News

FT8 Operating Tips when calling E6AG

A few people may be disappointed that they are not in my FT8 logs. Some of the issues I am seeing are as follows:

  1. Make sure you are using WSJT-X v 1.8.0-RC2 – there are fixes there that help ALOT!
  2. If you call me on SPLIT, and then when I answer you QSY to my TX frequency you are likely to be swamped by signals from others calling me. I have lost a lot of contacts because people did that.
  3. If I dont hear a reply after 3 slots I will cancel the cycle and call CQ – you will need to start from scratch again in that case
  4. IMPORTANT: Please do not put free text in your 73 message. The software is picking up the first text you enter, and is putting that in the far station callsign field.  If you send “GRANT TU 73” instead of VK5PO E6AG 73 I found the software logging the contact under GRANT instead of VK5PO – this will make for a lot of broken contact records to fix later…..
  5. MOST IMPORTANT: If I see you send me an R[Signal] and I reply with RRR, if you do no reply with the 73, I WILL STILL LOG YOU! I consider seeing R[sig] and my sending [RRR] enough to constitute a valid contact. Check the clublog records to confirm if you made it this way!

Follow these tips to maximise your chances of working me on FT8! de Grant E6AG

E6AG On the Air from Niue

Arrived and Setup

Hello and welcome from Niue! We arrived safely with the gear and managed to put the first signals to air on Tuesday 12th (Niue time) in the evening after flying in from Auckland that afternoon. After managing to cram the family and all of the luggage into a Subaru (one more bag and it wouldnt have fit) we arrived at Kaliki lodge and unpacked. Then we headed back into Alofi to pick up supplies from the Supermarket and then my license from Niue Telecom.

After finding dinner and settling the family in for the first night I set to work setting up the equipment. The station went together nicely and ran faultlessly for the first 36 hours or so. More on that in a moment. I set up in the spare bedroom and was putting out my first calls to some unsuspecting VKs around 9.30pm Niue time.

I then joined the 7130DX net for a while and worked a few more VKs as I settled everything in and finalised my operating position. Then we QSY’ed up the band and put out our first calls.

Activity to date

So far I have managed some SSB on 40m and 20m and FT8 on those bands as well. I have also had a WSPR beacon running at 1W when I am not manning the station to help assess when the paths are open from here. The first round of logs have been uploaded to Clublog and are available for seaching through the logs page.

 

The Tale of the Amplifier

Unfortunately tonight things took a left turn. The one item I didn’t have a spare for, namely the linear, has developed a TR switching fault that intermittently kicks the system with high VSWR and deafens the receive chain. A had seen a similar problem with it several months ago (partially induced by my own hand at the time) but some surgery had appeared to cure it. It had been soak tested on RTTY, FT8 and in Contest conditions at my QTH since and had not shown any sign of trouble – until now. So, now that I have gotten over my disappointment it is back to it – albeit scaled back to 100W. I may not run SSB as much as planned but will definitely focus more now on digital modes and will crank up some CW for an experiment as well.

I will post another update in the next day or so. Internet here is rather slow, so I have been having problems maintaining access to the clusters and posting to the blog/facebook. Email is also difficult at times. Then again, considering where we are the fact that we have Internet on tap at all is impressive!

73 de Grant E6AG / VK5GR

UPDATE: Thursday Morning – it’s Alive (for now!)

Pulled the covers off the amplifier this morning to give it a visual cable wiggle lest anything had jiggled loose during the flights to get here. Low and behold, the HT line driving the TR switch appeared a little loose. So, after reseating it and putting the covers back on we reassembled the station and fired it up. Joy was had when the amp was again passing Rx signals to the rig.

Not sure just how long it will hold together but for now I am running FT8 on 15m today!

Problems then Finally Cured!

