Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Unexpected DX and Perseids

In this posting is a report on the Perseids meteor shower and some rather unexpected success on VHF and 70cms. As usual, click on the images to enlarge, if you need to.

First the Perseids. This meteor shower peaks around 11 to 13 August each year. The usual drill is for me to watch a large number of stations being received and not manage a contact with any of them. This is especially true on the 2 metre band, where success has been limited up to now.

Therefore imagine my surprise this year when one of my attempts to work somebody far away on 2m actually came off. For several years now I have been calling R1AY who is 1941km away in KP50. Astonishingly I had a two way success with Serge this year. I almost fell off the chair when I saw him replying to my call ...
R1AY replying to GM4FVM's call on 2m meteor scatter on 12 August 2018
Of course on 2m these meteor scatter contacts can go on for an hour or more, so it is not exactly the place for sudden excitement, but that one moment sticks in the mind. That was the first time anyone has replied to me from Russia on 2m apart from moon bounce.

Aside from that, the usual pattern of seeing CQ calls once from all sorts of places and replying to no effect continued this year, and included EU3CZ and numerous others. I could see many closer stations hearing me on PSK Reporter who did not reply, or I did not hear them. However, the R1AY case shows that it is worth giving it a try.

On 4m the Perseids brought me plenty of action
GM4FVM contacts on 70MHz meteor scatter during the 2018 Perseids shower
The contact with OH1MLZ is certainly the furthest at 1686km it was not quite the most notable.

Przemek, SP7VC, has activated many unusual places on 4m over the years, and given me several new squares. At the start of the Perseids he appeared from Guernsey, in a square and DXCC which I already have. "Why doesn't he go to Jersey?" I asked in my ignorance, before noting on his website that he planned to move on to Jersey too.

When I eventually worked MJ/SP7VC in IN89 I had a new DXCC. I had never worked Jersey from here on any band, so that is one for the record book. Not that it was a new square, as GU8FBO gave me that square some time ago.

Another surprise was working SM7CAD on 4m. I have remarked before on the short-term 4m licenses issued in Sweden and how hard I found it to work one. I have worked Curt before several times on 6m meteor scatter. On 14 August I found him working split on 70.1735/70.167. This took a bit of jiggling with WSJT-X and split on the IC-7300, but I was able to get back to him for a very easy QSO.

So Sweden and Jersey get me back up to 40 DXCC on 4m, and 217 squares. on 2m R1AY at 1946km is a new meteor scatter record for me. I heard some stations over 2000km. Not a bad Perseids after all.

New Continent and personal record DX on 2m
144MHz tropo ducting on 5 August 2018 as shown by DXMaps
On 5 August 2018 I worked EA8TJ by tropospheric ducting on 2m. He is in IL18 square, a distance of 3261.69km. It is also my second 2m continent (Africa). It almost didn't happen.

I had just returned from a trip to visit my sister and I saw that stations in Cornwall were working the Canary Islands and Capo Verde. They have a sea path to those places, I don't. They are a lot closer. Despite this I decided to listen.

While watching the WSJT-X screen I saw Chris, GM4ZJI, work EA8TJ. I sent Chris a congratulation text and he phoned me to warn me about the propagation at the same moment. I told him that I could not hear anything. For about 15 minutes I heard nothing and Chris sent me several texts encouraging me to try to work the EA8. It was only at this stage that I realised this was an EA8 and not a mainland Spanish station.

For some reason I decided to beam towards Chris instead. At this point I could hear EA8TJ. I called him and he came back, but when I beamed towards him I lost him again. So I quickly beamed back to what appeared to be North West and he completed the QSO. David, GM4JJJ, went on to work EA8TJ too.
FT8 QSO between GM4FVM and EA8TJ on 5 August 2018

What was happening? My SPID rotator controller had lost its settings and was pointing the beam 120 degrees off the true direction. I managed to run into the kitchen and peer out the window at the rotator which proved that I was beaming the wrong way. The only way I completed the QSO was by running back and forward into the kitchen, setting the beam heading by eye.

