My 17 Year Journey as a DXer

In July, 2001, I walked into HRO Oakland and walked out with an Icom IC-756ProII. I was amazed at how far ham radio gear had come since I was WN2QHN in 1973 in New Jersey – when I had upgraded from a Hallicrafters HT-40 to a Kenwood TS-511s:

Wow – snazzy shirt!

The first pileup of a “mega” DXpedition was VP8GEO:

I was so green that I did not even know that VP8THU – South Sandwich was a second entity – I just didn’t understand the VP8’s at the time. It would be VP8 in 2016 when I would redeem that big faux pas. Until then, I did not even know what a mega DXpedition was and only worked much smaller pileups – especially G3SXW and G3TXF and their activations – and the one DXpeditioner who gave me more new one’s than anyone other DXpedition team combined – Vlad Bykov, UA4WHX. Those were the early days – when I would work 10 new ATNO’s in a day. EU, Caribbean, Asia and OC seemed to just pour in.

The easiest rare ATNO – North Korea happened in September 2002 – just over a year into DXing. It was so easy to work Ed on 15 and 10 – I did it with 100 watts and a Cushcraft MA5B mini beam. That must have got my adrenalin up I upgraded to a Force-12 C3SS and an LPT-1242 crank up tower.

At the time, I was living in Lafayette, CA in a 3300 square foot “McMansion” on 5 acres. I also upgraded to a Yaesu FT1000 MK 5:

At this point I swore 200 watts was it – I would never need an amplifier – that I would just improve my antennas constantly.

After a divorce in 2005 / 2006, I met Kat and moved 7 miles away to Orinda. This was bracketed by my Mom passing away from cancer in 2002, and my Dad of natural causes in 2006. As painful as the deaths, divorce and doing my best to help my Mom and Dad as their health declined, I learned more personally during those years as far as personal / interpersonal lessons go – and it has turned out just wonderful. Kat is the love of my life and with my kids, Graham and Trevor, I am eternally thankful.

By far, the biggest jump in DX radio technology was the Ten Tec Orion. I had the Orion I and then II. I loved this radio – two receivers that could do dual diversity, the best QSK ever, and great filtering. A nice ergonomic radio too – even though it was the usual American radio manufacturer “spartan” fit and finish. Not as “snazzy” Japanese rigs – but performance wise – a great radio.

I don’t remember exactly when I bought my first amplifier – but it was a Ten Tec Centaur – three 811A’s laying on their side. I think it was a 500 watt amplifier. Those were most definitely my “Ten Tec Years”. I did get to 300 entities with 200 watts or less and mostly wire and a mini beam. The best low band wire antenna I ever had was a 5 element Bruce Array on 40M, and on the higher bands – a 20M Moxon.

I enjoyed building fishing pole Moxon’s, but also started designing and building my own yagi’s:

I got more and more into studying propagation and more and more into the low bands.

Right after my ex wife decided to leave me – I worked K7C. I was in the house with the kids – my wife already had an apartment in a nearby town. With time I have almost forgotten those days – but the one thing that stands out most is that I NEVER gave up on DXing – in fact, it was my “security blanket” – the one thing I could count on for fun. The other “serendipitous” thing about this QSL card is that I was somewhat surprised that the DXpedition leader was Bob, KK6EK – who lived two towns away in Walnut Creek. I remember posting on eHam what a great DXpedition this was – and because it was like working Hawaii – was a chip shot and I had a blast. Its also when I started seeing more and more mega DX-peditions following N6BT and K2KW’s “Team Vertical” phased vertical dipole array designs. Verticals at the beach (and many times in the tide) work wonders. I was giving antenna presentations now at Pacificon in San Ramon, and that’s when I met Dean Straw, N6BV (ARRL Antenna Handbook Editor) and Tom, N6BT (Force-12). Both took me under their wing and really launched my antenna and propagation studies and work.

I remember being most excited working any African entities – and finally getting the “Terrible T’s”. 3C0V had an issue where they were detained and shut down early – and their gear confiscated. That’s when I realized you need to work a DXpedition right away – up to that point – as a little pistol I always waited a day or two to jump in the pileups. I did miss 3Y0E because I did not try to work him right away.