It has been an interesting 24 hours in radio land. After bypassing the amp the problem appeared to go away, but then it began to emerge again. Next I wondered if the tuner had been damaged in transit, but bypassing it didnt resolve the problem. Next I wondered if the radio itself was at fault. It was then I had the chance to talk to Gary VK5ZK on 20m about the problem when he mentioned problems with QRO and intermittent antennas. I proceeded to have an “Ah HA!” moment, and made a mod to the antenna, and after some poking around discovered one of the coax connectors had gone faulty.

So, after replacing the faulty antenna parts we are 100% back in business and ready for the next set of radio challenges, and also some time exploring this beautiful island of Niue.

73 de Grant E6AG

 

 

Updated Operating Schedule and Propagation Planner

As this will be a one man holiday style expedition I wont be operating 24×7 like the big guns. However, I will make the effort to try and work particular openings propagation willing, with a focus on trying to reach Europe in particular (a very difficult path from Niue over the North Pole).

Some days I will try and be active much of the day, while others will be restricted mostly to the “Likely Most Days” time plan you see below. If you do hear me calling a particular region, please respect that and wait your turn. If I don’t find a particular band open at a nominated time, start looking for me on lower frequencies. Be aware too that I cant change bands quickly (manual adjustment of the antenna will be required) so it could be 5-10 minutes before I come back on air. To that end I will try and limit frequent band changes.

Please Remember: This is based on predictions only – what happens will depend on the state of the bands of course, so it is subject to change without notice.

E6AG Propagation Prediction and Operating Plan

Whisper Beacons

An addition to the station is likely to be a couple of Whisper beacons which will be running when I am not manning the radios. The idea is to give me something that gives me an idea of when to try which band to what destination. Look out for E6AG on Whisper over the next two weeks!

2 Days to go before we depart VK!

Niue here we come!

There is less than 36 hours to go before we leave Australia on the first leg of the journey out to Niue. The first step is the flight from Adelaide to Auckland on Monday. We will then spend Tuesday staging things in New Zealand getting ready for the Wednesday morning flight to Niue (after picking up last minute items such as groceries etc that are hard to obtain on the island). We should arrive on Niue Wednesday afternoon VK/ZL time, which will actually be Tuesday in Niue (as we cross the dateline on the way). I don’t expect to be operating on Tuesday Niue time as I will need to reach the Niue Telecom office to collect and pay for my license before I start. I suspect I will run out of time before they close, considering getting the family settled in our holiday accommodation comes first (and that the logistics of carting the gear from the airport to the house might require two trips!)

When will I be on air?

If all goes to plan, by sun-down on Wednesday (Niue time) the first signals from E6AG should be heard on at least 40-10m (that’s Thursday the 14th of September in VK/ZL). Operation should then continue for 12 days before we pack up and start the journey home.

Operating times will vary. As this is first and foremost a family holiday I wont be on 24/7 and there will be some days where I am simply not on the air. The hope however is to be operating after approximately 0700 UTC through to 1200 UTC most evenings. I also will try to be active most mornings between 1600 and 1900 UTC. Days when we are just lounging around the house will see those hours expand significantly. In particular I will be active in the CQ WW RTTY contest on the 21st/22nd and that will be a 24hr operation.

I know I wont be able to answer all requests for QSOs and I will apologies in advance if I miss a request. I simply dont know how hectic it will really get out there. As a one man holiday setup, on air time is necessarily limited so I will ask that if you get a positive contact with me on a given band/mode that you dont come back for a repeat on the same combination. I would like to give out as many ATNOs as I can! Hopefully when I run one of these again I can entice some friends to come and help man radios and on air time wont be quite as restricted – it was simply not to be this time (despite efforts to the contrary).

Special things to look out for will be the FT8 activity as well as some SSTV pictures from Niue showing the best sights the Island has to offer! Details of how to contact E6AG on FT8 have been added under “Operating” on the website! Please take a read of these and follow those instructions to maximise the chance of everyone getting an FT8 contact with a new DXCC.

Finally, please also consult the operating pages on this site and abide by the DX Code of conduct. If I am calling specific regions please respect that and wait your turn – unless you can see I am getting little traffic. I will be focusing at certain times on trying to make contact as far as Europe – a very difficult path from E6, so I will ask the Pacific rim nations to standby when I do attempt to work the Europeans. I do not expect them to be easy to reach.

