Monday, November 17, 2014

Antenna Season Wrap-up

We've had our first snowstorm of the winter. It's more a symbolic event since the snowfall amount is small. Real storms are sure to follow over the coming weeks.

I rushed to finish work on the tower this weekend in advance of the foul weather. This included removing the 40 meters sloper, re-establishing the 80 meters half sloper, cable dressing and other weather-proofing. I have now pretty much brought to a close the 2014 antenna season at VE3VN.

Looking back it's almost surprising how much I got done this year. I know it cost me a lot of time even though it doesn't feel that way. Highlights follow. You can compare these to the plans I made at the beginning of the year.
  • Removal of the house-bracketed antenna mast, multi-band inverted vee, 30' tower, multi-band dipole and 40 meters delta loop
  • Bracket the 30' tower to the house and installed a new antenna mast to 14 meters height
  • Purchase, prepare and install the DMX-52 guyed tower
  • Reconfigure the multi-band inverted vee to include 40 meters, make mechanical improvements and raise it on the house-bracketed tower and mast
  • Refurbish a Ham-M rotator and mast bearing, and install them on the DMX-52
  • Purchase and install an Explorer 14 tri-band yagi at 15 meters height
  • Design, build and install a loaded half sloper for 80 meters
  • Design, build, install and ultimately remove a loaded sloper for 40 meters
While the contesters are away the mice will play

As a contester I suppose I ought to have participated in Sweepstakes SSB this past weekend. I opted not to since SSB QRP is pretty tough, despite how good my results were in CQ WW two weeks earlier. I did however scan the bands to be sure my section (ONE) was well represented. I could see that I wasn't needed.

While the contesters were busy there was some DX to be had for the taking on CW. That is, until the high geomagnetic activity ruined propagation. I was able to quickly work 3B9HA on 40 CW since the pile-up was so small. This again demonstrates that QRP and a bit of wire can do wonders, if everyone else stays away! After the storms hit I found VU4KV on 20 meters CW, but they were far too weak for me to work. It was interesting that their signal peaked to the northwest rather than the direct route just east of north. This is an excellent example of skew path propagation, going around rather than through the auroral zone.

Winter antenna work

Doing antenna and tower work during our cold winter is possible if unpleasant. It's something you get used to when you live in this climate. When I was young and living in an even colder climate (VE4) it was enough that on a Saturday or Sunday the temperature rose above -10° C, was sunny and not windy. That type of winter day was rare, so we made use of them.

Winter tower climbing was rarely used for new construction. More often it was to perform repairs in advance of contests. Careful planning is essential when doing this type of work so that the absolute minimum amount of time is spent outside and on the tower.

Once your hands or feet start going numb you have been up there too long. Some dexterity in the extremities is needed to get down safely. It isn't always possible to dress as warmly as you'd like since all that movement-impairing clothes is a safety hazard. It's easier now with lightweight and thin synthetics. Then there's the detail work that requires bare hands.

We usually did the work in stages, warming up at intervals. It helped that our towers back then were rarely over 15 meters height, allowing for rapid ascents and descents. Once in Ottawa I found that winter tower work became easier due to the warmer temperatures. It was just necessary to get used to doing with dull, overcast skies. I've even done work as high as 100' while it was snowing. With snow the biggest problems are getting wet and cold from snow melt and slippery footing. Towers with horizontal cross-braces are much safer than those with diagonal braces (DMX and Trylon).

Perhaps the biggest problem with winter tower work is wind. If you live in a warm climate you may be unfamiliar how deadly even a moderate breeze can be when the temperate dips below -10° C. The 20 kph breeze I had to deal with this weekend quickly stole away heat during the 10 or 15 minutes I was atop my tower this weekend despite being well dressed and the temperate at a relatively balmy 0° C. It was also snowing, making the tower a bit slippery. I adjusted by using a slower and safer climbing technique.

The blog in winter

Although I will not be building new antennas over the winter the blog will not be quiet. There is operating, equipment and, very importantly, software modelling of new antennas and old. There is a lot on my mind that I want to work through, the interesting bits of which I'll share.

There will be some focus on bigger antennas and low-band antennas that may play a part in the coming years. Forward planning is always a good idea, whether or not I act on those plans. At the least I can offer useful ideas to those of you who follow along.

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