Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Holiday operation from Portugal, and action on the Es/ Auroral Es front.

I do not plan my holiday operation like a dxpedition.

No doubt, if I was to go on a dxpedition (it has not happened yet) I would do some very meticulous planning. In this case with a 5 day trip to IM57 square (Southern Portugal) in mind, I could easily have fallen back on the tried and tested combination of FT-817, laptop and loaded whip antennas.

For 5 days it hardly seemed worth the effort. You see, my radio operation has an inverse relation to the success of the holiday. If I have time on my hands and the holiday is dragging on I tend to do radio, whereas if the holiday is flying past as I am enjoying it so much, then I do not do much operating. And five days is not really long enough to get bored.

So I thought I might bring my tablet computer and my Fun Cube dongle. With about two days left to test it out, things were not going well. While the tablet could run the dongle or the software, it could not quite run both. I tried various options, but I could not find a solution before I was getting ready to pack.

Given that the tablet could run the WSJT-X suite, I decided to ditch the dongle idea and take a real radio - my Robert R861 portable. This rig was bought by me about 15 years ago for this very reason - a portable SSB receiver to take on holiday. It replaced the tiny folding Sony SW100. The Sony had failed for the common reason they do ... a folding radio with a ribbon connector is never going to last for long. The Roberts, about 5 times the size but still relatively small, soldiers on.

I had spoken to another amateur who used the R861 (or its Sangean equivalent) on WSPR and he reported that it drifts like mad but can be used if you are careful. He said that if he opened the shack door by an inch the temperature change caused it to drift too much for WSPR. Still worth a try.

So the entire equipment was 1) radio, 2) roll of antenna wire, 3) 3.5mm plug to plug audio lead, 4) tablet, and 5) (not really necessary) a USB audio board. It did not really look like much of a radio station.
The Roberts and tablet in Portugal
I experimented first by listening on 20 metres to JT65. That was really quite interesting, especially as all the other bands appeared to be dead.

WSPR needs a lot more frequency accuracy and stability than JT65. The radio only has a frequency readout down to 1kHz, though the frequency control clicks every 40Hz. So a bit of counting the clicks got me to the correct frequency.

In the end I was only on WSPR for 44 minutes - so the holiday must have been going well. Of course I heard fairly well all round Europe,  including 9 x G, 1 x I, 1 x IW0, 2 x DL, 1 x HB, ON, and PA.
European stations heard by CT7/G4FVM on 18/3/17 on 14MHz WSPR
I was a bit surprised to hear from outside Europe too, with 5H3YH in Dar es Salaam being quite a surprise.
Non-European stations heard by CT7/G4FVM in 18/3/17 on 14MHz WSPR
VE and W I could have understood more easily. You can see that I do not know much about 20 metres.

So what is to be learned? I enjoyed keeping it simple and just taking a receiver. Listening on WSPR was easy, though the rig did drift a lot. With a bit of practice I could have done more (putting more of the antenna in the clear would have helped too). But I think it was worth it for just a short while.

I enjoy taking the radio on holiday. Usually I take the FT-817 but it is heavy and fiddly to tune the antennas. This was simple to do. To listen on data modes, all you need is an audio connection to a modest computer.

If the holiday had not been such a success I might have listened for a lot longer.
On 21 March there has been another "not quite" aurora, again with some decent Auroral Es. I was able to work SM2GCQ in KP15 square on 6m SSB - which is a handy 1710km.
SM2GCQ worked on 6m SSB via Auroral Es on 21/3/17
I also heard some beacons on 6m and some wide OIRT broadcast stations on 70MHz, though I heard no beacons or other amateur stations on the 4m band.
Broadcast station on 70.340 via Auroral Es on 21/3/17
Over the past week I have also noticed some Summer Es creeping onto 10 metres in the shape of several PA WSPR stations.

Let us hope things are looking up, after a long period in the Winter doldrums.


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