Thursday, July 2, 2009

KM6I@K6SA Field Day 2009

The K6SA - Saratoga Amateur Radio Association - Field Day site is at about 2000' elevation in the Santa Cruz mountains. To get there, you need to drive up highway 9 from Saratoga, turn left at Skyline Dr (Highway 35) and go a mile south. I've been up this road a million times on a road bike, so I seriously overestimated how long it would take me to drive there. So I got to the site about 90 minutes before I was scheduled to start my shift.

The ops were in an old abandoned trailer (phone station), a tent (GOTA station), a Van (VHF station), and a tent (CW station - my post for the night). The old abandoned trailer was really freaky - it had three well-rendered pictures of the Daili Lama, and also some really scary gang graffiti ("187" - CA penal code for homicide) in this very remote location. I found that juxtaposition... interesting. I climbed into the trailer and watched as the op (sorry, don't remember your call) was doing about 150 qso/hour on 20 meter SSB at midnight (!).

I went over to the CW tent, and found John Miller, K6MM, at the controls of the CW station. Since it was way before I was scheduled to start, and I didn't want to mess with John's fun, I said hello and continued wandering around. Next to the CW tent was another building. It had cement walls, one tiny window, and inside were a bunch of large concrete slabs, piled hapharzardly. I also some some very old telephone interconnects, and some old AC wiring. And more scary gang graffiti.

Talking with some of the club members later, I learned that the site had been some sort of a communications site for Moffett Airfield (down in the valley, near where I live) during WW2. It had been abandoned at some point, and was now used by CalFire for rescue practice, which explains the large slabs of concrete inside the buildings.

Finally, at midnight local time, I took the helm of the K6SA CW station. I started out on 40m CW. I did a few S&P QSOs to get a feel for the band, then worked on finding a run frequency. I'd never used the rig (Yaesu FT-1000MP) before, so I tried to find a relatively quiet spot using the wide filters (2.0k), then used the 500 Hz filter while actually running. I tried to only use the 250 Hz filter when doing S&P on a weak station.

Kelly, N6KJ, had the logging set up such that the CW and Phone stations were networked together, so I could see every time the phone station logged a QSO. It was fun, because I could see that I was running a bit less than half the 20m phone stations rate, but I was getting 2x points per QSO. It was sort of a rabbit to chase.

Once I'd found a run frequency, things were lumpy - I'd call CQ for 2 minutes with no takers, then I'd run 3-4 stations in a row. As someone who's run contests with low dipoles and 100w at sea level, it was a relatively big gun experience to do 100w into dipoles on a 2000' ridgeline. My one regret is that I didn't try running on 20 CW, since the phone station was doing so well there. I was concerned that 40 and 80 were full of fresh meat, so I focused on those.

Rate steadily dropped during the night, and I did my share of QLFing Writelog. I gather the cursor position and the number of completed fields affect how enter-sends-message mode works, but it also interacts with run mode, and there were a number of times where I wanted to send an exchange, but sent "TU K6SA FD" instead (well, I usually hit escape before all that got sent). As an N1MM user, I was a bit mystified.

We also had a lot of RF in the headphones, despite a big-ol 31-mix ferrite on the cable. At one point, the FT-1000MP and the Winkey simultaneously zizzed out, requiring a hard reset of both. That only happened once, however.

Around 4:30AM I saw some hints of sunrise, and persevered on 80 meters despite a very low run rate. I'm hoping I made 150 QSOs during my 5-hour shift. I drove back down the mountain and got home at 6:30 am, just in time for my kids to wake up, and I made some breakfast for them (my wife was asleep, but she took pity on me and let me sleep for an hour after they had breakfast).

Many thanks to the Saratoga Amateur Radio Association for this great opportunity to operate!

Addendum - May 2010

K6SA placed 65th out of 2603 overall entries (top 2.5%) and 15th out of 440 entries in the 2A class (top 4%).

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