Posts Tagged ‘DXCC’

Topband Trifecta


It was a week of 'threes' when it comes to the 'gentleman's band'. The first was last weekend's CQ 160m CW Contest ... exciting as always, with propagation from VE7 land favoring the southeast. At times, signals from the Caribbean were exceptionally strong while it was a struggle on both nights to work eastern W1's. As usual, I entered in the low power division with a power limit of 150 watts, spending 8 hours in total and finishing with 249 contacts in 51 sections / 8 countries. Other than the odd State QSO Party, the 160m contests are about the only ones I enter these days.

The mail brought my next two Topband delights. The first being a copy of Jeff Brigg's (K1ZM / VY2ZM) spanking new "DXing on the Edge - The Thrill of 160 Meters". This is the second edition of Jeff's original classic which was published twenty years ago in 1997.

The new second edition carries all of the original content (except for the CD) along with four new added chapters. Although the original material is dated, it is still just as valuable and informative as it was when first published. Highlights of the book include chapters on:

  • Propagation
  • The Stew Perry Era (1930-1982)
  • 160m DX Chronology 1930 - Present (8 Chapters)
  • Notable Achievements
  • Simple and Effective DX Transmitting Antennas
  • Simple and Effective Receiving Antennas
  • Tips From DXers
  • Photographic Potpourri
  • Off-The-Shelf Transmitting Antenna Solutions (new)
  • Modern RX Solutions For Small Properties (new)
  • Cycle 24 & A View Forward (new)
  • 160m Achievement Levels As Of 2016 (new)

If you have any serious interest in DXing on 160m, you will find much inspiration in Jeff's book. The descriptions of many stations, from the simple to the extreme, highlight the fact that almost anyone can achieve DX success on the 'Topband' with a little perseverance and some thoughtful station design.

When it comes to Topband DXing, things have changed a lot since 1997 ... as Jeff indicates in the new section, his main reason for releasing a second updated version:

" ... was to publicly review the technical advances that are now available to the modern 160M DX'er. In this way, everyone - old timers and newcomers alike - would have the time to "get ready" for some great years that will be coming soon on Topband. So get going ... gear up ... start making plans now to be part of the action. It is probably going to be a wild ride ahead and a lot of DX'citement for those who are up to the challenge!"

If the coming solar low years are anything like the last previous low, we are indeed in for some fun times!

Jeff's book can be purchased through numerous outlets including Amazon and Chapters, often with free-delivery.

The third Topband event, again via the mail, was the arrival a new 160m QSL.



The sunrise 160m CW contact with H4ØGC, Temotu, was confirmed country #159 for me on Topband, with most of these being worked from here on Mayne Island using a half-sloper and an aging 500 watt amplifier with a pair of original 572Bs.

If you've not been on 160m and are keen on new operating challenges, Topband may be the place to begin ... along with a copy of Jeff's inspirational 'Topband handbook'.

Topband Trifecta


It was a week of 'threes' when it comes to the 'gentleman's band'. The first was last weekend's CQ 160m CW Contest ... exciting as always, with propagation from VE7 land favoring the southeast. At times, signals from the Caribbean were exceptionally strong while it was a struggle on both nights to work eastern W1's. As usual, I entered in the low power division with a power limit of 150 watts, spending 8 hours in total and finishing with 249 contacts in 51 sections / 8 countries. Other than the odd State QSO Party, the 160m contests are about the only ones I enter these days.

The mail brought my next two Topband delights. The first being a copy of Jeff Brigg's (K1ZM / VY2ZM) spanking new "DXing on the Edge - The Thrill of 160 Meters". This is the second edition of Jeff's original classic which was published twenty years ago in 1997.

The new second edition carries all of the original content (except for the CD) along with four new added chapters. Although the original material is dated, it is still just as valuable and informative as it was when first published. Highlights of the book include chapters on:

  • Propagation
  • The Stew Perry Era (1930-1982)
  • 160m DX Chronology 1930 - Present (8 Chapters)
  • Notable Achievements
  • Simple and Effective DX Transmitting Antennas
  • Simple and Effective Receiving Antennas
  • Tips From DXers
  • Photographic Potpourri
  • Off-The-Shelf Transmitting Antenna Solutions (new)
  • Modern RX Solutions For Small Properties (new)
  • Cycle 24 & A View Forward (new)
  • 160m Achievement Levels As Of 2016 (new)

If you have any serious interest in DXing on 160m, you will find much inspiration in Jeff's book. The descriptions of many stations, from the simple to the extreme, highlight the fact that almost anyone can achieve DX success on the 'Topband' with a little perseverance and some thoughtful station design.

