Sep 012011

Several months ago I bought a used (though in fantastic condition) Yaesu FT-817ND. My previous experience with HF was only with a borrowed Kenwood TS-50 that at its lowest setting, put out 10 watts. Restrictions at the QTH meant that I could only use an indoor antenna and rarely have the peace to use anything but BPSK-31.

The antenna of was the simplest design and construction: a 17 foot piece of 18 AWG stranded copper (pilfered from an SWL antenna) twisted to the center of some RG-58, configured as an inverted-L and with a short counter-poise. Combined with an old Ten-Tec tuner, I was able to reach The Azores on only 20 watts. The setup served me well enough to build up the log book, all without a drop of soldier. (I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or not, but even the PSK interface was on a breadboard next to the rig.)

Fast forward to present time; I’ve decided to go all QRP and my new QTH offers a big tree and a good sized yard.

For some time now I’ve wanted to build a simple 20-meter dipole and string it up into the tree. The only thing between me and an inverted-V was some low hanging branches in the tree out back, and initiative. Several weeks ago the branches were cut down so it was just a matter of getting off my butt and making the antenna.

Having toyed with the idea of using some more of the 18 AWG wire (though this was insulated), I finally decided to chop up some 14 AWG solid copper wire. Now in the perfect world, I’d have ‘done it right’, but I was impatient and wanted to get on the air before Europe went to bed.

My materials were: One center insulator, 2 banana connectors, 2 16-foot lengths of wire, and a length of RG-8. It was a simple matter to connect up and the banana connectors to the wire and put a string over a tall branch. I wound up with an inverted-V dipole with the center about 20 feet up and each leg ending about 8 feet up. This setup also allowed me to get the radiators above the cable and telephone lines going directly through the middle of my yard.

The 817 had finished charging earlier in the day (I have the stock battery with it) and was ready to help electrify the ether. I sat down in a chair directly beneath the feed point (the RG-8 length I had was just long enough to get near the ground) and set up the station.

This was the first time I was going to use the 817 on only its battery using sideband phone. I tuned the radio to 14.243, listened (always listen first!), then pushed the button on my LDG Z-817 tuner. It clicked away until it found its match and the static came alive with tons of European stations coming through loud and clear. I heard Estonia, Slovenia, Italy, and Luxembourg.

The Luxembourg station, LX/PA9JO, was just finished a QSO and I dropped my call as soon as they cleared. A feeling of suspense, terror, and anxiousness filled my blood. Since getting into QRP, this feeling has become much more present in my operating and it’s kind of a rush. All of a sudden I heard my prefix come back! After another sending of my callsign a couple of times, Jo was able to copy me and my QTH before the band started to drift out. We both 73’d and cleared.

I was already excited having just proved the antenna with a mere 3 watts, but then I finally did the calculation for miles per watt… 4062 miles from SE Michigan to Luxembourg! Not only had I broken the 1000 miles/watt, I exceeded it by 25%! Talk about a true testament to the power of low power!

I also discovered that PA9JO was one member of a team of hams who were on an LXpedition, a special trip to get Luxembourg on the air. You can find out more information about it here: 2011 Luxembourg DXpedition.

My QSO with The Azores was cool in its own right, but this QSO, by far, takes the cake. I’m really looking forward to getting the QSL card in the mail and putting it up on the wall. And, given the outcome from my first attempt at using my ‘lazy-man dipole’, I hereby dub my design, the Luxembourg Dipole. I’ll have pictures of its construction by this weekend.

I’m hoping to spend more time on the air this weekend with my new antenna, so perhaps I’ll catch you on the air!

73, 72, and good DX!
Andrew, W8FI