With the mobility restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic lock-down being lifted two days earlier, this was my first chance to get out onto a SOTA summit again.
On the 7th. I had worked Ron, ZL4RMF from his superstation in Dunedin from my home QTH at 05:20 UTC and so I sent him an email asking if he might be on the following day about the same time (long path time for New Zealand to Europe contacts) and he kindly said he would be happy to listen out for me. Given the early time, I needed a close summit and Berndorfer Buchet is my closest summit and while only one point, I hadn’t actually activated it this year as yet.
During the lock-down, I had investigated why I was getting RF into the audio of my portable rig (the Xiegu X108G) when using it with my portable 70w RF amplifier. I tried everything to screen all inputs but in the end, it turned out not to be RF ingress (although it sounded like that). The problem was in fact that the Chinese amplifier module that I had set-up exactly to the provided instructions was not running in class AB1 as it was supposed to be but when in use was going into class B or even class C amplification which of course distorts badly an SSB signal!
The problem was found, corrected and then tested firstly local into a dummy load and then via a WebSDR in the days before this activation, so the activation would be the proof of whether indeed now everything was OK.
Berndorfer Buchet is just 30 minutes drive away from home but to make sure I would not be too late for the possibly ZL contact, everything was packed into the car, the night before – including a spare antenna and small tripod.
So the equipment to be used would be the Xiegu X108G, the 70w portable amplifier, the 10m mast and surveyors tripod to support it plus I would also take a new external speech processor to test out if I had time, alongside the built-in one. As always the rucksack had the linked dipole and the 40m OCF antenna (just in case). The extra antenna and tripod I mentioned above are the Konumica HF-Pro2 loaded vertical and a photo tripod, which stays in the new rucksack in any case. Given that Berndorfer Buchet has a forest on top of it, having to revert to using a vertical antenna would be a last resort.
So all packed for what should be an easy activation with the small chance of a nice contact to Ron in New Zealand again.
The trip across to Burndorfer Buchet went without any problems and I arrived at the parking area about 10 minutes ahead of my schedule. Ten minutes that I would need later.
The walk from the road up the forest track while a little cool is nice in the morning. A small deer ran across about 10 metres in front of me – no fear, that is simply the way it goes to get to its feeding area or whatever. The last part of the climb and often covered in leaves and twigs that are easy to fall through, but this time a large forestry vehicle had been part of the way up the slope and made a really muddy mess, that I had to work my way around with my new “Mountaintop” rucksack on my back (appropriate name HI) and the large surveyor’s tripod with the 10m fibreglass mast packed inside it over one shoulder.
Suffice to say when I got to the summit, I was somewhat out of breath! After a slug of water and a quick check around, I started by putting the tripod and thee mast up ready to take the antenna. Then out came the thick green plastic sheet and all of the equipment including the linked-dipole antenna which I intended to use. On taking it out of its plastic bag, I got an unfortunate surprise. One complete leg of the antenna was no longer attached to the feed-point. I considered whether I could somehow work out a way to fasten it together but as the antenna wire also forms the guy rope for the mast, I decided that might not be such a good idea. I always have a second antenna with me and I’m not talking about the loaded vertical HF-Pro2 – I had left that in the car as it would not have radiated with all the trees soaking up the radiation. I’m talking about the Aerial-51 404-UL off centre fed dipole. This antenna has the advantage that it will work on multiple bands without having to be taken down. It has the disadvantage of having to have a 4:1 balun which is additional weight at the top of the mast. In any case, I was glad I had the antenna in the rucksack and that became the antenna for this 40-metre activation.
Once I had all the equipment connected up and turned ion, I started tuning around 40 metres as Ron had told me around what frequencies he normally tried to operate on. The band was electrically noisy, which is strange as there are no buildings anywhere near this summit – so the interference was coming down from the Ionosphere. The signals that I could hear on the band (and there were lots of those) were varying dramatically with QSB. I was starting to doubt whether I would manage any contact with Ron from my portable set-up. In any case, I wanted to try out the amplifier, so rather than immediately calling for SOTA, I went and did some search and pounce but wasn’t able to get any contacts so I put up a spot and called for SOTA contacts. My first reply now was not a SOTA chaser at all – it was Peter G8HBS who had simply heard me calling CQ and called me. We exchanged similar 55 / 56 reports and then I moved on and Terry from York G0VWP called me and again we exchanged similar reports, this time 57 both ways. No one was complaining about my signal being distorted, all was OK with the amplifier – that’s one item off the to-do list completed. I then had a call from Leonardo in Italy IW0QO and this time the signals were not balanced with me giving Leonardo a 59 and getting just a 52 – but that’s OK, the Italians tend to run LOTS of power.
As the SOTA contacts dried up, I went hunting for Ron again and came across a UK station who was also looking for him while talking to some other UK station – so I knew that conditions were perhaps not good enough yet for New Zealand or perhaps simply not good enough, full stop. While tuning around I came across Peter near Belfast in Northern Ireland MI0AIH and had a bit of a chat with him and then tested how well he could hear me without the amplifier so I went down from 70w and turned up the Xiegu to its maximum 20w. result? Peter could hear I was there without the amplifier but could no longer understand what I was saying because of QRM. With the amplifier on, we exchanged 59/57 reports.
By this time I had just about given up on getting any contact with Ron when I came across that UK station – Rob, M0KPD/M who had been looking for Ron as well. When he finished talking with Per DK7LJ I gave him a call to ask if he had found Ron ZL4RMF. Instead of Rob coming back to me, Per did and once he recognised my callsign, he said that he had worked Ron and Ron had been looking for me. Per checked and indeed Ron was still listening on frequency and Ron and I managed a contact. Not nearly as good as from my home station the day before but despite conditions being worse we did manage a 54 / 45 contact – so the contact was made. When Ron had to go, I carried on talking with Per in Keil in North Germany and he has TWO 40 metre capable beams – one with 3 elements on 40m and one with 4 elements – unreal! No wonder he can get through to Ron in New Zealand on most days!!
The short activation ended very nicely in the end. I didn’t manage to test the speech processors but that’s now something for the next activation.
- Xiegu X108G.
- Battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase LIPOs).
- SOTABeams linked dipole and Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole.
- Surveyors tripod.
- 10 metre DX-Wire fibreglass portable mast.
- Thick plastic painters sheet.
- Smartphone PocketRxTx App and USB cable.
The portable amplifier is working well. When I dropped it off-line as a test with the station in Northern Ireland he noticed a difference immediately. I “guesstimate” 2-S-points improvement using the amplifier over the 20w from the X108G on its own.
My very quick test with the internal speech compressor proved nothing and I need to test how this should be set (and whether the external DYC-817 is any better) on an activation where I am not in a rush to pack up and leave. as was the case on Berndorfer Buchet as we had a short family outing planned for 10am.
The fact that the linked-dipole broke as I was taking it out of its bag was just unlucky and in the meantime, it is repaired and ready for use again.
The contact with Ron in Dunedin, New Zealand is 90% down to his great station and the help from Per DK7LJ letting Ron know that I was there, but contact was made, the radio waves travelled half the way around the world and back again and this on 40 metres at the bottom of the solar cycle!
73 ’til the next Summit!