Combining Astronomy and Amateur Radio on the shore of Lake Erie.
VE3NCQ recently spent the weekend trying out the portable HF antenna over several bands and modes.
The antenna system consists of a galvanized plate bolted to the steel seawall. A plastic pipe fitting provides insulation, and a 2 foot galvanized pipe is attached. Then there’s 9 feet of 3/4 inch copper pipe, 2 feet of 1/2 inch copper pipe, and a custom top hat. The coax feeds the bottom of the pole directly. The antenna has proven to be very efficient on multiple bands with no tuner needed on 10 and 20 meters. It did exhibit some unusual effects prior to a thunderstorm.
The location outside on the beach is sometimes too noisy for phone operation due to wind and waves, despite using a noise-canceling aircraft headset. I decided to try some RTTY by hooking up the laptop to the Yaesu FT757GX and running TrueTTY. My first contact was on 20 meters with 5F50KD, a special events callsign from Morocco. Then I switched modes to BSK31 and exchanged with KD5UBA. I found that only about 30 watts of power was needed for these contacts. We did quite a bit of listening and “watching” and usually had a crowd of kids looking on (2 nephews, a niece, my daughters, and parents too). Once darkness fell, I couldn’t see my keyboard anymore so I shut down for a while.
Erie Beach is not just perfect location for radio. It has one of the darkest skies of Southern Ontario, making it a good spot for astronomy. The evening of July 30 provided us with a great view of Jupiter, the Milky Way, and dozens of meteors. Some of the brightest meteors were fireballs which left a smoky trail. (Unfortunately, I didn’t have 2 meter equipment with me to see if I could log some meteor scatter contacts.) Using my 11×80 binoculars on a tripod, we observed Jupiter and 3 of its moons, plus several of the dazzling star clusters and nebulae in the Milky Way. At the same time, we were treated to a spectacular lightning show caused by a storm over the Pennsylvania/New York border across the lake.
A quick tuning of 10 meters revealed the band to be open with Sporatic-E. I made my first 10m contacts with N4DPU and KG4AXH in Florida, enjoying a more casual and conversational contact. Ten meters was virtually noise-free compared to 20, with strong signals at both ends. North-south propagation was predominant, and lasted well into the night.
The next morning, I worked one more station, AI4MT on 10m. Propagation was still north-south into South Carolina, Florida and the Caribbean. Twelve meters was asleep so I tried 15m. Stations were either ‘on’ or ‘off’ on fifteen, with strong stations working people I couldn’t even hear. I worked KF2GQ, my first 15m band contact who was also in Florida, with a signal that varied from 59+20 over to nothing. Everyone was having problems, so I went down to 17m.
Conditions were a bit more consistent on 17m. I called CQ and had a nice QSO with AC0DF in Omaha NE. With the tuner, my antenna was performing very well with relatively low power. Then I stopped to get some lunch and play with the kids.
Later, I decided to try the system out on 40 meters. There was a substantial amount of static due to thunderstorms about 50 miles out. I tuned around a while, and tried for W9ZL who was calling CQ from the Oshkosh Experimental Aircraft Society hangar at the famous Oshkosh fly-in. A 58 confirmed the antenna was working here also. This was a particularly satisfying contact, not only because it was my first on 40 meters, but I am also a pilot very familiar with Oshkosh, plus my mother grew up in the neighbourhood.
Then it was time for a quick swim in the lake with the kids. The sky was starting to get dark, so I wanted to cool off before dismantling my outdoor station. After disconnecting the coax, I experienced a jolt from the antenna. I held the screwdriver up to it, and observed static discharges jumping an inch, every half second. This antenna was pulling in a super charge from the approaching storm, likely due to the capacitance hat, and perhaps the PVC insulator. I had to ground it out in order to take it down. There were several thousand volts on the antenna, and the storm was still 45 minutes away!
After the storm and supper, I put everything back up. I heard OM5XX from the Slovak Republic working a pile-up. I waited nearly an hour for the right moment, and he pulled my full call out of the field on my first try, with only 10 volts left in my battery. This was worth the effort of putting everything back up and swatting mosquitos! Now if only I could find a way to put some of that charge on the antenna into the battery.