WX versus WPX versus R1 Field Day CW

I can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to contesting and the weather. This time: thunderstorms, lightning and rain rain rain. Friday evening I emptied the rain gauge in the middle of a shower. It was at 28 liter per square meter, in half an hour. I guess it’s well over 30 l/m² now after ninety minutes.

Not that it was unexpected. It was in the WX maps and forecast since last week. And I personally predicted it six months ago. Not hard to do: major contest equals shitty WX over here. I don’t need infrared satellite images, high altitude weather balloons, multi-CPU processing power and complex mathematical systems to predict the weather. I just look at the contest calendar, and if it’s a major contest from October to April, it will be storming. From May to August, there will be major thunderstorms. No contest? High probability for nice weather. My forecasts are +90% spot on. I have the statistics on my side.

It doesn’t end here. The forecasts predicted more of the same for the whole WPX CW weekend. With showers intensifying and thunderstorms with severe wind gusts. That means tower down which in turn means my 40m dipole too low and I had set my mind on SB40 in WPX CW.

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’. I know my English idioms. With an m not a t. With Field Day just around the corner, a plan hatched. I could as well try the new and improved antenna raising system and make the 40m antenna for field day and use that as SB40. I can winch that construction down much faster than the electric winch on the big tower. The electric winch on the telescopic tower has a major gear reduction. I guess it can pull a loaded train, but the gear ratio is so big that it takes almost twenty minutes (!) to winch the 15m tower up all the way. Fifteen being two sections of 8m length with 1m overlap for stability. Furthermore the field day setup is so simple I can do it with one hand and blindfolded, literally. I cannot do that on the big tower with multiple ropes and coax and rotor control cable.

Wednesday evening was Radial Fest (dedicated post coming in due time). On Thursday evening I mounted the ON5ZO Antenna Raising Structure v2.5. It worked without a hitch. Like always there are some details I could do better and smarter. Live and learn, I’m not a mechanic designer nor a trained welder. But I moved, installed and deployed it all by myself in under an hour. If you do this with two persons, it can be done much faster. I put it down without much looking, so the antenna mast bumps against the kids’ swing. I need to replace that for next week’s Field Day because it will be higher then.

I rushed home from work on Friday to deploy the radial field, and waited for XYL to come home. I needed to walk around the block and access the adjacent lot. She had to hand me the radial wires under the fence so I could lay them out. I had asked the owner’s permission to put some wires on the ground ‘to take part in an antenna experiment’. That sounds more scientific than ‘I’m going to fool around with an insane amount of wire once again’. Noteworthy: the temperature was high and sweat was abundant. A sign of things to come: thunderstorms.

Finally there was a considerable ground screen in place, and the winched mast went up and down smoothly. That together with a pulley to haul the antenna wire up made adjusting the wire for 7 MHz a breeze. It resonated where I wanted it to but the SWR dipped at 2.2:1. Phase angle was positive and so was the X-part, so it behaved as if too long although it dipped right at 7020 kHz or so. Frustration built while I was frantically trying to get it right before the thunderstorms would break loose. My guess was that the wire was too close to the mast at only half a meter away. With the mast being about 13m high, this might be too close to a quarter wave on 7 MHz. I had done exactly this for years on 80m with an inverted L. Only 13m is way off from resonance on 80m. I could test this easily by detuning the mast. A simple extension would do, either mechanically (wire or tube) or electrically (loading coil).

It wouldn’t be now that I would see if theory and practice matched. The wind picked up speed and it turned dark when it wasn’t supposed to yet. The first roaring was heard so I dropped or actually rather gently lowered the mast and the wire and went inside. Soon after it started pouring down by the buckets. A nearby strike made the windows shake when thunder clapped. The XYL was away to run some errands and she told me it was the biggest shower she ever witnessed. By that time the street here was covered with a layer of mud. Luckily our house is almost a meter above street level. Fire engines drove by and roads were blocked. First by water and mud, then my firemen and police to keep vehicles away. I started typing this blog entry and took a shower and finally I went to bed.

I'm in the purple dot marked by the arrow.
I’m in the purple dot marked by the arrow.

Saturday 6AM local (4z) I fired up the amp and shack PC and I checked the online lightning detector and early forecast. All clear, as was the sky. It was damp outside and I emptied the rain gauge again: + 33 l / m² during the shower. Wow, that’s a lot of water. I raised the field day tilt over mast and went into the shack. There the temporary GP antenna presented a nice match. My K3 said 1.1:1 down on 40 CW and the amp didn’t notice much reflected power. Great!

