It has taken about 6 hours of hot sweaty work but I am pleased to announce that the 20-6m HexBeam is now in the air and working fabulously. Currently as I type this I have a pileup on 20m FT8 more than 20 stations deep. A big thanks again to Ant MW0JZE who special ordered one of his Light weight portable HexBeams for me.
The Operating Position
Meanwhile, the operating position is also established. Apart from some TVI issues forcing restricted power on some bands during viewing hours everything is working 100%. I only forgot one cable – but fortunately ComputerWorld here in Port Vila had the missing USB link for the SDR receiver.
Now to settle in, enjoy the DX and slip into island life yet again….. 73 de Grant YJ0AG / VK5GR / E6AG
Last night I decided that there has to be a first time – so in I dived into a 40m CW pile. This was my first attempt at seriously running a CW mini expedition pile. It was definitely hard work when your CW isn’t as polished as the big guns but even so I managed to put about 70 contacts into the log over 2 hours. I will be back on CW again so keep a look out on the RBN and the Cluster!
This was the pile as seen back home in VK5 – thanks to Mark VK5QI.
We have arrived! After a long day on Monday when we made it to our accommodation at around 5pm after leaving home at 3am, Tuesday was spent first making a trip into Port Vila to visit a super market for supplies, and then we headed back home and started building the station. It was hot humid work but by about 4pm we had the 40m station ready to go, Last night after dinner we started up in earnest with our first run on 40m SSB before rigging the antenna for 80m and giving that a try. The noise floor on 40 and 30m is pretty good, but on 80m I can hear some powerline noise (there is what looks to be a 22kV overhead line across the street). All being considered it is pretty acceptable compared to the suburban racket I have back home.
Plans for today
Today is the first day of sight seeing. We are off to the museum and to explore Port Vila some more. So far I have been taken aback by the amount of traffic – and trying to remember how to drive on the “wrong side of the road” again is a challenge. Meanwhile back at the house things are taking shape and this promises to be a very relaxing stay!
Later today I hope to setup the 20-10m beam to compliment the vertical. I will then hopefully get more chances to work Europe. Meanwhile I will also give some more chances on 80m of an evening and in the morning as well. I left the station on receive last night and copied a few EU signals on that band so will see if I can wake up early enough to give that a try tomorrow morning as well around 1600-1700 utc.
I have also uploaded the first log into Clublog. Uploads will usually be daily.
DXPedition Chart courtesy DX-World and MM0NDX/IK8LOV
Departure Looms: 16th April
Only 11 days to go before we depart for Vanuatu and our next DX Holiday adventure! Everything is falling into place. The gear is all tested, accommodation has been reconfirmed, flights are confirmed and we have finally solved the customs conundrum (called how to export and then reimport something over $2000 in your luggage). We are now closely watching the weather (hoping that no more cyclones form out in the Pacific – they have been late this year) and watching the ionosphere hoping for good conditions. Final software shakedown will be this weekend with both the main and backup laptops being put through their paces before we lock out Windows and other software upgrades/changes (something I learned last time that I didnt want happening on “thin internet”.
If you would like a personalised propagation chart for when to try and work us, enter your grid locator here.
Bands that I will be operating on will include FT8 and CW by request on 160m (including 1840/1908 split operation), FT8, CW and SSB on 80m and then most modes on 40m-10m. I will try and pay attention to and be on air for the openings to Europe in particular (as YJ to there is in the top 60 most wanted) as well as providing time on 80m where YJ also is wanted. I am planning more SSB operation this time compared to Niue as well and will self spot when I can come up on air (noting that family does come first and principally this is a holiday for them and me above all else). Principal times I am likely to be on air are from 0600-0800, 1000-1500 UTC and 1900-2300UTC most days. I will also try and operate at various times during the day as well – however that will not be daily.
NOTE: VK/ZL/OC/SA/AF stations can call at any time!
If you are on one of these call areas your calls will be welcome at any time regardless of which region I may be calling. On a volume basis there are comparatively few hams in those areas so the disturbance to any pileup will be minimal. I will also try to identify the best times for regions like South America and try to particularly target there on the appropriate band time.
