1,600 mile sked

Started by vwflyer, October 23, 2015, 07:25:32 PM

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Well, my brother finally got his General license. He lives in the Pacific NW and I live in the South, about 1,600 miles apart. He plans on bugging in so he has a solar generator and a 100w HF rig. He lives in an HOA so has to have a stealth antenna. He is starting out by trying a G5RV inverted-V in his back yard. The feed-point is at his house peak and it slopes down to the top of his fences in the back where it runs along the top of the fence for a bit. The ladder line is running horizontally through his attic. He lives on a corner lot so it isn't really visible to people within the HOA.

I have a OCF 80 meter dipole inverted-V with the apex at about 30ft. Both of these probably make fine NVIS antennas but aren't the best for DX. We have been experimenting with setting up a sked between us but so far have not found a time or band that has made SSB viable with our situation. I've been telling him he now needs to learn morse but I can't rush him. He has heard me sending CW on several occasions but he can't respond or understand.

Finally I told him to download a PSK31 program for his phone and just hold it up to the radio's speaker while I send. It decodes my PSK31 just fine. He held the radio's microphone to the iPhone's speaker and sent me PSK31 and it works as well. So now I'm helping him build an interface that will go between the iPhone and the radio to make it even more reliable. He can easily keep his phone charged with the solar generator. This seems like the best solution until he learns morse code and even then I have found at times that PSK31 can be decoded at lower levels than I can copy CW. In fact, when my brother sent PSK31 to me using his iPhone and microphone I could just barely hear the signal coming out of my radio but the computer decoded it just fine. Had it been CW that far down into the noise I would not have been able to copy it at all.

We are not about to buy amps to help us out. I would some day like to put a DX antenna on my roof like a hex-beam or spider-beam or something and point it right at him but that will wait till I have more money. With his HOA, he doesn't have that option. I was impressed with Ray's magnetic loop when I spoke with him the other day. I wonder if one of those would help him pull my signals out of the mud.

Several of my co-workers are down in Tepic, Mexico right now and are expecting the hurricane to hit them any time now.  I would be there myself right now but my coworker went in my stead since today is my oldest's 15th birthday which I didn't want to be gone for. They are stocking up on supplies and taping the windows but none of them are hams and don't have a radio to fall back on if they lose cel phone and internet. They do have a Spot tracker and a sat. phone though so I'm sure they'll be fine in the comms area but I still wish they had an HF rig with them. They are coordinating with local authorities to start relief flights right after the storm passes. There is no ARES equivalent in Mexico. If there were I'd probably be a part of it. It would sure help us coordinate our flights when commercial comms go down.


Amps definitely aren't the answer to everything.  A good antenna and a 5W FT-817 can get you the world.  Band conditions have sucked for the last few weeks and have only gotten better in the last three or four days.

I'm in Fort Worth and have worked contacts in the Pacific NW and the east coast.  I use a homebrew Inverted-V 20' up sloping down to tie into my privacy fence on both sides of my yard at a height of 6'.  I live in an HOA too so I have to keep my antenna hidden too.  At the top of my mast I've got a wireless weather station.  From across the street I can just barely see the tips of the anemometer blades for less than two steps before the roof of my neighbors' houses (from both sides) overlap mine and cover it.  You just have to be creative with antenna placement.  I've got an Arrow II J-pole in my attic for VHF/UHF work. 

I don't use an amp either; but I do have my Yaesu FT-857D connected to an LDG Z-11 Pro II tuner.  If you and your brother don't have antenna tuners you should definitely consider it.  It will help you squeeze every bit you can out of your radio and antenna.

PSK-31 is a good mode for when conditions are bad.  You can even get an interface to tie-in an iPhone or Android device to your radio.  Do a Google search for the Easy-Digi interface.  I bought mine from the guy who makes them from his eBay store. 

Just keep at it.  You and your brother will work it all out.  It'll take time and practice; but you WILL get there.


Thanks for your input Richard. You and I think along the same paths. Yeah, amps aren't really an option even though I sometimes envy their signals. There's just no way to power an amp from a 12 volt battery and some solar panels so there's no point in using things now that we won't be able to use in an emergency. It sounds like your setup is a lot like my brother's. We are using manual tuners as well and I have just that same easydigi interface from eBay. I sent one to my brother too. He just has to solder in the cable that goes from the interface to his radio. His radio takes one of those old mouse and keyboard connectors (mini 6 pin din). So he ordered an old keyboard extension cable and will cut that and put it on the interface. Hopefully we will be set up for PSK31 then and can use that while he learns morse code. One of these days the bands will get good enough to use SSB phone. I've spoken to a number of people from his area on phone so I know it works sometimes but I don't think it will ever be reliable enough for a sked between us. Thanks for the words of encouragement. We will keep on experimenting with bands and times, looking for that sweet combo that will allow us to schedule repeated successful QSOs.


I'm no antenna expert but I believe inverted-V antennas have a low takeoff angle and are good for Dx.  They do have some gain in one direction, so hopefully both of your antennas are pointed at each other.  1,600 miles also sounds like a good distance for 1 skip.

If you guys start a weekly sked, backed up by email or texts, you'll figure out what bands at what times might work reliably.  Also, since he's north of you, don't forget about working during grey-line hours where N-S propagation gets good.


I need to get some kind of antenna modeling program for a Mac and see what our antennas are supposed to be doing the way they are configured. My antenna is pretty straight forward but his is running all kinds of directions to fit in his yard. I do know that my antenna should be radiating several lobes on bands higher than 80 meters. Our daytime contacts have been with 20 and 17 meters and I know that those both have many lobes. I'm afraid that where 20 has a lobe 17 has a null and vise versa. I've had QSOs into Washington on both bands so if what I said about the lobes is true then one of those bands was working in a null, which I suppose speaks to the efficiency of CW and PSK. Maybe a modeling program can show me which bands radiate in which directions but I doubt it. That's where a spider-beam would be nice. Point it at Washington and I know that both 20 and 17 will be radiating right at it.

Good thinking about grey-line. I looked at a grey-line calculator for our locations and it looks like we'll have to wait until December for a grey-line path between us. The other day we tried a dusk QSO with no joy. Bands weren't very very good though.


Look into reverse beacons.  I don't know much about them except that you can see what reverse beacon stations picked up your signal.  That will give you a good idea what directions your antennas favor.  Better than some computer simulation.


Great idea Bob. I've started a log of reverse beacons that hear me on different bands and different times and their distance and directions from me. If I enter all this data into excel I may be able to make some graphs making it easy to visualize patterns. Maybe I'll do the same with normal QSOs too and use signal reports instead of s/n ratio.
I've also just discovered FSQ. I can tune into one of thier few calling freq. and leave the computer to sit and automatically record call signs and signal strengths as people send CQ. I found that it builds up quite a list in just a few minutes of listening.