Contact whilst on Niue?

I will be trying to keep this page updated as well as monitoring the expedition mailbox e6ag @ bigpond.com whilst on the island. I will also post from time to time using the expedition Facebook and Twitter pages but cant make any guarantees as to the reliability of the Internet service we will find. If you do hear me, please spot me on the clusters so others can find me in case the Internet is down.

73 and look forward to working you all as E6AG in a few days time!

10 Days to Go: 80/160m Confirmed included!

It’s official – I will have some low band capability now on the trip. Thanks again to Steve VK5SFA, I will be taking a 160/80/40m trapped dipole with me that I can string in between the coconut trees! While not a fantastic DX antenna, it will at least give me something to radiate on the low bands that should at least reach VK/ZL if not the west coast of USA and Japan. I used a straight 80m dipole when I was on Kangaroo Island (OC-139) last year and was able to work JT65 into Central and North America, so I have some belief that this will at least allow those in the Pacifc Rim countries to work me on those bands.

Coupled with the KAT500 tuner, I should be able to deliver 400W across 75/80m and 160m. Expect to find me at least on JT65 and possibly FT8, and during the CQ WW RTTY Contest I will also try 80m RTTY!

15 Days to go: Limited 80m capability added!

80m to be tried / 160m possibbly too!

Saturday 26th August saw us test fire the 40m folded monopole antenna with the SGC-230 ATU on 80m. Local contacts out to 300km were made about an hour before sunset so it appears to radiate at least. Modelling in 4NEC2 shows that the pattern will be fairly low angle as well, although the efficiency will be down. At least it gives me something to try (considering 80m wasnt a band I was going to rely upon as this is only a one man show). So, 80m will be something to watch for from E6AG – at least on JT65

I am still planning some tests at night (possibly this coming weekend) to see how reports come in domestically across Australia to see if it has any hope of something more from Niue.

40-10m Monopole Results Speak for Themselves

To give me more of a feel for how the monopole works, I took also it for a test run during the WIA’s Remembrance Day Contest this year from the back yard of my mother in laws house in the country. The results speak for themselves. Compared to my dipoles, I was receiving reports from VK6 and VK4 of S4-5 points higher on the monopole (over typically 2000km+ paths). While I had it setup I also worked AL3/AA7CH (IOTA NA-042) on 30m and UW1M on 40m (in-between the contest calls). I have high hopes as a result for the antenna system on Niue!

Repairs and Preparations

The other thing that Steve VK5SFA and I did this weekend was go over the antenna and replace the squid pole which had split during the RD Contest. The last thing I needed was to get there and find that the main antenna was in pieces. After trying to track down a commercial source of 9m squid poles in Adelaide it was the North East Radio Club who came to the rescue with a stock of them. Thanks David VK5MDF for dropping them around to my QTH! It was then about an hours work at Steve VK5SFA’s to retrofit the pole and give the antenna a test (using my full back up station whats more). Good news was everything worked!

160m Experiment to be included

With the packing situation becoming much clearer as things are finalized I also find I have one more item of luggage I can take and fill with wire and coax. So, a plan is being hatched to at least try a full size 160m loop around the house, or if not, then a 160m dipole. No guarantees it will work but having something that can resonate down there (with a tuner at least) may make some top band contacts possible. We will see. The low bands were not a principle target of my trip (manpower and time) but if I can put up something simple then I am prepared to give it a go, considering the inquiries I have received asking me to attempt it for an ATNO, even from VK operators! 160m is likely to only be JT65 operation (and possibly FT8) but CW could be tried on request.

Then A Surprise!

So, the final packing is now underway. One final case to obtain this week and we will be set. There were some niggling questions remaining about how much coax to take etc that still needed answers. So while Googling the net I happened to stumble across Lance W7GJ’s website detailing his EME exploits on 2012 from Kaliki Lodge! Fantastic I thought, I can finally see photos of the back yard and confirm how everything could fit together. Now I am truly excited. The house looks to give me 100ft elevation overlooking the Pacific to the west north west so paths to EU and Japan should be excellent.

