ZS2EZ VHF DX OPERATIONS
Since 2001, I have been actively involved in VHF DXing. However over the past few years my antenna systems have suffered considerably in the strong winds of Port Elizabeth, and are currently in a state of disrepair. Since taking down my Cushcraft 17B2 yagi in 2004, I have not had a decent 144MHz beam in the air, and the rotator on my 50MHz M2 6M7 long-boom yagi had developed a problem (no indication), resulting in VHF DX taking a back seat for the time being. This however was addressed during the latter part of 2016.
On 31 December 2011 I lowered the 50MHz yagi to replace the rotator. During the lowering process the end director became snagged, and broke off at the boom clamp. This element will have to be repaired before the antenna can be reinstalled.
2016 a 10 element LFA Plus 2 yagi for 144MHz and a 50MHz 5 element LFA
yagi were erected. The 50MHz yagi replaced my old 70MHz version on my
tower (54 ft above the ground) while the 144MHz yagi was temporarily
installed on a Ham IV rotator atop a 6m pole. The rotator is however
jammed - this needs to be repaired, and the antenna will then move to
it's permanent position on top of a 10m mast.
First contacts with the new antennas were made during January 2017, marking my return to VHF after a 5-year absence.
During July 2017 Transverters for 144MHz and 70MHz were added to the shack. As my Kenwood TS-590S has a Transverter Menu Option which automatically switches the output power to 5W and adjusts the frequency display of the radio to show the transverter output, this effectively converts the radio to a 13-band multi-mode station! It also allows me to make use of the radio's built-in TXCO and the connected MicroKeyer II with all it's facilities. The 144MHz transverter is connected through my Mirage amplifier, giving it an output of around 150W. The 70MHz transverter is connected to a 50W amplifier provided by ZS2ACP.
50MHz OPERATING ACHIEVEMENTS
I began 50MHz DXing back in 2001. My first two contacts would have made even a veteran 6m fan happy - 7Q7RM in Malawi and EY8MM in Tajikistan!! This was done using a Kenwood TS-570S and Diamond 4-element yagi mounted just above roof height of my home in Jukskei Park, Johannesburg. It was only after meeting and befriending Hal ZS6WB (the top ZS 50MHz DXer) that my operating really began to improve. Before long I had replaced my 4 element Diamond with a far superior 5 element M2 6M5, and ultimately upgraded to a M2 6M7 7-element monster. I had also added a Henry amplifier and a 12-meter high tower.
I was involved with digital operation on 50MHz from the inception of WSJT in 2001, and was the first South African station to try working into EU using the JT44 mode during TEP openings. In 2002 I operated portable from a number of rare grid squares in the Eastern Cape during a holiday trip to Port Elizabeth, using FSK441 on meteorscatter propagation.
By the time I left Johannesburg in 2003 I had 74 DXCC entities in the log on 50MHz from over 1500 QSOs! I hold a 50MHz VUCC with endorsements up to 250 gridsquares, as well as the UKSMG Worked All Europe and All Africa awards.
When I arrived in Port Elizabeth, it took some time to get my antennas up. With my 6M7 erected at literally roof height (about 4m off the ground) I was fortunate enough to set a new South African Meteorscatter record when I worked the TO4E expedition on Europa Island on 6 December 2003.
Once the antenna was properly erected, I started working a considerable amount of meteorscatter, but after a while the general interest around the country began to wane, and the 50MHz station fell idle. I sold the Henry amplifier to fund another project (and have regretted it ever since) and 50MHz operation is nowadays limited to occasionally giving away points in the local VHF competitions.
144MHz OPERATING ACHIEVEMENTS
Undoubtedly the crowning achievement on 144MHz for me was making the very first EME QSO from Port Elizabeth when I worked Dave Blaschke W5UN in Mount Pleasant, Texas on 9 March 2004. This contact was made using the JT65B mode, and equipment used on the ZS2EZ side was a single Cushcraft 17B2 yagi (no elevation) and an Icom IC-910H with matching AG-25 masthead preamplifier. Power was 100W, and antenna was fed with LMR-400 coax. Dave however used his "mighty big antenna" (32x 17 element yagis) and 1.5kW!!
Whilst in Johannesburg I made the second WSJT meteorscatter contact between Division 6 and Division 1 when I worked Pieter ZR1AEE on 13 January 2002 (about 20 minutes after the first contact was made between ZS6WB and ZR1AEE!). This contact was made using my Icom IC-910H and Cushcraft 14810S 10 element yagi mounted at around 8m off the ground.
On holiday in Port Elizabeth in December 2002 I brought a 2m antenna (an M2 2M7 7-element yagi) with me, and using my Icom IC-706MkIIG (50W output) worked ZS6WB (Pretoria), ZS6RAD (Midrand) and ZS6BML (Pietersburg - now Polokwane) via WSJT FSK441 (meteorscatter) to prove conclusively that small setups could indeed work considerable distances on VHF via meteorscatter. A later trip in April 2003 proved it was no fluke when I worked ZS6Y in Johannesburg with the same setup.
Following my move to Port Elizabeth in September 2003 I was very active on 144MHz, regularly working along the coast to East London via troposheric ducting. On occasion the ducting extended further, allowing contacts with Dave ZS5DJ in Ramsgate and Lee ZS5LEE in Durban. On several occasions both Dave and Lee gave 59 reports, and long conversations were possible. Troposheric ducting is a common occurence on the East Coast, and there is a regular FM net on 144.400 MHz exploiting this phenomenon.
Digital operation continued on 144 MHZ, and contacts were made with Philip ZS4PV in Bloemfontein (via JT44), ZS6DDG/P and ZS5DJ (JT65), as well as ZS6WB in Pretoria and ZS6NK in Polokwane (FSK441) before damage to the 9.5m long Cushcraft 17B2 halted operations.
For some time now the station focus has been HF, but finally VHF is finding it's way back ....