On Memorial Day, my dad (AC8NT) and I headed out to Hampton Hills Metropark to see if we could get some contacts on a gorgeous summer day. The spot we found at The Top O’ The World was perfect. There were two benches situated beside a very large tree that was perfect for the end-fed wire antenna we brought along.
The branches of the tree couldn’t have been better. I got my arborist’s line up onto my intended branch on the first toss! With that out of the way, the antenna itself was deployed in about 2 minutes. I can’t imagine using a tennis ball or fishing line for this task. Of all of the little things I’ve picked up from the internet, this is definitely a Top 5 item.
There are two things that were really important about this trip out. The first was that the setup was as fast as I’d hoped. This was my dad’s antenna, but it was tuned nearly perfectly for 20m and as such, my tuner, which was still locked into its last deployment, got us to a very nice SWR right away. The IC-705 was up and running and ready for me to connect with the Surface via WiFi in about 2 minutes. In fact, getting the software up with the radio was probably a 3-5 minute task. This is exactly what one would hope for in a portable setup! I also can’t stress enough: No Wires between the computer and the radio. The WiFi solution from ICOM in this radio is phenomenal. No USB cable noise and no extra wires flopping around.
The other important lesson was something I should have thought of reflexively. Our plan was to operate FT8 or FT4. We had WSJT-X up and running quickly. That went really well. The waterfall was full! But nothing was being decoded. After about 5 minutes of puzzling, something did seem off: the transmit progress bar on the WSJT-X UI was out of sync with what we were hearing on the radio. It was just enough that…well… Huh.
The truth as I know it is that being out of sync within a second is tolerable for FT8. But once you get past 2 seconds, life gets rough. And this was rough. We could hear that we were about 5-6 seconds out of sync with the traffic we were seeing. Why was that? Well, I shut down the computer the last time I charged it and I powered it up in the field. It hadn’t been on a network at all in that time and a drift of a few seconds isn’t unlikely.
I have a write up of how to set a computer’s time using the GPS on the IC-705. But between us, ya know what’s faster? Setting your phone up as a hotspot and pointing the computer at it for long enough to get the right time from the cellular network. In a grid-down situation where cellular communications are in a state of failure, this won’t solve the problem, but for a trip to the park where we just wanted to grab some contacts, it was an expedient solution that should come highly recommended.
Another thing to point out here is that we would have stared at the screen of the computer for a lot longer and come no closer to a solution if we hadn’t had the speaker on and up on the radio. Actually hearing the signals brought us to our solution much faster than if we had the speaker off.
With the time set correctly, we were getting completed contacts as far away as UT and TX. We captured 6 contacts from 5 states. We did spend some time trying to get contacts across the pond, but pskreporter.info told me that no one on the other side of the Atlantic was hearing us. That doesn’t mean we didn’t try! Imagine if we’d gotten Belarus with 10w from a hill in Akron. Talk about bragging rights! Oh well. Next time, maybe.
Some other thoughts: the Lightsaver Max from Powerfilm Solar that I added to my toolkit performed flawlessly in its first trip to the field. I used it to get up to 10w out using its 12v output to the IC-705. We were only at the park for about 2 hours, so we didn’t come close to depleting the charge of that battery or the battery on the IC-705. We also still had many hours left on the Surface. I imagine that when hitting the 6 hour mark, I’d have a better idea of actual performance, but that wasn’t the plan for this trip. After I got home, I setup the Lightsaver on my patio table in direct sunlight and it was topped off in about an hour (though I didn’t time it). Definitely pleased with this piece of gear so far. It will likely see some time in my pack this summer as we do more backpacking.
I’m also feeling a lot less harsh about the mAT-705 tuner. I have the v1 tuner so there’s no rechargeable battery or USB-C port on it, but there is an off switch and it does allow for operation when the power is off. That’s a no-brainer of a trade-off for me. I still dread changing the battery, but the tuner itself is performing nicely. And its rugged case makes me feel good about tossing it into my backpack which isn’t always treated with care. There’s a lot less buyer’s remorse with this piece of equipment, but I’m glad they discontinued the version I have so I don’t have to think about recommending it.
The verdict? We had a great time in the field. Each piece of gear we used was up to the task and getting things up and running took a negligible amount of time and effort. I’m sure that there are things that I’ll tweak over time, but it’s hard to imagine a better overall setup. With power, antenna, computer, and radio all covered in a package that probably weighs in at under 10 lbs. I have to say that I’m quite looking forward to more trips to the field this summer. I’m also weighing taking some of this gear on a backpacking trip through western PA (I’d likely forego the computer and stick to SSB). There’s much more to come.