I have not had much time due to professional commitments to play on the radio much. I DID get to enjoy the June version of ARRL VHF contest, and 6 Meter Sporadic E (Es) was making for some freakin’ fun times! So much, that I started dreaming about what I would need to do to be competitive on 6M.
There is plenty that I could do. This year at Contest University, Joel W5ZN presented how to optimize our stations for 6M activity. As we head back toward the sunspot minima over the next few years, I learned I would be mistaken to think that 6M would cease being an interesting and fun band. Es happen like clockwork, as do meteorites entering the atmosphere, without regard to the number of spots presented on the sun. There IS a bit of randomness however, akin to fishing, that E‑layer skip might not be so hot, or the rocks might not enter the atmosphere just right when you need to ride a ping. You know there are fish in the lake but sometimes they aren’t biting.
I have only heard 6M F2 propagation one time (I think,) and it was a very weak Jean FW5JJ on CW this past year. I called him (as was everyone else) and DID manage to receive a “?” in CW in return. Unfortunately my 3:1 SWR from my 2 element yagi at ~30 ft and subsequent power reduction from my IC-7600 protecting me from ruining it just wasn’t cutting the mustard to Wallis and Futuna. But, like on 160M, sometimes getting a di-di-dah-dah-di-dit is simply awesome.
During the VHF contest this June, there was apparently double long Es to both Europe and Japan. Unfortunately, I did not hear either, and simply due to that my antenna is likely too little, too low. The thought excites me, however, that I might be able to work both directions some day if I were to, say, put up a 5‑element yagi, and I am seriously considering doing something akin to this for the next VHF major.
I used the MUF Es map, to show me the direction to point my little yagi. Remember, my SWR is less than optimum, so I consider my effective radiated power to be QRP level. A little research on the UKSMG site helps me understand the relative distances that I could realize, and without anyone telling me otherwise I set out to work as many people as I could during the afternoon I had to play. Pretty dang fun.
My rule-of-thumb today for single-hop Es is that contacts are relatively easy in the direction of the “cloud” if it is about 400 – 600KM distant from me. I would then be expecting contacts with stations about 800 to 1200KM in the direction of the cloud, with the cloud half-way between me and them. The MUF needs to be at least 50MHz, the higher the better. I have a hunch this understanding is technically incorrect, and I look forward to refining my rule, but for the time being this model seems to work for me…point the antenna in the direction of the cloud and see what you will work!
No, the June VHF contest was not a high-rate event (I compare everything to my HF contest experiences in PJ4 during CQWW). I really enjoy rate, though I am not necessarily the best or fastest operator. I also enjoy the “fishing” expedition – not unlike a QSO party – that I experienced in the VHF contest. It certainly had it’s “rate” moments, and my relative success makes me want to take 6M a bit more seriously.