Saturday, January 1, 2011

California Lost Coast (CM79/CM89/CN70/CN80) Expedition

Dates: August 6-9 2011
QRV: Aug 7-8 2011
Modes: Satellite (+?)

Plans are coming together for a satellite mini grid-expedition in early August this year. The location will be the rare grid square CM79, along with the adjoining CM89/CN70/CN80 grid squares. I plan to camp out near Shelter Cove on the remote northern California Lost Coast area, arriving on Saturday August 6th. As weather conditions permit, I hope to operate as much as possible on the 7th and the 8th, and will return on the 9th. I'll work both linear and FM satellites: AO-51, SO-50, SO-67 (if on), ARISSAT-1, AO-27, VO-52, FO-29, and AO-07.

Grid square CM79 is almost all ocean, with a small portion of the northeast grid corner extending up into the rugged California Coast Range. The actual grid boundary is reportedly 70 feet down a steep hillside from a ridge on Chemise Mountain. Looking at photos on the site, it seems the exact grid intersection is in a grove of oak and manzanita, and is already marked with a yellow box used by GeoCachers ( There's a hiking / pack trail that extends from a nearby campground, up about 1.5 miles to the ridge. If all goes well, I'll hike the trail with the portable satellite gear, and set up the station at the grid intersection.

The equipment I'll use will be the same setup that I used on the previous Death Valley and Eagle Lake expeditions. This setup consists of twin Yaesu FT-817ND radios, an Elk antenna, a netbook computer for tuning and tracking, and PowerFilm solar panels.

The ARRL VUCC requirements indicate that "... the total area occupied by the station's physical setup, including operating position(s), power source(s), and antenna(s), must occupy some portion of each of the two/four grid squares simultaneously.". In order to achieve this, a combination of a centralized station (directly over the grid intersection) and a decentralized station (still directly over the grid intersection but with antenna located on the ridge) will be used depending on the particular satellite pass. This has been discussed with ARRL HQ and the plan has been confirmed as acceptable for VUCC credit:

Overhead and Westerly satellite passes:
Full station set up directly over grid square intersection. Specifically, I'll use the standard setup that I have used before, consisting of two Yaesu FT-817ND radios hanging from a photographic tripod, with the 6.4Ah LiFeP04 battery right next to the tripod. The antenna is an Elk antenna on top of the tripod. The area of the grid intersection will be marked with a ground tarp, and will be determined with better than 20' accuracy with WAAS-GPS. Photo and video will be used to document the station, GPS receiver, and surroundings.

Easterly satellite passes:
Since the view to the east is blocked by a ridge, 70' uphill, for easterly passes I will use the exact same station as above, except that the Elk antenna will be relocated to a second photographic tripod perched on the ridge. The Elk will be connected via 100 feet of LMR-400 coax, and I will use a preamp at the antenna to help overcome the signal loss on the 70cm downlink. As above, all station operation will be from directly over the grid intersection, including tuning, transceivers, and power source. The Elk can be re-aimed once or twice through the satellite pass to more or less keep up with the sat as it moves.

The disadvantage of the remote antenna setup is that it's using the single 100' LMR-400 coaxial cable for both transmit and receive. As such, the antenna-mounted preamplifier will switch off during transmit, so I'll effectively be operating half-duplex while on the V/U birds during lower easterly passes. Of course, the big advantage of the remote antenna + preamp is that it allows operation on easterly satellite passes without compromising the integrity of the station physically located on the grid square boundaries. Thanks to ARRL HQ Awards Branch for their suggestions and review of this plan.

Non-Satellite Modes
The primary goal of this expedition is to provide satellite contacts for people wishing to log the rare grid squares in this area. That being said, I will have the 2m/70cm antenna with me, so I may try some terrestrial SSB contacts. The weekend of the 6th/7th is the ARRL UHF contest, so if I hear anyone on 432.100 SSB, I'll try to contact them (remember I'm only running 5 watts QRP!). I also might bring the 6m HO Loop antenna for 6-meter sideband, but it's unlikely there will be any Es openings on 6 this late in the season. Since satellite operation is primary, operating on secondary modes will mainly depend on power budget (sunny = lots of power -- foggy or cloudy = will have to be careful).

Real-time GPS Tracking
I'll have my SPOT statellite tracker with me, and it will give the actual location of my position in real-time. Checking the SPOT page below will be the best indication of whether I'm at the operating position or not.

Pass Predictions
The following table shows the passes that I hope to be able to work. I'll work the linear satellites in the mid-to-upper end of the passband in SSB. Oscar 7 mode A is unlikely, but I may give it a try with a wire antenna for the downlink. I'll try to get on ARISSat-1 if it's available, and will cross my fingers that AO-51 is up and running as well. Due to the nature of the CM79 area (remote!!!) I won't be operating after dark, so the following table shows the daylight passes on local Sunday and Monday:

The following is a rough checklist of the main items that I'll be bringing to the operating position. The system will be the same full-duplex portable satellite station that I have used in prior expeditions. In case the netbook computer that provides satellite tracking and doppler control goes down, I'll bring a backup frequency chart and pass prediction tables.

==== Radio =========
[] Yaesu FT-817ND x 2
[] Sat cable harness incl. diplexer
[] 6' RG-8x cable with PL-259's
[] 100' LMR-400 cable with PL-259's
[] Advanced Receiver SP432VDG low-noise preamp
[] Tripod x 2
[] Elk 2m/440 antenna
[] Netbook with SatPC32 and updated Keps
[] Boom mic headset

==== Power =========
[] 12.8V 6.4-Ah LiFePO4 battery
[] Solar Panels (60 watts total)
[] Charge Controller
[] Powerpole 4-way adapter
[] 16-ga Red/Black cable (100' + 50')

==== Misc ==========
[] Compass
[] GPS
[] SPOT tracker
[] Digital recorder
[] Log book
[] Sat frequency chart
[] Pass prediction tables
[] Medium backpack


  1. as well as a lightweight 6.4-Ah K2 Energy LiFePO4 battery this a 12 V pack??



  2. Yeah, the K2 Energy battery is a 12V equivalent, fully charged its around 13.1V. I've got more info about the pack a bit earlier on in this same blog. 73! Dave

  3. Interesting, our club (Sonoma County Radio Amateurs) is planning on being there the next weekend to do the same thing. Good Luck and 73 Bob KG6ZDN

  4. Cool! Yeah, Charlie KZ6T sent me an email yesterday saying the same thing -- that's great, it will give plenty of hams opportunties to works these rare grids! With you guys out there the following weekend, hopefully I'll be able to get these grids in the log from my home QTH. Thanks eg GL as well! -Dave


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