Mini-DXpedition

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Colin reports on his one-man mini-DXpedition to the Isles of Scilly.

 

 

Colin reports on his one-man mini-DXpedition to the Isles of Scilly.

 

Last month I described the planning for my mini-DXpedtion to the Isles of Scilly. This month I am continuing the story by describing what actually happened and some lessons learned.

 

Travel

The travel arrangements I described last month worked out fine. I was just able to keep within the size and weight limits. I was the only passenger on the flight from Exeter to St. Mary’s!

 

Accommodation

My accommodation was located close to the highest point of St. Mary’s. It’s one of a pair of well-appointed semi-detached chalets, Fig. 1, each accommodating up to six people, three in each of the two bedrooms. The neighbouring chalet was unoccupied during my stay, so I had complete freedom to come and go and to operate without having to consider others. The only time I felt I had to stop was for a few minutes while someone was strimming the grass near the ends of the dipole − I didn’t want to risk them touching the wire while I was transmitting.

I was pleased to find that there was a large grass rectangular area in front of the chalet. At either side was a row of trees. They provided excellent support for the ends of the antenna. On one side the distance was ideal. On the other side I had to bend the end of the 80m section at 90°. The other bands fitted perfectly. So overall the accommodation totally met my needs and expectations and would be my automatic choice if I return to St. Mary’s on a future occasion.

 

Logs

I uploaded my logs to Logbook of the World (LoTW), Club Log, eQSL and qrz.com every day. I found breakfast time was a good time to do this with fresh eyes, rather than doing it last thing at night, when the risk of a finger slip was much higher.

When I returned home, I also uploaded to qrzcq.com and HamLog. HamLog required that I add my G6MXL/P callsign to each contact record in my ADIF file using the station callsign field. Because I was operating from the World Wide Flora & Fauna (WWFF) area GFF-0257, I also e-mailed my log to Carl Gorse 2E0HPI, who is the WWFF log manager for the UK. Carl promptly uploaded the log. Thus GFF-0257 was no longer a zero-activation area.

 

EMC

I hadn’t expected any EMC issues. However, on all bands, I found that each of the touch-sensitive bedside lamps where I was staying would cycle through the various brightness settings when I transmitted on any of the bands on which I operated. I simply unplugged the affected items for the duration of my stay, remembering to plug them back in before I left.

 

QRM

I also suffered from some occasional QRM, which made even noise-resisting modes such as FT8 unusable, Fig. 2. Fortunately, this QRM was generally short-lived. I used the opportunity on these occasions to take a break. I’m not sure of the cause but I did note a number of electric fences in the vicinity.

 

Equipment Issues

In the days before the trip, while still at home, I waited for the weather to improve to carry out a full practice in the back garden. I’m so glad that I did this because I found an issue with the microphone arrangement with the FT-857D that I hadn’t anticipated.

 

Yaesu FT-857D

The Yaesu FT-857D has a slide-off front panel. You have to open it to connect the standard Yaesu microphone lead, before sliding it back. Because I wanted to use my Heil headphone-boom microphone, I intended to use the same ‘official’ Heil adapter that I also use for my Yaesu FT-817 transceiver. Unfortunately, with the Heil adapter plugged in, I couldn’t refit the front panel due to the length of the yellow cable protector boot on the back, Fig. 3.

I found a couple of solutions that other FT-857D owners may find useful. It’s possible to unplug the microphone lead from the Yaesu microphone, revealing a similar connector to the end that goes in the transceiver. I then plugged this into the little back-to-back connector that comes with the FT-857D remote extension kit, Fig. 4. I could then plug the ‘official’ Heil adapter into the other side of the back-to-back socket. This enabled me to use my Heil headphone boom microphone. It also enabled me to use my home-built data interface, which I have terminated in the same size of jack connectors as Heil use (3.5mm mono for microphone, ¼in mono for PTT).

The back-to-back connector is also available as an RJ45 coupler for joining two Ethernet cables. These couplers are available cheaply from a variety of sources, including CPC (Farnell). They come in two main types, the first connects pin 1 to pin 1 etc, while the second type connects pin 1 to pin 8 etc. It’s the first type that is needed for this application. This will be a lot cheaper than buying the Yaesu extension kit if you don’t already have one.

Alternatively, Technofix, who advertise in the classified advertisements of PW, supply a Heil equivalent adaptor with a much smaller and flexible cable protecting boot, Fig. 5. I found this fits the Yaesu FT-857D well and that I could slide-close the front panel. I used this on a subsequent trip away from home with absolute success.

