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QRP Portable Operation - I

QRP with K3WWP - Column #62. This column I'll discuss QRP portable operation. I haven't done all that much operating away from my home shack so it was a novelty for me to be able to setup and operate a portable station at my counsin's house for the 2003 CQWW DX contest. Her house is located pretty much on top of one of the hills that surround my own location down in the valley. I had always wanted to see how much better conditions would be outside of the valley and now I had the chance.

My story started back around the beginning of November when my cousin Virginia asked me if I could stay with her for a few days after Thanksgiving while her husband was off on a hunting trip. I immediately thought to myself that was the weekend of the CQWW DX test, but family comes first so I said I would.

At first I had no plans to put in a serious effort in the DX contest but thought at least I should be able to get my daily streak QSO without having to run into town each day. Maybe I could also get a few DX QSO's in the contest.

My friend Eric, KB3BFQ left his QRP+ rig with me a while ago since he wasn't going to be active for some time so I decided to use that since it is more portable than my TS-570D.

I threw everything together a couple of days before Thanksgiving. I grabbed a couple of coils of hookup wire from my wire box to use as an antenna. I took the QRP+ and a power-supply plus a very crude paddle that Eric and I constructed several years ago. Then I got out my old homebrew antenna tuner and SWR meter to couple the rig to the wire.

I set up the station Friday afternoon on a little round table about 20 inches in diameter. My seat was the bed most of the time until I got a folding chair on Sunday afternoon.

I spliced the ends of the coils of wire together (no soldering), tossed it out the window and attached the end of it to a grapevine that my cousin has in the backyard. I had no idea how long it was at that time. I did measure it after I got home out of curiousity. It was a little less than 72 feet long. It was about 15 feet high coming out the window, and sloped down to about 4 feet high or less at the grapevine.

Without my computer, I'd be logging on paper. I should have made a paper dupe sheet, but I didn't think I'd be getting all that many QSO's and could dupe check in my head.

The paddle I used is made out of wood, some printed circuit board stock and a few bolts. The PC stock mounted on the wood acts as the paddle levers and the bolts attached to the wood base and the PC stock are the contacts. The springiness of the PC stock serves as the springs for the paddle. Very crude, but it did work with the built in QRP+ keyer. However it did give me problems. I just wasn't used to the different feel of it and often when I started to send K3WWP, I'd send an N instead of a K, then I'd usually wait through another QSO to avoid having anyone hearing me thinking I was NK3WWP. I made other errors with the paddle also.

My tuner has a coil with fixed taps wired to a rotary switch that works with my antennas at home, but I had no idea how it would work with my portable antenna. I never bothered to find the settings on the tuner for 20M and up until I was well into the contest. Even after I did find the settings, it was not all that easy changing bands quickly so I tended to stay on one band for a long while unlike at home where I can change instantly and often do a lot of band hopping. With the QRP+ and the homebrew tuner, there was a lot involved in changing bands.

The tuning of the antenna seemed to change at random so I thought I'd try some kind of a ground. I checked to see if the wall plug was grounded and it was so I connected my station ground to that. Now my tuning seemed more stable and with the grounding and at times opening the tuner and using jumpers on the coil, I got close to a stable 1:1 SWR on all the contest bands. 20M was the one band I had the most trouble with. It seemed every time I went back there, the tuning was different for some reason, and often I couldn't get it below 1.4:1 or so.

I was annoyed by the offset frequency in the QRP+. I'm used to the setting of 550 Hz in the TS-570D, and the QRP+ is quite a bit higher than that. I'm very used to zero beating by just tuning in a station till I get a beat note close to 550 Hz with the 570 and then I'm zero beat or very close. If I did that with the QRP+, I'd be off a couple hundred Hz and I often forgot to allow for the difference so I'd be slightly off frequency when I called a station.

Also I found out that the battery in the QRP+ was dead and that meant I had to practically re-program the memories each time I turned the rig on. It wasn't too much of a chore because all you do is turn on the rig with the MEM button pushed in to restore the frequencies to their defaults, but still the rig had to be changed to CW and the bandwith set each time. Oh, and the keyer speed as well. Sometimes it would default to 45 WPM, other times 10 WPM, etc.

I think from what I have said so far that you can see I was not all that organized and the setup was indeed truly minimal. Let's start now to describe the results I got.

I tried the station out Friday afternoon, and was impressed with the reception I was getting. It seemed much superior to what I was hearing back home. The signals were crisp and loud and the noise level was lower than at home. I guess that's when I decided I'd try to put in somewhat of a serious effort in the DX test. I made a couple contacts on 40M and 30M to see how I was getting out. I got only a 539 on 40M, but the 30M reports were 589 and 579.

This is turning into a longer story than I thought so I'll continue it in the next column with a blow by blow description of the actual contest operation. As you read part 2, keep in mind the setup I was using and I think it will demonstrate just how well even a very simple QRP portable setup works.

Till next time, I hope you'll think about perhaps doing some portable operating yourself. Visit me at my web site - http://home.windstream.net/johnshan/ or send me email or regular mail at John Shannon, 478 E. High St., Kittanning, PA 16201-1304. For now 73. -30-