Well, hard to believe that another ARRL Field Day is in the books. After all the talking and planning, the annual event went off well on the weekend of the 24-25th of June, 2017. I took part in the event as a member of the Queen Creek ARC, where we operated as N7Q on the Mogollon Rim- north of Payson in the Carr Lake Campground. With such an excellent view out the back windows of the tents and campers, it was hard to stay focused on the radio at times!
Getting together for Field Day is always fun, but being able to do it 7000′ up in the air, that is just a hoot. Great views, awesome star gazing and usually decent weather makes for a great location to hold the event.
With the fact that this campground is very busy in the summer and it is a first come first served scenario for spots, we had an advance party consisting of Joe, N2QOJ, Dennis, KF7RWX, and Dave, AC7FF head up a few days early to reserve spots. Followed by several others the next day (Ron, Rick, Andy) This action guaranteed that we had two sites and they were on the rim side, which meant awesome views and windy conditions. Since the weather in Phoenix had been over 110 degrees for the past 2 weeks, it was a solid plan to have them go up early to secure these spots. I, as well as as few others followed suit Thursday night and Friday am, with a majority of us on location by Friday morning. Star gazing on Thursday night and watching for satellites was awesome. The sky was perfect for it and the temps were cool. Down into the low 60s. It was great. Then came the heat. On Friday it was a solid 95 degrees on the rim, with no clouds and minimal wind. In other words, it was HOT. Unusually hot for this location. I blew through my water allocation for the day and 3/4 of my spare back up water just on Friday. (Consuming over 400 ounces.. it was HOT!) We started setting up antennas based on the ARRL schedule, and by dusk I was exhausted- between the hot sun and the effort, I was tired. Knowing that I was going to be up for the entire Field Day event, I bailed out of helping on the last antenna – ate a quick bite and crashed. Asleep by 6:30 PM.
We all awoke Saturday (some of us a lot earlier than others) to blue skies and a slight breeze, with temps in the high 80s low 90s, which felt a lot better than the mid 90s the day before. Not having to scramble to setup antennas was real nice, and I was able to take time to setup the operation station just as I wanted it, knowing I was going to be sitting in front of the radio for a while.
With the band pass filter ready to go, the voice keyer programmed and the headset / foot switch plugged in, it was a matter of replacing the paper log with a the laptop and we were off and running.
For my station, I had two HF antennas. A Mosley Jr 3 element Tribander off the back of the RV at 26′ for 20-15-10m that I parked facing East and then an 80 – 10m OCF antenna that was basically broadside E / W.
I knew that for the most part I would be on the tribander, with then switching to the OCF in the evening once Dennis called it a night and moved off 40m. At that point I would rock 40m until the wee hours that supported communications back on the beam, and switch back to 20 or 15m.
Christi, KG7NAD, who was parked next to me was tag teaming her second Field Day with Andy, KG7KWG- which was his first Field Day event, and a bit awe struck with all the wires and antennas that we had up in the air. Christi had another OCF (the highest one in the air for the site) and planned to start on 15m and jump to 10m if the bands got hot. We had talked about her either using the FT-891 or the FTDX-3000, and I told her the 3000 was a better choice for her due to the filtering options (she agreed). So, the pair of them would log and work the mic using a headset splitter so they both could hear the stations that they were trying to work.
On the other side of my was Dennis and Joe, in the “Bro-ham”. Dennis was going to be our 40m mainstay, operating the FT-991 and a ZS6BKW (G5RV clone) antenna (not visible in the picture below).
For our GOTA station, Dave, AC7FF acted as the GOTA coach and supplied the station for us to use. He also had a three element tribander as well as a ZS6BKW antenna in the air for the low bands.
The Cushcraft 3 element tribander is a bit much for the “military mast” push up poles, especially the fiberglass ones, however, we made it work. Several of the fittings cracked and creaked as we raised up the antenna, but it held its spot for the duration of the event. Next year, we should upgrade to the aluminum masts or go with an extension ladder or some other arrangement. Hearing the fiberglass cracking was a bit unnerving as we were putting this antenna up surrounded by vehicles and campers. However, we did utilize the guidance of our Safety Officer, who ensured that we followed the right steps as we raise and guy the antenna to ensure that no one got hurt.
Friday evening before the last antenna went up, Ron and his wife treated us to a glorious pork roast. Christi organized a Pot Luck to go with it, and it was an excellent spread. Pork, chicken, pig slaw, fresh fruit, salad, chips, Dennis’ famous Cherry and apple cobbler and plenty of smiles. Of course, we were not more than 30′ from the edge of a 500-700′ drop off the rim, which made it even nicer with great views and wind.
For Saturday, the band conditions on 20 meters were average, if not a bit down for us here in AZ. 40M was fairly robust, and 15M /10M were dead. Christi quickly worked all she could on 15m and 10 meters was dead quiet. Dennis had plenty of stations to work, as he trained Keith, KI7KDD, on using the N3FJP logging software as Dennis pulled in the stations. As we got started I quickly noticed on the master log that they were logging QSOs for the wrong band and shouted over to them. I figured it would be better to get this fixed now, then having to chase all the corrections in post processing.