When it comes to Topband DXing, things have changed a lot since 1997 ... as Jeff indicates in the new section, his main reason for releasing a second updated version:

" ... was to publicly review the technical advances that are now available to the modern 160M DX'er. In this way, everyone - old timers and newcomers alike - would have the time to "get ready" for some great years that will be coming soon on Topband. So get going ... gear up ... start making plans now to be part of the action. It is probably going to be a wild ride ahead and a lot of DX'citement for those who are up to the challenge!"

If the coming solar low years are anything like the last previous low, we are indeed in for some fun times!

Jeff's book can be purchased through numerous outlets including Amazon and Chapters, often with free-delivery.

The third Topband event, again via the mail, was the arrival a new 160m QSL.



The sunrise 160m CW contact with H4ØGC, Temotu, was confirmed country #159 for me on Topband, with most of these being worked from here on Mayne Island using a half-sloper and an aging 500 watt amplifier with a pair of original 572Bs.

If you've not been on 160m and are keen on new operating challenges, Topband may be the place to begin ... along with a copy of Jeff's inspirational 'Topband handbook'.

Upcoming Solar Years … Can They Be Too Quiet?




Most of us LF/MF and topband diehards have been looking forward to the next several years of low solar activity ... maybe even 'ultra-low' as some of the solar gurus are predicting.

An interesting posting on the Topband reflector a few weeks ago by noted propagation expert, Carl, K9LA, made me re-think my expectations!

I flagged the post for a later blog topic but have since seen the information pop-up on a couple of other reflectors as well as on the ARRL News page. Apparently I wasn't the only one to give the posting a double-take. If you missed it, here is Carl's post:

About a week ago Wolf DF2PY posted a message here commenting on the recent adverse levels of geomagnetic field activity and how it will now change for the good - giving us good 160m propagation.

We'll certainly see less geomagnetic field activity as we move into winter,
but there's another issue we should be aware of. The Sun's magnetic field
is weakening - probably to the lowest levels in our lifetime. With a weak
solar magnetic field, more galactic cosmic rays will be able to get into
the Earth's atmosphere. We are now seeing unprecedented high neutron counts (neutrons are one of the by-products of cosmic rays)

Since galactic cosmic rays are mostly *very energetic* protons, they can
get down to low atmospheric altitudes, causing collisional ionization in
the D region (and lower E region). A cursory estimate using cosmic ray
ionization rates confirms more ionization in the lower atmosphere. 160m is
not very tolerant of more absorption, so we may see an adverse effect of
the weakened solar magnetic field.

Many of us think that "solar min is solar min is solar min". But maybe a
solar minimum can be too deep for 160m. A good question to ask in the early 2020s will be "how was 160m?" So stay active on 160m and let's see what happens.

Carl K9LA

My initial response was to think that perhaps there wouldn't be as much to look forward to as I had been hoping for, when it came to improved LF, MF and 160m propagation. Carl's postulation was also backed-up by another mention on the Spaceweather site, although the influence of cosmic ray bombardment on radio propagation was not discussed.

As I thought more about this unfortunate possibility actually coming to pass, I thought back to my own on-air and listening experiences during previous solar-low years ... particularly the unprecedented low between our most recent cycle and its predecessor, Cycle 23.


The low period between these two cycles, as most will likely recall, saw the quietest solar conditions observed in the past 100 years. The solar-low winters saw week after week of a blank Sun, with solar activity virtually flatlining for the entire period. In 2008 there were 265 'zero sunspot' days and the following year saw another 262 days of blank suns!


These effects were well noted here for two winters that are usually prime 'DX times' ... if ever there were a period when cosmic ray bombardment should negatively impact low frequency propagation, surely it would have been then.

So just what did I observe?

What I saw was not only what I had been expecting but was much much better than I had ever believed possible. For west coast topband operators, the 'holy grail' of propagation is working Europe. Working Europe from here means that signals must travel through the polar regions, usually the kiss-of- death for weak signals, as the severe attenuation through the auroral zone means that it just doesn't happen very often ... except for this prolonged period of ultra lows. In a word, conditions to Europe were 'spectacular' ... night-after-night, for several weeks over a period of two winters, working Europe on 160 became normal.

On most nights, European signals could be heard before local sunset, and on several occasions, CW contacts with Europeans, were completed up to one and a half hours before my local sunset. As darkness set in, more signals would appear and the band would rapidly become populated with Europeans ... and only Europeans.

Most of the time there were no signals from North America evident, just Europeans ... a condition that had me shaking my head in disbelief night after night. It was something I had never observed before, as I watched 160m behaving more like 20m CW on a good day to Europe! During this period, my DXCC totals skyrocketed from 99 to 143 worked, as new Europeans and Africans were added to my logbook.


