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Field Report Part 1 - Operating from Vietnam (XV9WJR)

Discussion in 'The DX Zone' started by WA7WJR, Sep 5, 2017.

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  1. WA7WJR

    WA7WJR XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    This year I got my license to operate from Vietnam as XV9WJR. I am still only 1 year into this hobby, but I am having a blast and feel fortunate to be able to operate here in Vietnam. I travel here about 4 times each year, and got a 3 year license to operate on 20 and 40 meters from 3 different locations.

    My 'shack' (actually just a desk) is up and running with an Elecraft K2, Vibroplex Vibrokeyer, MFJ 818 Mobile SWR/Wattmeter, and a RM Italy HLA 305 Amp running 100 watts into a Buddipole antenna powered by a Mingwell power 42 amp supply I purchased in Ho Chi Minh City. Pretty simple setup, but easily packable on an airplane or motorbike.

    Unlike the US, radio operations within Vietnam must be from a physical address (or at least within about a hundred meters of the physical address). This usually means that you will be surrounded by a lot of electrical cables generating a lot of noise. The RFI and band conditions sometimes make hearing a contact pretty difficult.

    The Elecraft K2 has an internal ATU that helps, but I found I can get the Buddipole settings to less than 1.7:1 using the setups recommended by B. Scott Andersen (NE1RD) in his book Buddipole in the Field. With a power output of 4.7 watts from the K2 into the RM Italy HLA 305 I am putting out about 100 watts as indicated on the MFJ-818. At this point I don't see a need to increase power out because of noise issues I know there are stations that can easily hear me, but I have a difficult time hearing them. Most of the signal reports for me are 579, but unfortunately I am not hearing those stations well (most of my RST reports back are 557), and only one station in Kuwait came in at 5nn last night.

    The Buddipole setup is using 2 accessory arms on each side of the VersaTee, loading coils (set as per the book noted above), with the long telescopic whips setup in a standard dipole configuration. With the dipole antenna mounted on it's tripod and the standard 9'6" mast I was able to make contacts in Indonesia, Philippines, Java, and Japan on 20 meters the first night of operation. Of course, getting more height is always a good thing. So, I purchased a 7 meter length of bamboo (from the bamboo ladder shop of course) placed the Buddipole mast on top of the bamboo pole and extended the mast a little to give me about 26 feet AGL. The additional height lowered the VSWR on 20 meters from 1.7:1 to 1.2:1 as indicated on my RigExpert AA-30 antenna analyzer. Current the dipole antenna is oriented so the radiation pattern is directed towards 330 degrees and 150 degrees to target Indonesia, Australia, western China & Russia, India, etc. Last night stations in China, India, Russia, and one WA2 station in the US spotted me on DxMaps. I was very surprised to see a US station spotting my CQ given the orientation of the antenna and band conditions.

    Here is what I've learned so far...
    • Amateur Radio is about as foreign a concept to most Vietnamese as bamboo ladders are to Americans. It draws a lot of curiosity, and lots of questions like 'who do I 'talk' to,' 'what do I 'talk' about,' and 'why don't I just use a cell phone.' If you get a chance to operate in remote locations such as this be ready for lots of questions and curiosity.
    • Antenna height makes a difference. I've used the Buddipole using it's tripod and standard mast that puts the antenna at about 12 feet AGL on several occasions already. Using the K2 at 5 watts I have made contacts over 1500 km away. But, now at abt 25' AGL I think I am getting out and also 'hearing' a lot better.
    • The Vietnamese electrical grid leaves a lot to be desired; there is a lot of RFI. I must ask most stations to repeat their call multiple times before I get it completely. I am thinking that I might invest in an MFJ-1026 noise cancelling device for my next trip.
    • The bands (20 and 40 meters) are pretty dead during the daytime. They start picking up around 11:00 UTC and seem to die down around 17:00 UTC.
    • I need to learn to work pile ups. I've had multiple stations try to contact me, and it is extremely difficult to identify a single station in a pile up. I am sure that some of you have tried to get through a pile up, but if anyone can give me some tips on how to 'listen' and pick a station from a pile up I would be grateful.
    • I made the cables between the transceiver and amp and meter about 3 feet long each. Given my setup here...they could have been much shorter and my desk would not be so cluttered. I brought lots of adapters, but I should have also brought connectors, tools and a soldering iron.
    • Grounding - last night I noticed a slight electrical charge on the case of the K2 (but interestingly enough not on the amp). I thought about bringing 30' of 3" copper ground strap I had in my home shack, but left without it. Now I am regretting that decision and will be off today in search of some grounding wire. Hopefully grounding the radio and amp may help bring the noise level down. Once I find a suitable ground wire, I'll just have to figure out where to find a good earth ground.
    This month marks my 1 year anniversary since getting my ticket. I have learned a lot, but I am still learning. Most of all...I am having a great time and have had lots of great experiences so far. I know I have much more to learn, and in the down time here I am studying for my extra class ticket for when I return.

    But, in the meantime, if anyone who has participated in a DXpedition or remote ops can share some advice I would very much appreciate it.