Day time on 20 meters I head around a 90 QSO/ hour rate, but it never really broke free (like last year) until we hit grey-line. Seeing how limited Christi was on 15m, I switched bands with her, and jumped there, confirming how dead it was, maybe adding another 5stations to the count. She got on 20m and had her first taste of a “busy” band for about an hour, then messaged me to take it back. I called for another few hours, ate a quick bite, made some more coffee and prepared for the grey-line event. Grey-line, that moment of the sun going down to dusk, then dark, has always been the magic zone for me during Field Day. That is when the QSOs starting piling up. My best rate was 164/hour right around 0200z on 20 meters. That was fun. Five to six stations deep all calling at once for about 2 hours. I did my best of working the strong and weaker stations, alternating between them, so that I would frustrate either party and have them move off frequency. At the same time, trying my best to get partials and stick them into real short term memory- so I could complete one qso and address the partial as the next station to go to speed up the exchange. All the while repeating the station calling me and logging. It was exciting and a chance for me to really stretch my contest legs and work stations as efficiently as possible. By 0400Z the bottom had fallen out and I was back down to around 60-80 QSOs per hour. A good run – I just wished I had another few hours of it. Al, KF7BMI, my lucky observer, came by several times to watch me work – and I have to say I always have good luck on the bands when he comes to visit. It is strange – but when Al comes and hangs out with me when I operate, my rate improves. Go figure. Regardless, after asking him several times if he wanted to operate .. “No no no.. you keep going”, I plowed through more stations on 20 meters before his family came over and he took off to head back to Queen Creek.
We had some visitors from the Fire crew who were working the wild-land fires in the area show up to our Field Day event, and they got on the air and pose for pics. It was great to have them there to see what we were doing.
Soon after I saw that Dennis had shut down his station and was heading to bed. Seeing no one posting or telling Christi or I that anyone was on 40m, I jumped over to 40m and started calling there, grabbing another few hundred stations in the wee hours of the morning. She soon moved to 80 meters and started to work stations there, waiting for Andy to relive her and take the late shift. For the most part- camp was dark, aside for the tent lights where Christi was operating from and the LED lights in my station.
At several points in the early hours of the morning on 40m I was clearly in the zone. Pulling out calls of stations that, to be honest were 3/7-4/1 at best. Just a hint of audio followed by a “roger roger 3A Arizona.. we are….”. I caught myself a few times- questioning if I really head a station at all.. then I would hear them reply again. Wow- I was really into it. The it hit me like a brick wall. Massive QRM.
QRM and Bonus points
Around 1-2 AM I was slogging though stations around 1 a minute on 40m then I suddenly got hit with massive QRM on the band. 40 over nine levels of noise. I looked at the radio. Nothing had changed, I was still in LSB. I looked to the right of the radio, I did have my 40m band pass filter installed. Why was I hearing this noise? Was this Troy sending digital down by the GOTA station? I sent him a text. No reply.
I went from working stations fairly quickly to these long pauses as I fought through the noise.
“Repeat again.. I just picked up a ton of noise here..”
“The Kilo 6..” “Was that Sierra Juliet Charlie or just Sierra Charlie??” and so on.
After about 15 min I discovered it was on 40m and it was in the voice section of the band, but it was definitely a digital signal. I decided to shut down for a second and walk to talk with Troy to see if he could reduce power or something. As I by passed the Bro-ham. I saw Joe sitting in there, awake, surrounded by laptops (I think at least three). I stopped and asked through the window.
“Hey – Joe, are you sending digital?”
His reply. “Yes, I am sending emails for the message bonuses”.
“Ahhh…. ok. Well, you are wiping me out on 40.”
I flipped off my head lamp and headed back to the RV and tried to work a few more, however, it wasn’t possible until a message Joe was sending was ending before another was being sent. Incoming stations were S3-5 at best, and the noise was 40 over 9 – wiping out everything I would be hearing. However, if it took an hour to send them, and we get a 100 point bonus, that would be a better use of the time then me trying to work 60 – 70 stations during the same hour. However, after a few hours of hunting and pouncing and dealing with the noise, I went back over to Joe and asked how much longer it was going to take to finish sending them. He informed me he had moved from 40m to sending them on 80m, however, the signals were just as bad on my end on 40m, and according to the other stations (GOTA and Christi), just as strong. (Something we need to look at / address for next yer for sure!) Joe finished off the messages for the points and Christi and I were able to start working stations again.
The wee hours
Around 2:30-4 AM conditions started to change, the 40m broadcast stations started hammering in, and I couldn’t find any new stations to work on the band. I would park and call in the Extra section, work a few, then hunt and pounce on new ones, then find an open frequency in the General portion of the band and call again. With each passing hour conditions started to drop off. Dupe after dupe I worked the same tired stations. I kept flipping to 20m, finding and working all the mega stations, you know, the 16 / 22 Alphas that had some poor sucker stuck on 20 meters early early in the morning. Well, if I could break their attention from hitting the button on the voice caller – I worked them. Then back to 40m to try to find a new one. I was hoping that 20m would start showing serious signs of life soon. Andy had replaced Christi at this point and was getting his feet wet with the first time contesting alone, the first time on 80m at his first field day. Nothing like jumping in with both feet!
