Thursday, October 25, 2018

FT8 - Destroyer or Savior

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've heard of FT8. This mode has been taking Amateur Radio by storm, cropping up on every band. It's being heavily used in the VHF+ contests and has even found it's way into the ARRL RTTY Roundup. Stations are using it to work DXCC entities, and some DXpeditions have been using the fox and hound mode heavily. It's everywhere!

Depending on who you ask, this is either the death of the hobby or the renewal.

The mode has some real issues. On bands like 6m, activity is clustered around a single frequency. When the band opens, there can be so many signals that they QRM each other and fail to actually make the QSOs. It's also slower than other modes, it seems that even large super stations have trouble working more than 30-40 QSOs per hour with it, though theoretically it could be faster. These are the same stations that can work well over 100/hr in SSB or CW. It's also limited in the data you can send, even with the free form messages. Some of these can be fixed by training. Some have to be fixed by the software itself.

On the other hand, it lets a very small station effectively work during a time when the bands are pretty awful. Compromised antennas, low power, poor solar conditions, these are the facts of life many hams live with. More hams are living in condos or apartments. Young hams may be at home with parents who don't want large antennas up. HOAs abound. HF gear is expensive, and there are a number of less-expensive QRP options. More and more people are operating portable with a quick antenna from a field. None of these are conducive to making contacts on SSB. With FT8, it becomes very reasonable.

It's my opinion that modes like FT8, and it's derivatives and the modes that will follow the path it is blazing, will save the hobby. It's getting more people on the air that couldn't before, and younger ones. Many young hams don't want to talk, and are very comfortable on the computer. More hams, and a younger crowd, and advancing technology, all of this leads to a healthy hobby. If they are excited about getting on the air, this is a positive!

It is, however, causing a lot of turmoil. We are definitely losing older hams because of modes like FT8. This is a pretty big problem, older hams have a ton of experience and knowledge. The divide between older and younger hams makes it difficult to communicate between them, but there's a lot that any ham can learn from some of these veterans. I know of several hams that are struggling to stay on the air as the CW contacts dry up and it seems more likely that they'll be forced into using FT8 or similar modes.

One common comment by younger hams, and even some older ones, is that these CW guys should just get with the times and move on. It's an easy sentiment to have. I don't necessarily agree with it though. I've long held the opinion that Amateur Radio is a collection of hobbies, rather than a single hobby. There are a million different things you can do with it, many not overlapping much at all. If someone's hobby is working CW DX on the HF bands, by telling them to give up and move to FT8 they are effectively being told that their hobby is no longer valid, and they should give up on their hobby and find a new one. If that's been their hobby for decades, you can see how that would make them feel.

There is a lot of vitriol from both sides of the fence here. There is a revolution going on, and big changes are coming. The next generation of hams will look nothing like the hams that are in their later years. My hope is that the old guard holds on long enough for the new guard to be established, otherwise the hobby won't survive. We need to coexist - FT8 using apartment dwellers and legal-limit and a beam AMers. The anger is serving no purpose but to drive both sides away, killing our numbers. In a time where many of our bands are being threatened by industry, we need to stick together so that we have the power to defend "our" turf.

That's my 2 cents, for whatever that's worth.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Which HT Should I Buy?

This is a commonly asked question. I also here "which mobile should I buy" or "which base should I buy" and so on. These thoughts apply to those as well.

The trouble is...we can't answer that for you. Well, not with just that information.

If you're hunting a new radio, you have to ask yourself 2 questions - what is my budget, and what is my mission?

Budget is an easy one to figure out. You can't spend more than you have available to spend.

The mission may be a bit harder, and maybe not the proper term. What do you need the radio for? What features are must have? There are new hams that want to come in and buy the fanciest radio available. They want all of the bells and whistles. Money is no object. Then they get the radio and, well, it ends up that they just spent $800 on a radio that doesn't do what they need it to do. Similarly, there are hams that are thinking of buying a basic radio, but see some just out of their budget that have some gee-whiz fancy features. Should they save a bit more so that they can afford it?

The answer is not simple, especially for a new ham who doesn't actually know what they need.