Just to put this tropo contact into perspective, it comfortably breaks my personal 2m Earth- Moon- Earth record of 2727km, and my overall non-EME 2m DX record of 2069km which was done on Sporadic E. It is 2m personal best using any form of propagation and I suspect it will take EME to break it (if I ever reach this distance again).

This was no great feat on my part. I was already aware of the path from EA8 to GM4ZJI when I made the QSO. Not only did Chris do this first, but he can claim a GM 2m tropo distance record as he is 6km or so further away from EA8TJ than I am. He phoned to alert me to the possibility and I certainly appreciate that. So Chris gets the congratulations. However, it is still a personal record for me and it tells us something about the propagation.

It certainly is not a totally sea path as it passes over the Cheviot Hills, the North Pennines and English Lake District, over North Wales, then briefly Cardigan Bay before crossing South Wales, but it misses Cornwall and Cape Finisterre.
144MHz contacts at GM4FVM 25 July to 14 August 2018
Putting R1AY and EA8TJ onto my map rather puts the other 2m contacts into the shade. This would be a mistake as there is interesting stuff in there. More contacts with ON4POO, meteor scatter into Germany, IO61 square activated by the EI9E group, and more. But it is the distance of the other two which catch the eye. For EA8 I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and my own efforts at station building almost prevented me working him due to using the wrong beam heading. With R1AY it is different - I have been trying to get him to hear me for years. Maybe he did in FSK days, but this time on MSK144 I saw his report in return, so I know I am getting there.

Is it FT8 which is making the difference these days? Not for meteor scatter where I was using MSK144. Anyway EA8 has been worked from Eastern Scotland before. However, MSK144 is getting more popular and for now almost everybody is on the same frequency. I haven't used FSK441 for years.

What makes a contact significant anyway? Long ones which are almost flukes, or short ones that prove the reliability of the equipment and propagation (and the superior abilities of the mature, yet technically savvy, operator)?

6m Trans-Atlantic and new 2018 DXCCs from nearer home
DX is one thing, whereas proving your all-round abilities by setting targets and beating them is another.
50MHz contacts at GM4FVM 25 July to 14 August 2018
Not so long ago the idea of working across the Atlantic on VHF was a dream for me. That a period of three weeks could contain six contacts "across the pond" on 6m would have been unthinkable not long ago. But when it happens I move on - what is next? I need another challenge. Working all those stations is a great bonus but now I am focused on maximising my DXCC count for this year!

Yes, working OY9JD and GU8FBO on 6m gave me more satisfaction than reaching the US and Puerto Rico. I have worked both Jon and Richard before on 4m and 6m, but on this occasion they provided the 2018 entries in the logbook to bring me to 65 DXCC on 6m this year.

Collecting DXCCs is a different challenge to working DX, at least until you need the last few. It is more about putting in the hours and taking the time to get things right. And you learn things like it is very difficult to work Netherlands and Wales from here on 6m.

I hope I am not becoming too blasé. Faeroes and Guernsey need to be worked, but working the Americas is very nice too.

6m moonbounce reception.
Following a tip-off from David GM4JJJ on 9 August I heard that W7GJ was being received via Earth- Moon- Earth on 6m JT65. At first I heard nothing, but once the moon elevation fell below 4 degrees I had copy ...
W7GJ heard at GM4FVM on 9 August 2018 on 6m JT65B via EME
I always thought that 6m moonbounce was confined to the realms of the "super station". I thought this because I had read it in a book. However, receiving a signal from Lance confirms that with a super station at one end it is possible. I sent a report to Lance and he sent a courteous reply. He encouraged me to call him if I see him again. I tried to hear him again the next evening but only got traces of Lance and meteor scatter traces of others working him.

I think with my station it is unlikely that I will ever make a 6m EME contact, but that is no reason for not trying. Reading how difficult it is in a book just put me off, whereas actually listening showed it is a possibility, however remote.

There is no doubt about it in my mind. Books on VHF operation for amateur concentrate on the mega-stations and the vast antenna arrays. Yep, I need those at the other end to work EME. They help with other propagation modes too. However, nothing beats just turning on and having a go, even if you only have a simple system.

70cms - it is all great
Anything worked by me on 432MHz has to be good. After all, with only a dozen or so contacts over my entire amateur career it is all new. Pretty well every contact brings a new square.

