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.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

C21GC Nauru in the log - new country for me, #308!!!!!

Within the past couple of days, I was thinking how I had missed a couple of chances over the past few years to log C2 Nauru. And up pops a one-man dxpedition to that Pacific Island, starting today! I kid you not. Stan LZ1GC is there as C21GC from today until October 14th. He was spotted on several bands today. 15m CW - no signal here. 10m CW - no signal here. 17m CW - barely audible on the absolute limit and impossible to have a QSO with. Then, up he pops on the Reverse Beacon Network on 14.010. I have the antenna pointed at 8 degrees already. I dial down to 14.010. He is there!! 559 with flutter. I put the split on. I sit on 14.011.5. I call.

Within just a moment he comes back "EI2?" and within a short few moments I was in his log!! Wow. I managed to get in before he was physically spotted on the cluster. Lucky me, because when he was spotted the QRM became huge. I made the webcam video below a few minutes after working him.

C21 is my 308th DXCC worked. I'm delighted to have logged Stan on his first day of activity. It can be difficult to work such one-person dxpeditions in the Pacific. And, as the cluster spot proved, there can be considerable QRM too. Delighted now to finish off my weekend with another All-Time New One (ATNO) in the log, and so soon after E3 gave me my last African DXCC.

A map showing the location of C2 Nauru in the Pacific Ocean.

The entire continent of Africa worked in less than five years

As you might have been reading in the past week, I worked Eritrea, the last country on the continent of Africa that I needed. Today I've made a special map of Africa showing each DXCC (country/entity) and the date of my very first QSO with that country. It's been a heck of an adventure. If you told me when I got my ticket in October 2009 that I would have worked the entire African continent in five years, I would have laughed at you. Did I ever dream that Somalia AND Eritrea would be activated? Not in a million years. And yet, here we are, a month shy of five years, and I have the whole of Africa in the bag. I can't believe it myself.

By its very nature, Africa is a difficult continent for the ham. For Ireland, it's not too far away, so a lot of countries on the African continent are fairly workable. It's just that many of them are rare because there are few or no radio amateurs. Many many African countries are poor. Most don't have proper infrastructure. Plenty don't have electricity outside of the major cities. Some, like Somalia, are run by pirates. So one thing that the radio amateur will notice about African countries on the air is that many of them will be activated by European operators who are there on business or maybe for charity work. One of the sad facts about Africa is that, for political and other reasons (including corruption, war and famine), many of its indigenous people are unable to get licences and become radio hams. I know that we shouldn't get political in this hobby, but sometimes it grieves me to the core that it is so. I wish that there could come a time when all the African countries will be on the air regularly, each one by native operators, not by visitors from different parts of the world. In the meantime, I am grateful to all the individuals, and indeed dxpedition teams, that have gone to great lengths to give out rare ones to us DX hunters. Thank you.

My first QSO with Africa was with 6V7S in Senegal on November 12th 2009. As we entered 2014, I needed only two DXCC - S0 Western Sahara and E3 Eritrea. S0 became active with S01WS which is a club station in Western Sahara. I worked them on numerous bands. So it was down to Eritrea, the last one needed. And I had resigned myself to the fact that it could be years before that came on the air. However, there was light at the end of the tunnel when it emerged Zorro JH1AJT would be going there with the Foundation for Global Children and might be able to operate from E3. That did transpire, and eventually at four minutes to midnight on 18th September (2014), I worked Zorro as E30FB on 20 metres SSB. Fabulous. Fantastic. The culmination of a great adventure.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

DX chasing is not a pursuit that has regular hours!

DX chasers are a rare breed.  I mean the really serious ones. When all the rest of the world - hams and non hams - are tucked up in their beds nice and warm and snug, we are in the shack, at the rig, bleary-eyed and unkempt, chasing a slot with the latest "rare" one. And that's how it has become for me. I used to be able to hunt new ones and band slots during the day, but with 307 DXCC logged, the slots and bands and All-Time New Ones become rarer and rarer, and one has to migrate to the lower bands in order to nab these slots.

