Expedition News

160m Aborted – Receive Wipeout (RFI)

Unfortunately it looks like 160m will not be active during my stay in Vanuatu. I spent many hours last night trying to trace this noise source. We turned everything off that we could find and still no improvement. I tried constructing and erecting a delta receive loop antenna in the dark last night all to no avail. I will keep hunting for the noise source to see if it can be salvaged but I am not hopeful.

I am hugely disappointed by this outcome. Especially as the back channel reports I was receiving indicated I was 599 on CW in Australia and FT8 had me reported all around the Pacific and even in the Falklands. Transmit worked a treat – receive is a complete failure.

I am sorry to all the DX Chasers too who had hoped to put YJ in the books on 160m. I brought everything I could fit within my weight limits to try and have alternatives for receive but in this case nothing in my arsenal has worked, and I dont have room to try any sort of meaningful beverage (30m wont cut it). It does inspire me to come out here again in the future with the specific intention of running a low band operation. Perhaps next time with more amateur help as well rather than just as a one man holiday show.

Where I was heard on 160m Last night – wish I could hear you!



Calls from home – AREG Members work YJ0AG

As happened when I was on Niue, the monthly meeting of the Amateur Radio Experimenters Group (of which I am the treasurer) clashed with my trip. So the team gathered together in the car park around a mobile and those that wanted to got into the logs again of YJ0AG! Theo VK5MTM filmed the activity from their end. Thanks for the contacts guys.

Meanwhile Leo VK2LJM reports big signals from YJ0AG on FT8 80m tonight. I have made quite a few 80m FT8 QSOs again this evening including to the USA and Asiatic Russia as well as Japan. Looks like the 80m antenna is working a treat! Thanks Leo for this screen shot via Facebook!

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Station Build Complete – Now on air 80-6m

The Rise of the HexBeam

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

40m CW run last night – Baptism of Fire

Baptism of Fire – 40m CW

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!

On Air

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.

YJ0AG 10 Days to Go!

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.

(Thanks to Jari OH6BG and the www.voacap.com team)

Vanuatu Propagation Planning

Updated Operating Plans

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 vk5gr.radio@gmail.com

Looking forward to working you all on the bands! 73 de Grant VK5GR / YJ0AG!

YJ0AG Preparations Continue – 20-10m Beam Testing Complete

The final end to end testing of the G3TXQ Portable HexBeam by Ant MW0JZE was completed today! Im very pleased to report that it came in at better than 1.2:1 on all bands. A very impressive product in the way Ant has packaged it and the proof it was working came with a 20m Long Path contact to Adam MU0WLV located on Guernsey Island using FT8 and the beam this afternoon!

This coupled with the SpiderBeam 10m aluminium mast obtained from the helpful folk at TTS Systems should make a great pairing for targeting regions like Europe from Vanuatu on the higher bands. The hope is to be able to catch both Long Path and Short Path EU openings with the beam as well as putting a substantial signal into North America on the higher bands and providing opportunities for South America with targeted calling of that region as well.

The assembly and erection of the beam and tower from scratch (now that I have had some practice) took about 2 hours. I have worked out a system to push it up with only 2 people (I could potentially do it with one but it would get a bit dicey above about 5 metres.). Fortunately my good wife has agreed to help me get it in the air once we arrive in Vanuatu.

A huge thanks to Ant who went out of his way to support this expedition with a special construction run of the beam for me. Talk about service above and beyond! (Note this is not a sponsorship plug – just one impressed DXer who thinks this is worth a mention…)

YJ0AG Vanuatu – 160m confirmed!

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!


YJ0AG FT8 Operations – UPDATE

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 vk5gr@wia.org.au 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.

YJ0AG Alternate FT8 Frequencies (for Congestion Relief)

160m1801For Region 2/3 - 1840 or 1840/1908 split will also be used
80m3567Specifically to allow JA stations
40m7051(Meets Region 3 Bandplan)

Low Band Antenna Development: 80m confirmed

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.

Antenna Design

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.

Structural Details

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:

Field Test

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.