Several very helpful QSOs have convinced me that there is something for me to do on this band. GM0HBK on FT8, plus GM4JJJ and G0XVF on SSB were all good markers as to how far I would be likely to get. However there was nothing else for it but to try the RSGB UK Activity Contest on 14 August and see how it went. Before the contest I got the sequencer working - more of that in a later post.

I was really happy with the way the contest went, hearing well over 30 stations and working 10. There was lots of activity. According to reports from participants afterwards I think that conditions were just moderate. A slight lift would have dramatically improved my contact rate as I heard so many borderline stations. The last half hour was poorer for conditions but I still managed to work some stations rather closer to home during the period.

You may know that my attitude to contests is not really to engage with them. Rather like Jeremy Corbyn in Tunisia, I am taking part but not participating at the same time. I am happy to give away points, but not so committed that I cannot make tea, toast, have a Fig Roll, feed Katy the cat, stretch my legs and make a few phone calls during the session. At my level of limited participation it was GREAT FUN. I lasted for the full 2.5 hours with a good few breaks along the way.

No new DXCC to report (I missed GW and GD during the contest), but I have very quickly reached 15 squares to add to my 5 DXCC. Given that I only have 25 watts and a 12 element antenna I am really pleased with that.

And all this activity has made my map since 25 July look much more promising
432MHz contacts at GM4FVM 25 July to 14 August 2018
70cms seems like an interesting band. Where has it been all these years? I cannot blame anyone but myself. I keep saying that others should try VHF, and then I did not try UHF at 432MHz.

In Summary - what do I mean by unexpected DX?

Before the past three weeks:-
Working Sweden on 4m is not something I had expected to happen soon,
Reaching 65 DXCC on 6m in a year is not something I had expected to happen soon,
Being heard in Russia on 2m meteor scatter is not something I had expected to happen soon,
Working the Canary Islands on 2m tropo is not something I had ever expected to happen,
Hearing a US station on 6m EME is not something I had ever expected to happen,
Working 15 squares on 70 cms is not something I had expected to happen for years.

Phew! What next?

At this stage of the year I expect radio to wind down for the winter. "I expect"?

Some things are certainties. I am certainly taking "The Message" by Grand Masterflash and Furious Five as one of my eight discs to any desert island that I am sent to. And "Police and Thieves" by Junior Murvin (the long dub version please, not the rip-off recorded by The Clash). Do they have to be discs? Could I not have an MP3 version? Anyway there might be certainties with the musical choice, but on amateur radio, as in life, maybe nothing is certain.





  1. Hello Jim, I wonder if we could make a 6m contact (probabely JT9 or JT65?) on 6m. Since I'm at the northern coast and actually there is only water between us. I really think it would be possible even without any propagation....the distance between us is about the same as from me to Belgium and I see plenty of ON stations on FT8. Antenna is a 5 elem. on 14m agl with 50W pwr on digimode. 73, Bas

    1. Bas
      Thank you very much. I did eventually work PA on 6m Es by beaming 45 degrees off and using side-scatter. I did the same for Wales.
      I appreciate your offer, which was very kind.
      Sorry I did not reply sooner.

    2. Congrats working PA on 6m finally Jim. I've been calling in your direction couple of times last week to see if you would receive me. Regardless the time of day I probed all directions with FT8 and was always received in ON, DL and OZ. 73, Bas

  2. An excellent period of DX Jim. You have some remarkable stuff worked there, and I congratulate you on being able to be so active on so many bands, and catch the very cream of the stuff on each.
    One small correction, on 6m EME the mode used was JT65A not B.
    I too was amazed to see W7GJ via moonbounce, conditions were very close to as good as they will ever get, but it shows what is possible, who would ever have thought it possible even a few years ago?
    I must have been dreaming as I missed SM on 4m.
    I seem to recall working a lot more stations on 2m during the big meteor showers on SSB on the random calling channel 144.200. It was bedlam there at times, but quite productive. I am not quick enough to have those sort of contacts nowadays, I would need to record everything. Even MSK144 with 15 sec periods is slow compared to an SSB MS contact or 2 in the one burst on 2m.

    David GM4JJJ