Monday, November 10, 2014

FT4TA Tromelin dxpedition is QRT. My thoughts

Members of the FT4TA team in action.
The FT4TA Tromelin mini dxpedition (I have to call it that, because there were only seven ops) finished on Sunday night, November 9th. I am glad to say that I have at least eight slots with them, with a possibility of two or three more. I reckon I have only the slimmest chance of being in their log on 30 cw. They were very weak and there was a lot of QRM. It might not have been my callsign that I heard. Time will tell. They have not uploaded the last three days' logs due to lack of internet on Tromelin, and are planning to do a final upload some time today (Monday) from Mayotte. As I said, time will tell!! I definitely worked someone using the callsign FT4TA on 15m CW, but a few of us who worked them on Thursday are not in the log. Is there a log missing, or was it a slim? There was also a 20m CW QSO that I am not entirely certain about, but I'm keeping the fingers crossed.

This was a tough dxpedition to work. Part of the reason for this is because they were a small team - seven ops running four stations. They managed over 70,000 QSOs in ten days. Not bad. Conditions for them were very challenging. When they tried to work North America only, the EU jammers would start causing deliberate QRM (DQRM). Mind you, the DQRM was there at many times when they weren't working NA/SA only, including the now famous (or infamous) EAHSYL, whoever that is. I doubt that they are even based in Spain, but their efforts to send what might be EA5SYL never work because they send four dits (a H) instead of five (a 5).

I am very, very glad to have been at the radio on two weekdays during this activation. I had a week's holiday and was in the lucky position to be able to call them on their first day of operation. Indeed, after just a short time trying on 10 metres SSB, I worked them on that Friday morning using my trusty Antron 99 antenna, a fibreglass vertical antenna that is also used by many 27 Mhz CB operators around the world. I worked FT4TA on a +39 Khz split. Amazing stuff. I also managed a QSO on 17 metres SSB that evening, meaning I had them in the log twice on their first day. But then the weekend came, and all hell broke loose. The pile-ups grew massively. The CW pile-ups were 25 Khz wide. The SSB pile-ups, in some cases, were 50 Khz wide. All the weekday workers were playing radio for the weekend, and it became almost impossible to get a QSO. By the most extraordinary luck, they QSYd from 20 metres SSB to 20m RTTY, and I called them before there was a big pile-up. I managed a QSO at 00:40 (twenty minutes to one in the morning) on Sunday morning, November 2nd. Happy days. Now I had three slots and two modes - SSB and RTTY.

I was fully sure that the pile-ups would start to settle down as we went into the Monday, but they didn't. The intensity of the piles remained, all through the week, right up until the moment they went QRT. This eighth-most-wanted DXCC, a small island in the Indian Ocean of Madagascar, was in huge demand around the globe. In fairness to the FT4TA team, they did make an effort to work different areas of the world. After spending the whole of each of the first few mornings working EU, they would then ask for NA/SA only in the afternoon. Incredibly, European operators started moaning about this on the clusters, asking such things as "why NA only" and suggesting that the Tromelin ops were favouring the US because that's where their sponsors were located!! And not a word about the fact that they had spent the whole morning working Europe only. There is an increasing belligerence among EU ops that I don't like. They want it all. They want to work the DX on the bands and slots that they need, without taking cognisance of the needs and aims of the dxpedition and other hams around the world. And when the dxpedition does something contrary to their wishes, they put up nasty comments on the cluster. It's clear that some hams need to grow up. And what about the usual request spots? Oh my god. If I see another "please 20m RTTY" or "Good time for EU 40 CW" etc etc, I will throw all my equipment in a skip and take up fishing. Do they think the dx ops are sitting there, in a shack in Tromelin, watching the cluster, wondering who wants what slot? I don't think so.
After the final log upload today, I find I have a total of nine slots, which is
fantastic. I am missing a 15 cw and 20 cw QSO. Who can complain?
I worked several more slots, including 10 CW, 17 CW and 12 SSB, all of which are in the log, but I will have to await the complete log update to see what my final tally is. I gave up chasing them at the weekend after they asked for slot chasers to stand by to allow people who needed it as an ATNO (All-Time New One) to call. But on Sunday night, I was informed that EI and G were working them on 20 SSB and as most of EU wasn't hearing them, I gave them a holler and bagged that slot too.

It's difficult to complain about a dxpedition. These are people who invest huge amounts of their own time and money to activate a rare DXCC for the benefit of the ham community. So I will keep my complaint very short. They kept disappearing from a band or slot without warning. Sometimes they would just say "QRX" and disappear for five minutes, or QSY somewhere else, or just disappear completely. This was bad operating, and very frustrating for the huge pile waiting to work them. However, given the small team and the huge demand for them, I sure understand why they would need regular breaks. They must have been exhausted.

It's wonderful to have this rare one in the log. In most cases, DXCC in the Indian Ocean are relatively easy to work from EI. But the intensity of the pile-ups and the unfortunate QRM and regular QRXing made this a difficult one to bag. Well done to the FT4TA team for seeing it through to the end. Remember, you can't keep all of the people happy all of the time. But you've certainly put a smile on the face of this operator!!!

Paul, VK4MA, has some very interesting thoughts also on the dxpedition.

Friday, October 31, 2014

FT4TA Tromelin logged on 10 metres SSB - DXCC #309!

This is FT4TA Tromelin on 10 metres SSB a few minutes after I logged them as an ATNO (All-Time New One). This is my 309th DXCC logged. It was very pleasing to get them on the first morning of operations, especially with the pile-up being so huge. I used 400 watts into my Antron 99 vertical antenna. After a short while calling on various splits, I decided to pick 28.524 (39 Khz up) and sat there for about seven or eight minutes before I heard the magic words:

"Echo India Two Kilo Charlie five nine".

