Monthly Archive: September 2017

E6AG QSL Card Design

I have already begun designing the QSL cards for the E6AG expedition. The plan is to make a 4 sided card available via OQRS and for the bureau requests a 2 sided card. Printing and graphics authorizations are still pending but I am working towards releasing the cards through Charles M0OXO as soon as I can! Remember OQRS is now open via M0OXO Logsearch

E6AG SSTV Activity Report

While there wasn’t much of it we did carry out a small amount of SSTV activity. Contact was made with three stations – being JA3OEN, VK5BC and VK4EM. The following are some of the pictures swapped on 20m.

The following were what people saw from E6AG on 20m 14.230MHz

The following were received on 20m

E6AG On Air: Where did I work?

A good friend of mine once said everything is more interesting with statistics. With that in mind, here are some graphics that visualise where in the world we managed to work from Niue this trip.

DXCC Worked Statistics

The following is a look at the breakup of contacts by band and country. This first table is the number of countries worked by band.

We can then break this down by contacts per band and contacts per mode.

I am very pleased at the lack of duplicates and the number of unique stations we managed to contact and give Niue to as a new band / mode / slot.

Activity by Mode

The next set of charts break up the logs by Band / mode and Continent / Mode.

From this we can also see that FT8 was a dominating mode towards most continents.

Maps of Contacts

Some of my favourite contacts were the low band ones – in part because they were some of the most challenging. Also, they were the bands with the least efficient antennas this trip, being a simple dipole in the coconut trees. It took several goes in some cases and most were based on skeds but we  achieved quite a good result all things considered on 80/160m.

160m Contact Map

 

80m Contact Map

Higher Bands 40-10m

The next set of maps are the results achieved on the remaining bands. Many of these were achieved with my dual antenna setup with transmit via the vertical and receive on the dipole to overcome the local noise floor issues I found on 20m in particular.

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For my first attempt at an international DXpedition I have surprised myself at what was achieved. Thanks to everyone for your patience in trying to work me. Thanks also to everyone who arranged skeds that we were able to fulfill, and my apologies to everyone who tried by failed to make contact. I hope to head out again to Niue in a few years time so this wont be the last time to work me out there thats for sure. Next time it will be bigger and better!

73 de Grant VK5GR / E6AG

E6AG now QRT!

Thats all folks!

After a total of 2477 contacts including 534 in the CQ WW RTTY contest E6AG is now closed. Station teardown will commence shortly and we start our journey back to Australia tomorrow. We hope to be home by Friday night.

A full write up with all the thank you’s and highlights will be added to the site in the next couple of days depending on internet access and time in Auckland otherwise next week when I get home.

73 de Grant E6AG / VK5GR and family!

Last Day today – Packing Up Monday Niue time (25th Sept)

Final Hours

Today marks the last full day of operation from E6AG. The plans at this stage are to operate on 40m this evening, either LSB or FT8. I may also do one more stint on 20m but that will depend on time. You may also see me once more on 30/40m tomorrow morning (Monday Niue time) before I pull the switch and take the station apart. If the QRN isnt too bad I will try short 5 min skeds on 80 and 160 but don’t count on me receiving the request – the internet is being particularly uncooperative today.

Thank You

Thank you to everyone who has made contact with me whilst I have been out here on Niue. Thanks also for the patience with my at times erratic operating. Family commitments often interrupted a pile up.

I must also say an enormous thank you to my wife and daughter who have put up with “daddy playing radio” probably more than he should. I hope people appreciate the balancing act it is. Without them I wouldn’t be here doing this. They are the most important part of the trip so thank you again!

Thanks also to all the stations who worked me during the CQ WW RTTY contest. One thing I saw was that I didn’t have the punch required to do search and pounce, particularly into Europe. I know I worked a few more countries during the contest however so hopefully I have your contact in the log. I have a respectable score given I couldnt operate for the duration of the contest (due to other commitments) so will see how we place when that is submitted.

Thanks also to those who reached out to try and make skeds to contact me whilst on Niue. There were many and I tried to fill as many as I could. I know I didn’t make contact with all of you so my apologies. I don’t think this will be the last time coming out here so keep watching. I also know there are others in ZL who come up to Niue from time to time so hopefully if you don’t work me you might work one of them.

QSL Cards & Logs

OQRS via M0OXO is open – you can request your cards there. I am planning on having them out within 3-4 months of returning home. Thanks Charles for all your help during the trip.

The final logs should be uploaded either before we leave or at the very least once we get to Auckland. I am currently about 48hrs behind as I didn’t want to load any logs during the contest.

73 and Good Luck de Grant E6AG on Niue OC-040

News from Niue – Tuesday 19th Sept

First Up – the Tourist Report!

