Monthly Archive: September 2017

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!

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!