There is not one single HT that can do it all. Need digital modes? Which one? D-STAR? DMR? P25? Fusion? NXDN? Do you need it to be waterproof? What about HF or airband reception? Do you need 1.25m, or 23cm? Monoband or dual band? A built in GPS? All of those sound neat? Well you can't have it. It doesn't exist.

Don't pick the radio and features, and then figure out what to do with it. Pick what you want to do with the radio, and then figure out what features are the ones that fulfill that mission.

For instance, you want an HT that is good for talking on analog repeaters. Great! A dual band, analog HT like the FT-60R will be great here. But, what if you want to work the FM satellites? Well - now you're looking at a full duplex HT, and the TH-D72A is your main choice. Your ARES group uses D-STAR, so perhaps look at the TH-D74A or ID-51Plus2. You've got a DMR hot spot and want to use that? Well the MD-380 may be the option for you.

A lot of times, the features you need won't be apparent until you've been using the radios for a bit. For example, for the past 2 years I've worked communications at the Boston Marathon. For both of these events, I used an FT-60R. I love that Yaesu. It's a solid radio, inexpensive, easy to use. It's still my number one recommendation for a basic analog dual band HT. This year's Marathon made me wish I had something else, though. We got soaked, it dumped several inches of rain on us during the event. As much as I love that radio, it has drawbacks. The accessory connector isn't terribly positive, and the hand mic kept popping out. The fact that it stuck out of the side added a complication when the radio was shoved under coats and rain gear, as I kept putting pressure on it. The radio itself is not waterproof, though it is slightly water resistant. These started adding up to a list of features I'd want in a radio that replaced it for events such as this. A more positive connector - preferably one that pointed up and not to the side. Waterproof, or at least rain proof. Tough. Only 2m was required. High quality accessories. This landed me on the Motorola XPR7550. These are not cheap radios, nor are the accessories. For all of the money I spent on that radio, it still doesn't do everything. It's monoband, and requires software to program it (unless you spend more money). It'll do DMR and FM, but no other digital modes. It's obviously not full duplex. It was the radio for my mission though, met my requirements.

If you're working with groups, or have friends, or are in other situations where there's a group of people using the same radio, it may be worth investigating that radio to have some people to help you figure out all of the features, and for interoperability.

I have several HTs. More than I need probably. They each have a place, or at least the ones I'm not debating selling. The thing is, buy a radio. Something simple. Use it. Find where it's strong and where it falls short. Figure out what you need, then buy the more expensive radio.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Quest Begins

Some years ago I came across the "Worked All Bands" Award, presented by the North East Weak Signal Group. The goal for the award is to make a QSO of at least 1km on every band available to US Amateurs. The description currently lists 26 bands, but I expect that it'll shortly be updated to include 2200m and 630m to give a total of 28 bands. For the curious - that is 2200m, 630m, 160m, 80m, 60m, 40m, 30m, 20m, 17m, 15m, 12m, 10m, 6m, 2m, 1.25m, 70cm, 33cm, 23cm, 13cm, 9cm, 6cm, 3cm (I forget the wavelengths after this point and we usually call them by frequency so...), 24GHz, 47GHz, 78GHz, 122GHz, 134GHz, 241GHz and Light. As of this writing, only Brian WA1ZMS has completed the award.

When I initially came across the award, it seemed pretty unobtainable. Intimidating. In the intervening years, I became involved in VHF+ contesting. As part of the gear collected for the roving, I've accumulated bands up to 10GHz. Recent fortuitous purchases on eBay and discussions with other mmwave operators have given me bits and pieces to start building out a 78GHz transverter. I've also started building out light gear.

What does this mean? I'm actually only a couple bands away from having gear to get WAB. Granted, they are the most difficult of any of the amateur bands to work. But I think that means that I'm officially starting to hunt that award. It'll take years to get the rest of the gear required, maybe 10 or more, but I'm on my way. This'll act as my official declaration to myself that I'm now workin towards WAB.

I'm also going to try and work VUCC on the microwave bands while I'm at it.

Let's do it.


