Thursday, July 2, 2009

CQ Field Day!

I've been looking forward to Field Day for a long time. I can't even remember the last time I participated but it was definitely more than 10 years ago. We tried hard last year but weren't able to get the trailer ready in time. This year not only were we ready but we were ready to do it in style! All the work we've done on the mobile shack was about to pay off and after practicing all winter with portable operations I was looking forward to being able to set up in sunshine and mosquitoes instead of snow and darkness.

We had everything prepared. I printed out pamphlets about ham radio to hand out. I made some signs for the operating positions so guest operators would remember our callsign and the exchange. I dug up some extra headphones and splitters so interested visitors could listen in on the action. I coordinated with the family to come out Sunday for a picnic and barbecue afterwards. Even the geomagnetic field was predicted to be quiet so we'd be able to work all the weak ones running low power and dipoles strung in trees. It was going to be the start of a classic Field Day tradition.

As usual, things didn't work out the way we planned. Well, most things anyways. Saturday morning 'dawned' (the sun never goes down this time of year) cold and miserable and rainy with more of the same in the forecast for the whole weekend. Undaunted, we finished battening down the hatches and got ready to leave. The only stop we had to make on the way was at the shop to put some air in the trailer tires. We pulled out of the driveway right on schedule at 11:15 but when we got to the shop I couldn't find my key for the door. I knew I put it in my pocket before we left. Then I discovered the hole in my pocket! Back to the house we went for 10 frantic minutes of searching before I finally found the key in the lining of my jacket.

Things ran pretty smoothly after that. We made it out to the campground by 12:15 (1815z) and by 12:45 we had the generator running and the HF and the satellite antennas up. VE8DW jumped on the air to start making contacts while I put up a vertical and strung some radials. The forecast was for quiet geomagnetic conditions but instead ended up being unsettled all weekend long. We had diode propagation on all bands. Lots of stations were heard but it was difficult to get them to hear us even though we were running power. A short run on 20m RTTY in the early evening was the only bright spot. 40 meters was a total loss. Saturday night I could hear stations from all across the US and Canada but even running a full kW I couldn't even get a QRZ? out of any of them. After an hour I gave up and focused on listening for a 6m opening and working satellites. The satellites were all busy but only produced a steady trickle of contacts. The single channel FM satellites were so slammed it that took all weekend to make the allowed single contact through each one. 6m opened to northern BC and Alberta shortly after midnight but I didn't hear any stations and at about 2am we decided to call it a night and grab a few hours of sleep.

The next day started early at 5am with eastern US sunrise and an International Space Station pass the first things on the agenda. The aurora was even heavier on Sunday morning and 20m was very slow going for the first several hours. The ISS pass was exciting and frustrating at the same time. We only had two passes during the Field Day period, one with a maximum 1.8 degrees elevation and another an hour later with 0.7 degrees. Amazingly, we heard Canadian astronaut VA3CSA calling CQ with no takers during both opportunities but he didn't reply to our calls! After the second pass I jumped on the internet (did I mention we had a wireless internet connection to the mobile shack?) and found out that the ARISS station was using the VHF/UHF repeater mode. I knew it had that capability but I didn't know they also used it for space-to-ground voice contacts. All the official information I found online before Field Day clearly stated that 144.49MHz was the only uplink frequency to use for voice contacts with the ISS. Oh well, live and learn.

Due to the inclement weather, the campground was deserted all weekend and we didn't have a single visitor, none of our invited guests showed up, and even the family barbecue was cancelled. Better luck next year! At least Wally and I had fun.

The final results were 87 contacts on HF (26 RTTY, the rest SSB) and 31 contacts on satellite.

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