Firstly I should mention that after a long lull during December and early January, some F layer activity has returned to 40MHz. As I start writing this on 13 January I have been receiving ZF1EJ at up to -4dB on the second day of good propagation this year. Let us hope this is a good start to the year, and maybe DX will reach 50MHz too before long.
My last posting was a whinge to complain about pretty flat conditions lasting 69 days. Well, eventually, after 86 days in total a reasonable lift started at last on 10 January.
It had been well signposted in advance. Both of the tropo predictors from Hepburn and F5LEN (see sidebar for links) predicted good conditions for 11 and 12 January 2024.
|Hepburn Tropo Index for 18:00 on 11 January 2024
|F5LEN Tropo map for 18:00 on 12 January 2024
Click to enlarge images if you need to, as usual. I like F5LEN's view of a misty field to represent high pressure.
Based on the maps I expected things to open mainly towards Sweden and perhaps into the Baltic. It started that way but most of the activity was to the South East.
Anyway, along with my FM warning system bringing in the Norwegian coastguard, I worked OZ1BEF on 2m at 14:24 on the 10th. This was followed by LA6GKA, but after that things generally moved away from that direction.
Over all, between those first QSOs and 10:00 on Saturday 13 January I made 98 contacts on four bands, reaching 38 squares and 11 countries. Best DX was on 2m to Olli DH8BQA thanks to his remote station in JO73, a distance of 1093km.
On 144MHz this was the result:-
|144MHz contacts at GM4FVM 10 to 13 January 2024
Spending my time on 70cm produced a few more contacts there than on 2m.
|432MHz contacts at GM4FVM 10 to 13 January 2024
On 23cm things worked out rather well.
|1296MHz contacts at GM4FVM 10 to 13 January 2024
Although this does not look very dramatic, it is a good performance for a microwave band. 8 QSOs in 4 countries with 6 squares. However, each QSO took some organising. I logged on to the Microwave KST chatroom. Although I rarely ever use the other rooms, the microwave one works quite well. There is time to set up a QSO and work your way through it with your companion amateur.
I had worked Roger, EI8KN on 70cm and asked him to join me on 23cm. This was something we had discussed at the GMDX Convention in Stirling last year. I had explained to Roger that I had not yet worked EI on 1296 and he offered to help. At first we tried aircraft scatter but that failed. At a distance of 527km that should be possible but the window into which the aircraft have to fly is very narrow at that range. In the end we had to give up and this was the next attempt 3 months later. And it worked this time, so thanks to Roger for QSYing and waiting for me.
One 23cm contact stood out as odd, simply because it was "normal", or perhaps "random". I sometimes call CQ at various beam headings, though this almost never works on 1296MHz. Still, you never know. Three minutes after I stopped calling, up popped DK1VC in JO31 also calling CQ. I decoded him at -03db and he gave me +01dB. What a splendid thing to stumble across a QSO on 23cm. It does happen, but not often at 811km. I was still hearing him 40 minutes later, but he only seemed to work one more station.
My other 23cm contacts were more normal, having been arranged via KST. I had tried to work Walter, DK3RV, on previous occasions but kept failing to make a QSO at 771km. This time I could see a faint trace on the FT8 waterfall. Often during a tropo opening the QSB can be very severe, so we kept at it and eventually after about 5 minutes I decoded Walter's CQ at -18dB. He responded next period with -19, then my RRR took another five and a half minutes to get confirmed, but the QSO was then complete and I sent 73. JO31 would have been a new square for me had DK1VC not provided it for me the previous day.
After my contact with Walter, it was the turn of Maurice F6DKW in JN18 to suggest a contact. Maurice suggested CW, and he agreed to try even after I told him that my CW is dire in the extreme. He was wise enough to QRS and once I had got the beam pointing the right was the contact was easy, 559 copy at 840km.
Later, after completing with EI8KN, David G4YTL from IO92 asked me for a QSO. M0CTP joined in and we completed using Q65 as FT8 was not up to the job. M0CTP and I were able to complete via aircraft scatter. Currently I cannot get planes to display on Airscout, which makes it pretty useless. Gary confirmed that it is the same with him, which was helpful information. I can stop trying to find a solution in the settings here. There may be some other problem with Airscout.
It was a similar thing with DJ8MS at 903km in JO54. I posted that I was about to go QRT and anybody who wanted to try for a contact should reply. Tor let me know he would like to try and after struggling with FT8 once again we switched to Q65 to complete the QSO. I had also tried to work Tor using FT8 on previous occasions. Once we were on Q65 the QSO was easy.
So what are the learning points from all this for 23cm operation? 1) KST is not always essential but it certainly helps. 2) FT8 is not great on this band, but CW and Q65 can get you out of a hole. 3) It is worth asking people to QSY from another band. 4) CW has a place on microwaves, even if it is slow.
Tropo also helps on 70MHz. I was pleased to work Henning OZ1JXY with good signal reports. This is a series of QSOs which goes back a long way with well over 100 contacts via a variety of propagation methods.
After the end of my activity on 11 and 12 January I expected it all to be over but there was one more DX contact to be made. On 13 January at 09:30 I worked F5RZC in JO10 on 144MHz, a handy enough contact at 642km. After that the DX faded and the stations in IO82 and so forth reappeared after two days absence. It is funny how during a tropo lift you lose the nearer stations as well as hearing the distant ones. At the end I could also hear stations in IO90 etc who would have been nice for me to work, but they were all beaming south to work into F and EA. And that was the end of that.
If we neglect the one-off contact on 13 January, all the activity was between 14:24 on the 10th and 19:35 on the 12th. I only worked seven stations on the 10th, and at that stage it was looking very much like the Scandinavian opening which the maps had predicted. There were no distant DX stations (though I heard an HB9 a couple of times), none of the OE, OK, or EA stations I have worked during previous events. I am happy enough though. Once I could switch between 2m and 23cm using my IC-9700, working one and listening on the other, and at the same time use my IC-7100 for 70cm, there were stations on all bands and I was a happy camper.
I called CQ a lot of 23cm SSB, but almost all contacts were on FT8, with three on Q65 and one on CW.
You do not appreciate the good times without living through the bad times, as I often say.
2m now = 45 DXCC and 247 squares
70cm now = 20 DXCC and 99 squares
23cm now = 11 DXCC and 32 squares
I enjoyed those good times.
Thanks everybody for making the contacts with me.
Let the good times roll.