Saturday, February 03, 2007

There are numbers...

... and then there are numbers. We'd been paying close attention to solar conditions both before and during our trip to Montserrat. Numbers like the "A" index, "K" index, solar flux, and SSN give you some idea of the kinds of conditions you'll likely see on the HF bands. After a period of slightly elevated numbers and disturbed conditions, we were excited to see what the bands would be like once things calmed down. Today was that day and the results were mediocre. All operators complained about fading on the bands. One moment the station we were working would be strong; the next moment the station would disappear completely.
I have wondered to myself what folks back home must think. I'm sure some might say to themselves, "I gave this bozo my call 3 times. Can't he remember it?" I sure hope that's not the impression we are leaving! I would like to attribute most of this seeming incompetence (at least on my part) to the QSB on all bands we worked today.
We do wonder what we sound like on the other end of our QSO. Dave Bushong (KZ1O) was kind enough to send a couple of audio files with off-air recordings of QSOs we've made. I, of course, have been trying to capture many hours of audio recordings at my station, too. I'd like to put sound from both ends into our next presentation so everybody can see what things are like on both sides of the pileup.
I had intended to stay up all night working the low bands. I'm not going to do that. Conditions do not justify the effort. Instead, I'm hoping to sleep fast and wake early to work Europe before North America rises. If Paul is not up yet, I'll start on 20m.
Speaking of Paul, he's been working feverishly on handing out data mode QSOs. It takes a great deal longer to complete a QSO compared to SSB (and especially CW!). So, 200 QSOs for the digital modes is easily equivalent to, say, 500 SSB QSOs. I think Paul will likely make that number. If he does, the DX community owes him a nod and a tip of the hat. I've sat next to him for many hours watching him pour energy into this effort.
More portable operations took place today. Lots of interesting stuff down by beaches, on Budd's bicycle, and all over the island. In fact, the QSO recording Dave did (mentioned above) is of Chris working a few stations from the beach.
I should take just a moment and relate what kind of challenges this takes. You need to get an antenna erected, carry enough power to operate, and then work your stations and log your contacts. This is usually done in high, gusty winds, sometimes under flash rain storms, and almost always with the Sun beating down on you. Equipment is usually put in wind tunnels and under heat lamps. I'm not sure people operating HF should be subjected to the same stress tests!
One of the things we had hoped to show during this trip was these lightweight equipment configurations can produce effective operations. You don't always need an amplifier. You don't always need a tower and yagi. Small works. Simple works. Smart works. Team members like Budd Drummond, who has made hundreds of contacts bicycle mobile, has shown that focus and a sense of excitement go a long way.
As I type this I recognize that there are only two more days on this DXpedition, and one day will be spent packing. I'll repeat what I'd said before: time on the island is precious so every thing you can work out prior to departure is a boon to your whole experience. I've got a list of such things started in a notebook which will hopefully make the next trip even smoother.
One last point before I close for this evening: Budd got on 30m with my Elecraft KX-1 tonight and had a ball. His first CQ netted him a return call and full QSO. So, let's check our facts: Buddipole antenna as a shortened vertical, KX-1 pushing out 2.2 watts on 30m CW, and 175 feet of coax between the two. QSO first call. Goodness! If that doesn't make the point that simple works, I don't know what can!
We've got a great bunch of guys and I know it will be a sad thing when we begin breaking down the stations. For those of you who have worked us, thank you. For those of you who have not yet, I sure hope we get the chance. Thank you for your patience and support. 73 from VP2M.


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