Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Never mind the Tropo, feel the Angst

I do feel amateur radio is a love/hate relationship for me.

Here I am off again. I said before that it is my "bad mistress" (not a good expression but it seems to fit).

I love it. There are lots of challenges and I am moderately good at some of it. But ...

I hate it. Things keep breaking down and I have to fix them. I have to. Or at least I have to try.

If there are no problems on the horizon, I invent some more problems. If I have a few minutes to think I will add a new mode, add a new band, try a new antenna. And each of these has the potential to be a new problem to solve.

That's it! For me, amateur radio is about finding problems to solve. If there are no problems, I invent some. I do not need to do any of it, it is a hobby. I do not earn a living at it. I could stop tomorrow. But if I gave up what would I do? Invent some new problem to solve. Standing still is not an option.

My Yaesu FT-817 decided to die on me. I do not have to run WSPR on HF, but I choose to. In the middle of everything else, it went potty, with a readout suggesting I was on broadcast frequencies with a locked radio. Various re-boots did nothing. Nor did a partial reset. Then a full reset and it is going again. I had to do all the settings again. What was that all about? No time ... got to deal with the 2m linear.

Oh dear. Is this a hobby or an obsession?

I am not a great admirer of the FT-817. Portability is its main plus. I would rather have something better for my HF activities, but then again I do not rate a bit of WSPR as something which justifies using a really nice bit of kit.

If I did not say all this it might look easy. All those maps of mine showing QSOs all over the place where VHF is not supposed to go. How does he do that with such ease, you ask? EASE! I am permanently flustered. I am in a constant campaign against entropy - the physical property of all things to revert to disorder. Entropy is about everything striving to reach the lowest energy level, which in radio terms means broken down and falling to pieces. My task, which I have chosen to accept, is to prove that VHF radio (and a bit more) can do brilliant things, but I admit it is hard work to stop everything constantly breaking down and reverting to chaos.

The problem of the moment is that everything appears to be falling apart at once. Including me.

Moving on ...

It has been a notable few days at GM4FVM from the radio point of view. As reported last time a high pressure system dropped anchor south of These Islands. This is rather unusual as long-lasting highs are more usually over the North Sea. So instead of the more typical openings from here into Netherlands and Germany, this time we had openings into France and Spain.
144MHz contacts at GM4FVM 3 to 8 January 2019
No chance to put the callsigns on that map because there are so many they overlap. I did however put on the 100km circles. I did manage many QSOs into France, all of which I regard as good going.

Best contact in France was F4EZJ in JN05, 1170km. That is near Angouleme which is a long way - I know because I drove there once and I remember vividly how long it took. I would be happy with that, were it not for two new countries as well and even further DX.

A new country on 144MHz was Spain. Somehow I have never worked Spain from here and I certainly did not expect to do it barefoot. It seems fitting that my first EA contact on 2m was with Fidel, EA1HRR (IN83, 1387km). I have worked Fidel many times on 4m and 6m, so he now joins the select group who have worked me on three bands. Fidel is always cheerful and enthusiastic on the air. I have also visited the Basque Country a couple of times and I do have some sort of affinity for it (but then that applies to most places I have visited). This may be a scientific hobby but there is some room for feeling in there somewhere.

I actually managed to work three Spanish stations during the lift. After one failed attempt I tried again the next day and finally worked EA4GMY in IN80 (1717km) near Madrid. I have never been to Madrid but I'll take that one, thanks. That counts as good 2m DX in my book.

There were repeated ducts during which stations between South West and South East from here were appearing and disappearing. Some stations in Northern France were audible for most of the three days the lift lasted. Stations in Netherlands and Germany could not be heard by me, but they seemed to working West into Wales and Ireland. I could see other GM stations in the Highland and Islands working far into South Western Europe, much further than me. If you happened to live outside the area covered you missed it completely. Such is amateur radio.

The other new 144MHz country was provided by a contact with Richard, GU8FBO (IN89, 714). That means Richard also joins the three band (50/70/144 MHz) club, and some other club I have not yet started for propagation modes (tropo/aurora/meteor scatter/Es). Maybe I need yet another for transmission mode which Richard could join (JT6M/SSB/MSK144/FT8). I am very clubbable. Or am I?

432MHz was also pretty good during this lift too...
432MHz contacts at GM4FVM 3 to 8 January 2019
France and Belgium on 70cms tropo! I think that is a great success from here. I also feel that 70cms could be a lot better if there were more stations active.

F6KBF in JN18 is 820km, good for 70cms from here. And my first QSO with G0MJI on any band was notable too.

Of course, all that still is not enough for me. I have still not managed to work the Netherlands on 70cms. Another place I have fond memories of visiting, and surely fairly easy to reach form here. Not during a southern facing lift. I need to find one of those old fashioned North Sea highs.

I am not easily pleased.

This period of enhanced propagation thanks to tropospheric conditions fell at about the same time as the Quadrantids meteor shower. That shower looked pretty good but I only have time for a few contacts such as these on 4m ...
70MHz contacts at GM4FVM 1 to 8 January 2019
I suppose that the tropo opening was distracting me, plus the absence for now of my 2m and 6m linear amplifiers. As I said last time, power is not everything on meteor scatter, and I was happy with these contacts on 70MHz.

So all in all a good period for DX. There may be a wee bit left in the High. At the moment a weather system is tracking down the North Sea, but we may have a day or two of high pressure left after that.

When it gets to the middle of January we reach "the end of the VHF season", meaning that high pressure are less frequent (round here anyway), and the meteor season goes into a lull until April. Sporadic E is more or less absent until May. Sure, there may be some moon bounce or aurora work to be done, but broadly it is time to polish up the antenna for next season. And what about fixing all those things that were bugging you?

On the cards for GM4FVM is a complete removal of the shack while the room is repainted. This is an opportunity to get the vacuum cleaner into nooks and crannies not often visited by cleaning apparatus. Time to check all the RF plugs, clean out the fans and put everything back in a different place than before. Whoop-de-doooh.

I will keep you posted on that exciting prospect.




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