Swimming on the Reefs

Niue Native Sea Snake – Katuali

We have been having loads of fun here on Niue and have found several swimming rock holes that even without masks or scuba gear give us plenty of opportunities to see the local wildlife, including the native Niuean Sea Snakes. Fortunately while highly venomous they are apparently not known to strike humans and are more likely to swim away from us rather than towards us.

The beaches are few, with most of the island surrounded by rock pools and reefs, but even those beaches that do exist are almost devoid of other people. What a fantastic place this is! The rock pools and reefs are beautiful and make this a truly fascinating island paradise, off the beaten track, largely ignored by main stream tourism, and more genuine a place to visit and live in for a few weeks as a result.

Utoku Beach next to Alofi

Niue doesn’t have shopping malls, theme parks, in fact there isn’t much in the way of man made attractions at all. It is all about the spectacular cliff and chasm coastline and the coral reefs at your doorstep. That to me is the attraction of the place. Good basic services while really feeling disconnected from the rest of the world. Couldn’t ask for me really – except for the steady stream of calls when I am on the air 🙂

Rock Pool just north of Hio Beach

Meals & Dining Out

For meals, the island’s supermarket was during our stay well stocked (with a supply ship having just docked most likely helping with this). There was a wide enough selection of foods although we were advised to bring in our own fresh vegetables from Auckland (which we did). There are some available locally but they are not plentiful and they are a little expensive. We are cooking about half our own meals while here and had heard tales about things being hard to get. So far the staples we were looking for have all been found in at least one form or other.

The view from Cafe Vaiolama over Alofi Bay

When we do want to eat out it  requires some planning. There are many hidden gems to explore but most require you to book in advance. The cafe’s and restaurants appear to have taken it in turns picking their theme night of the week, each hosting a major event encouraging you to move around and explore the full range of what Niue has to offer. This gives us a fantastic excuse to explore! Highlights so far have been:

  • Crazy Uga Burger Night – Thursday – burgers and fish and chips were great
  • Gills Indian – Open 7 days – flavourful and well done
  • Kai Ika – New York Style Pizza and Japanese – good Pizzas and the Japanese food is excellent
  • Hoi Beach Cafe – Locally caught grilled Tuna (5 stars from me)

Public Telecommunications

The island has an large WiFi network which provides internet access to many of the populated parts of the island. it’s performance however is patchy and slow so reliance on it should not be expected. It also appears to be selectively port throttled so that some websites simply wont load much of the time or certain actions on those sites (like uploading my logs to Clublog – which is proving particularly hard).

There is also a GSM cellular network although currently getting SIM cards for visitors is very difficult (they are basically unavailable until further notice – although I have been fortunate to acquire one while I am here thanks to my dealings with Niue Telecom over my amateur radio license). No international roaming either – so it has been a time to switch off my Australian phones and disconnect from the world. A liberating experience actually! Embrace it.

So if you are trying to keep up where I am, while I am trying to keep information flowing out, sometimes it is very hard maintaining a connection. Best thing to do if you hear me on the air is to spot me. I cant always let people know where I am and when.

Our Accommodation

We chose to stay at Kaliki Lodge up in Namukulu on the NW side of the island. It is about a 20 minute drive up the coast from the capital Alofi. The house suits all our needs and has a fantastic view out into the Pacific Ocean. It is a fully self contained 3 bedroom house, allowing us to live a little like we were still home – important when travelling with my 4yo daughter.

 

….and now for the Amateur Radio Report!

Sunset at E6AG on Niue – IOTA OC-040

We have been operating now for 5 days and have over 1100 contacts in the log. Considering this is a one man holiday trip and some of the problems I have had with gear and noise, and the lousy solar conditions for several days it may be fair to say that is not a bad effort. We are still here for another 7 days so 2000 contacts should be achievable considering CQ WW RTTY in there as well.

Problems, Problems & Solutions!

It has been an interesting time setting up the station and solving the problems as they arise. The first fault I had was the receive chain failing a few seconds after I released transmit on the amplifier. It  was also kicking the VSWR and tripping the amplifier at times. My initial concerns were that a fault I had seen in the amplifier some months ago had returned. After a conversation with Garry VK5ZK my attention turned to faulty feeders and connectors. What I discovered was a barrel connector linking the feeder with the antenna had become corroded after some water ingress. The QRO transmit power would weld the joint on transmit, and then it would break in the wind shortly after dropping the key. This is also why it wasnt seen initially on only 100W.

