20 July 2017

SOTA HB/NW-011 Pilatus/Tomlishorn 2132m

I've been playing with the Pinnacle Studio 20 video editing software this week, and for my first project I decided to make a video of my 40m CW activation on July 11, 2017 of SOTA HB/NW-011 in Switzerland. The result has been uploaded to YouTube and can be viewed below. For better quality watch the video on YouTube.com (just click on the YouTube logo after you've hit the play button)! The video is in HD, so make sure to set the settings to 1080p for best quality!

Thanks for watching! 73 for now de PA7MDJ!

5 June 2017

Canada C3 Expedition

On June 1st, the icebreaker "Polar Prince" started on a 150-day journey from Canada's east to west coast via the infamous Arctic Northwest Passage. The expedition is named "Canada C3" and is one of the signature projects celebrating Canada's 150th birthday. The expedition is devided into 15 legs and will stop at a different location every day, including coastal towns and villages, indigenous communities, and nature parks.  And here's your chance to be part of this epic journey, by monitoring for the ship's WSPR beacon on 40, 30, or 20m!

The expedition ship in Prince Edward County, as posted on the C3 Facebook page on June 3rd. The Polar prince is a former Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker and was formerly known as the CCGS Sir Humphrey Gilbert.
Under the leadership of Barrie Crampton, VE3BSB, a team of radio amateurs installed a 200 mW QRP Labs U3S WSPR transmitter in the icebreaker's radioroom. Barrie reports that "the antenna is a 46 ft end fed slopping at 62 degrees from the port rail above the bridge to the midship 50 ft tower". The callsign used is CG3EXP. The U3S for the complete duration of the expedition will continuously transmit WSPR beacons, and will allow WSPR monitoring stations to track the voyage.

The Polar Prince departed Toronto on June 1st for the first leg of the expedition to Montreal, and sailed across Lake Ontario to its first stopover at Picton, Prince Edward County. On June 3rd on 40m I already managed to receive some spots from the expedition ship in Prince Edward County, grid locator FN14ka. The RAC - Radio Amateurs of Canada website writes the following about the project:

"Many of the locations to be visited by Canada C3 lie in areas where radio communication is difficult. Phenomena such as “arctic flutter” and disturbances from the aurora have traditionally been a problem in the north. Very few, if any, of these locations will have a WSPR beacon and are thus, until now, outside the worldwide WSPR network. The gathering of information on radio propagation simultaneously by several receiving stations will be of scientific interest – and it will also be fun. The WSPR network of stations meets this need comprising, as it does, a series of receiving sites and stations capable of reporting, in real time, the reception of, and location, of the beacons."

While this project is associated with the Canada C3 Expedition, results might provide “proof of concept” more generally for remote telemetry applications from Arctic regions. With the impending increase in non-commercial adventurers traversing the Northwest Passage, this low-cost technology might fill a need. Researchers following the Canada C3 “whisper” might wish to compare the experience to other ship-borne uses of WSPR as reported on several Internet sites."

I'm looking forward to seeing how far into the journey my simple wire antenna is capable of receiving the CG3EXP WSPR beacon. What a fascinating project! Wishing the Canada C3 expedition Smooth Sailing!

Another photo of the Polar Prince, as found on the official Canada C3 site
Polar Prince WSPR beacon received at PA7MDJ
Polar Prince WSPR beacon received at PA7MDJ
Polar Prince WSPR beacon received at PA7MDJ


2 June 2017

What a disappointment, not Mount Athos!

Last edited: 05.06.2017

On June 1st, I posted a blog entry about my contact with SV2/SV1RP/A on Mount Athos. This now turns out to be not Mount Athos at all! What a disappointment!

Today George Vlachopoulos, SV1RP made the announcement that his activity on May 27th as SV2/SV1RP/A was not from Mount Athos but from his "alternative shack" in Giannitsa in northern Greece.

Quite a strange story, I must say! Did the mostly negative international attention become too much, and did Vlachopoulos decide it's better to deny having been active again from Mount Athos? Or with the SV2/A callsign indeed used from another location than Mount Athos, was it a provoking action or an action not thought through? Strictly seen the use of the SV2/A callsign by Vlachopoulos from northern Greece away from his home location is correct, but practically no ham operator uses the /A anymore (especially in a contest most hams would decide to omit it). It might be still required by Greek law, but I can't recall ever having seen a Greek radio amateur at an alternative location using the /A before. With the use of the SV2/SV1RP/A callsign, and with his 2015 Mount Athos activation in mind, Vlachopoulos must have expected at least a little that the international ham community would be going to think this was another Mount Athos activation.

The following announcement by Vlachopoulos appeared on the DX News site. Below that is the information that appeared on DX World earlier about his May 2017 and June 2015 activity. I'll let you judge for yourself.

Oh well, while doing research for the blog entries, at least I learned a lot about the troubled ham radio history of Mount Athos and about the magical place itself. The saga continues...

From DX News 02.06.2017

"SV2/SV1RP/A Not Mount Athos

My name is George.
My amateur radio call sign is: SV1RP

I live a quiet life without nightmares and I have never been hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic.
I usually do not fly in the clouds.
Surprisingly, however, I have read recently on many international amateur pages that at the last WPX contest, where I participated, I was on Mount Athos !!! And I transmit from there !!!
I also found that being on Mount Athos was not only mentioned by one person, but more than that, I was even tough criticized for this.

What I want to clarify is this:
In the last WPX contest, I also took part with the SV2/SV1RP/A call, and I transmit from my alternative shack, which is located in the north. Greece and specifically in Giannitsa City.
So my international scorn was deliberately done by people who acted fraudulently to expose me internationally.
All the necessary legal procedures have already begun, so that those responsible for this deceptive act can apologize to the Greek authorities but also for the complete restoration of the truth.

From now on, be more careful with the "information" you publish, especially when it comes from low-intelligence people and who are moving to the limits of legality.
In any case, however, I am cautious about my next actions.
Thank you.