My plan of a serious SB40 turned into a simple test of the antenna. I decided to leave the cluster off and just dialed the VFO. And of course I tried running. It was after sunrise, and I let the RBN brag about my signal. It got picked up from East Coast to central USE, PJ2 and PY. On the other side of the globe, some skimmer in ZL could hear me when he sun was setting on the antipodal path. Not bad, but not a surprise either. Simple verticals do work so why wouldn’t this one? For the purists: I have a bookmarked hotlink that only shows my callsign on the RBN, so I don’t see any other stations. I logged about 150 contacts, from VE9 down to Brazil and some goodies in between (PZ, YV, ZF). And EU’s were loud, which is good for FD next week. Soon after the signals faded and the band was empty. Family time!

In the afternoon I wanted to continue the work on the FD vertical. I plan to use the mast itself as the 80m radiator, and suspend the 40m vertical from a rope. The 40m part was OK as empirically established in the morning. I had another tube that fit into the top section, so by now the total length is almost 17m. Not bad for some aluminum tubing but still a good 4m shy of a full size vertical on 80. My initial thought was to use a base loading coil but the tube on the top I just fitted, was a leftover from the burned WARC dipole. I also kept the coils that fit on this tube (it was a trapped WARC dipole). So I attached the coil making inductive top loading. Theory says you need a bigger coil on top compared to base loading but it results in less losses because of the lower current as you move up in height. Before raising the system I measured the continuity between the individual mast tubes. I got a beep on each taper. Great!

Not really. There was a distinguished yet broad SWR dip on the analyzer’s display. Too low, but that could be an easy fix. What worried me more is that the curve moved wildly on each sweep. Resonance shifted almost a MHz on each swing. How can that be? Because it swings in the wind? I left it unguyed during the testing and pruning phase. I couldn’t see the antennas while measuring because…

I have talked about my broken antenna analyzer before. RF-wise it works 100%. But the battery compartment and the keypad have a problem and replacing it costs more than a new model from another brand. In the mean time I just use it in the garage where the feedlines enter and where 230Vac is available. I use a 12Vdc adapter to feed the AEA analyzer. I have done this for years now, but in the meantime the DC plug seems to have developed a bad solder connection inside so I need to hold the plug firmly or it drops out and reboots. I could have deployed a long extension cord to the outskirts of the garden and measure there, but I was just too preoccupied with it all…

By now, when typing this almost five hours later, I forgot what I have tried to get this working. At a given point, I just snapped. Countless hours spent over the last weeks, even months by now. And I am desperately trying to achieve something, who knows what and why? Why? Recapitulate… I want to do field day from my garden because all other plans and joint-ventures didn’t work out. I want to put out a big signal, I don’t want to compromise, I can’t fit textbook picture perfect horizontal antennas in my small garden so I want to make a three band vertical hence all the wires and chicken fence in my lawn. And along the way I want to be active this weekend in WPX CW. All my energy got drained, I’m tired and I am very short fused towards my family. This is useless. At that point, I abandoned my antenna plans. My garden is big but just too small for this stuff. Especially when the field day rules specify that you can’t use existing structures. Furthermore in my case I need to cram all the FD stuff between all the antennas and wires of the main fixed station. I’m sure I could pull it off on a 40m by 40m terrain that has no obstacles. It’s called FIELD day for a reason, not GARDEN day.

It boils down to two options. First choice is to cancel my field day participation now and look for a suitable terrain next time. Preferably with and at OT1A. The second option is to settle for less and compromise. Either which way I need to buy a huge plastic box to store all the radials and chicken fence wire. And regret having bought it. Anyone looking for a portable low band ground system?

About WPX: the temporary mast with the 40m GP is down for now at 11PM local time. There are thunderstorms around, but not real close. My plan is a repeat of today. Play some more around sunrise and then call it a day.

Sunday morning, pretty early. I got up and let the dog out and fed him. I saw cauliflower-like clouds and felt little drops. You could tell by the look and feel of the sky that another thunderstorm was imminent. So I left the antenna down and WPX for what it was and went to bed again. Maybe I could sleep some more? Through the window shutters I saw a bright flash and wondered if it was lightning. The answer came soon in the form of a loud thunderclap. Good thing I left the antenna down and the coax unplugged. A brief shower followed and I decided to get up and start dismantling everything when the rain stopped. And so I did.

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