Friday, March 16, 2018

SOTA Gear List

Inspired by a post on Facebook, I decided to do a rundown of what I carry with me on a SOTA activation. This tends to be a pretty personal list, different people carry wildly different things, but this works for me.

In the warmer months, I run lighter.


From the right side:

-Osprey Talon 22 Pack
-Leki Corklike Trekking Poles
-Kenwood TH-D72A
-Essentials kit in a ziplock, containing matches, a mirror, flint/steel, a small flashlight, a mylar blanket, a whistle, aquatab water purifiers and a compass
-American Morse Porta Paddle-II
-2m Arrow II Yagi in a homebrew pouch, the 70cm elements are left at home
-Sunscreen and bug spray (these are a bit large, usually it's smaller ones)
-Corona Folding Pruning Saw (for light trail maintenance, cutting blow downs and such on the trail)
-Ziplock with TP and a shovel for digging scat holes
-Ziplock with small notebook and pen for logging
-Pouch for HF station, containing my feedline, a 9V battery (not pictured), the key, a homebrew 20/30/40m linked dipole made from speaker wire, and an MTR-3B 3 band CW transceiver
-Random rope for hanging antennas
-ACR ResQLink PLB (better to have it and not need it then need it and not have it)
-Light rain coat
-Maps

That pretty much covers it. I also will use a camelbak for water, a 100Oz one that fits in the pack. Sometimes I'll run a different HT, sometimes I'll have a hand mic with me. The arrow will sometimes stay home if I'm doing an HF activation. I've found the poles are a must, and I rely heavily on them to protect my knees. If my arms aren't sore when I'm done hiking, I'm using them wrong. I'm looking to replace the porta paddle with an integral touch keyer, it's just a project that I haven't completed yet.

The saw may be a lot of excess weight, but it's nice to be able to clear large branches that are down on the trail. I wouldn't recommend using it unless the branch is blocking the path, but if the wood isn't cleared then hikers will start to go around. This causes the trails to widen, or other trails to form, and causes unnecessary damage.

The MTR is a nice little radio. It'll run for an age on a standard 9VDC battery. It covers the 3 bands my antenna covers. I had a Yaesu FT-817ND, but after one hike schlepping it up a hill I had enough of the weight. It's a metric ton. I'll also carry a Shakespear Wonderpole if I'm expecting a rocky summit without trees to support the antenna.

In the winter, the base kit stays much the same, I just add a lot more stuff.


As you can see, a lot more stuff.

The pack switches to a the Osprey Atmos 65. This is mostly because of the piles of clothing required on summit. Usually I'll hike in a light coat, warm pants, water proof over pants, and maybe a water proof shell jacket. On the summit, when I'm not moving for a while I need more clothing. Usually a fleece jacket or vest, heavy gloves, hat, maybe a face mask. This is all bulky and I need the space in the bag, so the larger bag it is.

Continuing clockwise, we have a couple traction options. In New England, we can get a wild variety of conditions on the trail, so I generally won't carry all of these - pick what makes sense. The snowshoes are Tubbs Mountaineer, and also on top of the yagi bag are Kahtoola Microspikes. The 'spikes are always with me, and will get me through most of the hikes I'll do. I haven't carried the snowshoes on an activation yet, but if I know there's a good snow base on the trail they'll be coming. I just haven't had the opportunity recently. The goggles are Smith Knowledge OTG, useful for when it's blowing hard out. The orange bag is my Black Diamond Contact crampons. These are carried rarely up here, but we can get icing even on the lower summits that are pretty gnarly even with microspikes. The red pouches are insulated pouches for nalgene style bottles, in freezing temperatures they'll ensure I still have liquid water. I'll fill them with slightly warm water and place them cap down in the pouch (ice will freeze towards the bottom first, then). I also replace the baskets on my poles with snow baskets, usually I don't run with any baskets at all to prevent snags and leaf gathering. Not pictured are all of the assorted clothes that I wear - fleece lined track pants, heavy Darn Tough Mountaineer socks, assorted jackets and vests, and whatever else I feel conditions warrant. I also must point out the amazing Turtle Fur Fog Free face mask, which is the only thing I've found that keeps my face warm in the wind while not fogging up my glasses.

