July is upon us…and then passed.

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.

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