Monday, 1 October 2018

Pasir Ris Park - Ham Radio Camping Adventure

Campsite 1 @ Pasir Ris Park
Long overdue on my ham radio to-do list is to go on a camping adventure while operating a portable off-the-grid ham radio station. The challenge is to operate the station without relying on any mains electrical supply. The setup has to be practically light and portable for ease of deployment. Operating off-the-grid will sharpen your skills as a ham radio operator in emergency and disaster preparedness, keeping amateur radio on when the grid is gone.

Roughly a week ago, we applied for a camping permit using one of the AXS station near our HDB block. Then, we went shopping at Decathlon for essential camping gears. The Deer Creek Monsoon 4-man tent was bought in Malaysia and every other thing was from Decathlon. Okay, first thing first when arriving at the campsite is to establish a shelter and that is to erect the tent. The camping mallet (which I contemplated to buy at first) made driving stakes into ground an easy task.

With help from the XYL (wife in ham radio terminology), the shelter is up. Next, I will work on the antenna section. The rubber mallet did not help much driving the antenna's stake into hard ground, furthermore there was many roots beneath the grass patch. I looked around and found another sandy patch, using body weight as driving force the stake went right into the ground. Ribbon cables beneath the antenna feed section serves as counterpoises or also loosely known as 'ground'.

The antenna was set up close to the shoreline near seawater. I supposed ground conductivity is excellent giving the vertical antenna a low take off angle, perfect for reaching out to far away DX stations. Ideally, you could attach a piece of ground wire and dip the other end into salty seawater to enhance the vertical antenna's ground performance. In my setup, I should split the ribbon cables into individual wires and lay them evenly on the ground but it will look like a bunch of private hair scattered on the ground, no thanks.

Beautiful Seaview by the Campsite

Before going on HF, I operated 2m band for a short while. I removed the PAC-12 antenna feed section and attached the black aluminium poles directly on the ground stake. Then I attached the tee section with two telescopic whips and configured it into a J-pole antenna. To be a responsible ham and for the safety of other park users, the antenna was supported by 3 guy ropes anchored into the ground as risk control measure. Hence, likelihood of the antenna collapsing has been reduced to nil.

Black Aluminium Poles as J-Pole Support

The J-pole configuration tunes pretty easily. The long section is connected to the center conductor and the short section is connected to the coax shield. First, the long section's length is adjusted for lowest SWR. Then you may further fine tune for best SWR by varying the length of the shorter section. As you can see from the MFJ-259 antenna analyser below, a perfect match was achievable.

Unfortunately I couldn't reach any local stations on 2m simplex, not even SARTS 2m repeater. However, I was able to access MARTS national link through their Gunung Pulai repeater. After making contact with two 9V1 stations, I prepare the station for HF. I wish to showcase (uniHAM) UNI-715 portable CW paddle made specially for FT-817/818 series. If you glue a few strong magnets at the bottom, you could also use it with any other portable radio. It does not have the premium feel of Begali but it's cheap and gets the job done, period. My only complain is that a tool is required to attach and detach the key. A magnetic attachment would be great!

Portable Station Setup
2. MX-P50M HF Amplifier
3. LiPO Battery Pack x2
4. Tigertronics SignaLink USB
5. SOTAbeams Speech Compressor
6. uniHAM UNI-715 CW Paddle
7. Portable Fan for Amplifier cooling
8. Lenovo Miix 320 Laptop
9. MFJ-259B Antenna Analyser
10. PAC-12 Portable Vertical Antenna Kit

Chicken Rice for Lunch Break
Short Break zzz..
PAC-12 Portable HF Antenna

I worked a handful of cw stations. Furtherest was a station from Russia. Despite having difficulty receiving my signal, he kept returning my call and eventually the contact was successfully logged. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed every DX contact made using cw mode and the satisfaction was incomprehensible. It felt as if work was actually done to make each contact a success. I was calling CQ at a much lower speed, 16wpm and it felt warm at heart when stations return the call with the same slow speed just so you could understand. Such enjoyment was missing on voice and digital modes.

When the tide went out, I felt a drop in antenna performance. My calls no longer appear on reverse beacon network. Perhaps the seawater played an important role in reflecting radio waves. Took a break for shower and dinner before jumping over to FT8. As the seawater returns, the band got lively once again. Canada and USA came in strong on the waterfall. Europe was missing on the waterfall for some reasons not known to me but no complains as I logged a few US station one after another. Admittedly, FT8 is still the go-to mode when it comes to working weak signals during the bottom pit of a 11-year solar cycle.

Shortly an hour past midnight, I decided to call it a day and close down the station. Woke up the next morning before sunrise, took a shower and begun tearing down the tent. It was fun operating off the grid and I certainly enjoyed every moment at the campsite. Perhaps, my next objective is to give the low-bands a try.

Block Diagram for Nerds

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