Nigel G3TXF in Cape Town bound for Tristan Da Cunha.
Here in Ireland, there are approximately 1,500 licenced radio amateurs. Of those, there are probably about 200 hams who operate on HF to any degree, whether it be every day or twice a year. Of that 200 (and that's only my own very rough estimate), there are only about 30 dedicated DX hunters. That's 30 Irish people out of four million who dedicate themselves to this unique pursuit. And I am one of them. Does that make me special? It certainly makes me weird, especially in the eyes of all my non-ham friends! The non-DXing hams, while not spending hours in pile-ups, at least understand what DX chasing is, and are forgiving towards the HF nuts. But the rest of the world is oblivious to our unique hobby.

Having got up at 6am yesterday morning to hunt DX, I was exhausted by the time 11pm came around. My duty for the weekend is to watch out for Nigel ZD9XF on CW on the low bands (40m and 80m) and to try to work him there. I didn't think I had much hope of getting up during the night if he did pop up. Nevertheless, I set up DXwatch to send me emails if he appeared on 80 or 40. And I left my phone volume up full so I might hear the alerts if they came. And come they did.

At around 01:27 local time I received email alerts to say he was on 80 metres, on 3.501. I managed to get up out of bed and come down to the shack. I switched on the equipment. I could hear nothing. I looked on the Reverse Beacon Network and could see that he had quickly gone back to 30 metres, where he had been for a while. Damn. 80m missed. I went back to bed.

At around 2am or so there were alerts for 40 metres. He was on 7.001. Back down to the shack in the darkness, exhausted, barely able to keep my eyes open. I could hear him! I listened to the split. There were people calling him 1 Khz up, and 2 Khz up, and even 3 Khz up. Damn. Big pile-up. I tried to find out where he was listening but it was too spread out. I called him 2 up and then 2.5 up. He was working north and south America mostly, although there were still plenty of other Europeans suffering from insomnia like me..... After a short while calling, and not being able to figure out any discernible pattern to his movements, I realised that the pile-up had become so big that there were people calling him 8 Khz up, on 7.009, and at that moment I was struck by a revelation:

"Murphy, what the hell are you doing here, at 2.30am, trying to work a country that you have worked already (albeit on other bands) when you could be in bed like all the normal people?" So I switched everything off and went to bed. It just wasn't worth the effort. I would be exhausted for the rest of the weekend.

At exactly 7am, I received a phone call from Declan EI6FR. "Nigel is on 40 metres, I just worked him 3 up. He's on 7.001."

"Has he got a big pile?" I asked.

"No," was the reply.

"Right, thanks," I said, and the call ended.

Down to the shack again!

Sure enough, I could hear "ZD9XF Up" on 7.001 and decided I would try 7.003 as my transmit frequency. Within two minutes I could hear the magic code in the noise.... "EI2?"

I gave my call twice.

He came back "EI2KC 5NN".

I gave "RR EI2KC 5NN 5NN TU".

And, just like that, I was in his log. It seems that my decision to go back to bed in the middle of the night was well justified!!!

PS: As I write this, it's nearly 11am now and already my 40m QSO is in Nigel's online log:

Friday, September 26, 2014

Winter is coming and it's time for 80 metres!

Birds on a wire . . . Starlings sitting on the apex of my
inverted V system. The 30/40/80 legs are perpendicular to
each other. I trimmed the 80 v for resonance at 3.510.
I know it's still only September. And yes, the weather has been largely very good here in Ireland. We are getting an Indian summer. However, the days are getting shorter rapidly. It's past the equinox now, and as the days contract in length, it's time to start thinking about winter and the lower bands. Yesterday evening, having analysed my nest of V dipoles, I could see that my 80m inverted V was resonant at 3.4 Mhz. Too low. It needed to be shortened. So I trimmed some wire off each end and got it beautifully resonant on 3.510 Mhz. Nice! Time for some winter time DXing on 80 metres.

Yesterday morning, I managed a QSO with YV8AD on the upper part of the band using 100 watts. Hopefully I will be able to work some DX on SSB in future as I now find that even on the upper part of the band the antenna has an SWR of around 4:1. I know this is technically too high, but it means it can be tuned fairly easily, and I might get a few hundred watts out with the linear.