73, SV1RP, George

Information from Bernie, W3UR The Daily DX"
From DX World

"NEWS UPDATE II – To counter SV1BDO’s remarks below, we now have a new update from Kostas, SV1DPI and we show in full below:
It is shame to post in the DX-World about an operation from Mount Athos when you know (from previous operation) that SV1RP usually has not any kind of license…. Had he a license 2 years ago as SV2/SV1RP/T? Is that operation accepted by DXCC? Of course not…

What is the interest among radio amateurs for an unlicensed operation and you announced it?

Anyway… the (expected?) news is that Holy Council confirmed this morning to several Greek radio amateurs who contacted by phone, that SV1RP has not any kind license from them and they have never given him (or to any other) a license.

You publicized a comment by Sotiris SV1BDO who says among others that SV2RSG’s operation is legal according Greek law. This is totally wrong. Sotiris is not a lawyer, neither me. But this is what SV1RP claims for SV2RSG and himself. ARRL does not accept it after they studied the Greek laws. Do you really believe that ARRL does not know the laws? As I know, ARRL has received the laws translated in English and after this they decided what is right and what documents they need to ask.

Beside this Sotiris’ story is not complete. For example he does not say that all the other Monks who are radio amateurs (yes there are more except Monk Apollo – I know 4 more) have a license from the Holy Council while SV2RSG has not submitted for a license. SV2RSG has a Greek radio amateur license but he needs the Holy Council’s approval also." 
From DX World

"NEWS UPDATE I – Sotiris SV1BDO updates readers on recent SV2/SV1RP/A activity:

“As far as I know, George was really in Mt. Athos, operating from Koutloumousiou monastery. On May 27, he posted the following picture in his Facebook profile.
He claims that he has a licence to operate issued by the Koutloumousiou monastery, but still has not a licence issued by the Holly Council, the document that is required from ARRL for DXCC aproval.

Some history now. After DJ6SI Baldur’s operation, the Holy Council (let’s say that is the “local goernment” of Mt. Athos), decided not to aprove all future requests for Ham Radio operations, that will carried by civilian people (not monks). They said that they will issue licences for amateur radio operations only to monks that are residents in any of the 21 monasteries of Mt. Athos.

Monk Iakovos, SV2RSCG, lives permenently in Koutloumousiou Monastery, but as far as I know, he does not have any kind of document regarding his Amateur Radio Activity issued by the Holy Councli of Mt. Athos. His operations are 100% legal according to Greek ham radio laws, but his QSL cards are not aproved for DXCC credit, as he has not submit the documents that are required from ARRL to validate his activity for DXCC aproval."
From DX World

"MAY 27 – George, SV2/SV1RP/A has apparently again been active from Mt Athos, particularly during the CQ WPX CW contest. In June 2015, George signed SV2/SV1RP/T while training some monks on ham radio operating practices, noticeably SV2RSG."
From DX World 

"June 14, 2015 – The following news is being circulated around the DX world by Sotiris, SV1BDO. This info is an update to Saturday’s news that SV2/SV1RP/T was apparently operating from Mt Athos.
“Hi to all. I just spoke with George, SV1RP by cellphone. George is really inside Mount Athos and claims that he operates 100% legally according to Greek laws. He has in his hands all relative documentation that he is going to officially translate and send to ARRL DXCC desk for validation as soon as he returns home. He signs /T (training), as he trains some monks to Amateur Radio. Operation hours are not fixed as he follows the Orthodox time schedule of the hosting monastery. He will operate mainly in CW. QSL route will be announced later.”
Earlier today, Monk Apollo, SV2ASP/A, the only resident ham operator at Mt Athos, was also active."

Addendum 05.06.2017
In reaction to Vlachopoulos' announcement, SV1BDO posted the following on eHam. In it he explains how the /A should be used according to Greek law, and how SV1RP used it incorrectly after all.

From eHam
"According to current Greek Ham radio law (article 12.2.1), a Greek ham (in this case SV1RP) that operates from an alternative QTH in a different call area must sign SV2/SV1RP. He must use the /A suffix only if he operates from Alternative QTH that belongs in the same call area of his call. So, signing as SV2/SV1RP/A does not follow the Greek ham radio laws. The same improper signing also aplies for his Mt. Athos operation. The only correct signing according to Greek Ham Law is the SV2/SV1RP/T.

SV2ASP/A signs so, as in his Greek Ham licence has declared that his permanent QTH is located somewhere in Northern Greece (in SV2 call area) and Mt. Athos monastery is his Alternative QTH, so for this reason he signs /A. On the other hand, SV2RSG signed so, as he has declared as permanent QTH Mt. Athos. Hope that this cleared the confusion.

Please consider that there are 2 total different meanings: Correct signing & Legal operation. In some cases (like Mt. Athos) a correct signing does not means that the operation is also legal.
Quote from: K0AP on June 02, 2017, 03:36:57 PM

From the dxnews.com web site:


If he would've informed the DX/Contest community prior the operation began that this will count only as Greece there wouldn't have been any confusion. Of course people would think that he was QRV from SV/A. In fact, the QSL photo on his QRZ.com page indicates that he used SV2/SV1RP/A from Mount Athos, does it not? On his QRZ.com web page he does not specify clearly and undoubtedly that SV2/SV1RP/A counts only as Greece. JMHO...

73 Dragan K0AP
During the WPX CW contest, the DX cluster was full of spots with SV2/SV1RP/A call, allmost all spots saying that he was in Mt. Athos. Does anybody that worked him in this specific contest received any live comment from him regarding his QTH? I guess NO, so everybody thought that they were working Mt. Athos, and probably they would sent him later a SASE with 3-5 USD to receive his Mt. Athos QSL card, that still is not recognized by DXCC. If George made 1000 QSOs, the possible total earned cash should be in the range of 2000-5000 USD, not an insignificant ammount for just a weekend...

George wrote a letter to DXNews, 5 days after the contest regarding this. He is focusing mainy on me while saying: "So my international scorn was deliberately done by people who acted fraudulently to expose me internationally. All the necessary legal procedures have already begun, so that those responsible for this deceptive act can apologize to the Greek authorities but also for the complete restoration of the truth. From now on, be more careful with the "information" you publish, especially when it comes from low-intelligence people and who are moving to the limits of legality. In any case, however, I am cautious about my next actions."

