Thursday, August 30, 2012

Packing for NH8S

As I type this Post, it is exactly 42 hours before my plane leaves Charleston airport.  Time is truly getting short!

GOOD NEWS!  The Swains Island DX'pedition has been informed that we will receive a grant of $4,000 from the Colvin Foundation!

DXCC and LoTW  Today we were notified by ARRL that NH8S has been approved for DXCC and for Logbook of the World (LoTW.)  That is great news!

On a personal front, I'm working feverishly to get the last few items staged and packed for the trip.  As you can see in the photo at the right, I have packed my WVDXA Jacket in case it gets chilly (uh, huh!)  This is a photo of what will be my "Checked" bag.  I'm looking at a $25 "Checked Bag fee" both going and coming for this bag.  I've packed nearly everything inside Ziploc bags on the off chance that the bag might get dropped in the ocean during the transfer from the boat to the island.  That also helps in keeping things organized inside the suitcase.  On the down side, things in plastic bags do NOT stay where you put them.  The arrangement keeps modifying itself according to the influence of gravity.

I hope to be able to relax a bit on Friday (tomorrow) before beginning the Marathon!  I will be up by 3 a.m. on Saturday, my flight leaves at 5:50 a.m. and after a short lay-over in Chicago and one in Los Angeles, I'll arrive in Honolulu, Hawaii at 9:28 p.m. EDT (3:28 p.m. Hawaiin time.)  That means it will take me 15-1/2 hours of flying (and waiting) to reach Hawaii.  The entire NH8S team (those who are in KH6 at that time) are scheduled to attend a dinner at 6:30 p.m. in Hawaii as the guests of some KH6 hams.  That means dinner will be at 12:30 A.M. on Sunday by my personal clock (EDT!)  Assuming it takes 2-1/2 hours to eat then return to my hotel, I'll have been up for 24 straight hours on Saturday.

Thanks to all the WVDXA members for the good wishes and prayers.  Hopefully the ionosphere will cooperate and Hal and I can put every last WVDXA member in the NH8S log.  DX IS!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Swains Island Commemorative Tattoo

I thought I'd get a tattoo to commemorate my upcoming trip to Swains Island, NH8S.  I suppose it is something that will cause a bit of confusion to those who are not hams or into electronics but I felt it was appropriate.

Maybe we could make this a club tattoo.  My tattoo artist said he could offer us a group rate.

Note:   I really did NOT get this tattoo.  But, I did think it was a cool idea.

Planning for Medical Emergencies on Swains Island

N6HC at his QTH in California
One thing I have not mentioned before is the need to plan for any potential medical problems on a DX'pedition to a semi-rare location.  On Swains Island there is no local medical facility.  The nearest one is a 23-hour boat ride away - that is, AFTER you get the boat to travel TO Swains Island to pick you up.  Therefore, you are at the VERY least 2 DAYS away from medical help. 

Most DX'peditions these days work hard to find a ham who is also a Doctor to come along as one of the operators.  We are extremely lucky to have Arnie Shatz, N6HC, as our Team Doctor and Operator.  Arnie has operated on several DX'peditions, including K7C-Kure atoll (2005), 3B7C- St. Brandon Island (2007), TX5C- Clipperton Island (2008), K4M-Midway Island(2009), T31A- Kanton atoll, Central Kiribati (2011) and T32C- Christmas Island, Eastern Kiribati (2011).  In addition he is an active contester and very skilled operator. 

W8TN + N6HC in the 2002 ARRL 10-M Contest
As Team Doctor, Arnie has actually "written the book" on what you need to take on a DX'pedition.  His "book" is called Secrets of Dxpedition Doctoring© by Arnold I. Shatz, M.D., FACS, N6HC.  You can read HERE a summary of the medical kit he prepared for the 3B7C operation.  On some of his past DX'peditions he has had to use ALL of the items in his kit but, luckily, has not been faced with any medical conditions for which he was not prepared.

For the trip to Swains Island, Arnie has put together a medical kit similar to that for 3B7C above.  In addition, the group has rented an ACD, Automatic Cardiac Defibrillator, which will also be part of the medical kit. 