I didn't believe it was me. I paused. It came again.

"Echo India Two Kilo Charlie five nine".

I went back to him and gave him "roger, roger, Echo India Two Kilo Charlie, five nine, five nine, QSL".

And I was in the log! 

The pile-ups on 10 SSB, 12 SSB, 15 RTTY and 17 CW are humongous. The CW callers on 17 metres are way up as far as 18.108 and beyond, completely obliterating the digital portion of the band. I will try for some more slots when things calm down a little bit!

Update: Just now at 18:50 after returning from trick or treating with the kids, I've worked FT4TA Tromelin on 17 metres SSB. I got them on 18.155, with their QRG on 18.130.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tromelin - let the games begin!!!

The Tromelin island (FT4TA) dxpedition has officially begun. Unfortunately conditions have not been favourable this evening for Ireland, so I will have to wait to see what tomorrow brings in terms of hearing this rare DXCC. Tromelin is the 10th-most-wanted DXCC and hasn't been activated in 14 years. Good luck to all the DX hunters trying to get FT4TA into their log!

I haven't been doing much blogging lately, but I have been reasonably active on the bands. Here's a very brief update about what I've been working:

VK9DLX Lord Howe Island - dxpedition prolonged and continuing - 8 slots.
VK9XSP Christmas Island - Polish dxpedition to VK9/X - 12 slots.
5R8M - excellent dxpedition to Madagascar - 13 slots so far.
ZK3E/ZK3Q - two-man Polish dxpedition to Tokelau - three slots so far, which is brilliant because there are only two of them and signals are very, very light most of the time.
XX9R Macau - very difficult to hear most of the time. Managed 12m CW so far.
KG4WV/KG4DY Guantanamo Bay - managed two slots so far. Easy to work from here.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

S01WS worked again as I receive their QSL card!

My QSL cards received from S01WS Western Sahara.
I managed another new band slot with S01WS in Western Sahara today. I worked them on 12 metres CW with my trusty Antron 99 vertical antenna. This brings to eight the total number of slots I have them worked on. Only a couple of days ago I received QSL cards confirming six slots. I have worked them twice again since requesting the card!! I would be very glad of confirmations on Logbook of the World, but I'm not sure if that's going to happen. Although I didn't have much time in the shack today, I did manage to work the following:

E51XIW South Cook Islands - 20 metres RTTY (new one on digi modes)
9N7CJ Nepal - 20 metres SSB (new slot)
TR8CA Gabon - 10 metres SSB (new slot)
T30D Western Kiribati - 20 metres CW (new slot)
C21GC Nauru - 17 metres CW (new band)
3D2YA Fiji - 20 metres CW

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Interesting signal reports from my mobile setup

Yesterday, at lunchtime, I decided to test out the HF setup in the car, which I have recently reinstalled. I gave out a CQ on 14.005 with 100 watts through my roof-mounted Watson Multi-ranger antenna. I didn't actually want to make any contacts. I was happy enough just to look at the signal reports on the Reverse Beacon Network. And that's when it got really interesting!

As you can see from the photo on right, I was parked against a wall with a fence on it, and behind that is a big factory unit that it perhaps 30 feet tall. The front of my car is facing roughly east-southeast, so the factory is pretty much blocking me to the west-northwest. And what was my best signal report on the Reverse Beacon Network? VE2WU in Canada, which is where my signal should have been worst. Perhaps the fence was reflecting my signal strongly onto the long path? I had good reports from Belgium and Germany too, which should not be so surprising. But 54 dB snr from Canada is a damn good report, the sort of thing I mightn't even see with my hexbeam and 400 watts pointing directly to Canada!

Perhaps one of my readers can shed some light on what might have made my signal to Canada so strong?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Quick update: C2, ZD9, VK9/X logged, E3 confirmed

Yesterday evening I arrived home from work knowing that any radio time would be severely curtailed. I had to read the IRTS news at 8pm on EI2MOG, and then had a meeting to go to which would last from 8.30pm until after 10pm. When I got home, I received messages from fellow DXers EI6FR and EI6IL that C21 was on 30 metres with a good signal, and that ZD9XF was on 10 cw. I had to eat my dinner!! Food came first.

Final approach to Nauru island, where C21GC is active.
It turned out not to be a bad decision. When I returned to the radio, I managed to work C21GC on 30 metres CW within two minutes!! Great going. A second slot with this new one. Then I went to 10 metres and, using my Antron 99 vertical, began calling Nigel ZD9XF on a split of about 2.5 Khz up. After about five minutes or so, he came back to me with "EI2KC 5NN". I gave him "TNX NIGEL, UR 5NN 5NN TU". Another slot with the southern Atlantic island! Unfortunately my doubtful QSO with him on 80 metres on Saturday morning is NOT in his online log. So I will have to try again, if he turns up on 80 in the mornings before his departure from the island this coming Saturday. No pressure eh?

A short time later I turned the hexbeam to 80 degrees and I could hear VK9AN quite well on 20 metres SSB. I punched in a 5 Khz split and began calling. It took just two calls to get into his log! Wow. Easy peasy. Sometimes that's the way it goes....... Three new slots in the space of about 20 minutes. And all before I had to read the news and leave the shack!

Upon reading Ark EI9KC's blog where he said that E30FB had confirmed his QSO on LoTW following an OQRS payment, I did the same, and now find that my two QSOs with this All-Time New One are now confirmed on LoTW! Wow. Brilliant stuff.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Some nice confirmations in via eQSL

Saipan, Mariana Islands, for a QSO on 20 metres CW.
TZ6BB, Mali, for a QSO on 30 metres CW earlier this month. Thanks Nando!
YV4NN Venezuela, for a QSO on 6 metres!! Chuffed with that one.