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IOTA 2010 – Cape Lookout Expedition

Operating under special event call N4A, for the fourth year we once again activated the South Core Banks from Cape lookout a few miles up the beach from the CALO lighthouse.  Fun facts and photo strip on the N4A operation on its web site.  Additional photos on flickr.  Also a short youtube clip of N4YDU running them on 20m SSB.

An operation on the beach as an expedition is always a great chance to learn new stuff.  This year we learned that fiberglass mast is pretty flimsy and aluminum is much stronger – not a revelation.

After some extensive modeling by K2AV, we settled on using ladder line fed doublets that were 56 feet(17.2m) in total length, 28 ft per side.  The models show that length to have useful lobes on 15m and 20m, without loosing much over a regular 40m dipole.  We ran the ladder line to just behind the radio’s into 4:1 baluns, and used the radio internal tuners for matching.  [I’d have preferred outboard tuners.]

We didn’t get good enough propagation on 15m to decide if they were making a difference, but two of these antennas at right angles, with their apex at 40 feet, seemed to work very well on 40m and 20m.  On 20m, there was a worthwhile difference between the two antennas, several s-units in many cases.  The signal level difference on 40m was more subtle.  The pattern on 40m at only 40 ft high is mostly omnidirectional anyway.

Lacking an appropriate vehicle is somewhat of a problem for this sort adventure.  The island has only sand trails, no real roads, so 4WD is recommended. N3ND volunteered the use of his AWD Toyota Highlander this year.  We were able to get everything packed inside or laid on top, but it was a snug fit.

2010 was great WX wise.  We had blue skys and a steady cooling sea breeze for the duration of our stay on CALO.   Saturday afternoon was  particularly pleasant, with low humidity and moderate temperatures making the afternoon very comfortable – the first time we have enjoyed such good WX for an expedition.

Operating was a lot more fun in 2010 compared to the previous three years due to slightly improved propagation.  Friday evening booked a few pages worth of QSO’s to both the US and Europe on 20m and 40m.  When the RSGB IOTA contest began on Saturday morning, we enjoyed a decent 20m opening to EU on both CW and SSB, and even a few JA’s getting into the log then.  Propagation to Europe faded during the midday, but began picking up towards mid afternoon.  15m never really opened, and 10m was completely unproductive.  Its been a long term goal to make Q’s on 6m from CALO, but the e-skip never sees to coincide with our expeditions.  This year was no different – nothing heard on 6m.

Pulling the graveyard shift wasn’t very productive for QSO rates, but there were some great Pacific Q’s to gather there.  VK7, ZL1, E51, WH6, NH2 all made it into the log then.  That was fun, even if it caused symptoms of sleep deprivation later!

The mast gear seemed to be in good shape, with the exception of one folded stick of fiberglass.  Going to 40ft is more difficult than going to 30ft, but is not impossible with at least two people.  Lifting 30ft is possible for one person with proper guying, but the mast is too heavy for one small person to lift to 40ft.  Possibly with a gin pole – but the additional rigging needed for the gin pole is time consuming, and extra gear required is not available at this time.

 Band  CW Qs  CW Mults  Ph Qs  Ph Mults
   80:   10        9       1       1
   40:  306       45     127      36
   20:  412       46     286      40
   15:   53       20       1       1
   10:    0        0       0       0
Total:  781      120     415      78  Total Score = 1,416,096

The Good:  Great WX.  Good radio conditions.  We blew away all our past mileposts for the bottom of a sunspot cycle, new high of 1196 qsos and 1.4m points.  K2Av was great opening 4om CW, and N3ND and N4YDU both had great runs at various times during the day.  Homebrew compound baluns didn’t melt.  A few day before leaving for the island, noticed that RSGB had posted the list of 2009 Trophy winners – and N4A nabbed the plaque for North American expeditions again.  SWEEEET!

The Bad: W0UCE missed due to a family illness.  Pesky intermittent noise, we think from a UPS.  Just hate using, for contest logging, N1MM.

The Ugly: None!

The YI9PSE Expedition

Best of wishes to the team of operators soon to be operating as YI9PSE.  The DX-pedition is of particular interest personally because my friend Jack, W0UCE will be one of the team members.  Jack joined our own IOTA operation last year, and is fine CW operator.  When he dons his “Chef Archie” hat, he can also deliver some of the tastiest meals you have ever had.

The YI9PSE team has a good group of operators – this will be a fun one to try to work.

PVRC Contesting Webinars

PVRC club members received word from PVRC president Ken, K4ZW, that PVRC will be introducing a series of Webinars on various contest subjects. Jamie, NS3T has a news release posted with a bit more info. Most of the webinars will be available to all contesters, although I suspect there may be a few club internal “stategery” sessions held more tightly to the vest.

I sprung for the original PVRC 2005 “Contest College” DVD, which has a lot of great information on it. Not every subject was a priority interest to me personally(e.g., VHF contesting), but each was well conceived and delivered. Really wanted to make the original PVRC “Contest College” in VA, but could not.

PVRC Contest College evolved quickly beyond the club into Contest University at Dayton Hamvention, and has already been taken internationally by K3LR, drawing on local talent for lecture sessions. Given the hundreds of years experience held in the minds of so many great operators and technical folks, this is a great idea.

A repository of simlar webinars would be a great asset. It will be of greatest benefit to folks who are in rural areas, and not able to get the sort of elmering that can be obtained by joining a club, or who cannot make a long pilgrimage to CTU at Hamvention.

Built it, and they will come….

IOTA 2008 – N4A Rides Again

We will be making another expedition trip to Cape Lookout NWR overlapping the IOTA 2008 contest. Our goal is to put CALO on the air. We’ll be pounding 10m looking for E skip openings in the periods outside the IOTA contest, and be handing out Q’s during the contest on all of the contest bands. If we are able to get a 160m antenna up, we’ll also be on that band outside the contest period. Our time is limited, but we expect to be operating as soon as we get the station/antennas established, sometime in the early evening of Friday July 25th, probably mostly SSB before the contest.

We’re lucky to have an additional op joining us this year, K4CZ. The extra help will be a big boost, and this should help us overcome problems of the sort presented by Murphy in 2007. For 2008 the operators are N4YDU, W4KAZ, and K4CZ. There’s little doubt that N4YDU and K4CZ will do a lions share of the operating. Nate is one of the best ops I’ve worked with and is an exceptional CW op. Barry is going to be a big assist for Nate for both CW and SSB – I’ll need to pull my weight on SSB and the logistics.

I don’t think we will have a 6m rig available, so our plans to activate CALO on 6m may come to naught.

The N4A website will be updated with 2008 photo’s after the op is complete. Might see some here too.

2008 Shelby Hamfest – New Location – Same Dates

The Shelby Hamfest will be moving to a new location for 2008, and will be held on the same Labor Day schedule as it has been in the past. In 2008, it will be at Biggerstaff Park in Dallas, NC(aka Gaston County Park). That is closer to Charlotte, very close to Gastonia. Apparently the Gaston county officials were much more amenable to receiving the sales taxes from our purchases than were the officials in Cleveland county.

Go Figure. Continue reading 2008 Shelby Hamfest – New Location – Same Dates