Monday, June 29, 2009

Field Day 2009

This weekend was my first Field Day, at least the first that I went to (I got my license in April 2008, but I didn't have any connections with any group, nor any radios of my own save a simple HT, in June of 2008 so I didn't participate in the event then). I must admit that I had a great time and look forward to doing it next year.

I had originally planned to mainly be a support person at this year's event, helping with setup, food, and so forth over the course of the event. At the last planning meeting I volunteered to co-captain the GOTA station this year (since my license is barely a year old I'm a good candidate for that) but my co-captain came down ill, leaving us with no station to operate. So I was back to helping with antenna lifts and such. No big deal.

I should mention that the club I worked Field Day with is the Du Page Amateur Radio Club, W9DUP, in northeastern Illinois. We ran 7A this year out of our usual site, the Hawthorne Hill Woods, a relatively undeveloped property owned by the Woodridge Park District. Running 7 stations means there's a lot of antennas to go up.

I reported to the site a little after 6pm Friday and helped with the first erection of the minibeam that one of the CW stations was going to use. Getting that up took most of the available daylight that evening. We took two shots at putting up the 40m/15m dipole for the other CW station but couldn't get a good position in the trees before it got too dark. That would have to wait until morning. I went home around 9pm and went to bed.

Saturday morning I headed back into the site arriving just before 9am. By this time it had been determined that we needed to take down the minibeam because there was a configuration problem with it and it wasn't tuning up. I missed the takedown, though. Most of my time that morning was spent helping get the previously mentioned 40m/15m dipole, the 80m dipole for the first CW station, and the G7 longwire that the digital station would be using up. One of our members has an air launcher that works really well and we got very good placements for all these antennas.

We got the last of these up around 12 noon, giving me just enough time to grab something to eat. After that I went over to the digital (PSK) tent because this was the mode I was most interested in anyway, and watched Bob KA9BHD try to work digital for about an hour, without a lot of luck; band conditions weren't very good, and there was just too much traffic to have much luck at working anything. I wandered around for a while, helping out with little things here and there, and ended up at at the 75m SSB table where I logged for a half hour or so for Pat K9PPP and then operated for a half hour or so before we decided that the impending storms to the west were generating too much QRN to make many more contacts and took a break. I went back after a bit and managed to work a couple more stations but the storm-related QRN was continuing to build. I wanted to go back home for a bit anyway, so I left the site again around 5:30 to go home for a few hours.

I returned to the site around 9pm just as the rain from the storm system that mercifully passed mostly south of us hit in earnest. After putting a couple of tarps over the digital tent to keep water out and deciding that the dangerous part of the storms were past, we decided to bring the PSK station back up. Marianne KC9JLK worked the station for about an hour making some contacts, then I took over around 10pm and worked it until midnight with Bryan KC9GRH logging for me until he went to bed around midnight. Activity was poor to moderate until around 11:30, then it finally started to take off.

I had not planned on working the station all night, but shortly after Bryan went to bed the bands really started to pick up. We had three antennas configured for this station, a longwire dipole that Marty got way far up in the trees for us that would tune on just about anything that I was using, which was mainly 80m, 40m, and 20m (I also tried 15m and 10m but didn't find anything to work), plus a pair of horizontal dipoles on a mast, one tuned for 40m and the other for 20m. The longwire was by far the best of the three, but it was much more suspectible to QRM from the CW operators, especially on 40m when they would turn their beam to point at my antenna and swamp me with S9+80 dB QRM.

Anyway, between midnight and about 5am I managed to work about 50 stations across all three bands, logging my own QSOs as I went and switching from band to band as the CW QRM got to be too bad or when I'd worked out the selection of who there was to work on any particular band. I took a short nap around 5am, at the operating position, then woke up in time for East Coast sunrise, which heralded a great opening on 20m and another 30 contacts over the next 90 minutes along the east coast. At 8am, when I finally broke for breakfast, we had logged 102 contacts, two over our 24-hour goal of 100. I did go back after breakfast and worked one more contact, then decided that if I didn't go home then I'd be too tired to drive safely at the end of the day, packed up and went home.

If you worked W9DUP on PSK during Field Day, the chances are good that you worked me. I had a great deal of fun, and you can bet that I'll be doing this again next year. About the only thing I think we need to do is work something out between digital and CW stations so we don't interfere with each other as much. And maybe add a second digital station.