I also carry a small first aid kit, which I just noticed isn't pictured.

Hopefully this'll help someone decide what they should carry!

Friday, February 9, 2018

DCS and XRF Reflectors with the ID-51 and similar D-Star radios

I have one of the ID-51A Anniversary model HTs. It's a nice radio, fairly compact and built pretty well. It lacks direct keypad entry, but if I didn't use the APRS and full-duplex features on my TH-D72A the ID-51 would be my main HT. It still gets carried around for general use at least as much.

One thing I discovered with it is that in DR mode, if you select "Link to Reflector" the radio only gives you the option to select REF reflectors. There is no built in method of connecting to the other styles, the DCS or XRF (DExtra) reflectors and similar. This appears to be a similar issue with the ID-4100 and ID-5100, and I presume the ID-31. A brief look around suggests that the IC-7100 and IC-9100 get around this by requiring the full input of the linking/unlinking commands - though the IC-7100 seems to expect the same method of entry for all commands that we can use on the ID-51 and others.

I asked on the DSTAR Users group on Facebook and found a video that describes how to work around this limitation. The short story is, you enter DR mode and select your repeater (or hotspot). Click the center blue button on the To: field to bring up the SELECT menu, and the you choose the "Your Call Sign" option from that menu. You hit the quick menu button, and select "Add." Enter a descriptive name in the Name: field, and in the callsign field you enter the link command to link to the reflector. A reflector link command is the reflector ID followed by "L" - so if you're trying to link to XRF555A, in the Call Sign field you would put "XRF555AL" After you select this, hit the <<Add Write>> menu option to save it.

Now whenever you want to link to that reflector, you can just go to To: -> Your Call Sign -> Reflector ID. It'll send the Link command and you'll be all set.

This is much simpler than trying to program in a pile of different memories to do this for you, and you can enter new reflectors on the fly without requiring a PC.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

K1SIG/R Rides Again

In our running around operating, we basically totally forgot to take pictures this time, so unfortunately I have none to share.

Chris KG6CIH and I headed out on the road again in the ARRL September VHF+ Contest. We managed to activate 6 grids - FN33, FN32, FN43, FN42, FN41 and a drive through of FN31.

We once again got going a little late, but it wasn't too bad. We made it to our first stop on Equinox Mountain in FN33 and get enough together to operate by around 2:45, 45 minutes after the contest start. This is of course where things started getting messy. Our 6m moxon was showing infinite SWR across the band. I got Chris going on the other bands by tossing my mic for 2m at him and ran out to look at the antenna. I had thought that I had made the connector pretty solid this time around, but much like last year there was a cold solder joint on the ground. I managed to kludge this together with some random wire and duct tape, and the antenna was back on the air.

Since nothing can start out well, I had a heck of a time getting going on 70cm. I received a "new to me" Yaesu FT790RII a few days prior to the contest, and only had time to test to ensure it worked on a very basic level. I had replaced the stock bullet connectors with power poles, which promptly fell off (must have crimped them poorly) when I plugged them in right before operating. These radios also only display the last digit of the MHz. I had no idea if I was on 432.100 or 442.100. Luckily, I brought more bits for power poles, and was able to get the radio powered. It wasn't until we got into the next grid that I was able to confirm that I was on 432MHz (used an HT to confirm) and so we were without 70cm at all on Equinox.

I also am starting to doubt that site for roving. It was dead up there, which is very bizarre. Last year we had some good luck, I worked down into near Harrisburg on 2m. This year we could barely get more than maybe 2 grids away in any direction. I don't know what was going on. We aren't on the summit, but down 100' or so. Even still, we had a great view to the South, West and East. There really isn't much taller than us for hundreds of miles. I suspect the big problem is WB1GQR. For years, he's been setting up on the summit (which is the reason we're not on the summit). I'm pretty sure he's running decent power, and his signal is very wide across the band. Anyone trying to work us is going to get clobbered by him. It's his spot, he's got long prior precedence, so we need to start looking for another great place to start out the weekend. Interestingly, I had at least one report of him causing issues with our signal in the next site as well.