I also remember putting up my first phased vertical array on 40M and learning all about the morning Long Path to my favorite DXing part of the world – Africa and the Indian Ocean. TO4E was a wonderful time – they had not been working much West Coast until they came on 40 and 30M at our sunrise. It was a major epiphany.

One of the things I did when conditions were pretty bad at the bottom of Cycle 23 was to build these “Assemblage” pieces. It was a phase but I still have a handful of the best ones. It was a lot of fun – but that phase ran its course. They were mostly radio influenced.

After the Orion II, the Elecraft K3 took the world by storm, and I jumped on one. This naturally morphed to a K-Line:

The K-Line in my opinion is the best DX station you can have as far as fully integrated and something that would earn Honor Roll – as long as you have your antenna farm in order.

I realized that at the bottom of the sunspot cycle – you need to have something great on 40M, and my DX Engineering DV-40-P phased vertical array has been the one antenna that has stayed up the longest. But migrating to the low bands was very important.

Another thing that I did to pass the time when 20M was closed for what seemed like 2 or more years was do a historicl study of the ARRL DXCC program. Yeah – I had the “DXCC Disease” bad. Making Honor Roll was everything to me – I wanted that so bad . . . 

I was obsessed with making Honor Roll but in December of 2011 I was reading the ARRL Antenna Book and stumbled on Dean Straw, N6BV’s HFTA program. I installed it, ran it and then used K6TU’s HFTASweep program that plots your takeoff trajectory based on your antenna and the local terrain. The hardest directions for me was always the middle east and Northeast area of Africa. I learned tht a 20M Moxon up 30-ish feet was terrible at the low part of the cycle. But 20M was dead anyway . .

I would draw maps, make antenna presentations – anything to take up the slack times. In 2011, the bands started to come back to life, and I worked ZS8M on 40M:

I also upgraded my antenna farm to include a military mast and Cushcraft A3S. 20M came back in 2012, and the “7 entity Miracle” happened. I worked 7 new one’s in 2012, and some were really rare an in the zones that were most difficult for me – like South Sudan:

I had missed Palestine, South Sudan and Bouvet in the previous years, so 2012 was THE DXing year for me. Its hard to believe even now that that happened. After several double IPA’s, somehow, I worked Monk Apollo, SV2ASP/A on New Years Eve – 2012/2013 – 11 years after I started DXing, or one Solar Cycle. As a tongue in cheek joke – I made “Team HFTA” hats for Dean Straw, N6BV and I and Dean agreed to “present” my Honor Roll plaque at Visalia IDXC 2013:

Dean and Tom, N6BT were my antenna elmers, and they are the reason I made Honor Roll. I also had some help from friends – The Diablo DX-ers – Peter, W6DEI, Jack, K6JEB and Mike, KJ4Z – either with my Honor Roll quest – or after wards with the “next big deal” after making Honor Roll – The 2016 Heard Island VK0EK DXpedition.

After making Honor Roll, I got to within 2 of working them all and using the fabulous N6BT DXU-32. One thing to keep in mind – from New Years day 2011 until just this year, there were no new rigs – but I did try a couple new full power amplifiers, but hands down, the antenna was EVERYTHING. The “pinnacle” of my antenna days was this DXU-32 – 3 elements on 20M and 2 shorty coil loaded elements on 40M. The key was also getting that antenna up 50′. The AB-577 mast was superb, and although I had checked with Kurt – N7BV about the safety factor – and he said this mast would be fine – when I took the antenna down a few years later – it scared me how “precarious” that antenna was on that mast. It was VERY hard to take down by myself. The elements were fine – but the boom was much heavier than I had remembered when I put it up. That antenna will go down as the finest I ever have had as far as pure DXing power goes.

In 2012 I met Bob. KK6EK at his house in Walnut Creek, two towns over. I asked if I could be a “Pilot” for his upcoming Heard Island DXpedition – that he had announced at the 2013 Visalia IDXC – the same one where I was walking around elated that I had just made Honor Roll – and where Dean and Tom had congratulated me. I did not cross paths with Bob at that convention, but was tickled when that plan had been announced. Bob asked me to help him with TX5K, and even though I really had no interest in Clipperton, I agreed. He said it would be good practice for Heard Island. TX5K happened and Bob wrote a book about DXA – and he used the DXCC History chart I created on the cover.