I took this screenshot immediately after working HC2AO on 80 metres.
As you can see, I was almost exactly on the greyline.
I got up at 6am today in the hope that Nigel ZD9XF would be on either 40 or 80 metres from Tristan Da Cunha. Unfortunately he was QRT. So I decided instead to see what DX was "on offer" HI HI. I worked PJ5/OL8R with 100 watts on 80 cw. That was a handy contact. Then 8R1AE popped up from Guyana on 40m CW as a potential new one so I started chasing him. That turned into a mammoth affair as I battled with all the German, French, Czech and other European stations. It was tough going. He is a slow op on the CW key, but had a steady rate and managed the pile-up without too much fuss. At around 7.15am local time, I saw on the Reverse Beacon Network that HC2AO was CQing on 3.504 Mhz. I went straight down there like a shot, but could hear nothing. Damn. Had I missed him again, for a second morning in a row? Then the RBN spotted him again, this time on 3.508. Up I went and sure enough, there he was. He tried to work a SM station several times but eventually had to give up. We were approaching greyline. I knew this was the perfect moment. I pounced with "EI2KC". Immediately he came back with "EI2KC 5NN BK". I gave him the usual five nine nine and I was in the log. Another new one on 80 metres, and it's not even winter yet! That's country #147 on 80.

I went back to 40m to chase the 8R1. It took a long while, but eventually at 7.50am I managed to get him in the log. I think one new one on 80 and one new one on 40 is a very good result for an early morning. I can see myself going to bed early and setting the alarm for 6am more often during the coming winter. It can be very rewarding.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

E30FB Eritrea QSOs confirmed on Clublog already

I'm delighted to see that my two QSOs with Zorro, E30FB, have already shown up in Clublog. The statistics make for interesting reading. During his time in Eritrea, Zorro made only 19 QSOs with Ireland, and there are a few of us with more than one QSO, so he might only have worked 15 or 16 separate EI stations. I'm thrilled to see that both my 20m and 10m SSB QSOs are in his log. Hopefully he will upload to Logbook of the World before too long. Thanks again Zorro for a wonderful activation, and for giving me the last country I needed on the African continent. Cheers!

YV8AD Venezuela makes it #146 on 80 metres!

I woke up at 6.30am to see if Nigel ZD9XF was on the low bands. Unfortunately, he was QRT since about 01.30z. I could hear HC2AO weak on 80 CW and he would be a new country, but unfortunately he went QRT as soon as I started calling. So I had to do something now that I was awake and the grey line was approaching!

I could hear YV8AD on 3.750 on my Icom IC-756PRO
I saw YV8AD spotted on 3.750 SSB and decided to have a listen. The band was not too noisy, and I could hear him at a 5 and 5. I went down a few KCs and tuned my inverted V with the 756PRO's internal ATU. The V is resonant right down at the bottom of the band, so it was a barefoot effort only. I called, and straight away he came back "Echo India Two Kilo Charlie, good morning Tony, you are five and six, five and six roger". I was delighted that he could hear me at all. I gave him 5 and 5 and just like that, country number 146 on 80 metres was in the log. It's not too often that I am able to work DX on SSB on 80 metres. Thankfully, I was close to my greyline, and he wasn't busy. Plus, there's not much between here and Venezuela except salt water, which helps.

Thankfully, I also managed a QSO with TY1AA on 30m CW. I need TY on 30, 40 and 80 (and of course 160!) so I was glad to get at least one low band QSO seeing as how they are QRT tomorrow.