The whole trip was fun… but I can honestly say I had a pinnacle of fun in HF ham radio while sitting in the dark at 2am on Saturday night (Sunday morning) in front of our station. I took the mic from Christi, who had stuck with our station for the previous several hours while I slept. It’s critical to have night owls around!
I took over the station…
Cool of the night…
Hot coffee in hand…
Jay was 20 yards away working 20m and 40m…
No other sound except for the faint sound of Jay logging contacts on 20/40m… N7Q..QRZ?
Moths bouncing off the Yaesu station’s LED lights and the laptop screen holding the logging software…
I started calling CQ on 80m… (my first time on 80m)…
They started coming…
one after another…
Contact after contact…
A cool experience to see all those 80m contacts fill up the laptop logging screen…
Calling CQ lasted quite awhile, and then I moved to a hunt and pounce approach which was effective as well.
Back to calling CQ… and stations started coming again…
I put the mic down at 6am. It was time to head home.So much fun.
Soon Andy and I had passed 800 QSOs, then soon 900 QSOs. We were using the chat feature of the N3FJP Field Day software (If you do not use this software for Field Day, you are missing out!) As we hit 900 we hatched a plan to try to hit 1000 by sun rise. We had about an hour and a half but it was doable. At this time in the morning, Andy had the hot band, and I was just trying to keep to the “latest 10 QSOs” in the log from all saying that he worked them. Yeah, my competitive spirit was sneaking in, and I was trying any competitive trick to keep working stations.
Around 6 AM we hit 1001 QSOs. I celebrated with a short “wahoo!” another quick meal and brewed another pot of strong coffee, letting Andy know that hot Java was on the way soon. We did it – all before most of the team awoke for the day.
Andy soon had to leave to head home, so he shut down the station and I ended up going back to 20m, scratching and clawing stations off the back of their beams as they worked east coast stations. I got a lot of “3 A ARIZONA?? Oh WOW! OK.. I didn’t know the band was open there yet”.. in the replies.
I grabbed another 30 – 40 QSOs but I could feel the wheels were starting to fall off the bus. I was getting tired. Dennis was now up and I could see he was tearing down his station.. which mentally didn’t help. I get it- he had been there since Wednesday- and probably wanted to head home. I took another break for more coffee and to stretch my legs.
Christi emerged from her camper and asked what band she should go to. I had been fighting to hold on to a frequency on 20m in the General portion of the band and was averaging about 60/ hour. I tossed her a message on N3FJP.
“Jump to 20m, take my frequency. 14.312”
“OK” she replied…
“You ready? Folks are there lined up for you”.
“Yup!” and off she went calling CQ.
Immediately the pile up grew by several folks as my dead tired, bone weary, somewhat hoarse-gravely voice was replaced by the chipper and melodic tones of the female contester. Like a moth to a flame, folks started responding. One, after another, after another. Several calling her to work her – stating:
“I have been listening for a while, not in the contest- but I wanted to say hi…”
HA! Moths to a FLAME!! Christi!
I told you!! Female voice =”Secret weapon!”
I sat and listened. Christi was crushing it. Calling CQ, pausing at the right time, adding additional info when needed, logging at the same time, mixing up her CQ calls to attract more stations. She was doing great.
It was one of those proud moments, when you work with someone for months telling them that they can do it, showing some guidance and tips, and then let them “fly”. Christi was not only flying, she was soaring. Total control without any sense of fear or hesitation on the mic. She ran 20m for another few hours netting over 100 QSOS before getting tired and shut down. Amazing work Christi! I think we found a new station op!
Soon after we dropped the last wire antenna, and brought down the last beam. We packed up quickly and we were gone. I think total time on the air was around 21 or 22 hours. We need to shoot for the full 24 next year, and get some band love on 15/10m which never happened for us here in AZ unlike the East coast – but need more operators in the morning to make it happen. More planning and cheer leading for Field Day 2018. It will happen. We will make it better next year!
All in all we ended up with just shy of 4000 points this year. About 800 more than last year! Four hundred more bonus and about 350’s more QSOs. Great job everyone! Here is a write up in the local paper of our event.
(Full disclosure, I know Dave, Troy, Al, Joe, Janet, Dennis, Keith, Ron, Shelly, Rick and a host of others had their own stories and events during the night, I was just not privy to them. Thanks Joe, N2QOJ for some of the pics for the blog. Thank you Ron for the Pork roast and the feed – hats off to Troy for the vhf and satellite attempt. Rick, Shelly, and Keith for logging and support – and I know I missed some others! Thank you for being part of Field Day 2017 with the QCARC.) I would love to read about them guys! Post them up of FB or some other location and I will link to them on this page.
73 until the next one. DE N1RWY