1 June 2017

Amateur Radio in the Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain

Last edited: 06.06.2017

Latest news 02.06.2017 - Apparently George Vlachopoulos, SV1RP during the WPX contest was not active from Mount Athos but from his "alternative shack" in Giannitsa in northern Greece. Read more in my blog entry of June 2nd, 2017.

Last weekend during the CQ World Wide WPX CW contest, I finally managed to make my first ever contact with Mount Athos! Ok, "sort of", as you will read later on.

Mount Athos forms a separate DXCC entity, and let me tell you, it won't be easy to find one that's more mysterious, mystical, magical, obscure, and controversial! Mount Athos is a mountainous peninsula in northeastern Greece stretching out for about 50 km into the Aegean Sea, its width varying between 7 and 12 km, and its highest point reaching about 2,000 m. Although land-linked, the isolated, rugged region is practically only accessible by boat. Spread out over the peninsula are 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries. Alhough considered part of Greece, Mount Athos is a self-governed, autonomous region, known officially as the Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain. It's commonly referred to simply as the "Holy Mountain", or "Agion Oros" in Greek. Mount Athos is governed by the "Holy Community" which consists of the representatives of the 20 Holy Monasteries.

Map of Mount Athos showing the locations of the 20 monasteries. Click to enlarge. (source)
Part of Mount Athos peninsula seen from the air (source)
Travelling to Mount Athos is like travelling back in time; for over 1,000 years, practically nothing has changed in the "Garden of Virgin Mary" as the Monks call the territory. The monasteries of Mount Athos were founded many centuries ago, some of them have a history going back even more than a 1,000 years, and many of them are fortified with thick walls and towers that had to keep pirates at bay. Mount Athos still is on the Julian calender, which means their date runs thirteen days behind to that of the rest of the world. The number of daily visitors is restricted, and a special limited-period access permit has to be obtained before entering the Monastic State. Visitors have to abide by a dress code and rules including not smoking. Women and children are not allowed to enter the territory at all, and even female animals are banned from the mountain (except for female insects, female songbirds, and female cats)!

One of the 20 monasteries of Mount Athos. About 2,000 monks call Mount Athos their home. (source)
Another Mount Athos monastry. A list of all monasteries and photos of them can be found on Wikipedia. (source)
Of course a contact with such a unique DXCC entity has always been much sought after by ham radio operators around the world. Luckily, since a couple of decades, Mount Athos has had its own resident amateur radio operator, the famous Monk Apollo, SV2ASP/A, operating from the Docheiariou monastery. This is quite a unique situation for such a small and special DXCC entity!
Monk Apollo first came in contact with amateur radio in the middle of the 1980s when his monastery had remained without telephone for over five months and during which a medical emergency occured. When a doctor heard the story, being a radio amateur himself, he suggested somebody at the monastery would become a radio amateur operator, in order to guarantee continued communications during an emergency.
By the end of the 1980s Monk Apollo had obtained his amateur radio licence. But the working days at the monasteries of Mount Athos are long and hard, Monk Apollo's free time is scarce, and his time spent on amateur radio is little. The chances of catching and working Monk Apollo on one of the ham bands are quite slim.
So, not surprising, for many years radio hams have been trying to set up DXpeditions to the Holy Mountain to activate the much sought after entity on the ham bands. In the past, a group of Greek radio amateurs with the help of Monk Apollo were granted permission, but all applications thereafter by other radio amateurs were denied. There have been some hams operating from Mount Athos however, but their operations were "secret" and declared illegal by Monk Apollo and the Holy Community, as there might have been permission from one of the monasteries, but not from the Holy Community! According to Greek law, to operate a ham station from Mount Athos, a written permission is needed from the Mount Athos Holy Community.

Monk Apollo, SV2ASP/A (source)
Of the various hams that were operating from Mount Athos "illegally", the most notorious probably is DXpeditioner Baldur Drobnica, DJ6SI. Just Google for DJ6SI and Mount Athos and you'll find more on this particular Mount Athos ham radio episode. Although the operation of DJ6SI from Mount Athos in 1991 was declared illegal by Monk Apollo, it did get DXCC validated!
In May of 2015 a group of Latvian hams were on their way to Mount Athos to get on the air from the Monastic State as SV2/YL7A. They claimed to have received oral permission for their ham radio activities from one of the monasteries. The group had permits to enter the Monastic State as pilgrims, but as soon as Monk Apollo and the Holy Community found out about their real intentions, access to Mount Athos was denied, the group had to return home, and the DXpedition was cancelled.

QSL card from the controversial SY/DJ6SI DXpedition of Baldur Drobnica (source)
The latest episode in the history of "illegal" ham radio operation on Mount Athos is the one of Greek radio amateur George Vlachopoulos, SV1RP which back in June 2015 operated from the Koutloumousiou monestary using the callsign SV2/SV1RP/A (1) and SV2/SV1RP/T. The /A is usually added when an amateur station is operated from an alternative location, but here is added as it traditionally has been for operations from Mount Athos. The /T stands for "Training". According to Greek law, under supervision of a licenced ham operator, and with the /T added to his callsign, people without a ham licence are allowed to use his ham radio station for training purposes. Vlachopoulos claimed to have been legally operating from Mount Athos training several of the resident monks in amateur radio practice, most noticeably Monk Iakovos who as a result in 2015 obtained his amateur radio licence and has been operating from Mount Athos since with the callsign SV2RSG (No /A added, read the story on his qrz.com page). Monk Iakovos is a permanent resident of the Koutloumousiou Monestary. Vlachopoulos claimed he was in the possession of official documents which should give the operation DXCC approval, but as far as I know, both him and Monk Iakovis so far seem to have failed in getting DXCC validation.

