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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!

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