I am prepared to take requests for Skeds as well, however can make no promises that I can fulfill them all. If you want a sked tried, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking forward to working you all on the bands! 73 de Grant VK5GR / YJ0AG!
After 7.5hrs in the field today and a further 6 hours building mark 2 of the matching network I am pleased to report that we have successfully provided some modifications to the 80m antenna to transform it into a 160m inverted L. While only 12m high, with a tuned radial plus resonant loading wire we have achieved successful daylight QSOs to several stations. I acknowledge that it isnt very efficient, but it is better than no 160m antenna at all (and hopefully will be a little more effective than the dipole I took to Niue last year).
Steve VK5SFA helped immensely with the tuning and setup today, including loaning me the high voltage capacitors needed for the matching circuit. The 160m design is based partly on those published by DJ0IP showing how to build low band antennas on a 12m Spiderbeam pole.
The 80m design is a scaled up version of one of Steve VK5SFA’s 40m designs that I used on Niue last year. One of the big differences was that it needed the large shunt L coil you see the raise the impedence up to 50ohms to match the radio.
We then took the shunt L out of circuit and added some series C and a top hat wire to form the inverted L for 160m. To tune the 160m antenna, we started with a variable vacuum capacitor to find the correct C value, and then using Steve’s VK5JST Analyser, we then substituted the variable capacitor with some fixed ones that matched the required 350pf. We then tested the VSWR and were getting around 1.7:1 as our best result at the antenna terminals. Back at the radio, this was represented as better than 1.3:1 which was very good indeed.
Feeling like we had a working antenna, we then called Tony VK5TT and arranged for some on air tests. Tony is on the other side of the Main Mt Lofty range. He was reporting us at 5×9 over a daylight path. We then proceeded to do various trials with tuned radials as well as with adjusting the tuning of the top hat wire. We finally settled on a combination that certainly seemed to be working. Neil VK5KA also joined in the conversation on 160m and we had a very pleasant hour or so tuning and fiddling, while marveling at the fact it worked at all <smile>.
We then put it into 80m mode (bypassing the capacitors and reintroducing the coil) and had similarly successful contacts and then proceeded to tune it up the bands. On 40m it is a full height resonant 40m 1/2 vertical and we were getting 59 and 59+20 reports into VK3. We then verified that it would resonate at 30 and 20m as well before calling it a day, satisfied that apart from finalising some packaging we had a fully verified antenna package ready to take to Vanuatu!
Again – a huge thanks to Steve VK5SFA for all the effort and time he has put in to helping me get this antenna running. Also thanks to Tony VK5TT and Neil VK5KA for their on air testing this afternoon!
See you on 160m FT8 (mostly) from YJ0AG de Grant VK5GR – 2 weeks to go!
UPDATE: YJ0AG planned use of expedition mode cancelled awaiting GA release of 1.9.0
Following the explicit requests of Joe K1JT and the development team, and respecting the fact that the code is still in beta, the planned operations for YJ0AG using FT8’s experimental Expedition mode will not go ahead (unless the GA release occurs in time for the expedition in 2 weeks time – not expected).
YJ0AG FT8 Standard Mode Operation Plan
It is my intention however to still run FT8 on Vanuatu during the activation. On 80m it is likely to be the primary mode used. Depending on traffic I will operate initially on the standard frequencies of 1840, 3573, 7074, 10136, 14074, 18100, 21074, 24915, 28074. From time to time I will potentially also QSY to stand alone frequencies for people to work YJ0AG to avoid causing excess congestion on the main FT8 channels only using the modes currently available in the 1.8.0 version of the software (ie standard FT8 protocol but non standard operating frequencies). See the frequency list down the bottom of the page for alternates.
If I can activate 160m I will operate using either 1840kHz simplex or I will call as ‘YJ0AG QSX1908’ indicating that I am running split frequency operation and am principally looking for Japan.
What is a Valid and Logable QSO?
I have indicated below how far you need to get before I consider your QSO to be in the log. Please take a minute to familiarize yourself with this so that we can have a smooth QSO on FT8. Note I will always operate split mode and will typically call from above 2000Hz on the waterfall. If I don’t see you reply to my reply at +15 seconds (see below) I will give 2 more calls and then move on. This is to maximise the chance of a QSO while being fair to others waiting in the queue.
