F5IN on 40M: With “Dragon”

F5IN, the “French Beacon” is on CW pretty much every morning his time – 0500z. I have worked Mike so many times I feel like I know him. I’ll bet he enjoys CW and coffee like many of us do. There is a dragon in the background. Its no doubt Chinese Over the Horizon radar. The 7610 does  really great way of letting you separate them.

I’ll be writing about Mike in the DXCC Sleuth – his QSL card is the one I have for France.

Yes, My QTH Really is That Bad!

Google Earth Terrain Analysis

Recently I had two prominent Bay Area DXers visit and pick up some gear I was selling. They had both attended at least one of my presentations where I described my QTH as “being down in a bowl”.

Azimuthal plot of take off power at 14 degrees elevation in all directions using HFTA Sweep

The NE direction shows why my ATNO’s to rare Middle East and Africa on the short path is so difficult – and why it was necessary for me to learn about the Long Path and how to exploit it – with higher take off angles at the West Coast sunrise.

The best part of these visits were that both had the exact same comment:

“I saw your presentation but could not imagine it was this bad. What you have done from this QTH is amazing”.

I guess this is my one big bragging right – making Honor Roll from this QTH (the easy stuff was worked from my old QTH on 5 acres and on the side of a hill with no neighbors and underground utilities). Doing it in 11 years is one thing if you live in a great location, but from this one – it really was a struggle – but one where I can sit back and bask in the glow of two DXers who are a lot more serious than I validate my accomplishments.

It another words, for DXing, this QTH sucks(*) – and in a weird way – it frames and defines success.

(*) – This is one of the absolute best QTH’s for cycling. Its better than anything I have seen in Marin, the South Bay or the Penninsula. Its also awesome if you work in SF and BART to work.

While we are on the subject of QTH – I can’t remember a time when Orinda was 44 degrees at night when its almost May. We barely hit 60 the last few days. We did have several days that were around 80 – 85 a few weeks ago, but the cool snap came back. Its not a big deal – but it is noticeable.


VK0IR: A Watershed DXpedition

I was completely off the air when VK0IR was on the air, but it was a historic event for sure. For some it was one of their first DXpeditions, and for others it was further on in their DXpeditioning “career”.

The team had made an attempt prior to 1997, but had to abort due to problems with a ship owner. SO what has happened to 3Y0Z is by no means is a first (logistics wise quite a few DXpeditions have had to postpone, but the cost of 3Y0Z is by far a first – it was twice what VK0IR was, which I think is a tipping point).

I was involved with trying to find a ship for VK0EK – but really, more for moral support than anything. I was intimate with every step that Bob, KK6EK made as far as vetting transportation. I was more than that in regards to switching over to the Braveheart, but that’s all said and done now.

VK0EK was also postponed several times. We were going to book these ships (before the Braveheart):

  1. Forcault
  2. Agulhas I
  3. Akademik Shokalskiy

I was quite shocked by how each of these carriers would give a price and then right before signing we heard things like “well, that doesn’t include the “re-positioning”, or “we will drop you off, go to Kerguelin on some other business and then come back” and “we have two agents you have to go through – one with the South African Government and the other a private concern.

What shocked me was how disorganized and “loosey goosey” the negotiation was. There was a lot of bait and switch and it drove us nuts. The best thing about Nigel Jolly and the Braveheart is that everyone involved is a straight shooter, and there were no bad surprises.

VK0IR used a helicopter – VK0EK did not

Future polar DXpeditions depend completely on finding a suitable ship – and this is not easy, and it is getting astronomically expensive. VK0IR had so many DXpedition Team members who went on to become legends in the DX world, and so VK0IR was a veritable “who’s who” on the Roster as far as giving DXers ATNO’s. Check out the team at their site:


I don’t know any other DXpedition that has the legacy that VK0IR does. It is probably the #1 DXpedition as far as “legacy” is concerned.

Like I said yesterday, several from VK0IR are now retired from DXpeditioning – as they enter their mid and late 70’s as far as age is concerned. Luckily, there are also a new crop of possible future leaders who are about the same age now as the team members were when they went on that VK0IR DXpedition. Many are on the 3Y0Z team, but also on quite a few other current DXpedition teams.

I used to think the aging of the DX community would be the biggest limiting factor to the longevity of the ARRL DXCC program, but now I think its all about getting that ship – for polar as well as tropical places – because the upcoming Baker Island DXpedition has about the same budget as VK0EK did – which is a bit of a bell weather. It used to be only polar DXpeditions were that costly – but transportation has become the #1 issue now – and I expect moving forward.

3Y0Z Cancelled

Today, 3Y0Z announced (and first reported by DX News) that they are discouraged that the prospects that they can get another ship to go activate Bouvet is not working out, so they will abandon the project. After they get their container back and pay off all bills – they will send a pro-rata refund to all donors.


The 3Y0Z principles and team is one of the best, and my gut feeling is that if they can’t do it, it might be hard for anyone to do so. The leaders were also part of the Landmark team on VK0IR, and several others from that 1997 Epic Adventure are in their 70’s now and have retired from DXpeditioning.