We got down off of Equinox at the last possible moment, we were just starting to drive away when the sweep truck came by to kick us out or lock us in. We made a quick stop for dinner (at the fine dining establishment known as Taco Bell) and carried on to Hogback Mountain in FN32. There is a nice parking lot here that is off the road, with space to set up and be out of everyone's way. This was somewhat productive, but it still seemed that there were still significantly fewer signals out there. We again were unable to work anywhere beyond the nearby grids. I'm not sure if this was the same everywhere, but it was very hard to find any stations to talk to, whether running or S&P.

An issue we had on both Equinox and Hogback was cell service. I had the numbers for a handful of stations, but had no service on Equinox and only occasionally had enough service on Hogback to get a text out. I had a lot of difficulty trying to contact anyone to drum up contacts.

Around 10:30pm local we called it for the night, QSOs were drying up and it was getting frustrating. We hit up a hotel, and slept until the neighbors woke us around 7am by being...friendly...with each other. Since we were up earlier than planned anyway, we grabbed breakfast and headed for FN43.

Sunday started off better than Saturday was. I'm not sure if this stop was worth it, but it tagged another grid for us. We swung up into Bow, NH and worked a couple of stations. We got bit here by a bit of disorganization. We had attempted to get the moxon off the rover to run 6m, but it was blocked by the mast with the mobile loops. After getting annoyed, we just worked 2, 70 and 1.25. I was able to call up AF1T and we ran the bands with him, and we worked W2SZ on all three as well. We didn't spend much time here, but will have to keep it in mind for next year. The hill we were on was a great little spot for operating with loops, though maybe a little close to the road to get the beams going.

We left FN43 and headed for Boxboro. The plan was to hit up the parking lot at the ARRL convention taking place. This worked reasonably well. I was able to work a handful of ops on HTs, as well as mobile ops leaving the convention. Our timing was a little off, a lot of people had left already. We also suffered another equipment failure here, the clip that held our 222MHz beam onto the mast broke. We got up on 2m and 6m sideband, but had no 222 and with 70cm we only had an HT. This wasn't meant to be a long stop, and we did dig out another new grid (FN44 on 6) so it wasn't awful. Had we arrived 45 minutes earlier, we may have been in really good shape. The 2m beam was low here, and so sideband contacts on that band was rough.

Not wanting to end the contest without another good activation, we continued on to an old AT&T microwave site in FN41. This was a nice location, plenty of room to set up. The towers were still in use, so we had a fairly large amount of hash from that. Without the noise blanker enabled on my IC746, 2m was a mess, but fortunately I could filter most of it out. We ran the bands with quite a few stations here, even making it up to AF1T in FN43 despite the path being directly through the tower in front of us. We worked quite a few FN31 stations here, they all came out of the woodwork at the same time. Oddly, we never even heard K1TEO in any location. We had aimed the beams at him a few times, but must have had something in between each time.

As we had familial obligations in the early evening, we packed up from FN41 and headed out to activate FN31 on the road. As we passed through the NE corner of the grid, we worked W2SZ on 2m sideband for our 6th grid, and headed home.

K1SIG/R at Hogback Mountain, FN32ou

A few things worked really well this time around. We didn't want to leave the station batteries connected to the car battery during operation, to avoid being stranded and having to make a call to AAA. Last year, this involved climbing into the back of the car and disconnecting 200Ah of deep cycle batteries from the car battery and alternator, which was likely sufficient juice to do some gnarly damage had I touched the wrong things at the wrong time. We had to do this each time we started and stopped, which also soaked up a lot of time. This year, I attached Anderson SB-120 connectors to the leads from the car to the station batteries and connecting and reconnecting became an afterthought, literally seconds each time.

The mobile mast, with 2m, 1.25m and 70cm loops paid off as well, though with a caveat. We were able to activate 2 grids (FN43 and FN31) that would have been impossible in our allowed time with the normal setup. When combined with the 2m FM transceiver and mobile antenna on the car, we had pretty good luck on the road. The main issue was that we had to remove this mast each time we stopped, so that we could put the 6m and 1.25m mast up. This cost us more time on setup and tear down. Not a whole lot, but could have been better. We also should have had a 6m loop, but the one I built wouldn't load up anywhere near 6m. I need to fix that. The antenna was also probably too heavy for the PVC mobile mast, so I need to find a source for a lighterweight 6m loop for January. I'll fix the copper pipe one I made and use it at home.

