VE9ND Miscou Island – NA-068
RSGB IOTA Contest – July 2003
By Brent Taylor (VE1JH)
It has been quite some time since members of the Fredericton Amateur Radio Club had set forth on a DX-pedition. Several of its members started talking about some kind of project late in 2002. They weren’t sure where to go, but wanted to take a mid-summer weekend trip to some location in 2003.
The annual Islands on the Air contest was perfectly suited to such a journey. IOTA maintains a list of “official” islands that can be worked for awards and contest multipliers. The contest is held in the last weekend in July, and encourages amateurs to activate islands for others to work.
New Brunswick has been allocated two “official” island groups by IOTA. The Fundy islands count as one multiplier, and the northern islands count as the other. Miscou and Portage islands are included in the northern group, while Campobello, Deer Island and Grand Manan are part of the southern group.
While the Fredericton Amateur Radio Club had several options for the contest, Miscou Island was set as the destination for a couple of reasons. First, it had not been activated for quite some time. Second, it was relatively easy to reach – especially since the bridge was built to the island in the early-1990s. Previously Miscou was served by a ferry in the summer months, and had no guaranteed access in winter.
Another positive factor in favour of Miscou was that it reached into a rare Maidenhead grid square, FN78. VHF operators collect grid squares and the opportunity to activate this rare area was enticing.
Although VHF operations would not be part of the IOTA contest, the opportunity to combine two types of operation made Miscou that much more attractive as a destination.
Several planning meetings took place in the spring of 2003. Contact was established with members of the Tracadie area amateur radio club. It had a VHF tower site on Miscou Island, and kindly granted permission for us to use the facilities.
The contest ran from 1200Z Saturday to 1200Z Sunday. Although more wanted to participate, several FARC members had other commitments that weekend. Three members of FARC made the journey to Miscou. Tim VE9XA, George VE1ACU and Brent VE1JH arrived late Thursday evening to set up the station.
They arrived on the island with a 3-element beam for HF, a 2-element 6-meter beam, Cushcraft R7 vertical, 80-meter dipole and a Windom for 40. They had been asked to wait until one of the local amateurs could open up the tower facilities, so they were unable to erect most of the antennas right away. Tim decided to put up the vertical antenna first and test it while they waited for access to the rest of the facilities.
They were initially undecided as to exactly where to set up the radio equipment. Tim brought a nice large tent as well as the travel trailer. Mother Nature decided the issue by sending swarms of mosquitos to attack them at every turn. Soon it was clear that they had to operate all of their gear from inside the trailer. Two tents were put up to add to the sleeping accomodations and the radios were set up on the two tables provided in the trailer.
By noon on Friday they had the vertical antenna up and running, and set up the operating positions in the trailer. Tim VE9XA brought his FT-1000 for phone work, while George set up for CW. The logging laptop was rotated from side to side as each operator took his turn. George also set up an extra monitor above his Kenwood so he could see Tim’s entries into the logging program.
IOTA requires participants to issue serial numbers as part of their contest exchange, so it was necessary that only one computer database be maintained, regardless of band. After toying with the idea of two computers updating the log, Tim decided it was best to just use one computer and move it between operators.
For 50 MHZ, Brent brought along his TS-680S and set it up on another small table at the front of the trailer. Brent’s role was to spell off the HF operators, and work any openings that Six would provide. For an antenna they used Brent’s home-made Moxon wire beam, which had seen use in two Field Day operators for VE9ND and had performed well.
On Friday afternoon Frank VE9FOX showed up and opened up the tower site. The club kindly granted permission to take a feed of AC power from their tower building, and Frank also volunteered to scoot up the tower and mount a pulley which would hold one end of the dipole and Windom antennas.
Once they had an idea where the wire antennas would be situated, they then went to work and set up 30 feet of tower and mounted the HF beam on it.
A rope was attached to one end of the beam and it was rotated using the “armstrong” method as needed.
The Six-meter beam was a different story. As it was not self-supporting, the beam had to be held up at both ends using nylon ropes. The problem was that there was no close anchor point other than the VE9ND tower itself.
Brent rigged up a system whereby one end of the beam would be supported on one of the tower guy wires, and Tim mounted a rope and pulley on the tower which would act as the other support. It worked, and the wire beam scooted up into place as the rope was pulled.
