When we built our new station last year, I decided to include antennas and equipment for 6m, 2m, and 70cm weak signal work. I have not had much chance to operate on these bands yet beyond some 2m EME work and a few contacts on 6m and 70cm. When the 2013 ARRL VHF Contest rolled around this past weekend, I was anxious to participate and get some experience with weak signal work on these bands. I spent some time on 6m the week before the contest to get a feel for this band and to check out my equipment. There was a good 6m opening to my east during this time, and I was able to work CU1EZ on the Azores; EA8DBM, EA8/G8BCG, and EA8CK on the Canary Islands; and J69MV in Saint Lucia. The longest of these contacts was over 3,100 mi. I’ve read a bit about propagation on 6m – 70m, including how short some openings can be. I certainly experienced this during the 6m DX opening before the contests – it did not last for more than an hour.
My goal in the ARRL VHF Contest was to work out a good operating configuration and to get some experience with the VHF/UHF bands, and I did not plan to compete for a top score this time. To keep the software side simple, I decided to use my DX’ing logger, DXLab, which is already configured to work with our Icom IC-7800 (6m radio) and Icom IC-9100 (2m and 70cm) radio. I also used our MicroHAM MK2R+ as an SO2R controller to share headphones and a microphone between the two radios. This worked out OK, as the QSO rates during this contest were not extremely high even when I was running.
I used two programs for controlling the rotator associated with the 6m SteppIR (6 elements) and the 2m (18 elements) and 70cm (21 elements) M2 Antenna Systems beams. The main program that I used here was Ham Radio Deluxe rotator. I chose it because it had the best grid square overlay map. This was useful for getting the antennas pointed at specific grid squares to work stations on 2m and 70cm after an initial contact on 6m. I also had DXLab’s DXView available to look up the specific coordinates for stations, but I did not use it very much during the contest.
I operated most of the day on Saturday and for a few hours on Sunday as preparations for the upcoming ARRL Field Day exercise required me to be away from my shack during parts of the contest period. I had good results running on 6m and used this band and mode of operation to make most of my QSOs. I also was able to run for some short periods on 2m as well. I have amplifiers that make about 1 Kw available on both bands, which greatly helped my ability to run effectively on 6 m and 2m. Most of my contacts on 70cm were a result of stations that I contacted on 6m or 2m, suggesting a contact on that band as well. I have about 100w available on 70cm, which proved adequate for contacts on 70cm as I got my antennas pointed accurately before moving up there to make contact with a station that was just worked on 6m or 2m.
I really enjoyed this contest a lot. The pace was a little more relaxed than most of the other HF contests I’ve participated in, and using two radios in SO2R mode was a new operating experience for me which was technically challenging at first. The following is a summary of my contacts during the contest.
There was a brief opening on 6m to Florida, USA, on Sunday morning, and I could work several stations there from my shack in NH, USA – a distance of about 1,200 mi. I also made contacts to the midwest and to several of the US eastern-central coastal states during the contest. All in all, the ARRL VHF Contest was a lot of fun, and participating in it helped me to gain confidence in my setup on the VHF bands. The only change in my VHF/UHF setup that I plan to make for the next VHF Contest is to use the N1MM Logger to take advantage of its ability to more effectively automate control of my SO2R setup.
– Fred (AB1OC)