Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Sometimes You Get Very Lucky

Since my next antenna article is a couple of days away I am taking the opportunity to add something to my previous article on working VK0EK on 40 meters. In that article I said,
"With my antennas I have almost zero chance on 80 or 160 meters so 40 is the lowest band I can expect to work them."
I am happy to report that I was wrong.

After dinner yesterday I scanned DX spots on my smart phone. Although it was still full daylight I was intrigued by a spot from a W1 reporting VK0EK on 80 meters CW. Since most of W1 is east of me their sunset occurs earlier, meaning that 80 opens there before it opens here.

However since some of W1 is only a few degrees longitude to the east, and a had a few minutes, I went down to the shack to check the band. The local QRN was subdued because it was 30 minutes before sunset and none of the neighbours had yet turned on their lighting systems. I listened around the spotted frequency of 3.534 MHz with a narrow filter to look for VK0EK.

I heard something indistinct so I switched to one of my 40 meter inverted vees. This is a common tactic to improve SNR when local QRN is present. It can't compare to a proper receiving antenna but will often work in a pinch since a horizontal antenna of any kind will reject vertically polarized radiation that is typical for locally-generated QRN.

Now I was able to get decent copy, though far from solid. VK0EK was in there calling CQ and getting no answers. Nothing ventured nothing gained so although they were very weak, my power and antenna are sub-par and the sun was shining I tuned the XIT to -1.4 kHz and sent my call sign at slow speed.

Nothing. So I tried again. Then again. That third try elicited a "VN" reply. I slowed down further and sent my call a few more times. Again I got that partial call response. Well, now I was really into it and I just kept calling. On their end a very patient and capable operator also persisted at the task. You need that dogged determination from both operators to push through these marginal situations.

On my end it was a bit arduous since I had to manually switch antennas at the end of every receive and transmit sequence. You don't want to accidentally hot switch with 100 watts!

After several transmit sequences and sending my call sign perhaps 20 times the operator on Heard Island sent back my full call followed by a high speed 599. I replied in kind and in some shock and amazement I logged the 80 meter CW QSO at 2308Z, 27 minutes before my sunset. About 3 minutes later it showed up on DXA (pictured above) to confirm that what just transpired was real.

I kept listening for a few minutes just for the pleasure of hearing them. This allowed me to hear a few familiar VE call signs also succeed in getting through. I don't know how long the opening lasted, only that checked again after sunset arrived I could weakly hear but no longer copy them. Then the lights came on and 80 meters was unavailable to me for the remainder of the evening.

A day later I am still astounded. A spotlight opening, a superb operator huddled inside a tent on a cold night on an uninhabited Antarctic island and me with my 100 watts and an inefficient tower vertical with a total of only 64 meters of radial wire (8 x 8 meters). I live for moments like these. The magic of radio is what finally lured me back to the hobby after a 20 year hiatus. This one QSO is a perfect example of that magic.

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