Original Driven Element Coupler Design

Updated Driven Element Coupler – now with screw clamps

The other problem we were having was with the original feedline to antenna coupler. Originally it was a copper coil used to wrap around the main wire rope used on the radiator which could slide through the coil as you tuned the length of the wire. With use that became a loose fit and RF transfer was degraded and also contributing to the amplifier shutdown issues. So, with a stroke of luck, and a bit of a bodge, I cut up one of the cables I had brought for power distribution which had a screw terminal block on it, and now use that to tightly clamp the TX feed to the radiating element. Voila – no more problems!

40-10m Tune-able Mono-pole next to the house

I have also been battling very high noise floors on the vertical especially on 20m. It was so bad that 20m was S7 most of the time and the other bands were noisy too. Having gotten a bit despondent over the situation I set up the dipole I had brought for 40/80/160m and see if that at least improved 40m.

40/80/160m Trapped Dipole – also being used as a general receive antenna

This antenna was intended to play only on 80/160m, however what a reward to have brought it. It suffered none of the noise problems the other antenna was seeing when receiving on bands from 40-12m, with levels down around S1-3. Considering this, I hatched a new plan, which – transmit on the vertical and receive on the dipole. The only catch, I needed an adaptor to the BNC Rx antenna input on the K3. A good thing I brought a small tool kit and soldering iron and a pile of spares. After knocking up the required cable I was able to plumb the dipole into the receive port and could then select which antenna I wanted to receive on. That has made all the difference!

Finally I could hear the weaker stations particularly from Europe. I will try to concentrate on some of the limited openings to Europe in the next few days now these issues are behind me.

 

General Activity

The solar conditions weren’t exactly ideal the first few days I was here, but I don’t think I noticed! This is the first time I have operated HF this far north towards the equator and the signal behaviour on the higher bands has surprised me. This late in the cycle I didn’t expect to be working 10 and 12m however I have now had contacts on both bands into Asia, VK and NA. I am loosely sticking to the operating plan but adapting to what I can hear. I am using the level of FT8 activity as a guide too.

I have had one good run into Europe on SSB so far and a scattering of contacts on digital modes. The mainstay of course is Japan and North America with a good deal of Australia there as well. I have been pleased to work some South American stations too – a new experience for me as I ordinarily dont hear them from home in VK5 (Brazil is directly over the south pole for me from home – no so here).

Activity is also sporadic and at times interrupted, Please understand my family comes first and if I need to stop playing radio to help my daughter you will likely see me send QRX5MIN on FT8 or similar on other modes. I try to come back after a time but am not always successful. Your patience and understanding in this is appreciated – after all this is a family holiday first and amateur radio second (although a very close second I will admit).

Speaking of FT8 80m was a surprise 2 nights ago with an enormous pileup from across the pacific. My apologies again to the FT8 users who did not want a contact with E6AG – there wasnt much room left on the band at one point.

80m FT8 from E6AG Niue

160m Experiments

One of the after thoughts and now one of the highlights for me so far was the 160m experiment. I didn’t have many expectations for this. However after being contacted by Hiro JA2NDQ we setup a 160m cross frequency sked on 1840/1908kHz to give it a try. Low and behold we made contact first try using FT8. That was followed with contacts with ~5 other 160m JA stations. All I could say was WOW!

 

But that wasnt the end of it. Ed N4II also contacted me and we setup a sked to try and work over 10,000km. Ed, who had suffered antenna damage from Hurricane Irma didnt have his full set of antennas, but with perseverance over his sunrise we managed a 2 way JT65 contact on Monday Night (Niue time). That is a new personal best distance contact for me on 160m ever! To top it off I also worked AL7TC on FT8 shortly afterwards.

The 160m experiments will continue although the next batch will be an attempt at some greyline morning contacts from Niue. So if you are somewhere that can reach Niue on Greyline look for me calling CQ in the next 1-2 mornings.Please email e6ag @ bigpond.com if you want to try a specific sked and I will also try to accommodate your request.

Logs Uploaded and OQRS Open

While the Internet has been very slow here I am trying to keep the logs flowing to Charles M0OXO who is taking care of uploading them to his OQRS site and Clublog for me. Last upload is ~24hrs ago and there will be another one today.

 

Thanks Charles for your help and support whilst I am out here on this.

Details of OQRS can be found (here). To check if you are in the log please look (here)

Conclusion

Operations are continuing and we are also getting out to see more of the islands. We are here until Tuesday the 26th of September, but will pack the station upon the 25th. Also note, I haven’t yet undertaken any SSTV – that will be attempted hopefully during my Friday this week (Saturday in VK). Look out for me on 14.230.

Meanwhile it’s off to explore more of this island paradise! 73 from the Rock of Polynesia – the Island of Niue IOTA OC-040

 

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!