Monk Iakovis is presented his radio amateur licence in the presence of the Koutloumousiou Monastery abbot and George Vlachopoulous, SV1RP (first from the right) (source)
My contact this weekend was with SV2/SV1RP/A on 20m CW. So it seems George Vlachopoulos again has travelled to Mount Athos. At this time I don't have all the details on the operation, but it's reported on the DX World site that Vlachopoulos again was active from the Koutloumousiou Monestary, from which he also got permission for the operation again. I'm curious how the story will unfold this time, but I bet this is another "secret" operation without the authorization of the Holy Council. At the moment I made the contact, I was unaware of the "troubled" ham radio history of Mount Athos, which I first learned about when doing research for this blog entry. Also I was under the impression I was working a 100% legal Mount Athos activation. The contact most likely will not give me DXCC credit for Mount Athos, but my signals were there, in that magical place (just look at the photos!), I made contact with one of Mount Athos' monasteries, and I'm thrilled about it!

Olive trees at Koutloumousiou Monastery, the QTH of SV2/SV1RP/A (source)
After the "illegal" operation on Mount Athos of DJ6SI, now more than two decades ago, and other ham operators which, in the words of Monk Apollo, "tried to fool the Monks", the Holy Council and Monk Apollo still seem to hold a grudge, and all applications for amateur radio activities from Mount Athos are structurally denied. Some accuse Monk Apollo of swinging a big hammer in the Holy Community Council and at the DXCC desk, and say he has built for himself on Mount Athos an amateur radio monopoly which he tries to protect.
But Mount Athos is more than just a much coveted, exotic DXCC alone. It's also a sanctuary of peace, a sacred place, a different world where time stood still, a home where Monks lead a simple life, away from the hectic, modern, and complicated lifes most of us live today. And such a place is fragile, and maybe that's the only thing Monk Apollo is trying to protect.
What puzzles me though is that resident Monk Iakovos still hasn't managed to obtain the required documents for DXCC approval, but I don't know the whole story here, and thus for now I'll have to refrain on any further comments.

The attitude of the Holy Community and Monk Apollo towards guest ham operators, with which they've practically closed the DXCC entity to non-resident ham operations, and the resulting voices raised by some in the ham community to therefore better delete Mount Athos as a DXCC entity, lead to some controversy of which good examples can be found in the discussion threads on eHam as linked to below. There's also much info on the activations of DJ6SI and SV1RP in there.

I for sure hope Mount Athos will never be deleted from the DXCC list, and hopefully with some luck and a lot of DX Cluster watching, I'll someday get the chance to work the elusive Monk Apollo himself. And to be honest, I wouldn't like to see it any other way; some places should remain shrouded in mystery, some places on the ham bands should remain shrouded in elusiveness.

You can listen to a recording of my contact with SV2/SV1RP/A below.

Addendum 06.06.2017
(1) I'm not sure but I believe the SV2/SV1RP/A callsign in 2015 never was used on the air, only the SV2/SV1RP/T callsign. Vlachopoulos' 2015 QSL does mention the /A though.

QSL card SV2/SV1RP/A/T (source)


20 May 2017


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No extensive blog entry this time. I just wanted to share this 1965 CQ Ham Radio cover. To me, this is one of the most iconic photos in ham radio. It shows Sako Hasegawa, JA1MP (sk) founder of Yaesu Musen Co. Ltd at the dials of a Yaesu FL-200B transmitter and a FR-100B receiver

10 May 2017

My first SOTA and CW activation

Last edited: 12.05.2017

One of my favourite aspects of ham radio is Summits on the Air (SOTA). With this blog entry I will not go into explaining as to what exactly SOTA is, as most of my readers already know or otherwise will be able to find more information on the official SOTA web page or on this Wikipedia page. Beside that I will also do a special "sticky" blog page about SOTA in general another time soon.
So this blog entry is not about SOTA in general, but rather about my CW activation of SOTA summit PA/PA-004 Torenberg in specific.

I've been a SOTA chaser for some time now, mainly using CW. As a chaser I can do the basic "rubber stamp" CW QSOs, i.e. copy the activator's call, send my call, copy my call, copy the signal report, send a signal report, send 73 and TU. I can also easily copy and send some basic abbreviations like GM, GA, GE, UR RST, BK, GL, FB, etc. Basically this is all one needs to make SOTA QSOs as a chaser, or to make QSOs with DXpeditions or DX stations for that matter. In less than two years, with probably 99% of the SOTA Qs in CW, I earned my SOTA chaser Shack Sloth award and the HB9SOTA Edelweiss award. Using only SSB this might have taken ages. But I wanted more, just basic CW skills is not enough, as I was also aspiring SOTA CW activations.

The radio shack out in nature. SOTA PA/PA-004.
Equipment used on PA/PA-004 includes a Yaesu FT-817ND running 5 Watts into a portable lightweight version of the HyEndFed 10/20/40 wire antenna, a 10 metre telescopic lightweight fiberglass pole, a gel cel 7Ah battery, and a Palm Pico paddle. There are two things I learned today: I need a narrow CW filter for the FT-817, and I need to save for that portable, self-supporting HF-P1 antenna I've been looking at for some time now; fixating a 10m telescopic pole out in nature can be quite a hassle.
So meanwhile I kept practicing my CW skills using the Koch method at 25 WPM. The Koch method for me has been the ideal way to learn Morse code. A Koch app on my smartphone lets me practice whenever and wherever I want. I tried and still try to do at least 15 to 20 minutes of practicing each day. Over time I also managed to add some variations to the rubber stamp QSOs. For instance, in the QSOs with them I also started sending the personal name of the regular SOTA activators I'd made acquaintance with. "Dry practicing" I also built confidence in sending random callsigns, words, letters, and numbers. For SOTA CW activations I knew, at least sending wasn't going to be a problem.

One of the motivators to keep up the essential self discipline to practice CW every day has been the aspiration to do SOTA activations. The lightweight QRP equipment you take on a summit activation is so much more effective in CW than it is in SSB. Doing a CW activation however is a totally different ball game compared to chasing!  Not only you'll have to leave the comfort of your shack and ascend the summit and set up your portable station there of course, but also you'd have to be able to quickly copy the different callsigns and messages coming at you in fast pace from random SOTA chasers. As a CW chaser before making the QSO you have the advantage of having the time to listen for the activator's callsign, just one callsign, and if you don't copy it completely the first time, you'll listen for it a second or even third time. When activating it's a complete different situation.