 

PSU Failure

Generally, all the equipment worked well. I only encountered one potentially show-stopping issue, when the power supply stopped working. I had noted some arcing on switch-on from the mains on-off rocker switch and decided that perhaps this had finally failed. At this point I was thankful that one of my friends had asked about the tools I was planning to take. Fortunately, his question had prompted me to buy a small multi-tool Swiss-Army-like knife. This proved to be a godsend. With it, I was able to remove the cover of the PSU. I was also able to cut a short length of wire off the end of a 4m dipole. I used the bare wire to wrap across the contacts and twisted the ends together. I was lucky that this got me back on the air, pending fitting a replacement switch once I was back home.

 

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Lessons Learned

On reviewing how it went, there are always things that I would do differently and others that I would certainly do again.

 

Spread-Out or Move

On data modes, I found that on occasions I was losing my frequency to other stations. Being a relatively simple station (50W to a wire dipole), there was no way that I could compete with the ‘Big Guns’. On the last day I moved up the band a little, to find a clear frequency, which I was able to use for hours without losing it to stronger stations. From here I could call CQ and know that I stood a reasonable chance of working any station that replied. This is certainly something I would do again.

 

Practice

The rehearsal in the back garden was certainly worthwhile. It proved that I had gathered everything. It also identified the problem with the Heil adaptor (albeit a little later than I would have liked).

 

Tools & Ties

It was certainly worth taking the small multi-tool knife. A good stock of re-usable cable ties is incredibly useful. I used them for tying the antenna pole to the balcony rail, tying the antenna to trees and at one point for tying the feeder to a curtain pole inside to reduce trip hazards. I’m glad I took enough.

 

Antenna & Mast

The SOTA 20/30/40/80m four-band portable antenna system worked wonderfully. I did note that after rain the croc-clips had a little surface rust on them. I made sure that I wiped them before connecting them for the lower frequency bands. I’m not sure that there is a better method in such a lightweight arrangement. Likewise, the SOTA compact lightweight mast was excellent. I was concerned that perhaps the rain and morning mists might cause the various segments to collapse but I needn’t have worried. During the days when the Isles of Scilly endured storm-force winds, I kept the mast lower than on windless days − a simple but sensible precaution I think.

 

6m & 4m

I had been considering taking a dipole for 6m and another for 4m plus a 4m transverter. I’d only include them if I was certain of not exceeding the absolute weight limit (20kg) for the flight. In the end I took both but was disappointed to find that on both bands the GB3MCB beacon on mainland Cornwall was only just above the noise. No doubt this could partly be explained by the feeder loss and that I was off the back of the beacon’s beam. Before taking either band on a future DXpedition I need to find a more effective compact lightweight antenna system.

 

New

The mini-DXpedition gave me my first opportunity to operate on 80m with a resonant antenna. I was more than pleased with the results, including three contacts across the pond to Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.

It was also the first time that I had participated in an 80m net. I was made very welcome on the Royal Signals Amateur Radio Society’s net − thanks to all for persevering with my weak signals.

Cliff Gray ZL4AS gave me my first ever contact with New Zealand (South Island, IOTA OC-134). I used FT8 on 40m for this contact, Fig. 6.

 

Packing Up

Because I was leaving at 8am BST, I decided that I would pack up the previous evening before it got dark. The last afternoon, I had in mind to break through the 500 contact mark but would call a halt as soon as it started to get dark. At 2013UTC I closed down, having made 502 QSOs. I was able to get everything packed up in under an hour and in wind-free and dry conditions, just before the sun dipped and the dew started to make all surfaces damp again.

Next morning, after an early breakfast, I wheeled my suitcase to the front gate where the man from Paulgers had just arrived to take me on the short trip to the airport.

 

Reflections

No doubt there will be some who think that 500 QSOs over a week is a measly number. Well, I am more than pleased with the contacts I made with just 50W or so to a wire dipole. I had great fun operating from somewhere different and gave over 170 stations IN69 for the ARRL’s International Grid Chase. I also uploaded the first ever log for the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (GFF-0257) for WWFF. I made contacts with 55 DXCC entities spread across six continents.

If (when?) I do something similar in future, I think I would give more consideration to publicising the activity in advance within the WAB, WWFF, International Grid Chase and IOTA communities. I deliberately kept a low profile in the run-up because I didn’t want to end up with unmanageable pile-ups.

Apart from the New Zealand contact, the most pleasing contact for me was the one with Peter Wilson MM6IIP, on Shetland (IOTA EU-012). This took about ten minutes to complete and really showed the merits of FT8.

 

This article was featured in the July 2018 issue of Practical Wireless