9 August 2017

RRS James Clark Ross / British Antarctic Survey

Last edited: 15.08.2017

The Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross at Vernadsky Base, Antarctica. (source)
This is the RRS James Clark Ross, a research and supply vessel operated by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). The Radio Officer of the JCR is amateur radio operator Mike Gloistein GM0HCQ. The ship mostly can be found in Antarctic waters, doing research cruises and supplying the bases of the British Antarctic Survey. But during the Austral winter (i.e. summer in the northern hemisphere), the ship turns its bow to the North, and also does research cruises in the Arctic.

Mike regularly is active from the ship as GM0HCQ/MM, mainly in CW but sometimes also in digital modes. In the autumn of 2014, then still with my novice callsign, I managed to work Mike aboard the JCR on 20m in PSK31 when it was close to the Azores and heading south for the Antarctic. It resulted in the wonderful QSL card shown below.

QSL card for PD7MDJ from the RRS James Clark Ross.
During the Arctic cruise this year, Mike also had a WSPR receiver running, 24/7 and with spots being uploaded real-time to wsprnet.org with the reporter callsign GM0HCQ/MM. But only on 30m, which made reception of my WSPR beacons sent with the QRP Labs Ultimate3S (see also my blog about the U3S kit here) impossible. With the U3S I'm only active on 20 and 40m with a HyEndFed 10/20/40 wire antenna. I am active on 30m with the HyEndFed in other modes and with other transceivers, but then I'll let the transceiver's internal antenna tuner make a match (with my transceiver's internal tuner I actually get the HyEndFed 10/20/40 tuned on all HF bands except 80 and 160m). But for the U3S I don't have any kind of tuner. And besides, I also didn't have a 30m Low Pass Filter for the U3S.

Then a couple of weeks ago at the QRP Labs booth at HAM RADIO 2017 in Friedrichshafen I bought the U3S 30m LPF kit. I also recently got my hands on a HF-P1 portable vertical antenna (which I'm planning on using during SOTA or WWFF activations). The HF-P1 can be used on all HF bands from 80 to 10m by adjusting the antenna's sliding loading coil. So I recently started experimenting with the U3S sending WSPR beacons on 30m through the HF-P1. It worked nicely, I was being heard all over Europe and crossed the Atlantic to North America a couple of times, but there were still no spots from GM0HCQ/MM. The HF-P1 being light-weight, self-supporting, and quickly assembled, and therefore very suitable for a portable setup, with its short length, loading coil, and minimalistic radials however never will be more than a very compromised antenna.
I therefore picked up the plan to make a 30m Inverted-V dipole. I took apart my homebrew 15m dipole, to use its centre and end isolators, and cut new lengths of wire for the 30m band. Minus 5%, as that's what they say the length should be for an Inverted-V with a 90º apex angle. I thought the antenna would fit in my garden, but I was wrong. The restricted space forced the Inverted-V to take a funny, and not so perfect V shape (see the illustration below).

Crude sketch of the "Funny V" antenna as I like to call the newly installed Inverted-V for 30m. Would love to see its radiation pattern in for instance the EZNEC antenna software. If somebody could help me with that, please contact me.
After a few minor cuts at both the Inverted-V leg's ends I managed to get a perfect VSWR for it! I quickly connected the U3S and started beaconing on 30m. And lo and behold, the antenna works like a charm! Spots from all over Europe, many more and with much better SNR reports than with the HF-P1. At night I crossed the Atlantic many times to North America and also into Puerto Rico. And most importantly, this time my 200mW beacons were finally also spotted aboard the James Clark Ross! The JCR had just finished this year's Arctic research cruise and was lying "all fast alongside Pier 22" in Tromsø in Arctic Norway before commencing its voyage back to England. I wanted to be spotted by the JCR before it would depart from the Arctic, and I'm glad I succeeded. I wish though that I had the U3S running on 30m sooner, to see if it would have reached the ship when it was still much further north at Svalbard. I could have used one of my other transceivers and a PC (the U3S is a stand-alone WSPR transmitter), but there's no fun in WSPRing at 5 Watts, and I like the challenge of the U3S putting out only about 200mW.

GM0HCQ/MM hearing PA7MDJ
Me and my radio history with Mike Gloistein and the RRS James Clark Ross actually goes back a long time. Before I obtained my radio amateur licence in 2012, in the 1980s and 1990s I was already a passionate shortwave listener, specializing in monitoring utility radio stations, and in those years one of my favorite frequencies to tune in to was 9.106 MHz. On this frequency around 2330 UTC I could regularly receive the SSB signals of the bases and ships of the British Antarctic Survey. The ships were the RRS John Biscoe and the RRS Bransfield, and later also the James Clark Ross which in 1991 replaced the John Biscoe). The ships every night would send SYNOP coded weather observations to one of the bases. I also managed to receive the JCR, and the reception report letter I sent to the Radio Officer of the JCR in 1995 resulted in a nice big and thick envelope arriving in my mailbox from the Falkland Islands! It contained amongst other things various brochures and information leaflets about the British Antarctic Survey and the JCR, my returned and filled-out PFC (prepared form card) QSL, and a personal letter from the JCR Radio Officer, being Mike Gloistein GM0HCQ!

PFC QSL from the RRS James Clark Ross for SWL reception of the ship with official radio traffic on 9.106 MHz in 1995.
PFC QSL from the British Antarctic Survey base Faraday for SWL reception of the base with official radio traffic on 9.106 MHz in 1992. The QSL was mailed to me directly from Faraday (see postmark). In 1996 Faraday Base was sold for a symbolic one pound to Ukraine and was renamed Vernadsky Base. This is one of my most prized SWL QSLs.

The following BAS bases and ships were active on 9.106 MHz:

  • Bird Island (callsign ZBH22)
  • Signy Island (callsign ZHF33)
  • Faraday (callsign ZHF44)
  • Rothera (callsign ZHF45)
  • Halley (callsign VSD)
  • RRS Johny Biscoe (callsign ZDLB)
  • RRS Bransfield (callsign ZDLG)
  • RRS James Clark Ross (callsign ZDLP)

For more information and photos of the JCR, check out Mike Gloistein's excellent website at www.gm0hcq.com!

Addendum 11.08.2017
Mike Gloistein informed me by e-mail that during this year's Arctic cruise whilst the RRS James Clark Ross was north of about 77º latitude, the WSPR spots weren't uploaded to the WSPR database real-time due to lack of communications satellite. All reception details of this period were stored and were uploaded manually once communication was restored.
Mike tells me that the WSPR setup aboard the JCR is using one of the commercial receivers which isn't really designed for such weak signals, but nevertheless seems to work fairly well.
The WSPR receiver will be switched off soon when the JCR is back in England and Mike leaves the ship around August 15th.
Mike also informs me that all being well the WSPR receiver will be up and running again from late October for six weeks whilst Mike is back on board the JCR for the first section of the Antarctic season.

I'm looking forward to see if I can get my WSPR signals aboard the JCR coming autumn while it's cruising the seas of the southern hemisphere. In the mean time, whilst the JCR is getting more south on the way back from its Arctic voyage, the reception of my WSPR beacons aboard the ship is getting more common (see screenshot below).

Addendum 15.08.2017
Gavin Taylor GM0GAV informed me that it was him who replied with the QSL from Faraday. Gavin was at Faraday as a comms man from 1990 to 1993. Gavin nowadays is also very active in SOTA, and upon checking my log, I found out that I've worked him on 40m CW on the summit of SOTA GM/ES-044.


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