Monthly Archives: May 2017

Portable Antenna Halyard

At my home QTH I’ve always used halyards to haul a pulley up that in turn holds the antenna support rope. It takes more rope to do it this way but it works much better than using a single rope. Recently I’ve been using my  LNR EFT-10/20/40 Trail-Friendly antenna a bit. There are two downsides to placing it well up in a tree, 1) it is made of very thin wire which is great for portability but I’m not really excited about using the antenna wire to haul it down because, 2) it has a built in winder\choke which again, is great for function and portability, but unfortunately the winder\choke doubles as a limb catcher. The solution to this problem is to use the throw line as a halyard, not the antenna wire. This actually allows you to have much better control while hoisting the antenna, and the throw line acts as the downhaul instead of the antenna wire. If the antenna does get snagged you can use the throw line instead of the antenna wire to work out the snag.

Throw line halyard

In the picture the blue box is the end of the antenna tied to the throw line with a bowline and the red box is the winder\choke. Using this method I can easily maneuver the antenna wire through tree limbs and overcome snags using the much stronger throw line as opposed to the antenna wire.

** Correct halyard terms courtesy of my very good friend, The Boat Doctor, of Sailing Magazine. The correct sailing terms are hoist and strike. “Strike the antenna” could have all sorts of bad connotations but it could be a fun phrase to use at Field Day. : )

 

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Portable operation: Siege or Alpine?

In mountaineering there are generally two styles or approaches: siege or expedition and alpine. Siege or expedition style involves establishing a route with camps and fixed ropes while alpine style typically involves carrying all of your necessities with you as you climb. In most cases the siege style involves much more equipment, time, and effort, while in alpine style the food, shelter, and other equipment that you need to both climb and survive is that which is in the pack on your back.

Since I started my portable operation I’ve been using the siege style as illustrated here:

Could you fit more in this wagon?

I haul my TS-480SAT, multiple antennas, various lengths of coax, a group 24 lead acid battery, chair, table, etc. Gear that while nice to have, weighs an awful lot, is rather bulky, and frankly is a chore to lug along a trail. Calling all of this stuff “portable” is likely pushing the limits of the use of the phrase “portable station.” At the end of the day, it’s not really all that portable.

Late last year I decided to re-evaluate my “portable” station. I’m not getting any younger and I can’t afford to care for and feed a pack mule and even if I could my XYL would frown upon hauling it in the camper, so I decided to look for ways in which to lighten my load. The obvious place to start was the battery. Do I really need to lug around a group 24 battery? Yes it’s probably good for around 40 Ah, maybe a wee bit more, but short of an all day operation with an above average amount of transmitting at 100W am I ever really going to need this much power on hand? Not likely.

Given the fact that you actually can make contacts, even SSB contacts, using less than 100 Watts (that may be a shocking statement to some), and given that decreasing transmit power means decreasing DC power requirements, and given that the engineers at Kenwood even included the means by which to do so on the TS-480SAT, coupled with the fact that there has been all manner of improvements in battery technology in recent years, indicated to me that I should  decrease my transmit power and start to look for a newer, lighter power source.

Decrease the power?

So after reading Andrew’s post (VK1AD) about his experience with a new LiFePO4 battery I decided to obtain one as well and try it out with my TS-480SAT. So at the end of the camping season last year I acquired this:

4200mAH LiFePO4 battery

Yes, it is only 4200 mAh but it barely weighs a pound. I did some testing with my TS-480SAT with the power dialed well back and was pleased with the results. I could fit the radio, the battery, a portable wire antenna, and a length of coax into a small daypack. No wagon or pack animals required. This was a great start. But there was probably room for more improvement.

You probably all know where this is going. What is the next heaviest thing in the siege wagon? Yes, you guessed it; the radio. Since ICOM exited the QRP multiband all-mode radio world when they dropped the IC-703 some years ago the remaining contenders are the Yaesu FT-817ND, the Elecraft offerings, the KX3 and KX2, and some nice radios from LNR. The TS-480SAT is a super nice radio and is a very portable rig however it weighs 8 pounds. If weight reduction is the goal, there are offerings that tip the scale at considerably less than 8 pounds.

After a lot of research I elected to purchase the Yaesu FT-817ND at the end of the camping season last year. I looked long and hard at the KX2 which is close in price to the 817 but I really like the shack-in-a-box capability of the 817 (especially VHF\UHF) for camping. It’s entirely possible that a KX2\KX3 finds its way into my shack at some point but I’m presently happy with the 817. I have an FT-857D in my car so I’m used to the menus, I wish the display was a bit larger but it’s a small radio, and I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at the meeting where it was decided that it would be a good idea to cap VHF receive at 154 MHz, thus precluding the reception of NOAA weather radio in the US at 162 MHz, an obvious feature to have in a portable radio like the 817.

