Portable VE4 in Manitoba

September 20, 2014

Last week, my wife and I took a vacation up in Manitoba. Specifically, south-eastern Manitoba near Whiteshell Provincial Park.

I brought the KX3 along, and my homebrew end-fed vertical antenna. I had done a couple dry-runs prior to the trip, and I was convinced that I had everything along to operate HF.

Arriving at the cabin, I was excited to see that we had a tall pine tree right next to the cabin, on the northwest side, within reach of our deck. Due to the setup, I was able to toss a rope & wire up into the tree, and sit outside and operate HF.

It was a bit tricky getting the antenna up into the tree. I didn’t get the top quite as high as I wanted to, and I should have just used my slingshot right off the bat to get up and over the top of the tree, rather than throwing the rope off the 2nd floor balcony.

With the placement I got, the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 of the vertical was below the deck. Since most of the current is radiated from the middle portion of the antenna, I was probably attenuating my signal pointed southwest to southeast, which is unfortunately where most of the US population was relative to my location. At 5 watts, it’s a big hit.

I coordinated with my dad to have a couple QSO’s, and he was able to barely hear me on 40m one evening with my 5W of power, although I was able to copy him fine at 5/7. We were either in the skip zone for 20m (i.e. too close), or 20m had closed by then.

Despite the problems, I did make a couple contacts. Most notably, I worked F5MUX (France), on 12m SSB with 5w! I did a double-take when he came back to me, and I must have completely lucked out since I didn’t hear him long afterwards. I did have a clear shot to the NW and NE, so working France with only 5 watts was a pleasant surprise.

I also managed to work W1AW/4 in North Carolina on 20 meters SSB.

In the fall, the evenings here don’t last long, and it gets cold pretty quickly, which limited my operating time. We did spend most of the daytime going on hikes and exploring, so I didn’t spend as much time on the radio as I had hoped.

Operating QRP (and portable) has opened my eyes to just how important everything in the system is. At home, my antenna is where it is, and it points where it is, so either I work someone, or I don’t. I have the luxury of bumping up to 100w if I need to. Antenna efficiency, and placement, are even more critical when operating QRP, and everything you can do to get your signal out there helps.

Learning CW would also help :)

I’ve come to dislike being at the mercy of whatever random tree happens to be nearby for antenna placement, and I’m eyeing up a fiberglass mast that I could bring along in case the tree situation on trips isn’t optimal. I’d love a Buddipole, but they’re dang expensive.

Another option would be to buy a 18’ mast and tripod, and set up a dipole to get a little better directivity. With fall here, and winter rapidly approaching, my thoughts are starting to turn to non-portable operation :)

Other random thoughts:

  • Should have brought a grounding strap and small ground rod. On my last day of operating, I was noticing some noise when I touched the case, which probably means I should have been grounded.

  • Just before I left, I noticed the plans for the end-fed vertical were updated to include a post for a connection to a radial, if desired. I decided not to modify the matching box just before I left, but after I discovered my “compromised” antenna situation on arrival, I found myself wishing I could have rolled out a counterpoise, or at least experimented with one. Like I said, every little bit helps.

  • Along with the counterpoise addition, I’m going to swap out the circular ring terminal on the radiator for a “fork” style (not sure what it’s actually called). Not having to completely remove the wingnut every time I want to connect or disconnect the wire from the matchbox would be really nice.

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