Friday, March 27, 2009

In quest of the elusive VK

The original appeal of ham radio to me (and this goes back to my pre-teen days, years before I got my licence) was long distance communication, what we call DX. To me the thought of sitting in my room and talking into a microphone, connected to a radio on the desk and conversing with someone on the other side of the globe was magical. To this day, even with all the different and wonderful aspects of amateur radio, making a DX contact, especially if it’s somewhere particularly far away, beats all.

Operating with compromised antenna configurations, serious DX has always been a challenge. A few years back, when the sunspot cycle was at it’s peak, I managed a number of quick SSB contacts with Japan (JA), which was thrilling. However, the one DXCC that has always eluded me….mainly because it’s just so darn far away, is Australia (VK). I’ve certainly heard my share of VK’s on various bands over the years, but have not managed to work one. Although not a rarity on the bands, the Ozzies do attract the attention of operators on this continent, and their presence often results in a bit of a pile-up. When you’re running 100 watts into a chunk of wire and many of the other stations calling are running “a gallon” into their directional ionosphere blaster antennas, the on air result is akin to a freight train ramming into a Smart Car.

Sometimes I grab 15 to 20 minutes of quick dial spinning weekday mornings before heading off to work, usually between 7:15 and 7:45am. 20 meters is often coming to life at this time and with less competition on the air, I might even make a few quick contacts with some Europeans. This past Tuesday, 20 meters was flatter than roadkill on the freeway, so I flipped to 40 meters where I was met with my usual S6-7 noise level. A scan of the upper portion of the band didn’t produce much until I stumbled across an S8-9 signal peaking above the noise on 7088 kHz. To my surprise it was a VK in a three way QSO with another VK and a station in Puerto Rico (KP4). After listening for awhile the KP4 signed off and the stronger Australian station called for any DX. I figured, what the heck, keyed the mic and gave my call. He acknowledged another station. I then realized my RF power out was still set at 40 watts from the RTTY I was doing last weekend. I quickly dialled back to a mighty 100 watts and gave another shout, but nada. Time to go off to work. Wednesday, morning…there he was again! Still a nice signal and he was calling for DX. I gave several calls but each time another station was acknowledged. At one point he called “who’s the VE3”, I quickly keyed the mic and gave my call phonetically twice. But….alas is was another VE3 near Hamilton who managed to make the contact. No doubt he had his ionosphere buster antenna pointed right down the VK’s throat! Oh well, off to work.

That evening while pondering the situation, I looked up the station I’d been hearing the past few days on VK2APG, Gerry in a little place called Bundanoon, not too far from Sydney (yes, it’s a funny sounding name, but I’m not going to poke fun at it. There’s a lake not too far north of here called Skootamatta!). I decided to drop him an email. Maybe if he was on the air tomorrow morning (that would be about 10:30pm his time) he’d give a listen for my flea-powered call. Thursday morning came and no return email and the band was dead. Oh well, it was worth a shot! That evening an email from VK-land…Gerry would give me a call “tonight”. At first I thought I’d missed my opportunity, then I remembered the huge time difference, and that meant Friday morning my time.

Friday morning arrives, lucky coffee mug in hand, time to head down to the shack to see if we can finally bag that elusive VK. I fired up the radio on 40 meters…my noise level was a solid S7 plus some health sounding static crashes to boot! Then I see an email from Gerry saying he was calling at 1109 zulu. It was now 1125…oh no! A quick email back, maybe he’s still on line….and in his shack. A quick tune around the frequency range we agreed to try and nothing but static. Then as I hit 7095, I’m hearing my callsign be hailed from the land down under. That’s great, but can I squeeze enough RF out of that wire to bounce off the atmosphere and land oh, a mere 16,000 kilometres away (that’s pushing 10,000 miles for you non-metric types!). Right away, VK2APG responded, a 55 to 56 signal for me….way down there, from my wee 100 watts and home made windom antenna! Only hams would understand the rush! 21 years of operating and, finally, a VK in the log….and the solar cycle is still on the outs…I was happy.

Not just that, we actually had a QSO, not a long one as some CW QRM started playing havoc and I had to get off to work, but about a 10 minute chat to the other side of the world. It was the usual ham small talk, our equipment, the weather and such, but still a pleasant chat…..much nicer than your typical DX contact where it’s signal report and 73.

So, Gerry…thanks. A pretty routine contact for you, but a very memorable one for me. Looking forward to the QSL card. Now…what’s next. Bring on a ZL!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Greg.
    I'm a newly licenced Ham - Standard licence we call it here- equavalent to the American General licence. So far all I have is a little 2m Yaesu handheld, but I've ordered a BitX20 kit (I set out wanting to homebrew as much of my own gear as possible).
    Sories like yours here keep the dream alive, hope to hear you on air one day.
    73's, Phil, VK2PCR
    (PS, BTW, Gerry, Bundanoon is just down the road, same shire - Wingecarribee - I'm in what we call the Southern Highlands too - Mittagong).