Chris' station was set up in a milk crate, which made it pretty easy to get on the air. I just had 2 loose radios, which took me a bit more time. I'll have something similar for next time.

Having a dedicated transceiver for each band we were working was amazing. We had a bit of a rough start with 70cm, but once I got the 790 figured out it worked quite well. In the future, I'll try and have my radios figured out before we get on sight. There just wasn't a whole lot of time between it arriving and gameday.

We only worked 2 and 70 while mobile, but it was productive. The backup and mobile 2m station was my FT290RII, and between this, the 790 and the FT2900R for 2m FM we had a decent number of contacts on the road. They were just balanced on the armrest and on the seat behind us, which was less than ideal. Next time, we'll have a dedicated radio for 70cm FM.

Next time, we need to figure out power routing and coax routing. There was a lot of mess moving cables between mobile operation and fixed operation. This was the first time we had a run-and-gun station in the rover, so it was a learning experience.

Having phone numbers for a bunch of other stations worked out, though we only really managed to contact Dale AF1T. I think it may have been because I called him, rather than texting like I did with the other stations. It was too hard to manage asynchronous communication while trying to also make contacts. A big thanks to Dale, every time I called he was ready and willing to work. He almost always had another station on the air, but on several occasions asked them to hold while he ran the bands with us.

All in all, most of our plans worked out pretty well. We need a new place to start the contest, and just some more cleanup and organization in the rover.

Our claimed score is 6364, with 172 points (137 QSOs) and 37 mults. The score is down a bit from last year, but we managed to mitigate the damage some by a higher Q count.

We've already started planning for January and next September. The cycle continues.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Surviving our first VHF contest rove

Chris KG6CIH and I went out roving for the first time this past weekend. It went much better than it could have, much worse than we'd hoped but much much better than expected. We're still tallying up and confirming our hand-scribbled logs, but it looks like we had around 7k points with 46 mults, in the Limited Rover category. Our stretch goal was 10k points, and our "would be nice" goal was 25 multipliers. We were short on points, but absolutely destroyed our mult goal. We learned a lot, and we've got a ton of improvements to make for next time.

Our weekend didn't start so great. It was very hectic leading up to the 'test so we were wrapping up preparations until the very last minute. I finished one of our beams around 2am Saturday morning. We met early Saturday to load everything into the car to head up to Equinox VT, when we realized we had no idea how to pack the 200+lbs of equipment into my car. A mess of that later, a second realization that I had used the wrong connector on a critical power cable, and a handful of other small messes later we finally got on the road over an hour late. It was a 3 hour drive up to our FN33 site, and we didn't manage to make the site until after 3pm. We took a wild swing at setting up and finally got on the air close to 3:30, an hour and a half after the contest started. We quickly realized how awesome it was to be up a few thousand feet with beams and reasonable power on our bands, and starting pulling in contacts left and right. Unfortunately, the road up Equinox closes at 5pm - we had to break down after only about 45 minutes of operating and were being chased (slowly, and with a friendly demeanor) down the mountain by a gentleman who was dropping a massive steel gate to close the road.

2m operating station. The switch was meant for the defunct 23cm transverter and so not in use.
We did fairly well up there, but had some problems. We were incredibly unorganized, and were so scattered about getting up there and going so late and so rushed that we fumbled some contacts. I know at least once I tried to call using the callsign I operated under at FD'16, and I was constantly forgetting to call CQ with "rover." I think all of my contacts included it though. We also were really terrible about handing contacts back and forth. I was running 2m, with 6, 1.25 and 70cm on Chris' station, and he was on the ground outside of the car while I was in the driver seat. It was a great site, but we certainly had some growing pains.
After heading down Equinox, we headed over to our second grid, Hogback Mountain in FN32. This site wasn't quite as good as we hoped, but it was still productive. We had intended on working from directly by the edge of the mountain. Upon arriving, we realized that the parking lot along this edge was essentially a wide shoulder, on a hard curve on a steep downhill on a road heavily used by trucks. Not really wanting to get clobbered by a semi (it really takes a bite out of your final score), we moved across the street to a big parking lot. This gave us plenty of space to setup, though we had trees around us and got to smell what we later discovered was a nearly fully-decomposed black bear.