More news as we get ready to depart – it is getting closer now!

73 de Grant VK5GR / E6AG

Less than 20 days till Departure

It is getting closer now and most things are ready to go! A dry run of most of the station netted contacts from VK5 into Alaska on 30m and Ukraine on 40m. The backup station is now running as well and all thats needed is a backup power supply and one more travel case (which is on it’s way). So far we are under weight (but not by much) and so I am looking at what I can do to take a backup antenna should the primary be damaged. At the very least I should have enough wire, baluns and coax to be able to make a dipole to throw into a coconut tree should everything go horribly wrong.

E6AG on SSTV

Another mode I hope to operate whilst on Niue is Slow Scan TV. As I will be spending time playing tourist around the island, what better way to share the sights than to use images on the air. Look out for me on 14.230/14.233 from time to time during my stay for a unique opportunity to work E6 on an unusual mode.

What about CW from E6AG?

I have had a few inquiries for CW operation from E6AG since announcing my trip. Until now, I have advised that it most likely wont be possible. (I am not yet a competent CW operator, and while I am slowly learning Morse, it certainly isnt up to expedition standard). However, seeing how bad the propagation has been of late, I have taken the unusual step of trying to at least pack some aides to help those who request contacts using CW to achieve a QSO.

To that end, I am pleased to report that I have received support from the author of MRP40, a very good CW decoding program I have used on occasion, to at least give me some CW capability. In my time playing with CW decoders it has certainly proved very effective in under even poor conditions at decoding many CW signals. So, if you request a CW contact, understand I cant yet hand key, and by by ear reading is still normally only at about 5WPM, but through using this software as an aide I hope to at least satisfy your desires.

If you would like to try MRP40, please visit their (website.)

36 Days and Counting – Final Equipment Shakedown begins

Final planning for the equipment transport to Niue has begun. I am currently sourcing suitable cases as some of the gear will end up as checked luggage, and I having watched the baggage handlers at Sydney airport last week, well lets say I will be ensuring the gear going underneath has lots of padding.

What did we achieve this weekend?

  1. Collected the antenna from Steve VK5SFA – as well as a tuner that may allow me to load it up on 80 and 160m! I’m making no promises on those bands but will at least give it a try, although it wont be very efficient. Might be a JT65 or CW only effort there. I will be using the antenna next weekend during the WIA’s Remembrance Day Contest portable from a location on the eastern shores of Spencer Gulf so will get a feel for how it could react in Niue hopefully.
  2. Obtained the packaging for the antenna transport bag as well. Looks like the entire system including the tuner will come in at under 20kg and at a size that the airlines will accept – so looking good to have the complete antenna system in one bag.
  3. Spent a lot of time this weekend also trying to complete the integration of the software systems for running full digital modes and logging. I have worked out most of the bugs in N1MM+ for FSK RTTY (managed some marginal contacts to Europe tonight – including OE17BEACH, R6AZ, HA5AQ and SP7SP – some tweaking on macros and we should be good there). I have also gotten the CW Keyer integration done. (While I am no wizz at CW, I will at least be able to do computer generated CW on the trip for if the conditions turn bad – not as good as a well trained ear but hopefully good enough if I need to use it.) The only thing I dont think I can easily integrate is WSJT-X into N1MM. That one might need to be a manual ADIF import/export job. If you do have a trick for interfacing N1MM and WSJT I would love to hear from you!

Next Weekend is a full shakedown of the station portable so we will have a good idea of exactly what needs to be packaged and how much it all weighs. With luck, everything will fit under the luggage allowance with room to spare. We will know within the next week – then we can plan what backup radios and gear we can take (I am hoping to also take my IC706MK2G with me as a radio of last resort). Look out for me calling CQ on 160-15m as VK5GR/P next week!

N1MM Digital logging setup with 3 RTTY decoders.