For the last few years, I’ve operated each VHF Contest exclusively as a rover station, so this year presented a unique challenge. I purchased a new car in March with fuel efficiency in mind, not amateur configurability (I knew I’d figure that out down the line). June rolled around, and my roof bars still were still backordered until September, and I still hadn’t found a good time to get a hitch receiver installed by the dealer – it’s not that I couldn’t do it myself, but given that I now drive an EV, I didn’t want to tap into an incorrect line and fry some crucial system. On top of that, there was an untimely work event that I had to be in the office for on Saturday until about 4pm, so I decided that this would make a great opportunity to run a Portable operation and try something completely different! My same setup could be used, less the IC-7100 that I would typically use for 50, 144, and 432. In theory I could just turn the power down to the 10w limit, however that’s just additional power consumption that’s unnecessary when I already have a perfectly capable QRP radio.
For some additional challenge, I also determined that I was going to run this contest entirely off of Solar power – I have a 42 Ah AC/DC Battery Pack a solar input, and an additional 12 Ah Bioenno Power battery pack. I also have a 60w solar panel with a built-in charge controller that I used to trickle charge the batteries while in operation. I knew that this had the potential for RFI going in being that it was a cheaper Amazon sourced battery pack and panel kit, but wanted to see how it would fair.
My setup was fairly similar was a blend of the old and new rover iterations due to lack of space to pack antennas – a 3 element beam for 50mhz, a Create LPDA for 144-1296, a Dedicated 900 Antenna (though I never set it up and just used the LPDA), and a looper for 2304. Instead of being roof mounted, I used a repurposed, staked and weighted portable umbrella/flagpole holder – this was designed to take up to 2”masts, and fit my needs perfectly. The 6m antenna ran direct to the SO-239 port of the 818, and then the LPDA ran into a switch – the switch distributed 144/432 to a BNC jumper for my 818, 220 to myYaesu Memorizer (10w), and 1296 to the ID-1 (10w). The 900 and 2304 ran directly into the transverters respectively, and I would change the BNC jumper on the 818 to the appropriate rig. Independent of this, thanks to loaner equipment, I also had 10ghz – all I had to do was run a jumper at low power from the 818 to this transverter with an affixed horn.
From an onboard transceiver standpoint, while I only was only eliminating one, it provided far less to worry about moving around. When at Dayton about three weeks prior to the contest, I obtained a CAT control and Sound Card interface for the 818, made byDigiRig, this now allows me to utilize digital modes on All Bands that I run through the rig, which provides me an extra tool on the microwaves as well.
Saturday unfortunately was a bit of a bust – while I was able to squeeze out of work a little before 4, by the time I got home, changed, antennas loaded on the roof in a safe manner, and out to my location, it was about 6… but when I pulled up to the lot, there was a group setup for a bonfire – go figure! As much fun as crashing that party probably would have been, I opted to turn around and run 6m from home for the night. I was able to offload my antennas nearby the site for the night so as to not have to trek back at 45mph the way I did heading out. I ran 6m, and a little bit of 2m, primarily FT8 so I could diagnose an issue I found with the 10ghz setup – turned out to be something as simple as a shorted PTT wire. This log was submitted as a ‘check log’ as /P and home stations are entered into the same single-op category which didn’t occur to me when I decided to operate from home. If there’s any penalty from this, I’ll gladly bear it, but it was a simple misunderstanding.
Sunday I was finally able to get out in the field – total setup time took about 45 mins, realistically it should have only been about 30 if I had organized the coax prior to leaving. I opted to stack the antennas 2304 on the top, 6m in the middle, and LPDA on the bottom – I probably should have thought over the layout a little more beforehand, some of this planning was more ‘on the fly’ than I like it. I was finally on the air by 9am. Mother nature did not want to cooperate with me however, and the rain started coming down by 10am. I half closed the back hatch of the car where the coax ran in, sat in the front seat stretching the USB cable to the laptop, and worked some FT8 while waiting out the rain. It let up for a bit and I was able to stand at the back again, make a few voice contacts and run the bands with some locals, but then it started pouring again.
It would rain on and off again for the duration – around 2:15 however a pretty intense rumble of thunder passed and growing up near there I remember that the thunderstorms on that hilltop can get wicked, so I decided to start packing up. I had the coax disconnected and mast sections down in about 10 mins, but then the rain really started so I piled in the car and waited it out a few mins. When it let up to the point where I’d only be mildly soaked tying down the antennas, I finished getting everything packed up. The sun of course poked its head out for a few mins, and this was just enough time to get a hold of someone lined up for a 10ghz contact, and while we were working, had two more VE3’s jump in!
While I didn’t get to take advantage of the 6m activity, it was an interesting experience, and something I wholly would do again. With a final score of 2,268, I can’t complain too much – QRP is tricky enough as it is, but with that type of 6m opening and everyone stepping on each other, it’s even more difficult. There are plenty of stations there, but whether they hear you over everyone else is anyone’s game. Everyone being clustered on one FT8 frequency and minimal SSB doesn’t help with that either… but that rant is old news. The majority of my contacts were within the local four grids with a singular FN04, and FN21 respectively. Hauling those antennas out wouldn’t have been as bad if I had the roof rack I’m still waiting on, layering moving blankets and tying off with paracord through the doors, while it works, isn’t ideal. Hopefully I’ll have more time for operation next June, but more importantly crossing my fingers that by September/January I’ll be back in the Rover category again… stating “Portable” instead of “Rover” when calling CQ caught me quite a few times!
I may even do /P again next June, but I’ll need to find a different spot… maybe even one to camp out for the night.