Having some experience now, this operation went much better. Setup was faster and cleaner, and we were really getting into a roll running the bands with the operators we contacted. I'm pretty sure this is where we made our longest contact, FN32 to FN10. Considering our last effort was at home in a valley, it was pretty crazy that we made it from Central VT to near Harrisburg PA with 100W and 7el on 2m. We also worked guys out on Long Island, FN30.

The first day netted us around 43 mults. We were sitting around 5000 points when we did some back-of-napkin (okay, cell phone) calculations at our hotel. We were VERY excited by this, and figured we'd hit at least 51 mults after we hit 2 or 3 grids on Sunday.

K1SIG/R at Hogback Mountain, set up for operating. The sun was hot in the window, so we improvised some shades. 2m on left, 6/1.25/70cm on right
Waking up on Sunday, we discovered some bad news. It was pouring outside, and a look at the radar and weather reports showed that pretty much every grid, site and backup site on our list had severe thunderstorm warnings until about 4pm. Mount Kearsarge, our intended Sunday AM FN43 stop, also had a road that closed at 5. We really had no desire to head up a mountain and wave a bunch of aluminum in the air during an electrical storm. After a lot of head scratching, poking around on Google, maybe some cursing, and a whole lot of sighing, we decided to return to our FN32 site at Hogback. We figured we could at least snag a few more contacts and maybe scratch out another multiplier or two. We did manage I think another 2 mults from this site in the morning. Irritatingly, while I was trying to diagnose issues with my 23cm transverter that kept us off of a fifth band for the contest, I turned the power down on my radio and forgot about it. This likely cost me a contact with W1AIM in FN34, a new mult. He was coming in strong but my puny 5W out was insufficient to make it through.

As if to spite us, the weather became absolutely gorgeous. Blue skies, a bit windy, and a nice mid-70s for a temperature. A check of the radar showed that the storm had blown out to sea much faster than anticipated. We discovered this too late to get up Kearsarge, we'd have arrived after 4pm and would have barely been able to work any contacts before having to clear off. It was also really too late to head down to RI for our FN41 site, we hadn't planned to work much later than around a late dinner. We made the decision to head to my house in FN42 to at least activate the grid for our 46th multiplier. The noise floor was fairly high here, with beams nearly level with the power lines across the street from my house. Fortunately, the quietest direction happened to be aimed directly at AF1T in FN43 and we quickly and easily ran the bands with him. 
The rover bundled up and ready to roll

We had a great time time, despite getting rained out on Sunday and thus losing a number of mults and points. While we were driving, eating and during general down time we talked a lot about what we could do better (step 1: weather machine), and where we might be able to go to improve our operating location as well as make ourselves more desirable for contact. We have some plans brewing, so we'll see what comes of it.
A big problem was set up time. We were running 2x 100Ah deep cycle batteries in parallel charged from the car battery/alternator. I didn't have time to get the relay/solenoid for this together, and I didn't want to leave the battery connected with the car off, so each site required the connection and disconnection of large batteries, which was a little sketchy. I also just had the batteries sitting in the back with tape over them. We used our wooden mast mounts as a wall to keep things from rolling onto the batteries.
We had a lot of disorganization that would have streamlined our setup time if it were fixed. We plan to have this a little better for the next outing.

I had a 23cm transverter with me, and had intended on using it. However, if as having a heck of a time getting it to work and at one point arced the power plug to the case. I still don't know if I fried anything. I hope to get this band up next time. We also considered a drive by of a friend in FN42 for a 900 contact, but since we ran let of time and lost 1296 we decided to stick with limited rover and just the bottom 4 bands.
Next stop: better sites, better organization, and more bands! Also, more advance testing, scouting and probably a dry run of packing and setting up.

We're already planning for next time!