Field Day 2014 after-action report

All my careful preparation paid off. On Saturday morning I was up and out the door only a few minutes later than I hoped to be. I backed out of the garage and tuned the radio to our pre-arranged repeater just in time to hear Wil and Rob making first contact. Wil was already en route, and Rob was just leaving his house. Fortunately my run across the bay was free of traffic, and my phone navigated me to the parking area flawlessly. Wil was a few minutes ahead of us up the trail, I met Rob in the parking lot and we set off. I was able to fasten my antenna pole to the side of my pack, and I brought my trekking poles for the trail, which I was really glad of because the first third of it was littered with loose hunks of rock. I wish I had a picture of myself on the trail because I’m pleased with how compact my setup was.

The hike to our chosen site took 20-30 minutes and was modest on the arduousness scale, in my opinion. Wil was waiting for us at the top, so we got to work setting up our gear. Wil and Rob set up the sun shelter and I cabled up my radios, then got to work putting up the end-fed antenna. I lashed my support pole to a nearby bench, tied one end of the radiator to it, and extended the pole, but it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t far enough from our operating position; the wire was going to trail on the ground too much. After consulting with Rob, we decided to run the wire as an inverted V. I attached the 9:1 un-un to the top of our sun shelter and ran the radiator through the eyelet at the tip of the pole, then extended it up. After some adjustments it looked great, with the loose end tied off to a nearby bush. A 20′ length of coax to the rig completed the setup.

I was amazed at how perfect our site was. The view west was of the San Francisco bay and skyline, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate bridge. To the east we could see reservoirs, and then rolling hills stretching away to the horizon. The ridge we were on was at about 1500′ of elevation and dropped away steeply to either side, so I expected good takeoff angles for our antennas.

Pretty soon we were all set up, and I think we were on the air by 11:30am, 30 minutes after the official start. I took 15m CW, Wil took 20m phone and Rob took 40m PSK31. I made my first CW contact after a few minutes, but it was tough. I’m rusty after a few weeks off, and even though the other station was slow and patient, I was flustered and could hardly even ask them for repeats correctly. I’m lucky they just sent them anyway a couple of times, eventually I got it nailed down. But it sapped my confidence a bit, and I spent the next few minutes playing around with recording a CW macro to call CQ for me, and calling a few times with no takers. I decided to test out the new mic setup for the K2, so I went up to the phone band and found a loud station calling CQ. I called back, and after a couple of tries I worked them. Success! I continued up the band working stations that I heard calling, and racked up 10-15 contacts while running 10 watts. I was impressed.

Once the stations petered out near the top of the band, I tuned back down among them, found an open frequency, and decided to try calling CQ a bit. It didn’t take long before someone came back to me, so I kept at it, holding the frequency for awhile and making another 10 or so contacts that way. I called nonstop with just a short pause to listen for people coming back, and it seemed to work.

Wil seemed to be having OK luck on 20m, but it was challenging because it was wall to wall stations, many of them really loud, and he was just running 35 watts. He tried 10m but it was dead, and Rob was hearing no PSK31 on 40m, so they switched – Rob went to 20m and Wil went to 40. On 20 Rob heard massive amounts of PSK31, but struggled to work any of it using his Nexus 7 tablet and DroidPSK app. The touch interface of the app made it hard to select signals to QSO with, and it was easy to tap the wrong place and exit the app entirely, which happened once in the middle of a QSO. This despite the fact that he had a bluetooth physical keyboard attached. If the app had had a keyboard shortcut mode that removed the need for touch input he might have had better luck.

Wil left around 2:30pm having made 10 contacts or so. Rob and I stuck around until 4, with him only making 2, and me making 30+. Our gear packed away pretty easily and soon we were back at the trail head and on our way home.

I’m really pleased with how Field Day went this year, speaking for myself at least. Last year I think we spent more time setting up and breaking down our gear than we actually spent on the air, and we didn’t make many contacts. Obviously I’m pleased to have made a decent haul myself this year, maybe Rob and Wil would say they were more disappointed not to get very many. But you couldn’t beat the location or the weather, that’s for sure. It was nice being in a public spot, and we had quite a few hikers ask us what we were up to, and everyone was interested. Rob had a good spiel to explain briefly what it was all about, he was great for PR!

I’m also really happy that I put in the effort to perfect a simple portable station with power and antennas that could be set up very easily. As my friend Majdi, N0RMZ, pointed out, “You live in a fault zone.” I’ve made other earthquake preparations of course, but HF capability could come in handy should there be a “big one” while I’m living here. In thinking about it, now I understand more clearly why the ARRL terms Field Day a “preparedness exercise,” and awards bonus points if you pass message traffic. Practicing the act of communicating, including speaking clearly, confirming a message and writing it down, is fundamental to being useful in a disaster scenario.

For next year, about the only thing I would do differently is bring only one battery and also leave the extra 20′ length of RG-8X coax I brought at home. The battery was a significant extra weight in my bag, and I only brought it in case Wil needed it for his phone station. For almost 5 hours of use my battery only drained a little over 1/4 of a volt.

So that’s a wrap until 2015! Now here are some photos.

Gear waiting to be set up

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Setting up the sun shelter

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San Francisco, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge to the west, and… the rest of America to the east.

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On the air! Rob’s Buddistick to the left, my end-fed wire coming down in the middle, Wil’s Buddipole in the background/right.

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The whole site. My end-fed in an inverted V configuration to the left.

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Makin’ contacts!

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My operating position.

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Public information flyers for a 100 point bonus.

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