Monday, September 22, 2014

ZD9ZS Tristan Da Cunha Island logged on 10 metres SSB

I managed a QSO with ZD9ZS on 10 metres SSB during a relatively short opening from Tristan Da Cunha into Ireland. I worked him with my trusty Antron 99, a cheap and cheerful vertical antenna that cost less than 90 euro and which has helped me bust many a pile-up on 28 Mhz. ZD9 became the 244th DXCC worked on 10 metres. Below is a video showing his signal a short time after I logged him:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

E30FB Eritrea in the log a second time

It might be the 17th most wanted DXCC, and the last bastion of the "needed list" on the African Continent, but I managed my second QSO with Eritrea today. A mixture of luck and persistence paid off in the end. I was not in the shack when the cluster reports said Zorro E30FB was working UK and EI on 28 Mhz. I was at my usual Sunday morning band rehearsal. I play solo euphonium with Drogheda Brass Band. We are practicing for the North of Ireland Band Championships on October 18th. Loads of EI stations were working Eritrea on simplex. There was no propagation to the rest of Europe apparently. Should I make some feeble excuse and leave band rehearsal to go to the shack and work Eritrea? Sometimes, this is the dilemma faced by the serious DXer. It's not possible to be in the shack at all times, when there are rare openings to rare countries!!

I waited, knowing I would not be home until around 1.30pm. At that stage, he was still on ten metres, but was working Spain and Italy among others, and was now split. I tried for a short while, but had to do "dad's taxi" for my sons, who were going to a birthday party. I dropped them off and scurried home again. Back at 2.05pm. Zorro was still there, but slow QSB meant I could only hear him some of the time. I decided to try him on the Antron-99 vertical antenna. It's done fantastically well for me in 10m pile-up situations before. And it didn't let me down this time. Within a few minutes, I was in his log, for the second time. What a thrill !

Also in the log this evening is VK9AN, on 17m CW. They had a nice clear signal (only an s3 on my needle, but sounded more like a 579). It only took me two calls to get into the log. They were working up about 1.4 Khz. The video below shows the signal from Christmas Island just after I worked them:

Friday, September 19, 2014

E3 Eritrea, last country on African continent I need, is in my log!

I had the most wonderful night on amateur radio last night. It reminded me of all the best things about our hobby. I pointed the hexbeam at North America at around 11pm on 17 metres SSB and started calling CQ. I worked a lot of stations, including one or two from South America. The furthest west I worked was into Wyoming, which was nice. A lot of the stations I worked were also using a hexbeam. This very capable little wire-beam antenna is becoming very popular. And who could blame a ham who is short of either cash or real estate (or both) from choosing it, given its great performance?

Zorro JH1AJT is in Eritrea as E30FB.
Anyway, after a while I could see that Zorro E30FB in Eritrea was active on 20 metres SSB, and knowing that it would be an all-time new one (ATNO) if I could get him, I had to leave 17 metres and turn the beam to 120 degrees and set the QRG to 14.245. I had guessed that he might be working North America only, and was disappointed to hear that that was the case.

Zorro is in Eritrea as part of a Japanese delegation and has something like 30 meetings scheduled for his short stay, which is to last less than a week. He is squeezing in his ham radio operations between this hectic schedule. He had been on 15 metres SSB on Wednesday afternoon and 20m SSB on Wednesday evening, working, respectively, EU and then NA. The same pattern was evident yesterday, Thursday, when he had worked a huge EU pile on 15 in the afternoon before calling for NA on 20m in the evening.

And so it was that I found myself sitting at the radio, listening to this rare DX working Stateside station after Stateside station. In a way, it was pleasurable. It was great to hear this very rare DXCC being activated. But it was frustrating having to sit by and watch, knowing that a QSO would be possible if only he was working Europe too. Unfortunately, he was being QRMed by music for a short time, as you can see in this video, which was shot about 15 minutes before I made my QSO:

I knew I would have a chance of a QSO if he allowed it. I nearly made it Wednesday night, but he thought I was AI2KC and when he heard me say "Echo India", he said he was working North America only. And this is one of the great questions about operating etiquette - do you call when he is generally working NA, or not at all? More specifically, if he does not say "North America" at the end of every CQ, do you call from Europe?

Having heard him work a HB9 station, I felt that it was worthwhile giving it a shot. When he said "North America", I would not call. When he said just "QRZ?", I would call. And that was my pattern. It was easy to hear the split because the American operators are far more disciplined than many of their European counterparts. There was still plenty of indiscipline, but it was much less predominant than in an EU pile-up.