For today I'd planned an activation of the Dutch SOTA summit PA/PA-004 Torenberg. It would be my first SOTA activation. The Netherlands is not a mountainous country, but there are some hills in the eastern and southern part of the Netherlands, and under the special SOTA P100 rule, five of them qualify as SOTA summits, were included in the SOTA programme, and were given a SOTA reference number. However, after a careful check of the P100 rule, it was decided to retire two of them as of 31 July, 2017, including PA/PA-004.
My initial plan was to do the activation in SSB only. But I remembered my last QRP SSB WWFF activation in which I needed many hours to eventually make just 16 Qs. A SOTA activation in CW would be so much more effective, and not in the last place so much COOLER!. For an activation though, at higher speeds I'm still not confident enough about my CW skills.
But then I realized, for my first CW activation I just could go QRS! At 12 to 16 WPM I'm much more comfortable and confident. Chasers that want to work me will adapt to my speed. When a callsign is not copied completely the first time, I can always do a "..--.."
Then coincidentally, some days ago Polish ham SQ6GIT started the thread "SOTA CW for beginners" on the SOTA Reflector.  SQ6GIT is planning a SOTA activation in Ukraine and wants to do it in CW, but he has the same doubts about his CW skills that I have about mine, and he asked the SOTA community for their opinion on doing a CW activation with limited CW skills. The SOTA people all reacted the same: Take the plunge! Just do it! Just go slowly, go QRS! One SOTA activator reacted "The best training method when aspiring towards CW SOTA activations is: CW SOTA activations! And it's true, taking the plunge and jumping into the big ocean often is the best teacher!

So I did. Today I activated PA/PA-004 in CW, only CW, no SSB at all! I made 8 contacts on 40m including one "Summit 2 Summit" with HB9AGO/P in Switzerland! The transceiver's keyer was set to 12 WPM. Some "E E E" were needed a couple of times, but for a first time, and despite being very nervous, overall I think I did well! I must say SQ6GIT's post on the SOTA Reflector came just in time and gave me the push I needed. The chasers all were very cooperative and patient and adapted their speed to mine. And guess who's one of the chasers I made a QSO with! It was SQ6GIT, adding another special touch to this story! My initial fear is gone, and I hope to be able to do some more CW activations soon!

PA/PA-004 Torenberg is located in a forested area called De Veluwe near the town of Apeldoorn. Its summit is 107 metres a.s.l. It's quite an odd summit and it can't be reached legally as it's located on land owned by the Dutch Royal Family and in a no-access wildlife area with many wild boar and deer. So to keep it legal I decided to activate from the forest at the Aardhuis on the Aardmansberg at 102 metres a.s.l. The Aardhuis is the former hunting lodge of King William III and was built in 1861. It's now a visitors centre and museum. Some of the rooms remain furnished as in historical times when it was still King William III's hunting lodge. The Aardhuis is a couple of hundred metres away from the the real Torenberg summit, but it's within the closed 90 metres elevation contour line around it (and with 102 metres elevation not in a dip) and therefore complies to SOTA rules and the SOTA definition of the activation zone (max 25 m vertical distance from the summit). It feels a little ackward to do a SOTA activation at such a big distance from the actual summit, but I guess that's what you get in the "Dutch Mountains". The Aardhuis is also on the same land owned by the Dutch Royal Family, but for a small fee you're allowed to freely wander around on the forested land around the lodge. The fee also includes a visit to the museum and the Aardhuis wildlife park.

The Aardhuis at 102 m elevation
Inside the Aardhuis. At the right, King William III's original guns.
Wooden "Aardman". This Aardman has been guarding the lodge since 1861!
Topographic map of the area with the 90 m contour line in red as provided by PA3Q. The Torenberg and the Aardhuis are also indicated. As can be seen, the Aardhuis lies within the 90 m contour line around the PA/PA-004 summit. (source)
Addendum 12.05.2017
Those aspiring SOTA CW activations and looking for some practice might find the CW practice audio files on the site of ON6ZQ to be very useful, I did and still do. On this particular page you will find links to CW audio files as well as other CW practice tools. There's also a CW audio file with real SOTA chaser callsigns which can be played at various speeds. Check it out!

For those wondering what Koch trainer I'm using, it's IZ2UUF Morse Koch CW for Android. It's a great app, and I can really recommend it. More information can be found here.


2 May 2017

Whispers from Nunavut

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In the field of WSPR (a.k.a. "Whisper"), PA7MDJ mainly is a transmitting-only station, but every once in a while I also like to do a listening session, when there are special WSPR projects in progress (High Altitude Balloons, maritime mobile WSPR stations, floaters, etc.), but also just to see what my simple wire antenna is capable of, and to do my part in the efforts of the countless stations listening to create a worldwide WSPR monitoring network.

Today, while doing one of those listening sessions, on the 20m band, I caught a WSPR beacon from the Eureka Amateur Radio Club, VY0ERC which is located in the Canadian Arctic at the Eureka Weather Station on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut Territory.
To be precise, VY0ERC is located about 11 km from the Eureka Weather Station at the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) Ridge Laboratory (RidgeLab) at 80º North in grid locator ER60tb, just 1,100 km from the North Pole. At the RidgeLab observatory, situated at 600 m a.s.l. at the top of a hill, with a large complement of instrumentation, atmospheric studies can be conducted from ground level to a height of about 100 km. It's a self-contained scientific laboratory, but personell usually live at the Eureka Weather Station.

Arctic landscape at Otto Fiord, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut Territory (source)
The photos of the RidgeLab and the Eureka Weather Station, as can be found on VY0ERC's qrz.com page and Twitter, showing the isolated and in ice and snow covered station buildings, are really impressive, especially for a polar enthusiast like me, and I'm really excited about the reception of the weak signal beacon from Nunavut. The signal was received with an SNR of -24 dB, and according to the transmitted spot, at the RidgeLab a power of 10 Watts (40 dBm) was used.

