Field Day 2009

I know I'm about a week and a half late on this, but better late than never. Every year, the last weekend of June is the Amateur Radio Field Day. This is a nation wide event where clubs and individuals go out and try to inform the public about field day, as well as make as many contacts with other participating stations, for points. Last year's Field Day happened to be just two weeks after I got my license, so it was a very informational event for me personally. I spent most of last year hanging out with the West Valley Amateur Radio Association, since they're very serious about this event and had 8 radios running all weekend on battery power (point bonus). Being a year deeper into the hobby this year, I was involved with the WVARA station from setup Friday until tear-down Sunday afternoon, and had a really good time doing it as well.

Radio wise, Friday wasn't anything too exciting. As per the rules, starting at 11am local time, we started setting up the camp on Mora hill, which is a great East sloping hill overlooking the whole South Bay. This involved pitching tents for each station, as well as stringing up most of the antennas.

We had two HF Yagis doing most of the heavy lifting for our station. The experiment this year was that one of the club members had built a triplexer that allowed three stations on 10m, 15m, and 20m to all share one antenna without interfering with eachother. This meant that we had 6 stations transmitting and receiving on only two antennas, which made the antenna layout for the camp much easier.

11am Saturday morning rolls around, and it's out of the starting gates for Field Day 2009. Jeff Glass, KG6SGX, and I were signed up for working graveyard on the digital station, so I didn't officially have anything to do until after dinner, but couldn't resist showing up on time anyways. After lunch, one of the SSB (Single Side Band, aka Voice) ops wanted to take a break, so I got to spend an hour and a half on 15m.

Working 15m in the afternoon was really interesting, because I had dnever experienced band openings before. HF propogation will increase and decrease, in somewhat unpredicatable ways throughout the day. When I first started, the only other stations I was hearing were all from the Santa Clara Valley, so the band was closed, and we weren't getting very far. 45 minutes later, the noise on the band seemed to change in tone, and after a few minutes, the band opened right up. Where before I was only hearing a dozen stations scattered through the band, I was now hearing people three stations deep all the way across the band. I started hunting for one that stood a chance of hearing me on low power (5 Watts), but three minutes later, before I had gotten a chance to work anyone, the band closed up again and was as dead as when I started. I kept grinding, and managed to work a few more SCV stations, before the noise floor started changing again. I could tell the band was about to open up again; I was starting to hear farther California stations again, and they were getting stronger, but would you believe that another member of the club showed up just then with his kids and wanted to get them on the air? Rats. Good for those kids; they seemed to have a good time logging contacts an order of magnitude faster than I did.

After that, I chilled around camp until around dinner, when Jeff showed up, and the two of us gave the 20m voice op a break for a few hours. We had a pretty good national spread, and had pretty good success in the pile-ups for the bigger stations. For a while we were keeping a good rate of a contact every 5 minutes. Once the sun when down, we were able to lauch our balloon-lifted loops for 40m and 80m, so Jeff and I switched over to voice on 40m. Unfortunately, it seemed that our loop antenna was almost *too* good. We were hearing tons of stations that just couldn't hear our 5W back. Time after time we could hear stations calling for contacts, but they'd not hear us, and just keep on calling.

Around midnight, Phil, who was in charge of the digital station, briefed me on everything I needed to know while working graveyard, then he went home to get some sleep. Working Digital is an interesting experience. You plug your radio into the sound card on your laptop, and then software on your computer encodes and decodes text into sound that can be transmitted over the air. It's kind of a very slow version of the dialup modem.

Jeff crashed almost right away, so I sat in almost complete silence, just me, a laptop, and a radio. I was doing fairly well making contacts until about 2am. At one point, when I had already worked most of the stations I was hearing, I happened upon a guy a few hundred km north of Tokyo, Japan calling CQ, so I had a nice keyboard to keyboard chat with him until 20m shutdown on me, and that was that. I kept calling and searching until 4:30am, but never got more than a few more contacts for the rest of the night. At that point, I crashed, and Jeff woke up not much later to take over for the rest of the night. All in all, we managed to keep the digital up with only about half an hour of dead time for the whole 24 hours, which is pretty good.

Around breakfast time, other digital ops started showing up, and we all chewed the fat until 11am, when the contest officially closed. I happened to be in the seat as 11am rolled around, and to my luck, a guy answered my call with about 15 seconds left on the clock, so I got to go into overtime finishing the exchange with him.

Tear-down took another few hours, then I dragged myself down the hill to where I parked to drive home and take a well earned nap in a soft bed with no bugs flying around me. Over all, it was a great weekend experience, and I'm looking forward to working a few more multi-op contests this summer with some of the guys from the club.

Update: The final QSO count was: 889 CW, 149 Digital and 415 Phone, for a total of 1453 QSOs and 12,455 points. In addition, we had 1950 bonus points, bringing the total score to 14,405, beating the 9,190 score we set in 2006. Last years score was 11,650 in 8A.

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