Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thoughts on the 2012 Field Day

It would seem that planning pays off!

That should be no surprise, provided realistic expectations, of course!  Since this was our 20th year at this same location we pretty much knew the lay of the land, where we can put things and what works where since we've tried various permutations over the years.

One of the biggest helps was that we had the enthusiastic participation of some excellent CW (Morse) operators that managed to keep that station on the air for all of the 24 hours, and since CW contacts count for more points than SSB (voice) contacts and that over the long term, a reasonably experienced CW op can work stations faster than a similarly-experienced SSB op, the effect is magnified.

This year we used the club's 85 foot tower/generator trailer (the "COW" - which stands for "Communication On Wheels") to hoist both the 4 element Triband Yagi as well as an anchor point for wire antennas as well as our much smaller 30-ish foot tower/trailer (dubbed the "calf") for the opposite end of a very long (300 feet/100 meters or so) of a span that also supported two 105 foot dipoles, each fed with ladder line.

We also had the good fortune of one of the main CW operators bringing his own Spiderbeam/mast assembly - the assembly and raising of which was a sight to behold - which, counting the 3 element tribander on the short tower (at about 35 feet) brought our total up to 3 rotatable gain antennas for the upper bands (e.g. 20, 15 and 10 meters.)

This year we also did something that we'd not done for several years:  A wire "Vee" beam (resembling 1/2 of a Rhombic) - this time with its feed point attached from a rope connected to the top of the 85 foot tower.  This consists simply of a "Vee" of two wires, fed with ladder line, with legs about 350 feet long each (approximately 100 meters) separated at an angle of approximately 20 degrees (more or less) with the ends being attached to conveniently-located trees off in the distance:  Being in a forest clearing gave us a reasonable choice in trees!

This antenna was directly compared to the 4 element Yagi and found, in most cases, to be superior - with the added advantage (for a contest like Field Day, anyway) that it is bidirectional meaning that we could work both east and west coast stations without having to constantly spin a Yagi or park it on a compromise bearing.  For those stations to the north and south the Vee Beam worked quite well as it had a reasonable amount of gain in that direction too - or at least better than the east-pointing Yagi!

Of course, one can't have field day without a few issues cropping up, but this year was much less of "what we did wrong" and much more of "how can we do better next year."  A few of these include:
  • We can easily (and safely) increase the height of the mast on our short tower (on the "calf") which should put a Yagi placed on it in the 40-45 foot area with the tie-off for the long antenna span from the other tower at the 35-38 foot area.  (The Yagi is mounted on a 6-ish foot mast above the rotator.)
  • Perhaps another Vee Beam that is optimized to work better on 40/75 meters.  This year, I worked all of the 75 meter SSB contacts and while relatively quiet band conditions and a good antenna fed via ladder line from a high-power low-loss tuner/balun helped, a few dB more gain would also be nice!
  • A bit better managing of the some of the stations.  The main CW station was no problem, but we could probably have done a bit better in keeping all three of the stations active at the same time.  As it was we always did have at least one CW and one SSB running at all hours and the third could have easily supported CW or SSB during the "off" time.
  • We somehow blew it in taking the opportunity of the main Saturday meal as being a social event.  In past years we managed to corral most of the site's occupants in one large, somewhat shaded area where conversations could happen and people could meet and introduce themselves to each other, but the way things ended up being laid out this year there was no obvious place to gather, so it didn't really happen.
One good success was the introduction/teaching of hams new to the hobby and/or new to HF operation - both via the GOTA ("Get On The Air") station and via mentoring on the main stations as well as various tours and explanations/answering of questions.

On Saturday evening and Sunday morning, we couldn't help but notice a large plume of smoke billowing up to the south of us.  This turned out to be due to a large wild fire that had flared up some 20 miles to the south, casting its pall of smoke over the landscape to the north.  While we were on site it was of no actual threat although on Sunday evening, it was reported that a nearby campground had been evacuated due to high winds having quickly spread the fire many miles to the north in just a matter of hours.  Hopefully our trees will still be there next year!

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