Portable ops washout

I had Thursday and Friday off of work for the 4th of July, and my wife only had Friday, so Thursday was a “free” day for me. Free after I took the car to get smogged and took my son to a doctor’s appointment, that is… So I decided to try some portable ops at the beach. My ATS-4 setup was at work, but it was so windy I was planning to stay in the car anyway, so I just took the Field Day setup – K2, tuner, battery, end-fed antenna, key, and mic. I drove 20 minutes to the spot I had in mind, parked the car… and realized I had left my antenna support pole at home. So 40 minutes later I was back and ready to set up.

I lashed the pole to a fence post in the parking area and rigged the antenna as an inverted V again, as I had on Field Day. But when I checked it on the antenna analyzer (without the tuner), it showed pretty terrible (over 7:1) SWR on every band except 10 and 17. This isn’t what I remember Rob seeing when we tested the same setup before Field Day, although then we ran the wire as a sloper up to the top of the pole. Anyway, I decided to try 17m, but when I turned on the radio it came up on 15 and, even without tuning, I heard CW. So that was promising. But I switched to 17, tuned the antenna, and then scanned the phone subband to see what I could find. The first signal I came across was S57DX, Slavko, in Slovenia. Easily a 57 to 59, and working a modest pileup.

I tried repeatedly to QSO with him, but he never heard me. I tuned elsewhere around the band and tried to work some other stations but had similar lack of luck. Over the course of about three hours I heard several Brazilian stations (with World Cup special event calls), Cayman Islands, North Carolina, and Massachusetts (the latter two working the 13 Colonies special event). I tried numerous times to QSO with all of these, but didn’t get so much as a QRZ. I also spent 20-30 minutes calling CQ in between other stations, but got no takers. All of this was on phone. When it was almost time for me to pack up and go home I switched to CW just to see if I could get spotted on the Reverse Beacon Network, but even that turned up nothing on both 15 and 17m.

Just before I shut down I tuned around and came back to S57DX in Slovenia. I heard him say he was going to go QRT soon and just work a few more stations, his pileup was trailing off. So I tried again to work him, and even at the end when he had no other callers, he just couldn’t hear me at all.

After the enjoyment I had making a decent stack of contacts on Field Day, I was pretty disappointed to have nothing to show for three hours of operating on my day off. I did look at dxmaps.com and there were not very many spots showing at all. So by that metric, the bands did not seem very open. Maybe all the stations I was hearing were QRO. I’m also curious about why the antenna seemed to look so poor on the analyzer. I think I need to look into modifying the end-fed matchbox to use a counterpoise. As designed, it uses the coax braid for that and recommends a 25′ length. I only use a 10′ piece normally, and don’t really want to cart around extra coax and have to set up the matchbox farther from my rig just to make the antenna more efficient. I’m not really sold on the idea of an antenna system that requires a tuner. I’m always operating at QRP power, so if the tuner is just giving me a nice match but the actual antenna SWR is 5:1 or 7:1, that seems kind of a waste of time. Perhaps instead I should try constructing some band-specific matchboxes that don’t require the tuner.

It would also probably be beneficial for me to play around with EZNEC or some other antenna modeling software. I tried to use it once but couldn’t get the hang of it for some reason. Maybe it’s time to make another attempt (now I know a lot more hams who can probably help me with it). A I think back on how I was set up, I wonder what direction my signal would have been going. End-fed antenna, inverted V, with the sloped sides facing north and south… I wonder if my takeoff angle was not even remotely easterly, as I was trying to work stations in that direction…

About the only other thing I can mention is that I noticed an interesting variety of ignition noises from cars passing my operating position. There was a multilane road just behind where I was parked. Most cars generated a mild buzz. Junky old pickup trucks generated a nasty hash. And electric cars generated a unique steady hiss as they passed.

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