When every operator joined the Swains Island team, they were required to supply Dr. Arnie with a questionnaire containing their vital statistics, medical and surgical history, list of all their medications (both prescription and over the counter) plus their allergies to foods and medications.  Each team member was also advised to prepare for motion sickness by obtaining a prescription for their treatment of choice for that malady.  You won't die from sea-sickness but you will be unable to help the team during the first 1 or 2 critical days of setup.  Each team member was also advised to prepare their own medical kit with extra glasses, sun screen, sun glasses, SPF lip balm, bandaids, antibiotic ointments, insect repellant and medications for diarrhea.

Team members were also advised to acquire medical evacuation insurance.  If something severe happens and you need to be evacuated, the cost can easily run into the high tens of thousands of dollars. 

Here at home we seldom prepare in such detail for medical emergencies.  We just figure we can call 911 and get immediate medical help.  That is obviously not the case on a remote DX'pedition.  For this reason, team members and our Team Doctor need to plan for all contingencies and take with us the supplies we may need to keep everyone healthy and safe.

As you can see, big-time DX'peditions to rare and semi-rare locations, just don't "happen" by grabbing some equipment and jumping on a plane.  There are months and even years of planning and preparations that go into pulling off a major DX'pedition.  Without all this pre-operation work (a lot of it by folks who don't even go on the the trip!), a DX'pedition will not be successful.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

K8RRT Repairs Antennas Damaged by "Derecho" Wind

PRO-57B Going Up
2-L 30-M Going Up
After the June 29, 2012, "Derecho" wind that blew through the eastern U.S., K8RRT had his mast bent severely.  See this Blog Post "K8RRT Wind Damage" for photos and more information.

Today, 8-August-2012, he was able to take down his antennas, replace the mast, install a new rotor and re-install the antennas.  In addition, he added a Hy-Gain VB-66DX 6-element, 6-M yagi to the stack.  The new mast has a .375" wall thickness so it should stand up to the wind from now on.

The photo on the left shows the full-size 2-element 30-M yagi going up to the top of the mast.  This antenna was converted by Charlie, N8RR, from a 2-L 40-M CushCraft that I used to use in Ravenswood.  This antenna, although the biggest in Tim's stack, suffered absolutely no damage in the big wind.  Click on any photo to see a larger image.

The photo at the right shows the Sky Power JLG 600A 4-wheel drive boom lift rented from SunBelt Rentals.  This piece of equipment was the "berries" for removing the damaged antennas and replacing the mast and re-installing the antennas.  It reaches to a height of 60-feet and that was "just enough" to get this job done.
"Helpers" Owen and Grant

"Paul" and "Woody" were the crew from Beam, Inc. of Poca, WV, who did the aerial work.  They were very experienced in doing this type work and knew how to get the job done in the shortest possible time but with quality work.  While they were on a break, my grandsons, Owen and Grant, (at left) checked out the boom-lift.  They were very helpful during the days operations and are learning how to do this antenna work for when Grandpa gets too old to do his own!

Below is a 2-minute video showing the boom lift raising the Mosely PRO-57B from ground level to the top of the tower.  This method of antenna installation is really slick.  Not cheap, but slick.  Tim was pretty much forced to go this route because the wind damage made it nearly impossible to safely remove the antennas from the damaged mast.

     For the icing on the cake, once the antennas were up, Tim ran the coax and rotor control cable through the back door into the shack and made a QSO with D64K in the Comoros.  This was an ALL-TIME New One!  What a way to christen his re-born antenna array!  Congratulations, Tim!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

How to Work NH8S, Swains Island

In working DX, it is one thing to "think" you made a QSO, but it is something totally different to actually get your callsign recorded CORRECTLY in the DX station's logbook.  Especially when there is a huge pileup on the frequency with people tuning up on the DX's transmit frequency, accidental transmission's on the DX's frequency by some stations failing to turn on the SPLIT function, the "traffic cops" that show up, plus the normal QRM and QRN.  It is not enough that you have a loud enough signal to cut through that mess, you still have to LISTEN to make sure the DX station has your callsign correct.

Those stations who LISTEN more than they TRANSMIT are the ones that successfully end up with their call in the log.  They are also those who have no need to make an "insurance" contact, because they were certain their call was correctly repeated by the DX station.  That is not always possible but it is what we should all strive to do. 

Below is the "Band Plan" for the NH8S, Swains Island, operation.  Below that, are the "Guidelines" for getting into our log.  This information is taken from the NH8S web page HERE.  You should READ the guidelines below and FOLLOW them!  That will help insure that the most people possible make it into our log.

