This was my first January VHF contest from ARRL. I was very excited to do the contest for it gave me an opportunity to see how the IC-705 performed as a VHF/UHF radio. I also wanted to use the bud dipole Powermini controller with the PowerFilm solar panel to have a portable power source. During the contest I learned very quickly that I was over my head and needed to do more research.
There are nine different categories, from Single Operator to Multioperator Unlimited. The different categories have different power requirements and what bands are allowed. I choose was Single Operator Portable (SOP). Which has the following requirements: QRP: 10 watts PEP, No Lower Power, No Higher Power, and All the Bands. Although in June I want to be a Rover category which basically drives around making contacts. So I decided that I would try the logistics on being a Rover category on Saturday and then on Sunday I would be SOP.
When Saturday arrived, I took my mast, the IC-705, my Bioenno 3AH battery, and a Dr. Fong antenna in the car and drove off to Irvine, CA. I drove there first because I wanted to eat at Tummy Suffers – a great sandwich shop. After eating, I drove to a park near by. The night before, I had downloaded an iOS app, Maidenhead so I could find which grid I was located in. Then I extended the mast in the car with the antenna attached to it with a bongo tie. The antenna rose about 20 feet. Fortunately, I have a moon roof to set the mast in place.
To my surprise, the 2meter and 70cm bands were quiet. I knew this because I was able to see most of the band on the waterfall display on the IC-705. After 30 minutes waiting and watching I noticed a few things: (1) the operators were speaking very fast and hard to catch their callsigns. Which I need more practice in listening. (2) they were jumping from one band to the next, usually from 2 m to 70 cm. (3) I was noticing that I could contact very strong signals, but no luck on weak signals.
Reflecting back on that day, I have to improve on my craft. First, I have to work on writing down call signs when spoken, on the first try. I sometimes miss the call sign, even though I know the proper vernacular or what amateur radio operators call the phonetic alphabet. For example, for the letter “S”, we say Sierra not Sugar or when we want to state an “R”, we say Romeo not Radio. Either way, I need to practice more. Second, I figured out that jumping from 2 meters to 70 centimeters was a difference of an extra point and thus this is why operators were jumping between bands. Lastly, even though the antenna was about 20 feet high, driving to a park probably wasn’t a good idea for a couple of reasons. But the number one reason was the obstruction of the signal from tall tress and surrounding buildings.
Another factor that came to play was the grid square location, or the maidenhead locator value. It turns out that the maidenhead locator system has 8 characters to describe an area that you are in, thus a grid square. The contest only needs the first four characters. The first character encodes longitude and the second character encodes latitude which are called field characters. The second pair of numbers is called the square numbers. These four characters are sufficient for reporting. Unfortunately, driving from one set of four characters to another and having at least one character different, wasn’t as easy as I thought. I decided to email a question to ARRL on reporting six characters for the grid to account for a new grid. Unfortunately, they said no, four characters was the rule.
On Sunday, I worked at home. I used the IC-705 and it was running on a battery plus the solar controller – the buddipole powermin and the powerfilm solar panel. I connected the radio to an outside diamond 2 meter antenna on the roof. For most of the morning and early afternoon, I was watching carefully what was transpiring. I noticed that amateur radio operators were perched at the national frequency of 146.520 MHz and then asked if they could go to 446.000 MHz for a second contact. Sometimes, I would see operators use other frequencies, which is easier using the IC-705’s waterfall. Just a note, operators may not use repeaters for this contest.
Even though I didn’t receive many contacts, my mail goal was to learn about VHF contest best practices. I learned many things for my next VHF contest. First, when setting up, I need to be in a higher place so more operators may reach me. Second, I should have a Yagi Antenna so my signal may be stronger and try to be in an open area. Third, I need to plan my route better if I want to be a rover category. Lastly, I need to practice writing amateur’s callsigns.