Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Five Days of Peak Sporadic E

I am worried that this looks like boasting.

Probably, because I would be amazed by it if somebody else posted it.

I thought the last posting, with all those Japan and North America stations was fluke. But here we are again with quite a bag full of DX.

The purpose of this blog is to show what I do, with the general idea that anybody could do it. It is supposed to show what is possible. With a reasonable yagi mounted on a pole and a fair radio set, you can do amazing things thanks to propagation, other amateurs and (now) WSTJ-X. No need for a 20m tall lattice mast, a kilowatt and a mortgage.

So I claim not to be boasting. Really, I am just amazed.

My records go right back to day 1 when I got my licence (5 February 1975). However, what matters now starts from 2008 when we moved here. It took while to get the place built and a proper antenna up. Back on 18 June 2011 I worked my first trans-Atlantic station from here on the 6 metre band. That was VO1SO, worked on a Yaesu FT-897 and a two element mini-beam. On 11 July 2020 I worked VO1SO for a second time, using an Icom IC-7100 and 4 element beam. What is different is not really the equipment, it is that it took 5 years for me to work across the pond again after 18 June 2011. Even then, by 2016 I was happy with two contacts in a year. Now, as well as working VO1SO, I worked other 16 stations in North America the same day, some at twice the distance to Newfoundland.

Old hands said at the time (2011) that it would take a return to F-layer propagation and a sunspot peak to get back their fabled days of working all-day across the Atlantic on a hand-held or whatever astounding things happened when they ruled the air waves. Apparently not. All it took was WSJT and a bit of learning.

This posting was supposed to cover a week's working. In the end it is five days, during two of which I had no 6m antenna due to putting in new coax.
All QSOs at GM4FVM 9 July to 13 July 2020.
Before we get too carried away, not all of this is VHF. 4 of these 78 QSOs are on 10m, one each in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Saint Lucia. OK, I got hooked by seeing Saint Lucia being a new country so I had a few 10m QSOs. Saint Lucia on 10m using 40 watts and a dipole in the attic. Just like me in 1976, except I never reached Saint Lucia then. It is the same dipole though. It might have moved house 8 times but that dipole is a fixture wherever I lay my hat.

Looking at the other 73 QSOs, 6m provided a regular series of openings.
50MHz QSOs at GM4FVM 9 July to 13 July 2020.
41 QSOs in 5 days, 36 squares, 13 countries. Loads of US states, plus three Canadian provinces. Best DX W3UUM in Oklahoma (EL29 at 7448km). I should have something profound to say about that, but I haven't.

I did turn the antenna towards Asia and heard Japan, South Korea and China, but I did not try to contact anyone in that direction. It was amazing to the West. I heard a lot of stations call CQ and then vanish. I developed a tactic to listen to a CQ but not calling straight away. I then set everything up, made sure I had not worked them 20 minutes ago, set up FT8 to call with a report. After that, if I hear them call CQ a second time I reply. Usually that worked for me.

Is there such a thing as one-way propagation? Can I hear some of them and yet they cannot hear me at all? Sure there is. Whatever the books say, and making allowances for the unknown noise level at the other end, you see it all the time. Here is clip from by WSTJ log, a 4m example, but you see this across all VHF bands during Sporadic E openings ...
Screen grab from GM4FVM's WSJT log on 13 July 2020.
With the signal strength swinging as it was then, a 49dB difference between reception at each end might be possible, but there were regular 20 to 30dB differences which were steady for a lot of the time. Then there was a long period when US stations were heard here but they could not hear calls from many GM stations. It cuts both ways depending on the conditions.

On the 4 metre band things were certainly good. While there was no double-hop Es, I was still very happy with the openings we did have.
70MHz QSOs at GM4FVM 9 July to 13 July 2020.
I have to face it that having been a fixture n 70MHz for many years, pretty well everybody has worked me. I know that reduces my response rate. I still enjoy meeting up with old friends. 22 QSOs with 18 squares in 6 countries - nae bad.

For all its charms, the 70MHz band is slightly downgraded here at the peak Es period to provide warning of likely Es events on 144MHz. It is a bit of a stretch. Not many 4m openings reach 2m. However, I have learned to watch the OIRT broadcast stations for a series of clues.

And so to 2m. I had been hoping for a tropo opening. There was one, on a Southerly bearing, with the best DX being to G0RQL in IO70 at 569km. That is good, but more was to come. On 13 July I had been watching things develop on 70MHz, with extremely strong signals (+31dB, see above). Broadcast stations filled the band and I thought it was likely to reach 2m.

An early sign was when I heard SP8WJW on 2m which produced a lovely map on DX Maps showing exactly where the Es ionisation was centred.
DX Maps on 13 July 2020, showing Es at the intersection of the various paths
All the signs were there at 13:30, but nothing was being received here for long enough to decode, let alone work. I knew which direction to look as 4m revealed that the ionisation was peaking to open paths towards the Eastern Baltic.

Infuriatingly the 2m FM calling frequency was filled by stations jabbering on in what I took to be Latvian. Not a common language so I am not sure (could have been Latgalian - tricky to tell apart?). They did not allow a gap between overs ending with few garbled callsigns. Typical FM stuff really. To all those good people out there who love only their FM, I say "good on you", but you are limiting your radio experience to a terrible degree ("capture effect" - FM-ers should look it up in a book).

It was not until 18:30 that I started to decode stations. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were all worked over a space of 30 minutes. Lithuania was a new country on 2m, Latvia and Estonia I had only ever reached before on meteor scatter, so they are now added to the "terrestrial" list.
144MHz QSOs at GM4FVM 9 July to 13 July 2020.
Four countries got away during that 144MHz opening- Russia, Belarus, Sweden and Finland. All heard and called, but none worked. The UA1 near Saint Petersburg who got away would have added Russia to that terrestrial list as I have only worked Russia on 2m by MS and EME. He heard me, I heard him, no QSO. More to do there then.

I am less bothered by Finland, Sweden and Belarus which I have worked several times before. However, that is hardly the point. New records are good, but which GM4 station turns down the chance to work Belarus on 2m? Just because I have worked them before does not really take away the joy of the band opening before me.

Kaliningrad would have been nice though. The Gods of Propagation did not even offer that one as a "one that got away".

11 QSOs on 2m, all in different squares, 5 countries, best DX ES4RM in KO49 at 1822km.

I'll take that on 2 metres anytime. Kaliningrad can wait.
So to return to my theme. On these postings I feel the need to show what is possible. It was great joy for me to see several friends of this blog working across the Atlantic on 6m and into the Baltic on 2m (that Russian was hard to reach, eh?).

I look those DX stations up in QRZ.com you know. Nosey sod, me. Some of those US stations on 6m were superstations and no mistake. To me most superstations can do 10dB better than me, but those guys....

I may return to the subject of superstations later. Well, I never stop talking about it really, do I? If I had those extra 10dB (and yes, that is what my local superstations have over me) maybe I would have worked all the possibilities I missed over the last 5 days. China, Russia, ... and what would I do then? What would I do once I had put the last piece in my radio jigsaw? Take up quilting?

Just a bit of DX, and not too much please. Leave me something to do in future.

Today (14th July) things have been pretty quiet. The Sun has thrown a bolt at us and a small aurora overnight put a stop to any Es this morning. The day is yet young though. Who knows what this evening may bring?

Small aurora! Is the Sun coming alive again? We need an F-layer opening to make 6m worth it, or so somebody told me 10 years ago.



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