Signal levels were also outstanding, often pushing the FT-1000 S-meter well past the S9 level. On one particular night, I recall hearing an SM4 calling CQ, with just such a signal. I set my output power level at 10 watts and gave him a call, to which he quickly responded. If cosmic ray bombardment was at a high level, it was not reeking any havoc as far as the west coast path to Europe was concerned! For the record, my topband system is nothing special, consisting of a simple 'half-sloper' over a poor ground and a very old amplifier running about 500W output.

My other favorite winter pastime is chasing NDBs in the MF range between 200-500 kHz. Exceptional east west conditions were evident throughout the two winters of ultra-lows.

On one such night, I noted a new strong signal where none had been previously heard. Because of its strength, I surmised that it was probably a new NDB in nearby Washington state. Noting its ident ('NYA' on 414 kHz), I was not able to find any reference to such a beacon being previously reported and turned to the Yahoo ndblist group for help, posting my catch as 'unidentified'. Almost immediately I received a response, telling me that the signal I was hearing was located in Europe ... Svalbard to be exact, located midway between Norway and the North Pole!

Now, European NDBs have never been heard from the west coast, other than occasional signals from some of Greenland's powerhouses, so this represents a very rare event. Although I have often listened for this signal, it has yet to be heard here again and my logging of remains its only reported foray into any part of North America. Unfortunately, in 2015, it was listed as 'decomissioned'. I have no doubts that this rare propagation was a result of the solar flatlining conditions of the time.

As chilling as Carl's warning sounds, he himself admits uncertainty with a 'let's wait and see' attitude and after reviewing my own experiences under what surely must be similar conditions, I'm still very optimistic over what might be in store. Hopefully we shouldn't have to wait too much longer to find out!


Upcoming Solar Years … Can They Be Too Quiet?




Most of us LF/MF and topband diehards have been looking forward to the next several years of low solar activity ... maybe even 'ultra-low' as some of the solar gurus are predicting.

An interesting posting on the Topband reflector a few weeks ago by noted propagation expert, Carl, K9LA, made me re-think my expectations!

I flagged the post for a later blog topic but have since seen the information pop-up on a couple of other reflectors as well as on the ARRL News page. Apparently I wasn't the only one to give the posting a double-take. If you missed it, here is Carl's post:

About a week ago Wolf DF2PY posted a message here commenting on the recent adverse levels of geomagnetic field activity and how it will now change for the good - giving us good 160m propagation.

We'll certainly see less geomagnetic field activity as we move into winter,
but there's another issue we should be aware of. The Sun's magnetic field
is weakening - probably to the lowest levels in our lifetime. With a weak
solar magnetic field, more galactic cosmic rays will be able to get into
the Earth's atmosphere. We are now seeing unprecedented high neutron counts (neutrons are one of the by-products of cosmic rays)

Since galactic cosmic rays are mostly *very energetic* protons, they can
get down to low atmospheric altitudes, causing collisional ionization in
the D region (and lower E region). A cursory estimate using cosmic ray
ionization rates confirms more ionization in the lower atmosphere. 160m is
not very tolerant of more absorption, so we may see an adverse effect of
the weakened solar magnetic field.

Many of us think that "solar min is solar min is solar min". But maybe a
solar minimum can be too deep for 160m. A good question to ask in the early 2020s will be "how was 160m?" So stay active on 160m and let's see what happens.

Carl K9LA

My initial response was to think that perhaps there wouldn't be as much to look forward to as I had been hoping for, when it came to improved LF, MF and 160m propagation. Carl's postulation was also backed-up by another mention on the Spaceweather site, although the influence of cosmic ray bombardment on radio propagation was not discussed.

As I thought more about this unfortunate possibility actually coming to pass, I thought back to my own on-air and listening experiences during previous solar-low years ... particularly the unprecedented low between our most recent cycle and its predecessor, Cycle 23.


The low period between these two cycles, as most will likely recall, saw the quietest solar conditions observed in the past 100 years. The solar-low winters saw week after week of a blank Sun, with solar activity virtually flatlining for the entire period. In 2008 there were 265 'zero sunspot' days and the following year saw another 262 days of blank suns!


These effects were well noted here for two winters that are usually prime 'DX times' ... if ever there were a period when cosmic ray bombardment should negatively impact low frequency propagation, surely it would have been then.

So just what did I observe?

