(This article is full of educational and fun links – click on as many as you wish)
Antenna tuning on Superb Owl Sunday
by Vince (VE6LK)
While many in North America were watching a number of Superb Owls move a pigskin around a playing field, I was off to play radio, successfully, for the first time in weeks. This is part of my goal to activate 200 CW POTA contacts per month this year.
During recent visit to Vancouver attempting to operate from within my hotel room, and utilizing the Edisonian Approach, I was shown -more than once- what did not work. This will no doubt be a discussion point on an upcoming Ham Radio Workbench Podcast. I was therefore in very bad need to get back on the air while operating portable. I was close to feeling twitchy and in need of some POTAXXIA (Hyperradio Moduzolium). A plan was needed!
My goals were to trim out a new-to-me EFHW (thanks VE6VID), and make some contacts while operating outdoors. The weather was forecast for 50F, but turned out to be unexpectedly windy. Also, when the wind comes off the Canadian Rockies in Southern Alberta, it cools the area where I’d be (downwind), so a choice of operating location was key. I love going to this park for the moment that you drive west along Highway 533 and come around the corner as you see here in this short video.
Chain Lakes Provincial Park (VE-1168) is located between the Porcupine Hills and the Rockies on Highway 22 (locally known as the Cowboy Trail) in Southern Alberta, about 90 minutes south of Calgary. It’s especially gorgeous at sunrise and sunsets. A campground, lake with boat launch and a day use area all adorn this park created for water management with an earthen dam. While it is in a valley, the wind can be howling on some days. On this day it would prove to be just above a nuisance, sort of like mosquitos in the spring -you can live with the nuisance, but only for so long before you blow a proverbial gasket.
I located a lovely spot below the dam -and the majority of the wind- however it was outside of cellular range. I’d need to rely on the Reverse Beacon Network to spot me. The RBN will, in turn, post your spot to the POTA website once it hears you if you schedule your activation in advance.
The place I found would only be more perfect were it warmer than 45F and without wind. A babbling brook was by the picnic table, and a nearby footbridge had built-in supports for my painter’s pole that would serve as the far end support. I’m pretty sure that they weren’t intended for me specifically, but they were the perfect size to simply slide the pole into place and hold it firmly. By luck I parked the truck the correct distance away with it’s drive-on mount and 28′ Fibreglass Flagpole from Flagpoles-To-Go via Amazon.
As my KX3 has just gone back to Elecraft for repairs after I smoked the linear’s switching FET, I had brought along my recently rebuilt FT-857 HF Go-Kit. I unloaded it and the supporting Rubbermaid tub’o’stuff -feedlines, antennas, analyzer, etc.- along with my 50Ah LiFePO4 battery and placed them on the table. I attempted to make a crude windbreak in the layout on the table. Spoiler alert: it did not work out as planned.
In 15 minutes I had both supports for the antenna rigged up and the antenna ready to measure and trim. My RigExpert AA-650 Zoom showed it was resonating below the intended points on 40m, 20m and 15m and thus it was too long. Repeat after me: going shorter is higher in frequency .. going shorter is higher in frequency. I recalled that the antenna was about 2 feet too long when it was passed along to me so that I could trim it where I wanted it.
The antenna is made from 26ga stranded and insulated wire. Following the Edisonian Approach (see above), I initially tried shortening it 6″ by simply wrapping it back on itself but didn’t observe much change. Besides the analyzer, the only tools I’d packed were a well-used Leatherman Squirt from Radio Shack, a Swiss Army Knife, and my Leatherman C33L.
Drop down the antenna, trim off 12″, put it back up, measure. The trimming moved the resonance point in the right direction. Drop it down again. A 6″ trim. Put it back up. Measure. It was perfect.
It’s time to operate, finally, after 45 minutes outdoors. The wind is picking up…
After securing a small blanket from the truck for my generously-sized tuchus, I sat down at the table and made 7 easy contacts in 12 minutes at 25W. I’d been out in the wind for an hour by this point.
Alas, taking the gloves off to log and put them back on to do the contact itself was getting cumbersome, but not nearly as aggravating as the by-now howling and increasingly cold wind. I wanted to operate outdoors, dangit, and I was getting shut out by Mother Nature.
It was time to tear down and move into the warmth of the truck to move from Position A and finish my activation at Position B on top of the dam and with a stunning view of the Rockies seen in the short video linked below. I made that move in about a half hour. Why so long? When you are cold and getting miserable you want to move quickly. Indeed I was moving so quickly that I put items in the Rubbermaid tub-o-stuff haphazardly and was ready to go -or so I thought- when a final walkaround showed tools left on a rock and my painter’s pole not yet taken down. Lesson listed – don’t rush when you are cold and miserable, it just increases the time it takes to do it properly.
Now in the truck and warm and not miserable anymore, I got back on the air. Many friends and POTA role models dropped by to pay a visit including K4SWL, N4JAW, N3XLS, W4ZXT, and VA7LM along with a few visitors from Japan. I was pleased to be able to capture a bit of N4JAW’s signal on video and get it back to him via Twitter almost in real-time, as in my second operating position I had workable cell service.
In all I worked 63 contacts on CW and one Park-to-Park on SSB and worked six bands between 30 and 10m. While I was heard on 40m by RBN, there were no takers after 10 minutes of calling.
I’ll put in a shameless plug for CWOps’ CW Academy here because a super-cool thing happened to me on this day – I got to hear a friend’s CW skill improve greatly since the last time I worked him, a real transformation milestone to witness! The difference I’ve seen is stunning and I’m sure he feels much more confident on the air.
I still think I suck at CW, indeed one of my goals for 2023 is to suck less at CW.
The only way to suck less at CW is to practice regularly and get on the air. Nobody cares if you make a mistake, and there’s no need to say SRI either. CW ops just figure it out, and POTA is a low-stress way to get into CW.
Oh, and congratulations W0NY on your progress – you are doing great, keep up the good work!
73, 72 and dit dit.
First introduced to the magic of radio by a family member in 1969, Vince has been active in the hobby since 2002. He is an Accredited examiner in Canada and the USA, operates on almost all of the modes, and is continually working on making his CW proficiency suck less. He participates in public service events around Western Canada and is active on the air while glamping, mobile, at home or doing a POTA activation. You can hear him on the Ham Radio Workbench podcast, follow him on Twitter @VE6LK, and view the projects and articles on his website.