Mt Granya VK3/VE-165 Evening Activation

7th December 2013

I noted with mounting interest the call for VK activators to take part in a mass activation on the evening of Saturday 7th December 2013, with the objective of working as many UK and European stations as possible. It would be a most interesting experiment, not least because it’s the middle of winter in Europe and any EU Activators would need to be very hardy souls indeed! I found myself travelling away from home for the few days before the activation, which left me very little time to think about a suitable Summit never mind antenna construction.

Lacking an easily accessible VK2 Summit and mindful of the fact that I’d have to get down from my activation in the dark, I decided that I’d have to cross the border into VK3, where Mt Granya would be a good choice. This Summit has a road all the way to the top, and on the summit there’s a very handy picnic table with a tree right next to it that would serve as an antenna support. It’s also less than an hour’s travel from home.

I had for some time been thinking about making a portable antenna for the higher bands as my link dipole covers only 7, 10 and 14MHz. I like the link concept, which allows for a full size antenna on every band without the need for any tuning or matching devices while at the same time allowing for quick band changing. I am also of the view that unless you can get a dipole up to a reasonable height it will produce mainly high angle radiation, which is not helpful for DX working. Having had good experiences with vertical ground plane antennas in the past, I decided that would be the way to go. It would be a quarter wave vertical with links, same as the dipole, to cover all bands from 14 to 28MHz.

I had half a day to construct my antenna, so I used the same format as for the link dipole but this time there would be only one “leg” since I would feed it against wire radials. I got out the calculator, worked out the necessary lengths for 14MHz, 18MHz, 21MHz, 24MHz and 28MHz, fetched a reel of wire and started snipping. Lacking the time to check for resonance or SWR I simply went with the calculated quarter wavelength for each band, knowing that inserting the RCA plugs and sockets that I was using for the links would shorten each segment slightly. Likewise I cut one radial wire for each band, cut to a quarter wavelength. Construction was completed with a plastic box with sockets for the antenna element and coaxial feedline plus stainless steel bolts with wing nuts to attach the radials.

It was a beautiful early summer day here in the southern Riverina, exactly the sort of weather that encourages me to get out and about, preferably with a radio. My lady made us another of her fabulous picnics and we headed out in the late afternoon, intending to be on the Summit and ready to start the activation at 1800 local time, or 0700 UTC.

We arrived on time and after a few throws, and much hilarity, we finally got a line over the tree and hauled the antenna up. It took about five minutes to attach the radial wires and weight them down with stones so that they didn’t coil themselves back up, and so that we didn’t keep tripping over them. I did a quick check with the FT817 and it seemed quite happy with the SWR on 14MHz at least, so I sat down and started tuning around to see who was about.

There were some strong EU signals coming in, mainly on SSB but one or two on CW. I had decided that I’d be using CW this time out, giving myself the best chance of my 5W signal being heard on the far side of the planet. I had intended to use 14.065 but found that frequency occupied by a very strong local noise source, so I found myself a clear frequency lower down the band and put out a few CQ calls. While doing that I got out the iPhone and had a look at SOTA Goat. To my surprise there was enough of a signal to allow me to put up a spot, which I duly did. I was even more surprised, and a tad delighted, when I saw that I’d also been spotted by the ZL robot. My antenna was working!

CW from Mt Granya

CW from Mt Granya

It was slow going at first, but I managed to work EA5KM at good strength; Javi gave me a 559 report, proving not only that my antenna was working but also that he has a great pair of ears! Interested to see what might be happening on the other bands, I left 14MHz and had a quick listen around 18, 21 and 24MHz. There were signals to be heard on all of them but not at the same sort of strengths as I was hearing on 14MHz, so I went back down.

The Summit of Mt Granya is a beautiful place, surrounded by trees but with a walking trail from which there are great views over the valleys and ranges to the west and north. I took a break from SOTAing while my lady and I enjoyed our picnic and a short stroll around the Summit before returning to the radio.

A little later I worked W4JKC with 559/529 reports, and then a small pile-up started. I’d been spotted again and word had got out. In short order I worked OH3KRH, OM7OM, DL3JPN, DF5WA, IK1GPG, ON4FI and HA5LV.

By this time the sun had dropped below the trees and it was getting a little chilly on the Summit. I had worked my way through the pile-up and although there were still plenty of signals to be heard on the bands we decided that we’d done enough for this activation. I had given the link GP a bit of a run and was very pleased with the way it performed.

Lessons Learned on this trip:

  1. It’s always best to test things like antennas before trying to use them for an activation, but sometimes luck is on your side.
  2. If at first you don’t succeed, try another CQ call.
  3. If the propagation gods are smiling on you, you can work the world on only 5 Watts.
  4. A spot is probably worth about 6dB of signal strength! Get spotted and make the contacts. Conversely…
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