HF “Go Kit” and Winter Field Day 2017

Well, I thought I’d get the HF “Go kit” out, set up and make a few contacts for this year’s Winter Field Day.  While I did just that, I failed to make any contacts at all…  but I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, what’s “Winter Field Day” all about anyway? Well, much like its better known summer counterpart, its all about getting on the air in a “remote” type capacity.  Can you set up “in the field” (such is the name) and still communicate with the outside world?  Without relying on a stationary antenna system, mains power, a comfy chair, etc.  It’s a noble effort and hopefully it keeps going in future years.  This was the first I’ve heard of it in my short ham career.

I’d like to talk a minute about this HF kit I’ve put together.  Normally it works pretty well, I think.  I have made contacts with it, so I know it works.  But here’s the scoop.  First some photos.

Here’s the way I usually keep the kit in storage.  Well, not on the patio table, but in four (or five) units.  The radio, tuner, meter, cables, logbook, pens, and any other stuff goes in the Ape Case ACPRO1600.  I originally bought this for taking my video and camera gear “mobile” on trips, but its really large, and really heavy for just carting around.  It does make a good case for an airline carry-on, though.  One day I was sitting there with it empty, and the “I wonder….” happened.  Sure enough my Icom IC-718 fits right in there.

Why the 718?  Well, this was my first HF radio, and I never sold it off, so its been just sitting around.  Seems like it should be used for something.  It’s a sturdy and capable little radio, and while its no IC-7200, it does quite well.  Fits in the case like a glove, too.

For the antenna, I have a portable Alpha Antenna 6-80 “tuner free” kit.  It comes with a tripod, bag, mast, guy/counterpoise wires, and a longer counterpoise for decent 40m and so-so 80m work.  Oh, and their impedance matching unit.  I got this on sale at some point, and like I said, it works sort of well, but I think it could be better….

Why the tuner then?  Just to keep things honest.  I really haven’t had a chance to run the alpha through all the tests to see if its really needed.  Mainly for my own peace of mind.  If I do run into a bad SWR condition, I’d rather the tuner go “hey, no, don’t do that” than accidentally fry the rig.  Its an LDG Z-11 Pro II I got refurbed.  Works quickly, draws power directly from the radio and hasn’t failed me yet.

For power, I use a deep cycle marine-type battery and box I picked up at Walmart.  I bought a Renogy 50W solar panel and controller to keep it charged, and this actually works really well.  I haven’t been able to bring the battery down anyway.  I keep a DC-AC inverter in the battery box, along with the Icom power cable, in case I need to charge a phone or run a lamp.

The final setup looked like this.  You might be asking, “why the cardboard box?” Well, two reasons: 1) I keep the solar panel in there, so it had to go somewhere. and 2) I didn’t want to risk the station grounding out on the metal table, and possibly using it as an RF radiator….  Mainly just a precaution.

Speaking of grounding.  I also keep a long roll of 1/2″ braid that I use for grounding, along with a small tent stake.  Yes, I should be using a longer ground rod.  I have a 4′ rod around somewhere, but I need to be able to get it back out of the ground again at the end of operation!  That’s the trick.

The optional 5th piece to this puzzle is the small $20 plastic fold-up table and $10 fold-up chair I normally take with.  Since I was on my patio, I didn’t need to worry about it.

The whole kit takes about 20-30 minutes to get completely set up and running.  Most of that is just laying out the wires for the antenna and such.

So what happened during Winter Field Day? Why no contacts.  Well for starters I wasn’t exactly in full-on contest mode.  I worked “one oscar” for a while, trying to reply to other WFD stations CQ’s for at least three hours.  anything above 20m was dead, and I know from experience that 40/80 are iffy with this antenna, so I stuck to 20m.  For the life of me I could not get anyone to hear me.  No idea why.

I have a hunch that the vast majority of “one hotel” stations working that day had something to do with it.  1H or “one-hotel” meant that you were working using your “home” station.  And, like mine, I’m sure they were just a bit more capable than my cobbled together and admittedly mostly untested setup.  I would have liked to have heard more low-power “oscar” stations, vs. guys running their “contest” stations.  Maybe I’m talking nonsense, but that’s my hunch.

After about 4pm the wind picked up, I wound up in the shade and the temperature started dropping.   I had planned on starting a fire to keep warm, but it was just too windy and we are under “extreme fire conditions” here in Oklahoma… so I didn’t.  I just packed up and went inside, where I found other things to do for the night.  I tried listening on the home station, but even that turned out fairly quiet due to conditions.

The next morning I tried again, but still, nothing.  There were admittedly fewer stations on the air, but still couldn’t be heard.  I gave up.  Not before taking the rig inside to the dummy load and making sure I was getting power out.  Yep, power through the meter, not my crummy little MFJ $10 hamfest meter….   so what.  The antenna itself?  Possible.  Outside it spent most of its time leaning at a 45° angle due to the wind.  Was half the signal going straight to the sky and the other straight in the ground? who knows.

I will take the kit out on the next campout, and really put it through the wringer.

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