The TA33 beam tuned up well on 20 and 10 meters, but did not work well on 15 at all. Unfortunately, the vertical was not the best on 15 either, so VE9ND was handicapped to an extent. Luckily, 20 meters was quite hot throughout the contest and served as the main band.
By sunset on Friday the station was in place and ready to go for 9 AM local time the next morning.
The strong breezes on Miscou were refreshing, but still not sufficient to blow the mosquitos off course, and consequently the operators spent most of their time in the trailer.
The team started the contest off on schedule with 20 meters beamed towards Europe. Twenty held up most of the day, and was usually open in every direction. The beam even performed well off the back, maybe even better than the front. While it is not an intended characteristic of a beam antenna, it certainly allowed lots of operating with little rotating. Brent and Tim worked some phone pileups on 20 through the day, and George took care of CW. Miscou, as a multiplier island, was needed by other operators to boost their score. While VE9ND was not DX for most operators, the multiplier gave the club station lots of business. A few highlights of the VE9ND operation were the working of VP2MX on several bands and modes for multipliers, and working one of amateur radio’s most respected members, John, ON4UN in Belgium.
Probably the comical highlight of the day was when Brent worked FARC Past President Stu Morehouse, who was vacationing in southern New England and dropped in to the Ham Radio Outlet store in Salem, NH. Stu broke Brent’s pileup and put K1HRO into the log for VE9ND.
Twenty meters remained open well after dark, and only reluctantly did VE9ND move to a noise-filled 80 and 40. The QSO rate went way down once the low bands were frired up. QRN was impressive, as thunderstorms in the area generated huge noise crashes on 40 and 80. VE9ND was forced to shut down for a while in the middle of the night as a thunderstorm moved over Miscou.
By the close of the contest period at 9 AM local time Sunday, VE9ND had worked 499 HF QSOs. The club station did not win the contest, certainly, as some of the “big gun” stations recorded three and four times as many contacts, but the operators had lots of fun and were happy to hand out NA-068 to the IOTA members who needed the multiplier.
While not a focus of the trip, VHF provided an opportunity for the participants to have a little fun and activate a rare grid square. Six meters opened up on Friday evneing, and the Sporadic E opening lasted over an hour, with 20 stations worked QRP, mainly in the U.S. Midwest and Great Lakes area. The highlight of that opening saw some double-hop E-skip, netting contacts on Friday night with Wyoming and Nebraska.
On Saturday morning the band opened again briefly to the US mid-Atlantic states. Three additional contacts were made into Maryland and Virginia. All of the E-skip openings were worked with only 10 watts.
The highlight of Six was Saturday night’s Auroral opening. As the beam was originally pointed southwest, it to be lowered, repositioned, and scooted up the northern guy wire to take advantage of the Au conditions. Tim’s IC-706 was put into operation, as it had 100 watts instead of Brent’s 10-watt Kenwood. While many signals were heard, only five were worked, including CY9A on st. Paul Island, another IOTA DX-pedition. Later in the evening the VE8BY beacon in Iqaluit was heard for several hours, although nobody from that direction was on the air.
Brent packed his satellite antenna almost as an afterthought before the trip, and on Saturday evening decided to assemble it for a pass of UO-14. Several satellite QSOs were made from FN78, including YV5SAT/6 in FK70, Venezuela. Not bad for a 500 milliwatt HT!
VE9ND’s excursion to Miscou was lots of fun. The station recorded 500 QSOs (if you want to count VE9ND’s 6 meter contact with CY9A) and the operators enjoyed themselves immensely. The mosquitos also enjoyed themselves, as they drank several pints of blood from the exposed flesh of the VE9ND crew.
George’s vocabulary was rich with commentary on what he thought of the mosquitos. He was clearly impressed with their veracity.
In the above photo the versatile Tim, VE9XA, works DX on the stove with his headset attached, while George logs and dupes on the computer.
Miscou Participants: George VE1ACU, Tim VE9XA, Brent VE1JH
FARC Executive, support and planning meetings: Gary VE9AI, Stu VE9STU, Laurie VE9IBM, Dave VE9AV and others.
Also a very special “Thankyou/merci” to President Frank Wilson McLaughlin (VE9FOX) and the members of the Club Radio Amateur de la Peninsule Inc. for the use of their tower and site on Miscou.