As it turned out, after TX5K – where I did some live blogging as a Pilot and where I had run the Pilot Team, Bob said a potential co-leader on that team was not working out – and because he had already gone through a “personality mismatch” with TX5K and its organization and execution, he asked if I would be the Co-organizer of VK0EK. I was honored and said yes. Wow – I never knew how much work and how many weekends and even after work meetings I would attend. The project was delayed from 2014 to 2015 and I almost dropped out – but Bob convinced me to give it one last try, and then everything came together.

Last year at my first Dayton Hamvention – we won DXpedition of the Year. That capped off 16 wonderful years of DXing, and when I was looking around the exhibits – the US Towers ALM-31 and SteppIR UrbanBeam caught my eye. I made a mental note – that after my “serious” DXCC and DXing was over, I’d do something like that.

I was holding out for 3Y0Z and I figured I needed to have my best antennas up for that DXpedition. I figured that after that – Glorioso wasn’t going to happen for years – its the French equivalent of Navassa – it just will happen if and when it does. I thought I would be crushed, but because I had been chasing DXCC / 9BDXCC on 160M and was only a few entities away, I decided two things:

  1. I would make my move on that ALM-31 / UrbanBeam combo
  2. I would finish DXCC on 160 and swap the Inverted L out for a full sized 80M vertical

The biggest surprise was that I also decided to swap out the K-Line for a new Icom IC-7610. I seriously considered the Flex, but decided on the 7610 and so far love it. I swapped the K-Line out because I realized that Bouvet and Glorioso are not likely to happen any time soon  and that its ridiculous to sit around with my plans stalled waiting. Kosovo and Z60A was a big yawn for me – that had been 10 years of “gnashing of teeth” and its just EU anyway – whoop de doo. However – for the people of Kosovo – I’m happy for them.

I wanted to move on and try new things and I am now here. After all my horse trading – I have enough enough left over for a 1 KW amplifier, but have decided to wait since it could be 2 more years before either are activated. I expect when they are that I will be able to work both – since 3B7A was pounding in here on 20M CW at 1430z – and with me using the UrbanBeam. Bouvet will be even easier – and conditions are close to rock bottom – meaning it can’t get much worse, and even with zero sunspots, hearing 3B7A as well as I have is encouraging.

I expect to run out and get an amplifier when 3Y0Z or 3Y0I hit the air – and then Glorioso will be within years after that. I will probably go with something cheap – like an Ameritron AL-80B or AL-811H, but for now – I’ll just keep the “mad money” in the bank. I don’t need an amplifier until then – at all . . ..

Onward – my next “chapter” started yesterday in full force!

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments on “My 17 Year Journey as a DXer

  1. Nice retrospective, Rich. Still, I wonder if DXCC affliction can ever be truly cured, or whether it just goes into remission. I completely lost interest and went QRT for over a decade, but then I came roaring back about 4 years ago. Of course, I was much further from the top than you are now. But dropping out for a while and coming back seems to be a common story. I still regret that you deleted your DXCC Sleuth blog; if seen through to completion, that would have made for a really interesting read, or maybe even a book. Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see what happens in your next phase.

    Like

    • Thanks Mike. I tried to get the ARRL interested in DXCC Sleuth since DXCC is their program. Maybe it would be fun to restart it but with several others writing too. It became overwhelming – in fact – maybe it would be better as a Wikipedia thing – because it did require updating – since there are always new teams activating places and they have stories that would be interesting to keep that up to date. I’ll have to think about it – I know exactly what my format and approach was.

      My intuition seems to be right with what I am doing these days. I have the most “versatile” station I have ever had, but “best” is relative since it always depends on your goals. The IC-7610 has the combination of the K3 and the SDRPlay RSP2Pro – and I also think that the 7610 is where ELecraft should be headed when they have a K4 . . .

      So – I am “reset” right now, and the only thing I could see myself doing in the next couple of years is getting an amplifier just before Bouvet or Glorioso. I’ll blog about that soon.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: