Amateur Radio (Ham Radio)

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Both John and Catherine are Licenced Amateur Radio operators.

John VK4IO

Catherine VK4GH

 

On our various sailing boats we always had an SSB radio, which was mainly used for listening to weather forecasts and very occasionally checking in with the operator back in the days when there was a real person broadcasting. On Catchcry we had a dedicated weather fax also picking up weatherfax through the radio, which we used extensively, especially when away from the populated areas. Catherine and John are both licensed marine radio operators.

 

During early 2006 John visited the local club’s John Moyle Field Day at Cleveland Point, after finding out that the licensing requirements for Amateur Radio had recently been changed so that Morse was no longer necessary. Purchase of the Foundation Manual, a small amount of study, and sitting a test after a couple of weeks, enabled John to be licenced as VK4FRED. He started researching Amateur Radio, equipment and aerials on the internet, and started purchasing second hand radios through Ebay and vkham. The internet is a wonderful resource for information on aerials, reviews on radios, and user groups. The second desk in the office was taken over as the radio shack, and radios, antenna tuners, microphones, rotators and amps started appearing. A hole was made through the wall so that the antenna feed lines could go out. First there were di-poles which are simple wire aerials between the trees, but then John found a use for the telephone pole that we had lying around. After being concreted into the ground at the back of the house it became the basis for the tower. Now John could start experimenting with beams. He has built a spider beam for 10, 15 & 20 metre for field work, which had bamboo arms, but they have since been replaced with squid poles, and a hex beam for 40 metre with fiberglass rods for arms, as well as di-poles for each band and some loops. He is very lucky to have the pole and all the high trees around to put them all up, and it has truly become an antenna “farm”.

 

Anyway, Catherine in the meantime, had to put up with the radio every night as the shack is right next to the lounge, and after asking John one too many questions, he persuaded her to also sit for the Foundation Licence. By this time John had studied for his standard licence and as John acquired the call sign VK4VJH, Catherine took over VK4 FRED. During 2007 John hurt is shoulder slightly, and decided to take the opportunity to study intensively for his advanced licence, for which he had been going to weekly lessons, at the Gold Coast Club. Persistence paid off and he passed, and became VK4TJH, and soon after was persuaded to become an assessor also. Towards the end of 2009 when two letter calls were released, John changed his call sign to VK4IO. John can use all frequencies available to Amateurs in VK and 400 watts of power. As the Foundation licence limits the power to be used to 10 watts, and there is no allowance to use the 20 metre band, Catherine also decided to study for the Standard Licence, and became VK4VCH. Catherine, having seen how much time and how difficult it was, was quite happy staying with standard licence, but after the trip to Lord Howe Island was persuaded to also study for the advanced licence. After about 9 months of study on line through the Radio and Electronics School, the exam was passed and Catherine became VK4GH. She has enjoyed the increased power, and with that more opportunity to actually get through to the dx stations.

 

We also joined some radio clubs around the Brisbane area, and started meeting other amateurs, and enjoying radio related camping weekends and outings. At the Gold Coast Amateur Radio Society there were a few other lady amateurs, and she was encouraged to join ALARA the ladies association, and participate in their contest. It is a good way to get on the air, and practice the radio skills. Contests vary in length and rules, they can be 1 hour, 6, 24 or even 30 hours, and require the ability to do two things at once (listen and type in the log), and to sit for long periods being waited on with food and drinks. When there is such good results from the aerials, and there is no problem hearing, it is very encouraging. In 2006 Catherine, as VK4FRED, had the highest score in the ALARA Contest for Australia, Queensland and for a foundation licencee, and so started joining in a few other contests. In 2007 Catherine, now as VK4VCH, had a reasonably good score in the RD Contest and also took out the top award for the ALARA Contest with 730 contacts. Since then Catherine has entered most of the VK contests, usually placed in the top 5, and also participates in some international contests, usually just to work some rarer entities. It is the aerials, installation of the aerials, and having a relatively “quiet” location that makes all the difference. As VK4GH Catherine won the 24 hour single operator portable section of the 2010 John Moyle Field Day and was 3rd place in the inaugural 2009 VK Shires Contest.

 

Back to the marine radio, even though we are now licenced amateurs, we still can not transmit on the marine frequencies with out a marine station licence (i.e. a boat). However, there are no restrictions of course to listening, and during the year we have listened to various radio nets on the marine frequencies (Sheila Net 8161 USB 2200 UTC during the cruising season) and the Pacific Maritime Mobile Net on the 20 metre amateur band. During December 2007 and January 2008 we have had great pleasure in our almost nightly conversations with Glenn VA7MLW who was sailing south of Australia on his way around the world the “wrong way” single handed.

 

At our station at home has evolved over time starting with a Yaesu FT7, and then a FT747, a F757 and were lucky enough to come across a Yaesu FT990 that we had for more than a year, then upgraded to a FT1000D, which we also had for more than a year. We briefly owned a FT 2000D, but then an Elecraft K3 came up on www.vkham.com, which has become John’s favourite internet site. We reluctantly passed on the FT1000D to VK4QS after we decided the K3 was the one we wanted to keep. We have found the K3 to be a fabulous radio, easy to use, great filtering, and compact and light. We have since acquired a second K3, this one with a built in tuner, which works very well, and we take this on our portable operations. For mobile and portable radio to take camping we had a FT900 which has a built in tuner, but have sold that since we acquired the second K3. Our favourite aerial had been the 40 metre Hex Beam, so John decided to build a new one which is multiband 40-30-17-12m. This hex beam has been mounted on a second tower which is a tilt-over Nally tower with a Yaesu G2800DXC rotator. The beam on the original tower has been upgraded to a TH6DXX for 10, 15 & 20 metres and there is a 160 metre loop (tuned to 80 metres) and a 80m loop used for listening. We did have a nice boom mic, but now, since the Lord Howe Island trip, we use the Heil headset with the Pro4 insert. We have a solid state amp, built by Andy VK4KY, which we also use on our portable operations. We recently purchased, second hand once again, an ACOM1000 linear amp. Once we replace the MFJ998 automatic tuner with something better, surely John will be happy with our QTH, won’t he?

 

On our trips away in our slide-on camper by www.mobileleisure.com.au we always take the K3 and a 80m doublet. As the doublet is fed with ladder line it is a multiband antenna, and we have good contacts to VK & ZL with 100 watts. For the more serious portable operations, for a contest, we take a trailer as well with an old ex-army wind up tower mounted in it, and the 20-15-10 spider beam goes on this and can be raised to about 12 metres. Extra gear for putting up a tarp or tent to shelter the table with the radio, amp, rotator gear and other bits a pieces is also taken. The whole set up is powered by a Honda 2000i generator and a couple of deep cycle batteries. We usually take several dipoles and over the last year various experimental antennas. We have tried a 40m vertical with many radials, and a set of 2 pairs of switching di-poles at right angles for 40m. We are always looking for new locations for portable which are not too far away, have suitable trees, are free and available to camp at, have a good take off and a quiet radio location. Not an easy place to find.

 

We are looking forward to playing more years of radio, both at home and portable.