So close, and yet so far…

There was lots of good DX on the bands again this afternoon/evening and I arrived home eager to try the limits of QRP again.

After dragging through 10 meters, 20 meters and all the amateur bands in between, I settled on the strongest station I could find, IW9GMF, out of Italy, peaking higher than S9 on the 817’s meter over on 17 meters. I used the Z-817 autotuner for the first time. More on that later.

I got into the pile-up and started slinging my callsign around. I specifically attempted to tail-end many of the QSOs, as this is a method often recommended to QRPers to get noticed. After a while I was rewarded with a response: “The kilo kilo four delta station?”

So confident in my success, I started a new QSO entry in Ham Radio Deluxe. I repeated my call. His response: “Delta sugar … no copy, try again.”

He gave me 4-5 more shots at getting my signal across the pond, but he never copied the last letter of my call. And honestly, I wasn’t even irritated, because after all, he copied SOMETHING. My little five watts SSB signal made it 5,100 miles away and landed on Sicily Island, where IW9GMF heard all but the final letter of my call. That’s huge. That’s more than 1,000 miles per watt!

And about that autotuner. It wasn’t working. I connected everything this afternoon but neglected to set the radio’s serial port speed to its highest rate. So the LDG Z-817 wasn’t even talking to my radio. Doh! I pushed the tune button and it clicked once or twice and appeared to work. But something wasn’t quite right. I was still hearing the radio when it was supposed to be sending a carrier to the tuner. I operated this way for about two hours before I realized that I forgot to set the port speed. I don’t know if this was hindering my signal at all, but I can’t imagine it was helping.

A frustrating moment came later in the evening when I heard a booming station out of Puerto Rico. Now, I looooove Puerto Rico. I shot a destination wedding there a few years ago and it was a magical place, but I’ve had really poor luck when it comes to making QSOs there. For some reason, I always get stuck in a large pile-up when I hear a PR station. Tonight was no different.

KP4BD was booming out of PR with a 59+10 signal. I figured the 817 should be able to hit it, so I called and called and called. No success. Not even a nibble. So I switched on my FT-847 to see if my luck would change with 100 watts. At first it didn’t. Then after half a dozen attempts and a rather aggressive key-up on my mic, the op came back to me with a 59+10 report.

So if I was crashing into PR with 59+10dB on 100 watts, and assuming I’m losing 13dB — or two S-units — when dialed back to 5 watts, in theory I should have been easily heard by the DX station.  At any rate, I still have a lot to figure out with this little rig.

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