Field Day 2009

I was originally licensed in the UK in the late 1970’s, and earned my US license about 10 years later.  To this date, I had not ever attended a Field Day event.  Granted, my amateur radio career has seen many extended down periods, and I am much more of a solitary type than one for group activites, but even so.  Pretty shocking! This Field Day was going to be different.

My current home is not a great radio location.  I live in a ground floor apartment with a balcony. Luckily I am a little elevated with a clear view to the west and southwest, over the San Francisco Bay, the city of San Francisco and then out to the Pacific Ocean.  This is good for reaching places like Hawaii, Australia and Japan with my little QRP signal.  Here’s a view from my balcony looking out over the city of Oakland towards San Francisco.  Even though I’m living on the ground floor of my building, it is a little higher than the neighbouring building to the west, so I (and my antenna) can see clearly to in the direction of all that lovely DX over the ocean!

What My Vertical Sees
What My Vertical Sees

This is my main antenna for HF.  It’s a Buddipole configured as a vertical.  You can see the zipcord radial sloping down toward the bottom left side of the frame. Anytime I want to change bands, I just pop out onto the balcony, adjust the arms, loading coil tap and whip length (depending on band), attach a new radial, fiddle around a bit with the tuning, helped by the MFJ-259b  SWR Analyzer, and bingo – I’m on another band!

This Buddipole antenna is great.  More on it in another post.

Not a bad view for an antenna eh?  If you stand on the ground in my back yard and look at the antenna, it’s a different picture though:

View of my antennas from the back yard of my apartment building.
View of my antennas from the back yard of my apartment building.

You can’t see it, but it’s a 4 story building, with the upper floors tiered away from me.  Although you can’t see it, the top of the antenna does not have a clear view over the building, it is actually blocked by it.

Oh well, you can’t have it all, unless you live on a mountaintop.  I really hope to live high up in a good radio location one day soon.

To the left is the Buddipole, and to the right is a 2 meter Slim Jim made from 450 ohm ladder line and enclosed in a PVC pipe painted green (to protect it from UV and also to make it a little less obnoxious-looking to the neighbours, although they don’t seem to care,  as far as I can tell.

So anyway, to get back on topic,  I decided that for Field Day, I was going to climb up somewhere high and kill ’em all with my QRP.   The highest point locally is Vollmer Peak.  It is in Tilden Regional Park in the Berkeley Hills.  It is at 1902 feet above sea level.  I’d been there for the first time during the ARRL VHF QSO Party and had a great time, so decided that I would do a little field day operating from there for Field Day 2009.

Fellow QRP operators – this piece of advice especially applies to newer operators;  if you ever get a little discouraged by the fact that making contacts can be a little harder using low power, whatever you do – don’t throw in the towel and buy a QRO rig and a linear – grab your QRP gear and find a nice high place to operate from.  You’ll be amazed how great your modest signal sounds to others when it’s coming from the top of a mountain!  If you ever want a panacea to cure the “I can’t make no QRP QSO blues”, the quickest way to do it is wait for any contest weekend that includes a VHF band, go sit on a mountaintop, and operate.  5 watts of signal on 6 meters, 2 meters or 70cm will get you lots of contacts and quite a few comments on your strong signal.  It feels good to be at the receiving end of that once in a while!

Back on track.  I took the bus from my home to the Brazilian Building in Tilden Regional Park and then hiked for an hour to the top of Vollmer Peak.  I didn’t take my camera with me, so no pictures – maybe next time.  This was obviously a good radio location, as there are two buildings at the top containing all manner of transmitting gear, and lots of antennas on towers outside them. Bingo – I had hit radio paydirt!  I strapped the Buddipole to a fence post, configured and tuned it for 40 meters (thank you MFJ-259b SWR analyzer) and lay down for a nap, as Field Day didn’t start for another hour.

Fast forward an hour – FD starts.  I try in vain to make contacts on 40m, but keep getting beat out by other stations.  Shucks – so much for mountaintops.  I QSY’ed to 20 meters and things looked up – 8 contacts in 45 minutes – definitely not a swift contest pace, but I’m having fun, which is the big thing. Then I QSY’ed to 6 meters, and maaan, did things heat up – people were actually calling me.  I was having QSO’s as fast as I could scribble them in my temporary logbook.  I did take a few breaks in the next hour to walk around and exercise the legs, nibble on a Clif bar, look at the view etc. but still managed to make 22 contacts on 6 meters in an hour.  Several stations commented on my great signal. It all made up for the many hours I had spent at home trying to work DX with 5 watts of SSB from a compromised location!  I then QSY’ed back to 20 meters for 3 more contacts and feeling well satisifed, called it a day. I still had an hour hike down a trail, and an hour on the bus,  and was starting to run out of water, so it was time to split.

I spent about 12 hours out of the house, with 2 hours hiking up and down hills, an hour of napping on top of a mountain, and 3 1/2 hours of operating – a totally worthwhile day!


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