Band    CW TX       SSB TX      RTTY TX
 160M     1826.5                          
M     3503         3790         3580
M    5.405        5.403.5           
M     7003         7082         7035
M    10103                     10148
M    14003        14185        14080
M    18079        18140        18099
M    21003        21285        21080
M    24894        24955        24901
M    28003        28485        28080
M     50107        50107             

We want you in our log, so please help us by following these guidelines.
  1. If you cannot hear us - please don't call us. Wait until propagation and conditions favor your QTH for one or more of the 11 Bands and 3 Modes. Eventually you WILL have a clear path to Swains Island. Be patient.
  2. Unless you hear otherwise from the Operator, we will ALWAYS be operating in SPLIT MODE throughout the DXpedition.
  3. Listen to the Operator for RX frequencies (e.g., "up 5 to 10", or "listening on 7.155", etc.)
  4. You have two ears and one mouth, so please try to listen more, talk less. Be patient.
  5. During SSB pileups, please announce your full call clearly -- ONCE -- using common phonetics.
  6. During ALL pileups, listen for YOUR call on the comeback. Trust that we have two good ears.
  7. We're not impressed by those who add to the QRM by constantly calling out of turn. Be patient.
  8. Please do not Tune Up on any of our TX frequencies or any of our RX slots!
  9. If we ask for "EU" only or "QRP only" or any other specific request, please QRX. Be patient.
  10. Resist those "insurance" QSOs. We want to maximize unique QSOs, not Dupes.
  11. Whenever possible, we will try to listen in the General portion of the band.
Remember: We want you in our log. Please help us get you there.
You will, of course, see us spotted on the PacketClusters.  Some of those spots will attempt to give direction on what NH8S is doing and where we are listening.  Sometimes that is good information but it is MOST important to LISTEN to the NH8S operator and FOLLOW his instructions.  That gives you the very best information on where he is listening and for whom he is listening.

Finally, if you hear Hal or me operating, call all your WVDXA friends and tell them to get on the air so we can personally log all the WVDXA members!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Antennas on Swains Island

So you think you have a lot of antennas at your QTH?  Well listen to what we will be taking to Swains Island.  NH8S will have two "camps", one for CW and one for Phone, which will be about 1,500 feet from each other.  Each camp will have SVDA arrays for 20, 17, 15, 12 and 10-M.  Each of these consist of two vertical elements for each band.  We will also have single verticals for 30, 40 and 80-M plus two 4-Squares for 40-M and one for 30-M!  The CW station will have at least one V160 Titanex vertical plus a Battle Creek Special.  We will also have 6-M, 10-M and 12-M yagis from InnovAntennas.  And, we will be taking at least 2 Beverage antennas and two Hi-Z 4-square receiving arrays - one for 80-M and one for 160-M. 

Looking at the preliminary antenna layout charts, I figure at least 42 separate vertical antenna elements and yagi antennas, counting yagis as just "1" element and not counting the receive antennas (Hi-Z Four Squares and Beverages!)  These will all need to be assembled, mounted and guyed!  The transmit antennas will be parallel to the water's edge along the beach and the furthest antennas in the line will each be about 200-feet from the operating tent.  That means the line of antennas will be about 400-feet long.  That layout will be the same for both the CW and Phone locations.  Now that's going to take a LOT of coax to connect them all to the operating positions!

If you are not familiar with SVDA (Switchable Vertical Dipole Array) antennas, HERE is a link to a description of Force 12's full size 12-M SVDA antenna.  Have you ever wondered why current DX'peditions that are set up on a beach do not use yagi antennas?  A 2-L vertical next to salt-water, produces a stronger signal up to an elevation angle of about 3° than a 4-L yagi at 100-feet on 20-M!  There is no way for a DX'pedition to put up a 4-L yagi at 100-feet so the dipole is clearly superior.  If you lower that yagi to 70-feet the elevation angle moves up another 4° so the SVDA is KING.  You can look HERE on the Force 12 web site for a full description of what this type of antenna can do.  However, the key to the SVDA working this well is the salt-water so it won't benefit you to put one up here in WV!

The photo above on the left is a set of SVDA antennas in use on the 2009 K5D operation from Desecheo where Garry, W8OI, represented the WVDXA.  Click on any photo to see a larger image.

Once we land on the island, EVERYONE will be tasked with assembling the antennas.  I have a "nail apron" where I will carry a set of nut drivers, crescent wrench, measuring tape, cable ties (Ty-Raps), and electrical tape.  On my belt I will have a Buck knife with screwdrivers, pliers and wire cutters on it.  We will also have antenna analyzers to check out the installations before beginning operations.  I'll also have my water bottle on it's belt and my dual-band Baofeng H.T. for communications.

