fill up the generator’s tank, I start the generator and run back to the tent under a burning sun. Once in the shack, it turns out there is no power. Now what? A few minutes left! The generator stopped running. AAARRR… no wait: I forgot to turn the fuel valve open. A quick commute between tent and generator and one minute left – literally. I take a towel, wipe my face and start running the field day – Belgian HF Devils style. We run, the contacts roll in, and all setbacks are soon forgotten. About half an hour later, I try to log an exchange then suddenly a popping sound and no more RX. The rig fell out. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH  and a doze of severe profanity. What’s up? Koen sees that the power on LED of the dedicated Yaesu power supply is off. When he touches the power supply, he feels that it’s glowing hot. The first casualty of the boiling heat! We hope it’s only that and nothing worse! At least there is no typical stench of burning components. We blow into the vent holes but that does not bring the power supply back. Must be a thermal safety that needs to cool down. Now what? We decide not to wait, and run back to get the K3, PSU and manual tuner. This is not good for rate, heart and mental health. The heat! The stress! Recovering from this disaster took us exactly twenty two minutes. That’s how long between the last Yeasu and first K3 QSO. Half an hour of indoor cooling down later, the Yaesu power supply comes back to life but we decide to leave things as they are. After all: it’s only 160m that needs the tuner, we use the bypass function on the other two bands.

From then on, it’s business as usual. Lots of running, and only a small amount of necessary S&P. Honestly: we really want to put down the best Belgian score. I speak for myself now, but let’s not bullshit around: I do this for the competition and not ‘for fun’. Heck, the fun is in the competing! No drinking or BBQ for me during the contest err field day. A couple of possible competitors decided not to participate, so the only ‘enemies’ I need to keep a close eye on were my good friends in the joint effort of the GBN and NNV clubs operating ON6JUN/P. These two clubs are based close to my QTH and many of those guys are good ham-friends. It was always comparing QSO numbers when we came across them. But being off the air with the power failure did not really help us. I seem to remember we were only about 35 QSO behind after swapping the transceivers. My friends at ON4NOK/P were also possible winning material and pounding away ahead of us too. Let’s give them a run for their money. And vice versa it became clear there were some tough crews in the running.

I don’t remember many details. We just called CQ mostly. Around midnight we discussed how we would get through the night. I operated 40 and 80 until 00.00 UTC. Then ON4CCP takes over. My last act was S&P’ing 160 and trying to run but it didn’t produce a lot of contacts. Koen took over and I decided to take a nap. In the mean time it started drizzling outside. Luckily the predicted T-storms and showers with stormy winds stayed away. It cooled down to the point I even put on a sweater. I took a three hour nap and got up with sore limbs. Koen briefed me about his nightly run, we filled up the generator together and I started doing Low Band sunrise. The rates were low. I was heavily disappointed in 160m: did we move there too late? Too early? Poor antenna? No activity? Crappy propagation? As it turned out, 40m was the band to be on. Nothing spectacular but at least we could log contacts as opposed to 80/160. It became clear that I would need to move multipliers from band to band. EI7GY was happy to move down to 80 for a multiplier. F5VHY walked with me to 160m for an F on Top Band. Low rates but at least we gathered multipliers. I tried some more but most declined my request. Some did not seem to understand ‘PSE QSY 80M’. Oh well, it kept me busy during a dull sunrise.

Weather forecast predicted dangerous WX. Heavy showers, strong wind and T-storms. That worried me a little bit. But the hours moved along as the temperature rose back to tropical temperatures again. At least in the shelter, on the lawn there was a cool breeze so I was glad to cool down and let ON4CCP take care of logging business. In the afternoon, with another three hours to go, we were ‘dipping’ a bit. Slow rate, tired, sweaty, bored. We had outnumbered all ON stations in our category except ON6JUN/P. We decided that quitting now was not an option, but this decision revealed that we had silently considered to stop. We agreed to sweat it out until the end. With less than 90 minutes to go I went to fill up the generator for a last time. I noticed a severe oil leak. It was unclear where the oil came from and I did not want to mess around with a hot and running generator. I informed Koen and we briefly shut down the generator. I was amazed to see the oil came out through the air intake / air filter. Note: Google tells me other people have witnessed this too. Still no clue about cause or cure.  Other than that, the alternator worked fine so we resumed for the last hour. Two things I remember from that endless last hour: absolute boredom and a massive amount of dupes. Glad to shut down at 15.00 UTC and start packing.

The sky was turning grey so we hurried. The first problem quickly presented itself: I could not retract the sections of the telescopic mast. At some point two sections got bent and pressed together. The famous Franki’s Brute Force Attack (FBFA) got things moving but I think there is some repairing to be done. Typical FBFA fallout. It took us one hour and a half to completely pack the station, load the car and trailer and even put the tent back into it’s bag. No rain yet, but a lead heavy and very hot atmosphere. ON4CCP’s family presented my family a last dinner for the weekend, and off I went… Enough field day for another 5 years!

So how did we do? We made 850 contacts on 40/80/160 combined. I have no clue what the others did, but we’ll probably be outgunned. While field day is considered a national emergency exercise, I would not count on the Belgian HF Devils to get on the air quickly. It took us a long time to get on the air. That is of course partially because we needed to comply with the strict rules of not using “existing structures”. It feels so silly to try to drive a pole into the ground while there is exactly that only 1 meter away: a rock solid and perfectly levelled pole in the ground. In a real emergency, I would get on the air in half an hour with a car battery and a small and low dipole thrown in a tree. Is Field Day really a national emergency exercise or has it become just another contest with different rules and station requirements? Just like in ordinary contesting in that case, the setup to win will always need to grow. I think Team Belgian HF Devils won’t play that game. Maybe then the time has come for us to light up the BBQ and drink to old times.  🙂

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