January VHF 2021 – A new operating position, average score, and of course some snow

This has apparently been sitting here fully typed, and I never verified that it posted… turns out, I never scheduled it to do so! Here it is, the summary, over a month late. I hope you enjoy!

The January VHF Contest has come and gone for 2021. It’s always a blast, even when things go wrong you pull the fun out of where things went right, the problem you solved on the fly, and there lesson you took away for next time. Starting off I was pretty ill prepared, “it’s not like you didn’t know this was coming up for the last year,” is usually what I’m told. As true as that is, I always want to make adjustments to layouts, add or remove a transmitter, change antennas, get a new inverter, try new logging software, etc., and as much as I want to do most of those things every year, nothing gets done in the off time, and I wind up using the same setup.

I started preparations on Friday afternoon, my major change for this contest was that I really was sick of the back hatch operating position. In my Wrangler when I still had it, or as I like to think of it, the KD2CJR/TJR (that was my old call that I changed about the same time I got rid of the Wrangler TJ), the back operating position was about perfect when you removed the back seat, and was very comfortable. In the Patriot, since the seats fold down, it’s just not as level and nicely spaced as the Wrangler was. After two years of operating in this car, it was time for a change. I fumbled through the garage and dug up a bunch of scrap wood from building my workbench, and some planters earlier in this year. Using the leftover OSB, and scrap 2×4’s I built a desk with two legs, and a lip to fit in to the cubby hole on the passenger side. This would allow everything to be accessible from the driver’s seat, and also better management of control heads.

After this was installed, on Saturday morning I slowly began assembling the station. I made extra jumpers, and coax runs knowing that I’ve had problems in the past and laid everything out in a way that should something break mid contest, I was able to easily access the lines and change them out. As I was putting radios in the car, I was realizing that I had no clue where my additional powerpole splitter wound up after the June contest… and even if I did find it, I needed four ports of power, and a four way splitter only actually provides three. To solve this problem, I cut a bunch of three inch runs of wire, crimped powerpole ends on one side of them, twisted all of the other ends together, tied in a fused pigtail on the positive side, tinned it with solder, and capped them off. Off the pigtail end, I put another powerpole connector, and there we had a quick new splitter. 

Surprisingly enough, I was rubber to the road by 1:45, and I only had about a 15 min drive to my first grid location, so I was only about 30 mins late to getting on the air… that’s pretty good for me! And if you’re wondering why it took so long to get on the air, it was the coffee stop on the way out that burned WAY too much time.

I started out in the same location I usually do on Saturday, and that’s a hilltop in FN02, it has a great shot to many of what I refer to as the ‘usual suspect stations’ that you know you’ll catch on the air, not to mention the clarity in this location is just fantastic. I worked mostly calling on 6m voice, and working up the bands with any local station available. Unfortunately there wasn’t much DX from here, and I only worked the local four grids. With that being said, I had about 75 Q’s by 5:15pm when I packed it up and headed to the next location. 

I moved to FN03, getting on location about 5:40 or so as the weather picked up a little bit. Moving was a big mistake. I used the same strategy as I had in FN02, calling on 6m, and trying to run the bands with the locals, but it was just quiet as all get-out. I switched over to FT8 with virtually no avail, the log remained sparsely populated from FN03, only totaling about 10-15 contacts here in the evening. I was planning on packing it in early on Saturday anyways to watch the Bills Playoff Game (Sorry, but I’ve been a Bills Fan longer than I’ve been licensed), so this really just helped solidify that decision.

Sunday morning, I started off a little later (BILLS WON!) but wound up not horribly late out to my site in FN12. I was on the air by about 8:30, and started off on a decent streak calling on 6m. I was able to run the bands with some locals, and had about a dozen or so contacts on FT8. For a change, this was a rather uneventful stop – I caught one of my fellow rovers when contacting someone else on 146.55, and ran the easy bands with them, however they had some antenna issues on 902, and 2.3g, so we stopped with 1296. Around 11:20 it was time to batten down the hatches, and head to our little rover meetup, which was about a 20 min drive away.

This January the meetup, or “Blitz” as we refer to it, was much smaller in size than usual. Typically there’ll be about 10 or so of us, we’ll meetup for lunch, and get to it. We do a quick pack grid circle (I know, not the most Kosher contesting morals) with a couple of home stations that can make the corners, and part ways. This can take up to 3 hours not including lunch time, but due to the size this January, and the lack of sitting and eating together, it took just over an hour to perform. We don’t jump across grids or anything, just stay as a pack, work each other in the same grid, and move on. Often times I wonder if it’s worth the time to even bother with this, however it’s something I’ve come to enjoy, often times just for the pleasant lunch break.

Once we finished up here, I hauled out about a 45 min drive to FN13 – attempting to work some stations along the way, however I’m not a fan of logging while driving, so that pretty quickly ended. Once I was setup, I noticed some issues with my SWR on 6m (It wouldn’t be a contest for me if 6m actually worked perfectly). This was a cross between two problems, both had semi-easy solutions. The first was that there was a loose connector – I didn’t tape my connections up before heading out, so it likely jostled loose on I-490. This solved the SWR problem, but when I keyed up on high power after verifying the SWR, the radio would power cycle. Now, at this point I had been using the car battery for powering four transceivers, two transverters, charging a laptop, and powering an antenna rotor. This has been an issue in the past, and the most commonsense answer never actually occurred to me until then… there’s obviously a voltage drop in the battery. I started the car, and began to transmit full power with no problems.

Moving along, I would have to leave the car running for about 10 mins every hour to get the voltage to a point where the radio considered it tolerable. This caused noise floor issues that I wasn’t very happy with, however it was tolerable. On the bright side, I was nice and warm pretty much the whole time.

At about 6:30 I decided to pack it back to FN03, the same spot in which I operated on Saturday evening. I was back on the air around 7:30, and I stayed here for about two more hours. The location performed much better for my Sunday than it did on Saturday, and I was able to get a few additional 2m FT8 contacts. I packed it in around 9:30 and called it a night, it was time for a really late dinner at this point.

I have a few adjustments that I’m going to make before June – primarily to setup, and very attainable goals as opposed to what I normally set for myself, and do not complete:

The Operating Desk: making a new, well measured one with a plywood top, instead of OSB scrap. This was fine for a test run, however the stuff does like to give you splinters if you go to wipe something off of it.

Transverter Setup: They were a little too loose for my liking, just sort of sitting behind the laptop, and FT-127. I’ve already begun some construction on an enclosure where they’re mounted, and switched to one common power port. I’m trying to decide how I’d like to run the IF off of it, I’d like to run to a common port with switching.

2304 Antenna: In June last year I had a 3ft (I think it’s 3 ft, I don’t think I’ve actually measured it) dish on a tripod. This served me very well, and helped to make numerous contacts I likely wouldn’t have otherwise, however a wind gust took the whole thing down in the parking lot of where I setup in FN03, and broke the feed right off. This January I used no more than the little SG Labs circuit board LPDA, and I’m hoping to get a directive systems looper ordered, and added on before June.

Just for fun… a little light play. I don’t know how many other people in my region have the capability, however I’m currently experimenting with some lasers, and focused LED’s ranging in frequency from 575-630nm. I’m hoping to have at least one of these ready for use just for some additional hilltop fun!

For now, back to normal, and to start preparations for June!

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