Field day retrospective

My first Field Day has come and gone, and with the benefit of a day's reflection I can offer this account of the fun. But first, take a look at my pictures here.

After finalizing our preparations, Rob (AK6L) and I agreed that we would aim to arrive at the rowing club at 10am and plan to be there potentially until 8pm. Field Day started at 11am, but we weren't expecting to break any records or haul in a huge number of points (though I didn't know what to expect really). Rob took Friday off to finish the bandpass filters and also to build an interface that would let him use his aircraft intercom headset with his FT-950. Unfortunately the filters took longer than expected, and the headset interface needed some further tweaking, and Rob was also bringing 3/4 of the gear. As a result he ended up running late, and we didn't get to start setting up until a bit after 12pm.

I made a valiant attempt to string up the shade tarp on my own, but we had winds gusting up to 26mph, and on the third floor of a building on the waterfront it just wasn't going to happen. It wasn't until Nick arrived that we got that under control – it took the loan of 100 lbs of barbell weights to hold the windward corner down.

Once Rob got there we unloaded all the gear from his car, he went and parked, and then came back and started setting up the Buddipole. Nick and I finally got the tarp sorted out, and then I helped Rob roll out the wire for our second dipole antenna (around 100' perpendicular to the Buddipole) and secure the guy lines. We used water-filled patio umbrella bases for weight, a clever idea credited to Rob's girlfriend Denise, who originally suggested it when I was looking for a way to support a free-standing dipole on my old apartment's roof.

Once we got the antennas up we were pretty hungry, so Nick went and picked up some food for us. Rob and I worked on getting all the radios, tuners, power supplies, and amplifiers going. Rob had to make a couple of PowerPole pigtails, and I had to get familiar with his FT-817. We didn't make our first contacts until around 4pm.

Rob used his FT-950 and focused on making phone contacts, mostly on 40m. Just as we got started he encountered heavy QRM across the band. I set up his FT-817 with his Tokyo Hy-Power HL-45b amplifier and focused on making PSK31 contacts. I started out on 15m, but there wasn't too much action there, so I switched to 20m and found a lot more. I made a few contacts, but I was only able to get about 10 watts out of the amp, which made it hard to get through when people were calling CQ, and made it pointless to call CQ myself. Eventually there was someone calling CQ with quite a bit of power, right in the middle of the PSK31 window. Even with AGC turned off, which is how I always operate PSK31, the strength of the other signal attenuated the rest of the band and made decoding difficult. I made a comment about it, and Nick said, "That's what inferior dynamic range looks like."

I had brought my Elecraft K2 with the thought that we would set it up as a GOTA station, to earn a few extra points. In the end, since we were so behind schedule and we weren't sure what antenna we should set up with it, we punted on that idea. Fortunately, I decided to grab the external amp keying circuit that I built for it when I was packing, so we decided to try using it with the HL-45b amp. It turned out that this setup worked much better – I was able to get 40 watts out of the amp, and the dynamic range of the K2 handled the strong signals much better. That was an interesting experience, because I've never had a chance to compare the K2 with any other rig side by side like that. 

At one point in the afternoon, we watched a destroyer sail into the bay. When it got close enough that we could read the number on her bow, we looked it up: the USS Dewey, DDG-105, and Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer. Pretty neat!

KPH, the historic RCA coast station that Nick and I volunteer at, is also the west coast outlet for the Field Day bulletin. Copying it earns you 100 extra points, so I made sure to do that at 6:30pm. I found them broadcasting RTTY on 20m and managed to capture the whole message. At 7:30pm the sun was starting to set, the wind was picking up again, and I remembered that I had told Catherine I would be home around 8. After polling the guys, we decided to knock off. It took a solid hour to break everything down, and that was it for this Field Day.

Time on site: 8.5 hours
Time on the air: 3.5 hours
Transceivers used: 3 (2 simultaneous)
Antennas: Buddipole and 100' wire dipole
Maximum power: 100 watts
Contacts logged: 18
Points scored: 202

In spite of our meager haul of points, I had a lot of fun, and I think Nick and Rob did too. We had glorious weather, other than the high winds, and you really can't ask for a more beautiful spot than the San Francisco waterfront, with the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz right in front of you. Still, there are definitely some things that we would do differently next year. For one thing, get there earlier! Of course, next time Rob won't have to custom-build a bunch of filters and and a headset interface ahead of time, and now we know how to set up the antennas. Still, setup definitely took a lot longer than we expected. We also could drop some gear off the day before, to save ourselves some unloading time.

I also think next time we won't set up the tarp. There's a small, empty storage room off the roof deck, where we got power for our setup. We could have just set up in there, except when we first scoped out the building I didn't have access to it, and even when we did, we didn't have enough coax to reach. Operating from there would have saved us a lot of time.

Now I know that my K2 can outperform Rob's FT-817, at least in contest conditions; that's really what the K2 was made for, whereas the 817 is made to be a great portable all-mode rig. Next time I'll probably just use the K2 from the get-go. The other upshot of this is that I know its controls instinctively now. Not only is the 817 new to me, but because of its small size the control interface is very, very menu-driven which just makes it harder.

As Rob said, this Field Day was in large part just a proof of concept for operating from the rowing club. It's obviously an excellent location, weather-permitting, so we're definitely going to try and operate more contests from there. I may even look into operating there just in general, on weekend days, because I'll be able to set up a much better antenna than I have at home. I'm already thinking about what simple antenna system I could keep in my locker for easy setup!

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