This leaves me with some questions:

  1. Will Bouvet be activated again? Maybe a scientist or the 3Y0I team?
  2. Will anyone from 3Y0Z retire after this?
  3. Is this the end of a DXCC era?
  4. There are quite a few younger members on the 3Y0Z Team who have experience organizing DXpeditions – will they step up and take the place of anyone on 3Y0Z who might retire from DXpeditioning?

It will be interesting to see what follows.

The DXCC Sleuth Rebooted!

I received enough cards, letters, faxes and telegrams to reboot and restart The DXCC Sleuth. You can find it here:


I will keep this topbandchordalhopper blog a meandering – technical leaning blog, and after some initial “tweaking” of the DXCC Sleuth format – will run with that for 3 years and then consider it my “trophy”. Its the perfect follow up to actually earning Honor Roll and Top of Honor Roll.

If it proves really popular, who knows, maybe I will have it printed book style – but I am very much an “Open Source” kind of guy. Years ago I looked into writing a book on the Perl dbd:dbi for O’Reilly, and I met with an agent who said unless the book sells at least 100,000 copies – you don’t make any money and you spend a ton of time on it. She said most people write technical books as a marketing tool for their consulting work. I’ve never needed to do that as a DBA and for the past 13 years – a Data Architect. I figure if its a vanity project – make it free and people will either like it and follow it – or not.

Maybe I will just print up some copies for my kids as a keepsake though – that would be worth it.

When Would I Recommend a SteppIR UrbanBeam on an ALM-31 Tower?

I received the question that you see in the Title today (from Chris, KJ7I), and realized its a great Blog topic. Thank you Chris! Lets start with how the antenna works:


These are wonderful animated EZNec plots that are featured on Dan, AC6LA’s phenominal web sitehttps://www.ac6la.com/

The reason I searched for EZNec plots for the UrbanBeam is that I did not really believe the specs when I first saw them. Like others I have heard on the air – I also thought it was some weird “bastardized” Moxon, and I figured it was nothing more than a fancy rotatable dipole on all but maybe 20M. I can say FOR SURE – with on the air testing that it is indeed a 2 element yagi on 20 – 6M and a rotatable dipole on 40 and 30M. This makes it (IMHO) the most innovative antenna I have ever seen or used.  It performs to SteppIR specs, and I congratulate them for a superbly engineered product. I had the 2 element SteppIR yagi years ago – and I can say from experience that this antenna does not feel like a compromise at all – regardless of specs.

Here is a list of when I would recommend such an antenna up “only” 30-ish feet (if you can get the antenna up 40′ or more that would make it excellent on 30 – 6M and quite decent on 40M):

  1. When you live on a hill with all ground sloping away from your QTH
  2. When you have antenna ordinance or HOA / CC&R restrictions with that height as a limit (I know some nearby towns with a 35′ height limit)
  3. When you want a simple looking, fairly unobtrusive antenna system that works on 40 – 6M
  4. When you know that on 40M even such a low dipole works great on the Long Path to AF

When would I NOT recommend such a system:

  1. If you live in a bowl like I do and want to earn DXCC Honor Roll – all ground slopes up from my QTH. Get something much bigger up much higher – like the N6BT DXU-32
  2. If you are in a hurry when building the antenna or are not mechanically inclined. Its not hard – but you really need to take your time and follow directions to the “T”
  3. You are nervous about moving parts in an antenna and worry that a SteppIR motor might fail

For my goals and where I am in ham radio – I wanted as few antennas up with as few guy ropes and large antennas up possible. But I still wanted to jump in the occasional pileup – and I also have a “Plan B” for when Bouvet and Glorioso are activated and when this antenna might be a bit low on 40 – 20M. My DX Engineering DV-40-P phased array will be what gets me those last two (Plan B), and if being in my bowl doesn’t cut the mustard – I can run over to W6NV’s QTH (Plan C).

That’s it – hope this helps!



Should I Revive The DXCC Sleuth?

I’ve had several people wish that I had kept doing a blog that I had a few years back called “The DXCC Sleuth”.

It became too much of a chore because I realized I’d have to keep it updated. I recently even discussed with others that it could possibly be a Wiki.

But now I realize that Clublog already does this – sort of, and that maybe my personal point of view is valid. I had abandoned The DXCC Sleuth because I guess I only had half a clue of what my intentions were.

Now that I am at the very end of DXCC, and now that I realize that some of the “Class of 1997” or VK0IR Team members (who went on to define the Ultra Mega DXpedition, with polar activations using big ships and even helicopters) are starting to retire, maybe writing a very personal DXCC story is OK.

Here’s the “Pitch”:

  • I would start each entity description with the QSL card I used to submit for my Honor Roll and Top of Honor Roll award (both Mixed)
  • I would include historical activations that I find interesting and significant
  • I would walk backward using Glorioso and Bouvet first (the two I haven’t worked) and then progress backward using my log and ATNO QSL Card Binder as my guide.
  • I would include rig and antenna used and any other interesting technical aspects, but overall, this is a walk through memory lane more than anything

Would you follow along if I decided to do this?

If I get 10 thumbs up, I’ll revive the DXCC Sleuth.