VY0ERC also is a WSPR monitoring station, and I hope my 200 mW beacons reciprocally will be picked up on Ellesmere Island some day. It will take some better than average propagation conditions though. Polar paths aren't the easiest.

RidgeLab at 80º North (source)
VY0ERC heard by PA7MDJ (and a lot of other stations)
Screenshot of the WSPR program as running at PA7MDJ on May 2nd, 2017
The weather at Eureka at the time of reception (17:00 UTC is 12:00 CDT), temperature -18ºC


1 May 2017

New QSL cards arrived

New PA7MDJ QSL cards fresh from the printer in Bulgaria. Another great printing job by Emil, LZ3HI of Gold Print Service. The "Night Owls" front design is by Jeff Murray of K1NSS design. See also this blog entry.

28 April 2017

How the world learned about the Falklands War

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Penguins on the Falkland Islands. Land mines placed by the Argentines are still present today (source)
The Falklands War was a ten-week war between Argentina and the United Kingdom over two of the British Overseas Territories in the South Atlantic: the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. It began on April 2, 1982 when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands in an attempt to establish the sovereignty they had claimed over the islands. The invasion had caught prime minister Thatcher by surprise, and even though the war was short, it turned out to be a deadly one.
I was still at a very young age but I remember it very well. It was probably the first time I heard about the existence of the Falkland Islands. I have been fascinated by the archipelago ever since, for its geographical location, for its remoteness, for its subantarctic character and rugged nature, and for the major role the islands play in the operations of the British Antarctic Survey.

In March of 2014, then still with my novice licence and PD7MDJ callsign, on 10m SSB, I managed to work Bob McLeod, VP8LP located in Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands. It was my first contact with the Falkland Islands, and I was ecstatic! You can listen to a recording of the contact here at my SoundCloud page.

I didn't know then about the major role Bob McLeod had played at the beginning of the war as the only news source on the Falkland Islands, as the only link with the outside world. It was Bob McLeod who with his ham equipment first confirmed that the Falkland Islands had been taken over by Argentina, and who via ham radio provided BBC journalist and fellow ham operator Laurie Margolis, G3UML in the UK with the scoop. Margolis broke the news on the BBC Radio 4 PM programme that same day. The fascinating story, as found on the BBC News site, can be read below, or you can find the original article on http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6514011.stm.

Stanley, Falkland Islands (source)
There seems to be circulating on the internet a tape recording of the radio communications of VP8LP with the UK during the war. According to this forum http://www.shipsnostalgia.com/showthread.php?t=96066, the recording here is a recording of the actual QSOs with Bob McLeod on April 2nd, 1982, the day of the invasion. Intelligibility is poor at times, unfortunately.

My radio friend Alan from the UK told me he remembers during the conflict that the UK Government contacted all UK hams and gave them a phone number to call if they heard Bob or any other Falklands hams on the air. He also told me that during the war the UK Government had set up a broadcast station on Ascension Island to broadcast to the area, because the BBC World Service wouldn't allow itself to be used for any propaganda purposes in case this affected its reputation for impartiality. The Media Network programme with Jonathan Marks did a feature about Radio Atlantico del Sur, as the station was called, which can be found here in the Media Network Vintage Vault.

The Falkland Islands is IOTA SA-002 and forms a separate DXCC entity. Bob McLeod's wife Janet McLeod also is a ham operator and holds callsign VP8AIB. I managed to work her in late 2014 with the special callsign VP8AIB/100, commemorating the WWI Battle of the Falklands.

How BBC man scooped invasion news
By Laurie Margolis
BBC News (April 2, 2007)

Walk down London's Portland Place, heading south from Regent's Park towards Regent Street,and you come to a kink in the wide road.

Immediately ahead of you is the plush Langham Hotel, very expensive and also one of the most haunted buildings in London.

To your left, BBC Radio's headquarters at Broadcasting House. This busy location, on the northern edge of London's West End, was the focus of the way the story of the Falklands invasion unfolded exactly 25 years ago.

Back in 1982 I was a BBC journalist and also an amateur radio operator - I still am. That means I have a call-sign - G3UML - and some expertise in long-distance short-wave communications.

At the very end of March, 1982, I was working on the Golan Heights, hearing on the BBC World Service a bizarre story about Argentine scrap metal merchants taking over the British dependency of South Georgia.

Invasion claim

I returned to London on the morning on 2 April, and went into Broadcasting House to work on a documentary. I was met by scenes of near panic in the radio newsroom.

The Argentines were claiming to have invaded and taken over the Falkland Islands, the 2,000-strong British colony off the south-eastern tip of South America.

Argentine soldiers took control after a few hours' resistance

The newsroom had Argentine claims, but nothing else apart from a laconic message from the Cable and Wireless station on the Falklands - "we have a lot of new friends".

At that time the Langham Hotel was a dreary BBC office block and, in a dusty, junk-filled attic room - number 701 - the BBC's own amateur radio club had a shortwave transceiver. With a big aerial on the roof, it worked pretty well.

My senior editors wondered if there was any way I could contact the Falklands through amateur radio. Nothing else was working. It seemed a possibility. The remote nature of the islands meant that radio was important, and for the small population there were a lot of radio amateurs down there.

'A true scoop'

So I took up a vigil in room 701, listening carefully across the 14, 21 and 28 megahertz bands for anything from VP8 - the international call-sign prefix for the islands.

And about six hours later, I struck gold. On 21.205 megahertz at 1600 London time, that rather distinctive accent, a bit West Country - a Falkland Islander.

And what a story he had to tell - a true scoop, an exclusive of the greatest magnitude.

The voice was that of Bob McLeod, and he lived in the settlement of Goose Green on East Falkland. His call-sign, I realised, was VP8LP but he was anxious that it shouldn't be used. I have much of what he said that day recorded on an old-fashioned audio cassette.

