All weather forecasts said that this activation would be a nice sunny one being scheduled to start early afternoon and run for a couple of hours, what could be better?
I had a summit that I hadn’t activated before but as I didn’t know what to expect at the summit, I excluded it from any early start exercise but with a midday start, I should be able to solve any set-up issues without time pressure. Schwarzerberg – or Taubenberg as it is indicated on maps and local signposts also has a “Gaststatte” (restaurant) near to the summit and the public track up to the restaurant is open to cars and gives easy access to the lookout tower on the summit as well.
I had wanted to invite another ex-pat Brit along to one of my activations for some time. Rob DM1CM was previously active in SOTA but has moved on, but as he offered to give me a hand (and doing an activation with someone else along is fun as well as spreading the load a little). Schwarzerberg fitted well as it isn’t too far from his home QTH and by planning the restaurant into the day we could make a social event out of this, and get to take part in the SOTA EU-NA S2S event as well.
A couple of days prior to the activation, the weather forecasts changed drastically and there was a chance I would have to cancel the trip but in the end we decided to go ahead and while it did rain on us as we set-up the equipment about 3 or four times with just a few minutes between each shower, the rest of the time it was dry and there was even a little sunshine.
I had been hoping to use my VP2E antenna that I have been using on some recent activations and that I have been trying to track down some problems on. My last change was to go back to single-band versions of the antenna and I have one built for 40 metres and one for 20 metres meaning that switching bands would take about 15 minutes if there is not enough room to put up both antennas without them interfering with each other. Looking at maps, there’s looked to be a clearing but whether this would be large enough to get the 40m VP2E into I wasn’t sure. So although I actually took the two VP2E antennas along, I decided that I’d either use my Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole or my SOTABeams linked dipole. Added to these and the X108G transceiver was my newly built portable RF amplifier, which in ideal conditions should produce up to 100 watts PEP output – 50 watts is a more believable figure.
All gear was prepared the day before and put ready to take near the main house door.
I had arranged to meet Rob at the bottom of the track up to the restaurant at 11am and as Google Maps told me it was a 90 minute drive, I set off at 9:30am only to get a call from Rob to say he was already there at 10am while I was still at least an hour away. It seems we Brits like to get to places early! The route chosen as the shortest by the GPS Navigator in my new Peugeot car was “interesting” in places as it wanted me to turn off the main road and go through villages rather than use the by-pass road around the village to save a few metres on the route – as I knew the first 90% of the journey, I simply carried on along the roads I knew and the GPS sorted itself out after a while.
I met up with Rob at the restaurant shortly after 11am and we went in and had lunch and a beer before driving back along the track and parking at the end of the 200-metre long track up to the summit.
The activation brought lots of contacts within Europe including 5 S2S contacts but nothing from over the pond. In the first 12 minutes, I made 24 contacts on 40m. There were a couple of US super stations on 20m belting in. I kept trying to call one of them but couldn’t get through. I get the feeling that “something” is wrong with the amplifier on 20m but it certainly belts out the RF on 40m. At one point I was calling another activator 4 or 5 times with no success on 20m, then I took the amp out of the circuit and put the coax directly to the rig and turned up its power to 20 watts and the other station came straight back to me. I don’t think it’s the amp as much as the low pass filter board – I’ll have to do some re-wiring so that I have a position to run the amp without the Low Pass filters and see what happens when I switch there for a test.
After two hours of operation, the number of contacts had dropped to zero, so we decided, with more dark clouds on their way, to pack up, head back to the restaurant for a drink and some cake and a good chat before both leaving to head home. Even on the way down the track to the car, there was a problem – the shoulder strap on the tripod broke and will need to be repaired. Oh well!
Leson amplified microphone.
Portable HF amplifier and cables.
Battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase LIPOs).
Aerial-51 404-UL OCF Inverted-V dipole antenna.
10 metre DX-Wire fibreglass portable mast.
Plastic tablecloth as ground cover.
Smartphone PocketRxTx App and USB cable (only used for spotting and taking pictures this time).
I wish I hadn’t gone so early to the summit! Going 2 hours later would not only have avoided the showers (which weren’t too bad) but probably also bagged me some S2S contacts into North America! Hindsight is a great thing though!
Plus and Minus points from this activation:
Plus – I had another ham along – Rob DM1CM – another Englishman living in Germany and actually got him on the air making some contacts. Rob helped with set-up and took some photos and in fact, brought his professional audio gear along and recorded most of the two hours we were on the summit.
Plus – it was a new summit for me gaining me an extra activators point. The summit is really easy to get to as there’s a publicly accessible track where you can drive up to 200 metres from the summit.
Plus – I was very happy with how well the simple off centre fed dipole antenna (Aerial-51 404-UL) worked. (I had decided not to put the VP2E antennas up and there wasn’t space enough in any case for the 40m VP2E).
Plus – I was happy with the extra “punch” on 40 metres that the amplifier gave me (but not on 20m – see below). Straight after setting up I had a run of 24 contacts in 12 minutes.
Minus – the summit is over 1.5 hours away from home for just one activator point.
Minus – the timing was off – we were there far too early to get contacts into the US that others managed two to three hours after we closed down.
Minus – the amplifier had a problem on 20m where I simply was not getting the reports that I should have been and in fact, taking the amplifier out of the circuit and turning up the power from the rig I was able to make one contact that I failed to get with the amplifier in circuit.
Plus and Minus – The weather was variable and overcast with rain showers which were inconvenient but it meant that I could read the OLED display on the rig.
Plus and Minus – Five Summit to Summit contacts but only within Europe. Without the amplifier problem on 20 metres and if we had started 1-2 hours later, I think I would have had some transatlantic S2S contacts in the log – which was the intention of the event.
An activation to learn from!
My plan of action is as follows:
Amplifier problem – I will re-wire the band switch to allow me one position without the low-pass filter board in-circuit – this will allow me to isolate if the problem is the amplifier or (as I suspect) the 20m Low pass filter.
I would have liked to have used the new VP2E 20m antenna but its high SWR meant I went with the standard off centre fed dipole instead (which worked well). This could be an element length problem through the changes I made and then removed for dual-band operation. I will validate all lengths against the calculator and adjust and test, hopefully to correct the problem before my next activation.
Repair the shoulder strap on the tripod.
73 ’til the next summit!