Something that we don't have to worry with back here is the effect the spray from the ocean has on metal.  A recent post on the top-band reflector by AA7JV said at his ocean side QTH, ". . . any bare metal goes green in less than a week."  You can read the reports on other seaside DX'peditions about problems with antenna and connector corrosion.  Therefore, I plan to firmly tape up each connection I work on to prevent any potential problems.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Getting Ready for Swains Island

Photo: Tim Stinespring, K8RRT
Alrighty then!  Just 29 days from today I'll be boarding a plane in Charleston on my way to operate as NH8S from Swains Island in the South Pacific.  The clock is ticking and I'm frantically trying to get all my ducks lined up and quacking in unison.  This is going to be one HECK of a fun trip!

For those of you back here that will be working NH8S on every conceivable band and mode, here is some helpful information.  We will be using Clublog to upload our logs at least once a day.  If you go to Clublog and search the log for your call, then hover the mouse over each Band/Mode checkmark that indicates your call has been found in the NH8S log, you will see a pop-up of the operator for that QSO.  On the right is the photo that will show up for my QSO's although it will be a bit smaller when you see it on Clublog.

If you have not joined Clublog, you should do so.  It will make it much easier for you to get your QSL after the DX'pedition.  When you join, be sure you "Join a Club" and choose the WVDXA.  I'll get your request and approve you as a member.

Being able to upload the logs from a remote location like Swains Island is not trivial.  We are taking an InmarSat BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network) satellite terminal plus an InmarSat satellite phone and a Iridium satellite phone.  The BGAN terminal rental was $399 for a month plus we need to buy a SIM card at a cost of $1,800 to pay for the additional bandwidth.  The BGAN terminal costs $6 per Megabyte of data transferred.  The two satellite phones cost between $0.95 and $1.70 per MINUTE of use.

In order to reduce our expensive satellite time, an email server will be set up on the island that will limit message size plus batch our outgoing emails so they can be sent at one time every 3 or 4 hours.  That email server costs $140 for a 30-day setup.  As you can see, we have invested over $2,500 in equipment rentals and airtime to provide a secure method of communicating off the island and uploading the logs.  OUCH!

In order to upload the logs, someone has to physically go to each laptop at each operating position (1,500 fee apart,) download the log, then combine all those individual logs and upload them from the satellite terminal.  One of our team here in the USA will then take care of uploading to Clublog.  That process takes a fair amount of time so don't gripe if you don't see an upload when YOU think it should be there.

Over the last few months I've been acquiring various items I will need on this DX'pedition.  At the left are my Seasoft Sunray Titanium zippered dive boots.  This is to protect my feet from the coral when getting into and out of the landing craft and for use on the island.  Some of you may have noticed the headset in my picture at the top of this page.  It's an Arlan Communications Radiosport headset.  A real professional piece of equipment.  I plan to use it on my K-3 after the Swains trip but had to go ahead and get the headset cable and microphone element to fit the Icom IC-7600 radios we will be using.

Speaking of the IC-7600, Jimmy, W8JA, was kind enough to lend me his 7600 to practice on before I go.  That was a HUGE help!  I would have been lost on the island trying to figure out how to use this radio "on the fly."  Thank you Jimmy!

The weather on Swains Island in September is probably pretty similar to the weather on American Samoa.  85° F in the day and 77° F at night with humidity from 70% to 91% on average.  64% chance of light to moderate rain every day and wind in the 7 mph to 20 mph range.  A tropical paradise!

But, there are the ever-present mosquitoes, ticks and sunburn to deal with.  So, my clothing will favor long sleeves, long pants, plenty of sunscreen and DEET for the bugs.

I want to bring back as much of this experience as I can (except in the form of bug bites) so I've acquired a new camera and a tablet computer.  Plenty of memory cards have been purchased so I can shoot photographs until my batteries die.  The camera will also take movies so I should be able to return with some good insights into the day-to-day activities on a major DX'pedition.

My Packing List is pretty extensive.  Early Boy Scout training wants me to be prepared but I don't know if I have enough room in my luggage for all the stuff I've put on the list.  Maybe I just need bigger luggage?

Over the next 4 weeks I hope to find enough time to Post here more insights into the planning that goes into a large operation like this.  Stay tuned!