Acceptable FT8 Call Sequence and points where I will consider the QSO Loggable
Broken FT8 Calls will ONLY be processed after the expedition has closed and I return to Australia. Please do not ask my QSL manager to adjudicate broken FT8 calls – I will do that personally!
Further, broken calls in the log will only be resolved by you providing your ALL.TXT file sample via Email to email@example.com and it being able to be matched to the expedition station ALL.TXT file. Only if the details in the master log on both ends of the contact match will the QSO be considered valid.
Alternate YJ0AG FT8 (standard mode) Frequencies
These have been chosen noting current activity and where possible have attempted to comply at least with the Region 3 band plans, although they should be acceptable for most regions and hopefully have avoided most of the PSK, Olivia, MFSK, Hellshreiber, Mailbox and other activity you see around the digital mode segments of the bands. 80m in particular was chosen to support JA stations (who cant operate above 3575kHz) while remaining above the bottom edge of the 80m band plan.
A lot of work has been going on in the background building the antenna system that I will take to Vanuatu this year. That work culminated in a first successful on air test this weekend on 80 and 40m. This is a positive development and confirms that 80m will be one of the active bands from Vanuatu next month! I huge thank you must go to Steve VK5SFA who has helped with the design and field validation work and also to Paul VK5SL for his insights as well.
The antenna is based on the 40m folded monopole solution that was used last year on Niue, but scaled up to 80m. Mechanically it is now based on a 12m Spiderbeam. The design allows for the main radial to be variable in length as well as the ground radials, such that the whole antenna is effectively tune-able from 80m-10m). The design has been modeled in 4NEC2. The results are shown below for 80m.
The design is based on the following basic components:
2x Fly Fishing Reels
1x Nylon cutting board
1x 3 terminal screw block
8AWG enamel copper wire
1.5mm dia 7×19 stainless steel wire (for the driven element)
1x 12m SpiderBeam pole
2 sections of a 9m Squid Fishing Pole
You can see the construction method here:
Out in the field the mast was rigged such that the guys provided the spacing over the top of the mast giving it a peak height of 12m. Groundwave QSOs on 80m were achieved over ~20km at 59+30dB for 50W in daylight. The coil in the first run had too many turns so some more fettling is required there. We also achieved some late afternoon 40m contacts with the coil out of circuit and the driven element wound in resulting in a native 1/4 wave that matched 50ohms. No reason to think it wont tune 30m as well as 20-10m. Next steps are now to tidy up some of the mechanics and then retest with taping the coil in various places.
Once 80-10m are working, 160m will be tried with a top hat loading wire and a counterpoise radial. 160m is still an experiment and is not guaranteed. However we may be lucky.
After the success and fun of the expedition to Niue in 2017, I came home and started dreaming of my next destination. 2018 marked a year of change however with my daughter now starting school, which curtailed to an extent when we could go. That and considering other events around home, it was decided in 2018 to advance the next trip to the April School holidays rather than wait until September again. This also meant that the available time for logistics was reduced, so it had to be somewhere relatively simple!
Vanuatu Selected for 2018 – YJ0AG
After casting around the Pacific weighing up accommodation and travel options, we have settled on a visit to the island nation of Vanuatu. We will be based on the island of Efate, about 20-30 minutes from Port Vila (the capital).
Our travel plans see us arriving on Efate Island, Vanuatu on April 16th, with the hope that we will be on air sometime on the 17th for about 12 days. The callsign will be YJ0AG. Licensing is nearly complete with the telecommunications regulator in Vanuatu and the callsign is now confirmed.
I will be trying to target Europe and digital modes in particular but will provide plenty of opportunities to all regions of the globe. I am also planning an SSTV activity day and possible participation in the Polish RTTY DX Contest.
NOTE: If I am calling a particular region, I will still accept calls from OC, AF and SA stations at any time.
The station will consist of:
MW0JZE G3TXQ Ultralight weight HexBeam 20-10m
1/4 wave vertical 30-40m
1/4 wave folded vertical 80m
Inverted L – 160m (tentative)
QSL Management, OQRS etc will again be via Charles M0OXO. QSL details will be released shortly.
A new Website – vk5gr-iota.net is being commissioned which will contain more information about the project over the coming weeks.