"We have now been taken over. The British government still denies it but they have no contact I believe with the Falklands, and this is probably why they are still denying it.

"But we have been taken over. There is an aircraft carrier and I believe four other boats - I don't have the details on them - but they do have heavy armoured vehicles in Stanley, details I don't know, and quite a number of personnel.

"They landed approx 0930 GMT this morning in landing craft and stormed the capital Port Stanley and have taken over the government office, they landed with heavy armoured vehicles.

"We're now under their control. They are broadcasting that all local people will be treated as normal. Fairly peaceful in Stanley at present time."

Foreign Office call

The Argentines had still to reach Goose Green and so Bob was able to transmit his bombshell.

He was getting information from local radio, which broadcast a commentary as the invasion developed early that morning, and then carried on, under Argentine control, transmitting messages of reassurance. The islands' VHF radio network was also buzzing with the story as it developed.

By then my dusty attic was busy with BBC TV crews and newspaper people who'd been told it might be a good place to be.

I went onto the Radio 4 PM programme at 1700 London time with an account of what I'd been told. A few minutes later I was rung by the Foreign Office, who understood I'd been in touch with the Falklands and wondered what they were saying. I gave them a bit more of Bob.

"Damage we don't know, shooting around a very rough guess approx two hours. Three deaths of Argentineans [sic] in the Falklands, one believed to be very senior.

"The English marines and local defence forces - we have no information. Took over Government House, and then taken over all of Port Stanley. And I believe they shot up the Cable and Wireless transmitting station.

"Helicopters flying around Stanley. 500 personnel in Stanley, and aircraft carrier believed to be carrying 1,500. Flying Hercules aircraft, one has come in."

It clearly made an impression. Within an hour the Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, was on his feet in the House of Lords confirming a massive British humiliation.


QSL cards from Bob and Janet McLeod



27 April 2017

Interesting WSPR projects

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Fleet II
The 45 ft sailboat "Fleet II" is currently crossing the Atlantic from the Caribbean to the UK via the Azores. The skipper is ham operator Peter Baker, G4HSO. The sailboat carries a QRP Labs U3S WSPR transmitter which every 10 minutes on the 20m band sends the callsign G4HSO/M (the WSPR protocol doesn't allow a /MM suffix) and the 6 character grid locator. The power is 500 mW fed into a simple mobile whip antenna mounted on the boat's stern guard rail. Yesterday evening I already managed to receive the WSPR beacons from the sailboat lying in port at the Azores in grid locator HM58qm. I hope to be able to receive more WSPR beacons later when the Fleet II is at sea continuing its voyage to the UK.

More information can be found here.

The Fleet II (source)
PA7MDJ hearing G4HSO/M
Mikael Dagman, SA6BSS has launched another High Altitude Balloon carrying a WSPR payload, the BSS5. It's currently over Siberia.

More info can be found here on the BSS5 thread on the QRP Labs forum. See also my blog entry about an earlier HAB launch of Mikael Dagman, the BSS4, here.

ZL1SIX Ocean Floater
An ocean going marine buoy built by Bob Sutton, ZL1RS with GPS and a QRP Labs U3S WSPR transmitter has been released into the ocean over 11 months ago, and has been adrift and transmitting WSPR beacons from the South Pacific since. And it's still going strong! Little chance of picking up its signals here in Europe, but still a very interesting project to track!

Check out the project's webpage here.

Drop-off of the ZL1SIX Ocean Floater on May 17, 2016 from the yacht Windflower in grid locator RG93sq (source)

22 April 2017

Franz Josef Land - A DXer's dream

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A DXer's dream! Franz Josef Land, "Strange islands lost in the Barents Sea", as the archipelago is called by the Ultima Thule blog, shown here in an iconic National Geographic photo with a polar bear on Rudolf Island (source)
All ham operators have a clear recollection of their most special and memorable contacts and moments in amateur radio. Ask any random ham for it and the stories will be coming at you non-stop. Often these special moments are related to a goal or a wish made a long time ago. Probably most hams when they start out in amateur radio, and all future hams still studying for their amateur radio licence, secretly have some goals in mind that they're going to try working towards. And once reached, the achievement, the radio contact, or the resulting QSL card or award feels like a medal for all the hard work delivered to get there, a trophy that fills the radio amateur with pride, recognizing his skills and perseverance. To me, one of these moments was working Franz Josef Land.

The much coveted QSL card from RI1FJ and the book about FJL published by the Norwegian Polar Institute.
One of my goals, or maybe it was more of a wish, or even a dream, from the beginning was making a contact with Franz Josef Land. Being a polar enthusiast, I've always been fascinated by this frozen, barren Russian archipelago at 80º northern latitude in the High Arctic. The archipelago is the closest land to the North Pole in the eastern hemisphere. Just 900 km of sea and ice separate Franz Josef Land from the top of the world. I don't know where the fascination for the archipelago exactly comes from, maybe it's the mysterious sounding name, maybe it's the photos I've seen of the beautiful, desolate Arctic landscape providing the backdrop for the shabby huts of a remote Russian weather station and roaming polar bears, or maybe it's just something undefinable.
Whatever the case, my fascination was already there in the 1990s when I bought the book shown above edited by Susan Barr and published by the Norwegian Polar Institute. I believe it's quite a rare book, as it's probably one of the few books about Franz Josef Land published outside of Russia.

After I got my amateur licence in late 2012, the years went by with Franz Josef Land being shrouded in nothing but radio silence (1). The last time I heard a signal from Franz Josef Land was in the 1990s when I was active as a shortwave listener and had managed to receive Sergei Tsybizov, R1FJZ.

QSL card from R1FJZ received for an SWL report back in 1995.
Then in 2015 the news appeared that soon Eugeny Chepur, UA4RX would be active from Heiss Island, one of the islands of the Franz Josef Land archipelago, signing as RI1FJ. I was excited! In the summer of 2015 Eugeny was delivered to the island by the icebreaker MSV Mikhail Somov, but the months following, Franz Jozef Land just remained hidden in its usual radio silence. Until suddenly in the summer of 2016, not long before Eugeny would depart from the island again, spots started appearing for RI1FJ on the DX Cluster. Apparently Eugeny has had some technical problems, which had prevented him from getting on the air until resolved late June 2016.