I followed his QSX up and down. He would spend a few minutes on one QRG before it got too hectic and then move to another "quiet spot". Before too long, I heard him say just "QRZ?" and called him on the split where he had worked his last US contact. Then, the magic words came through:

"Kilo charlie, kilo charlie?"

"Echo India Two Kilo Charlie."

"Echo India Two Kilo Charlie, you are five nine."

"Thank you Zorro. You are also five nine in Ireland. Thank you so much for taking me in! 73!"

And he thanked me and I was in his log and suddenly, at 00:56 local time, I was in the log of E30FB and the last country I needed on the African continent was in my log. This all-time new one is DXCC #307 worked from this station. To say that I went to bed with a big smile on my face is an understatement! My fellow DX friend Mark EI6JK got a QSO immediately afterwards, and as soon as was he logged, Zorro started calling for North America only !!!

As they say, that's the way the cookie crumbles! This time, it crumbled in my favour . . .

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

VK9NT Norfolk Island in the log on 15m CW (short path)

Norfolk Island is a very small island off eastern Australia.
A short time ago, I managed to work the VK9NT Norfolk Island dxpedition on 15 metres CW. He is very light here on the short path, and inaudible on the long path. He is working everything from EU to Africa to Japan, so I really didn't think I had a chance. But I heard a couple of stations working him just one KC up, so I knew that he didn't have a huge pile-up. I had the hexbeam pointed at around 10 degrees and gave him a shot. Within a short time, I heard (with flutter and fast QSB) what I thought was 2KC 5NN so I gave "EI2KC EI2KC ?" and he came back and gave me "EI2KC EI2KC 5NN 5NN" and then I confirmed with "RRR EI2KC 5NN 5NN 73 TU".

Fabulous. That's only my second ever QSO with this DX entity. I worked VK9NT in May 2013 on 12m CW, my only other QSO with Norfolk. I'm glad now that I recently repaired the 15m wire of my hexbeam, which had been broken for some time!

Here's a short video I made shortly after my QSO showing just how weak VK9NT was. As you can see, he is not moving the needle at all:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Video - full CW QSO with VK7VR in Tasmania

This is what I love doing in the mornings! I love to find the VK and ZL stations on the long path and have a chat with them, usually on CW. This is Phil VK7VR in Ulverstone, Tasmania, with a good 579 signal on the longpath (beaming 260 degrees). As you can hear, he's in flying form on the key, and a great operator. It was lovely to get a ragchew with him before heading to work. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

CY0C one-day dxpedition worked on two slots!

The CY0C one-day expedition to Sable Island was thankfully relatively easy to work last night on both 20m SSB and 17m CW, providing two new band slots for me. Unfortunately due to QRM, my callsign was logged as EI3KC on 20m SSB, despite me attempting to correct it. However, my QSO on 17 CW was good. I will send an email to have the 20m SSB call corrected.

This morning, NZ4Z was absolutely booming in from Kentucky on 20 metres SSB. As you can see from this video, he was 20dB over s9:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Unusual (if completely accurate) cluster spot

I just worked VU2NKS on 17 metres RTTY a few minutes ago. He gave me a new band slot. I had worked him on 20m RTTY yesterday with about 80 watts. But just after my 17m QSO today, I saw the following information on the cluster:

I presume this is some station auto-spotting my QSO? I'm not sure I like this type of spotting, even if it is accurate. He spotted me, even though it was not my frequency. And he spotted me twice. Anyone else see this type of cluster spot lately?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

FT5ZM Amsterdam Island confirmed on LoTW

Today I received confirmation of ten band slots from the FT5ZM Amsterdam Island dxpedition which took place in the spring of this year. I'm delighted to see a 40m CW slot in there too. And in among all the FT5ZM QSLs there is also a confirmation from FR4NT, Cyril on Reunion Island, for our 80m SSB QSO last week. Delighted with that.

The FT5ZM QSLs brings my total number of countries confirmed on Logbook of the World to 292, out of 306 worked.