FT-187ND and TS-480SAT

Its maiden camping voyage was on our recent first camping trip of the season. One morning I went for a walk with a Maxpedition Lunada containing my entire portable radio shack as pictured below:

KA9EAK Portable

The portable station consists of the 817, an LDG Z817 tuner and cable, the 4200mAh battery, a length of coax, a BNC to PLC-259 adapter cable, the UHF\VHF rubber duck antenna, and an LNR EFT-10/20/40 Trail-Friendly antenna. All of this comfortably fits into the small pack and weighs around five pounds. (I can actually shed the LDG tuner as I don’t need it with the LNR antenna. I purchased the tuner for use with other antennas and I just keep it in the bag with the rest of the 817 gear.)

The first setup was out near the beach at Point Beach State Forest on Lake Michigan. I brought along my arborists throw bag and line and quickly had the antenna up in a nearby tree. Minutes later I was on the air.

817 setup (light red line highlights antenna)

I heard a fair amount of DX on 20m but given conditions and 5W they couldn’t hear me. I tuned around a bit and was able to check into the SATERN net on 14.265 with Bob, WA5EEZ in Oklahoma with a good signal report. After the net I made a few more calls and came upon K0PFV mobile in Washington County, Oklahoma. I gave him a call and was able to make the contact with good signal reports, 59 sent and 53 received.

Fluttering on the bands?

Thus far I am very pleased with my new truly portable station. Yes, it doesn’t have the capabilities of the TS-480SAT station but it’s much lighter and easier to deploy. Plus I save money on back surgery and\or pack mule feed and vet bills. Both radios will make the trip camping, I just won’t be using the siege wagon much anymore. The TS-480SAT can stay in camp while the FT-817ND goes off on some alpine-style radio adventures.

Happy 817 operator self-portrait

Rig Expert @ Rawley Point Lighthouse

While on the first camping trip of the year I once again activated the Rawley Point Lighthouse (USA-689.) This time I chose to operate from the parking lot just to the north of the lighthouse. I used my Kenwood TS-480SAT and instead of my Alpha Antenna Alpha DX Sr I chose to use my LNR EF-Quad.

The parking lot just to the north of the lighthouse is located behind a very large dune at the top of which is a rather tall tree perfectly suited as support for one end of an end fed wire antenna. Using my arborists throw bag and line I quickly placed the line over a limb about halfway up the tree. I hoisted one end of the EF-Quad into the tree and ran the feed end back to my truck.

EF-Quad @ Rawley Point (light red line highlights antenna)

EF-Quad

I used my RigExpert AA-55 Zoom to quickly check the antenna and obtained the following readings:

Frequency SWR
7180 1.35
14250 1.27
21325 1.29
29000 3.1

AA-55 Zoom @ Rawley Point Lighthouse

AA-55 Zoom – Outstanding in its field

The RigExpert AA-55 Zoom continues to be outstanding in its field (pun intended.)

Due to the fact that it was a very windy, and somewhat cold day, I chose to setup the radio in the back of my truck. Once the antenna was up and checked I was able to start making some contacts on 20m. Even though band conditions weren’t great I was able to make a number of contacts in the time that I had for operation. The EF-Quad is a very nice antenna for portable operation and is a great option for windy days where I would have had to guy a vertical antenna like my Alpha Antenna Alpha DX Sr.

Some day this summer I’ll tune the EF-Quad to get 10m closer to what is spec’d. Now that I have the AA-55 Zoom it will be much easier to tune this multi-band wire antenna than with the old MFJ-259B.

 

Antenna Update

We are rapidly approaching June and grass cutting season is in earnest here in Wisconsin. We are over 3 inches ahead on rainfall this year and while we’ve had below average temperatures for the most part the grass hasn’t noticed.

It’s only been 6 months since I completed laying the thirty 30 foot radials for my 4BTV and they have already largely disappeared into the grass.

Where are the radials?

November 2016

To be fair, we delayed cutting the grass in the area that contains the radials until yesterday in order to give the grass a nice growth run. My XYL cut the area without incident. No radials wrapped around the mower deck! To insure an event-free experience I used approximately 500 landscape staples. That’s about one staple every two feet for each of thirty radials. Maybe a wee bit of overkill but worth it in the face of pulling the mower deck to undo tightly wound radials.

The last thing that I added to the 4BTV late in the fall was DX Engineering’s reinforced lower tube. It was extraordinarily windy late last fall and I don’t have any guys on the 4BTV. Additionally, it is located in an area of the yard that directly faces the prevailing winds with a long unimpeded run across a large farm field so it takes the brunt of the wind. The base tube withstood a lot and in all likelihood would have been fine but I didn’t want to be out there changing a bent antenna tube in January so the reinforced lower tube was cheap insurance.

The K9AY worked very well this past winter and there were no issues with winter winds. It is now in the folded position for yard and garden season.

K9AY Folded

It neatly folds up into a space of maybe two square feet providing plenty of room for my lovely XYL and her antenna killing machines to drive about in pursuit of all manner of lawn and garden care.

XYL and new antenna mangler

The lawn tractor was enough of an antenna menace. Now she has a Honda Rancher with which to inflict damage to my ground mounted antennas! Tomorrow is our 29th Wedding Anniversary so she’s a keeper. We’ll see about the ATV. : )