But propagation conditions were terrible, and when I tuned in to the spotted frequencies, mostly I could not hear the signals of RI1FJ at all, or they were too weak to be workable. On the rare occasions that the signals were good enough, I just didn't manage getting through the pile-up. Until August 1st that is, the day that luck was on my side, and in the very nick of time! RI1FJ was on 20m CW working simplex and with relatively good signals. The pile-up was big but not extremely, and there were some promising gaps in it. I started keying my callsign trying to squeeze it into the gaps, and then suddenly there it was; Eugeny had picked up my signals on that barren, frozen, mysterious land in the High Arctic, and back he came with my callsign and a signal report! After my reply, the 2-way contact was completed with a 73 from Eugeny. One of the most special 73s I ever got! What a thrill to know my signals reached Franz Josef Land, the northernmost location I've ever made contact with. A look in the August 19 news update below shows that indeed it was a contact made in the nick of time; Eugeny went QRT just a day later on August 2nd! How much more luck can a ham operator with just a simple wire antenna and 100 Watts ask for!?

Krenkel weather station on Heiss Island, Franz Josef Land (source)
Eugeny was active from the Krenkel Meteorological Station in grid locator LR90ao on Heiss Island. The station is built around a shallow fresh water crater lake. Krenkel Station was established in 1957/58 during the International Geophysical Year and abandoned in 2001. It was reopened in 2004 with a smaller modern station set up between the old buildings. The new station is manned year-round by about 5 persons. The old complex of buildings housed about 200 station personell and seasonal researchers.

Iceberg at Heiss Island (source)
Franz Josef Land is IOTA EU-019 , forms a separate DXCC entity, and was an ATNO for me. The archipelago consists of 191 islands. In 2012 president Putin signed a decree on a major clean-up in the Arctic, including at Franz Josef Land. Before the clean-up there was about 90.000 tons of scrap metal left at the old Soviet and Russian Polar stations on Franz Josef Land alone.

Soon after the contact, when Eugeny had arrived back on the Russian mainland, the QSO was confirmed in Clublog and on LotW. The much coveted QSL card took a longer wait though. It was already mailed to me in August 2016 but had gotten lost in the mail. QSL manager Victor Loginov, UA2FM recently sent me another one at no additional charge, and it was finally received a couple of days ago. Spasibo, Victor and Eugeny!

On qrz.com the QSL manager of RI1FJ regularly posted updates on the activities of Eugeny:

From qrz.com
19 August 2016
Eugeny RI1FJ safely arrived at Archangelsk Port. His 2016 operation lasted  from 27 June 18.31 UTC to 02 Aug 2016, 16.18 UTC. No ham operation is expected from the island until probably next expedition in August 2017 - August 2018.

RI1FJ log uploaded to Clublog.org. Otherwise use OQRS form on this page.

73 de UA2FM

14 August 2016 update
Gentlemen, Eugeny RI1FJ left the island on 5-6th August. He is onboard RSV Somov, sailing home. Watch Somov route at As soon he is on the Internet, I upload his log onto clublog.org, and everyone will be able to use OQRS form on this page as well. Please be patient, all requests will be replied! :)

73 de UA2FM

3rd July update
This afternoon I got information (thanks R6AF) that Eugeny stays on the island until end of July. After that he sails home onboard icebreaker RSV Somov. Watch Somov route at

RI1FJ goes QRT soon after Somov arrives on the island.

73, de Victor UA2FM

2nd July 2016 update
Eugeny RI1FJ suddenly showed up on the air late June. I have no e-mail communication with the Island, as there are no post/telephone/transportation services there, but company satellite forbidden for private use. I was neither notified by Eugeny of his QRV, nor about problems he had during this season. The only thing I know, - it's him who signs RI1FJ, as many hams worked him reported this.

I do not know whether Eugeny is able to send his ADIF logs through his @winlink.org address as we did in his previous operations. I was told all steel and metal materials and equipment was removed from the island before summer 2015. Perhaps this was the reason of RI1FJ silence.

Gents, please keep working RI1FJ on the bands, but be patient with QSL requests until I establish log exchange procedure. I'll be back with more information as soon I have it.

Thanks, Victor UA2FM

December 2015 update
Dear fellows-amateurs,
Many of you asked me to update RI1FJ info. His license reissued from 01 August 2015 until 31 August 2017. To be honest, I expected that Eugeny would start his activity early August, since he came on the Heiss Island.
He works as lead of Sevmeteo weather group for 2015-2016.
After his arrival on the island, I tried to get in contact with him using non-amateur communication, to make clear why he is not on the air.
There is no direct communication with the Island. The only possibility is to send telegraph message through official Company address, that was what I did. No reply.
After that, I tried to understand the situation in other ways. The last reply I got from Sevmeteo management, is that Eugeny is alive and well, he carries out his duties, but he has no technical possibilities to be QRV.
There is no regular transport with the island until safe Arctiс Ocean navigation in summer 2016. I do not know how I can help Eugeny.
So guys, let’s hope Eugeny will solve his technical problems until the end of his 2016 employment.

July 2015 update
2015-2016 weather team is on the way from Severodvinsk to Heiss Island onboard MV Somov. Look for RI1FJ starting early August.

July 2014 update
2014-2015 season weather team delivered on the island. There are no ham operators among the crew. No permanent ham radio operation is expected from Franz Jozef Land during 2014-2015.

All 2010 - 2013 logs are uploaded to LoTW.

Present day Krenkel Station (source)
Abandoned buildings at Krenkel Station (source)
FJL shown on a map of the circumpolar north.

Addendum 24.04.17
(1) I understand Eugeny was also active from Franz Josef Land during 2013 though. It may have been only sporadically, as this ARRL news item suggests, at least during the latter part of his stay on FJL, due to poor conditions. I also wasn't active in CW yet, and I didn't watch the DX Cluster as closely as I do nowadays.