    This weekend I will be driving down to Vung Tao to operate from the beach. I intend to use a vertical antenna setup with 4 radials (again as suggested in B. Scott Andersen's book).
    WD4IGX likes this.
  2. WD4IGX

    WD4IGX Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Funny, I get the same question from my American friends! The ones under 40 or so don't even have a clue what ham radio is. Those closer to my age heard of it in their youth and may even have an idea of what it is, but assume it died with the Internet and cell phones. When they learn it didn't they don't understand why not.
    WA7WJR likes this.
  3. WA7PRC

    WA7PRC Ham Member QRZ Page

    Work split. Then, DX stations can tell when and where to call you: "QRZ DE XV9WJR UP5 K."
    Work certain regions (or callsign prefixes) and then move on: "South America stations only... XV9WJR listening."

    Some folks will call you on your transmit frequency when you announce you're working split. And some folks will call out of turn. But fortunately, they are few.
    WA7WJR likes this.
  4. NS8N

    NS8N Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    40 meters is open 24/7. You may not be hearing anyone during the day on it but I can guarantee you that someone, somewhere is hearing YOU.

    I have yet to fail making a contact on that band within 5 minutes of any time of day. I work mostly digital modes though (CW, FT8).

    My antenna isn't spectacular either, dipole at about 30 feet. At any rate, you may be correct in that you have too much RFI for your operating location.
  5. AI6KX

    AI6KX Ham Member QRZ Page

    Maybe where you live, but 40 is REALLY dead in much of Asia during the afternoons here. There are even times when I tune past 7074-7076 and not hear a single whistle. There are usually Chinese stations and also JA's on CW, but you probably won't hear them and most of the action is between 7010 and 7025 using Wabun so you and your CW decoder might be scratching your head.

    On 20 there is usually a decent north-south path much of the day even when not open to other continents. BJ, you should be hearing some Philippines stations in the morning and afternoon. And please listen for the All-Asia CW Net on Mondays at 1200Z on 14059. Even when the band is lousy we still manage to hear one another, and if not we QSY to 10123.4 at 2015.

    Steve JS6TMW in Naha City, Okinawa
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2017
  6. WA7WJR

    WA7WJR XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Steve, thank you for the info.

    You're right, I see a lot of mainland Japanese and some Chinese on 40m, but my noise level is usually so high they'd have to be coming in at 9+ to even hear them.

    I made a few contacts with Philippines, Guam, India, mainland Japan, Asiatic Russia, and longest has been to Tx5EG in French Polynesia. I switch my dipole direction every other day from north/south to east/west. I'll be happy when I get a more permanent (and higher) mast & antenna compared to the 8m bamboo pole with a Buddipole ant strapped to the side of the house. :)

    I will check out the All-Asia net next Monday. Hope to hear you.

    BTW...I was stationed in Okinawa from 83' - 91' w/ USAF, and then continued to live there until 94' in Kitanakagusuku ken. Beautiful island and wonderful people. Still have collection of Rinken band CDs when I want to recall my many fond memories there.

    Thanks again, es 73
  7. AI6KX

    AI6KX Ham Member QRZ Page

    So you know Oki pretty well! It's been a long humid summer and today it is showing no sign of cooling off but I guess given the weather elsewhere I can't complain.

    Just after writing the above, we decided to change the AACW Net to 14.349 in order to be closer to some emergency networks. So next Monday listen around both 14.349 and in case there are stragglers on 14.059, and also a few minutes before 1200Z, and we'll see where we go from there. Also 14.347 USB.

    Where in VTN is your main base of operation?

  8. WA7WJR

    WA7WJR XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Yes, the rock has a fond place in my heart. Unfortunately I have only had one opportunity to get back there in 2004 and visit some old friend out on Tokoshiki Jima. I was the first member of the Japanese board sailing assoc. when windsurfing became popular and raced for the Moon Beach fleet. :) Good times...lots of awamori.

    Now, my main base is in Bien Hoa City, about an hour nw of Ho Chi Minh City. My license also allows me to operate from 1 location in Vung Tao on the coast, and also Phu Quoc Island. I'll operate exclusively from Phu Quoc in November for 2 weeks. As you can imagine, licenses here are pretty strict and operating locations must be physical addresses. Otherwise I'd find me a nice mountain and try some QRP work as well. :)

    I'll definitely be listening in on Monday and hopefully able to get through. Heading back to ConUS soon, so if I don't catch you Monday, I'll be back in Nov.

    Thanks again.
  9. AI6KX

    AI6KX Ham Member QRZ Page

    OK, great. I've never been south of the 19th parallel myself ;) -- always had work gigs in Hanoi.

    I meant to reply to your comment about noise on 40 meters. Same here - S9, 24/7, and I cannot locate the source(s). All I can do is stick to CW and narrow the bandwidth down, and put up more and better antennas. I had high hopes that a magloop would help, but although I can in fact null the noise to an extent, it is only marginally better than the bigger antennas. It was fun to build though. Fortunately the higher bands are pretty quiet.

    Hope you can get back to the rock sometime. This summer a few US hams have made the pilgrimage.

  10. AI6KX

    AI6KX Ham Member QRZ Page

    Just heard you nice and loud on 14014, but can't turn my antenna south right now.

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