What I saw was not only what I had been expecting but was much much better than I had ever believed possible. For west coast topband operators, the 'holy grail' of propagation is working Europe. Working Europe from here means that signals must travel through the polar regions, usually the kiss-of- death for weak signals, as the severe attenuation through the auroral zone means that it just doesn't happen very often ... except for this prolonged period of ultra lows. In a word, conditions to Europe were 'spectacular' ... night-after-night, for several weeks over a period of two winters, working Europe on 160 became normal.

On most nights, European signals could be heard before local sunset, and on several occasions, CW contacts with Europeans, were completed up to one and a half hours before my local sunset. As darkness set in, more signals would appear and the band would rapidly become populated with Europeans ... and only Europeans.

Most of the time there were no signals from North America evident, just Europeans ... a condition that had me shaking my head in disbelief night after night. It was something I had never observed before, as I watched 160m behaving more like 20m CW on a good day to Europe! During this period, my DXCC totals skyrocketed from 99 to 143 worked, as new Europeans and Africans were added to my logbook.


Signal levels were also outstanding, often pushing the FT-1000 S-meter well past the S9 level. On one particular night, I recall hearing an SM4 calling CQ, with just such a signal. I set my output power level at 10 watts and gave him a call, to which he quickly responded. If cosmic ray bombardment was at a high level, it was not reeking any havoc as far as the west coast path to Europe was concerned! For the record, my topband system is nothing special, consisting of a simple 'half-sloper' over a poor ground and a very old amplifier running about 500W output.

My other favorite winter pastime is chasing NDBs in the MF range between 200-500 kHz. Exceptional east west conditions were evident throughout the two winters of ultra-lows.

On one such night, I noted a new strong signal where none had been previously heard. Because of its strength, I surmised that it was probably a new NDB in nearby Washington state. Noting its ident ('NYA' on 414 kHz), I was not able to find any reference to such a beacon being previously reported and turned to the Yahoo ndblist group for help, posting my catch as 'unidentified'. Almost immediately I received a response, telling me that the signal I was hearing was located in Europe ... Svalbard to be exact, located midway between Norway and the North Pole!

Now, European NDBs have never been heard from the west coast, other than occasional signals from some of Greenland's powerhouses, so this represents a very rare event. Although I have often listened for this signal, it has yet to be heard here again and my logging of remains its only reported foray into any part of North America. Unfortunately, in 2015, it was listed as 'decomissioned'. I have no doubts that this rare propagation was a result of the solar flatlining conditions of the time.

As chilling as Carl's warning sounds, he himself admits uncertainty with a 'let's wait and see' attitude and after reviewing my own experiences under what surely must be similar conditions, I'm still very optimistic over what might be in store. Hopefully we shouldn't have to wait too much longer to find out!


Seven To Go




Confirmed DXCC entity #332 arrived in the mail last week. With a total of 339 active DXCC entities, this leaves just seven to go.




Although I had worked Tunisia a couple of years ago on 15m, I was never able to get the contact confirmed. In spite of sending an SAE and green stamps for postage, 3V8HQ's several promises of his card 'soon to be mailed', proved to be hollow.

The contact with 3V8HQ was my first and only one with Tunisia, since being licenced in 1963. The low level of ham radio activity from 3V8 combined with the challenges of VE7 to Meditteranean Africa propagation, made it a difficult one to work.

courtesy: https://www.google.ca/maps
I was excited to see one other station becoming active this past year, club station 3V8SS ... but it seemed that whenever they were on (very early out on the west coast), they were on RTTY and not on CW. During the past recent ARRL CW DX test, I noticed that they were active ... a rare event and maybe another opportunity to work Tunisia on CW once again. As luck would have it, propagation was good enough to make the QSO, as my old (twice refurbished) Cushcraft A3S tribander came through once again.

My present confirmed list sitting at 332, combined with my 10 confirmed 'deleted' entities, brings the overall confirmed total to 342. The seven remaining entities will be very difficult, if not impossible, unless I live to be 150. They are:

            FT/G, TO - Glorioso
            HK0 - Malpelo Island
            KP5 - Desecheo Island
            P5 - N. Korea
            SV/A - Mt. Athos
            Z8 - S. Sudan
            ZL9 - Auckland / Campbell Islands


A couple of these have been active in past recent years ... for some, I was asleep at the switch and for others, I was away travelling at the time. With solar conditions heading downhill quickly, and possibly staying there for many many years, the prospects of working these last seven is looking pretty bleak.

On the other hand, my favorite winter band (160m) should continue to improve. Last week also brought a new DXCC QSL for me on that band, A35T in Tonga, bringing my confirmed total on that band to 157.

Getting new entities from here on out will be increasingly challenging ... I guess I need to remember, that if it was easy, it just wouldn't be any fun!


VP8STI Excitement

S.Thule Island - courtesy: k5tr

Operations from the South Sandwich Islands (Thule) has caused a lot of excitement on the bands over the past ten days ... but for myself, it was more of a last-minute frenzy, which I'll elaborate on later.


The expedition, composed of a crew of 14 operators from the 'Intrepid DX Group', left Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands aboard the MV Braveheart, on a 38-day roundtrip to South Sandwich and then to South Georgia ... two of the rarest DX entities on the planet, and by any standard, not the easiest places to reach!

South Sandwich was on-the-air from January 18th to the 25th, when a sudden turn of events put an end to the operation from the island. Not long after they suddenly disappeared from the air, this bulletin appeared on the DX newswebsite:

Today at 21:20 UTC, Nigel Jolly, Braveheart owner, declared an emergency and ordered to VP8STI team to cease all operations and return to the ship.

A large ice flow that had broken away due last nights storm starts to block the entrance to the Bay where they were camped. There was strong potential for the ice flow to prevent Braveheart to get them.

Team is now safely aboard the Braveheart and they are moving away from Southern Thule Is. All the equipment and personal gear is still on the island. They hope to return to camp site during next good weather window.

Once they retrieve their equipment, they could make a determination as to whether they can proceed to South Georgia to do VP8SGI as planned.

The latest word sounds very hopeful:

Finally yesterday, team was able to collect all gear from Thule Is.
All team members are OK and they are on the way to South Georgia where they will arrive after three days sailing.


They will try to be on the air during eight days as VP8SGI.


Personally, I want to thanks to all who send support messages to us, expressing their concerns about VP8STI team situation.

 
Delorme tracker is working, you can see Braveheart progress at: http://www.intrepid-dx.com/vp8/location.php

RV Braveheart
I had been aware of the expedition but had not been paying too much attention ... after checking my master DXCC checklist and finding that I had already worked South Sandwich on 160m, several years ago, I didn't really need it. I'm not sure why I checked my list again on the 25th but when I did, I realized that I had really messed-up ... it was actually South Georgia that I had worked on 160 and not South Sandwich! I had never worked South Sandwich, on any band, and it was one of the last 9 entities that I needed for having worked them all ... big mistake.

I soon realized that operations on South Sandwich would be coming to a screeching halt at any moment and scrambled to see where they were presently operating. Unfortunately they seemed to spend most of the day (25th) on the WARC bands, for which I have no antennas ... I really need to hang a 30m dipole up in the trees one of these days for situations just like this.

As darkness approached VE7 land, I began seeing a few spots for them on 20m phone, not my favorite mode, nor the most efficient for working pileups.

Zeroing-in on their frequency found them with a nice 5x7 signal on 14.180kHz and listening from 14.235 - 14.245kHz. The operator was working North America by call districts and when I tuned-in, was working "Ø" 's. He would work ten stations and then change. He started on down the list, calling for "9" 's and then "8" 's but when he had finished with them, he called for "1" 's ... hmm. Perhaps he had started with "7" 's before I arrived and was working his way through the list once again.

It seemed to take forever when he had finally finished with the "6" 's and his signal was now considerably weaker ... "7" 's should be next. But no ... it was even better!

Luckily I had been following his tuning technique as he worked through the pileup and was able to track his listening frequency as he worked his way from 14.235 to 14.245 and back again. I had my transmit frequency already set on the frequency of the last "6" that he had worked ... when he called for "any VE's?" ... as luck would have it, he came back on my first call, not only making my day but making my week!

After a bit of a scare, I was very fortunate to work them on what turned out to be their last full day of operation, as they left the air, and South Sandwich, after only a few more hours of operation.

From now on I'll be checking my list much more carefully.

An interesting challenge

I saw this posted on the 4 States QRP Group e-mail reflector.  I added NY4G's blog to the blog roll and am posting a link to his "challenge".

http://ny4g.blogspot.com/2015/12/qrp-dxcc-challenge.html

He calls it "QRP Wars - The Morse Awakens".

Cute.

Now the question is - can it be done?

My answer is, "Yes, I think it can." Even with the worsening solar conditions. But (and there's alway's a "but") I think this competition favors those who are retired and can send mondo amounts of time on the radio.  It also favors those of us on the East coast, who are closer to Europe and the Caribbean. And with the ARRL DX Contest which is held in February, if you really put your mind to it, it should be possible to work QRP DXCC within 100 days.

Am I going to put my money where my mouth is?

Not sure at this point.  I just might try it for fun and just may keep a "diary" of the effort here on the blog - just for the halibut. Let me cogitate on it for a while. I have a couple of days left until 2016 rolls around.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

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