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HAMS In Paradise – Fall 2018

HAMS In Paradise – Fall 2018

Wow, hard to believe we’re back in “season”. Here at the peak of hurricane season, the Atlantic looks like a conga-line of storms. The below photo doesn’t show the remnants of hurricane Gordon which has dissipated over CONUS. The seasonal conga line of storms is strewn across the Atlantic like a stormy pearl necklace.

It is hard to believe that one year ago the USVI experienced the rage of Irma & Maria. I look back on the amount of new relief “friends” I have encountered and am humbled. These are people who have come to help the USVI rebuild. FEMA employees, US Army Corps of Engineers, National Guard, US Army, private consultants, linemen, National Park Service, etc. The list goes on-and-on. Some are hams who show up on the local repeater and also at our meetings. The Territory is forever indebted to these individuals and their organizations. They ARE making a HUGE difference!

The USVI is fortunate to be supported by the BILLIONS of federal relief and loan dollars that are pouring into the Territory. The Stafford Act (a disaster funding allocation act allowing only replacement of damaged infrastructure, and the like, to pre-disaster condition), has long been a staple of Federal disaster recovery. Now in certain circumstances, mitigation dollars can be used to improve and harden damaged infrastructure. This is HUGE news for the Territory which has many, many, many maintenance challenges which often come from years of maintenance neglect and fraud.

They say that from bad comes good. I am happy to highlight a couple of good things that happened as a result of the storms. A devastated St. John awoke and realized the value of ham radio. From the tireless efforts of Jennifer Pruss and in coordination with St. John Rescue, the first ham license class yielded 15 new hams, including some from St. Thomas and BVI! Jennifer also passed her Technician and General classes on the first try! Class number two will graduate shortly and many of the students are upgrading from their Technican. Well done Jennifer and new STJ hams!! St. John will now possess a sizeable ham population to assist in future disasters.

The Territory ham repeater network suffered extensive damage. In fact, only a single repeater (NP2VI) remained active in the strom. The 30+ year old discontinued Tait repeater provided hand-held coverage to the helicopter landing zone, and other critical locations. Through one of our new relief friends, who happens to be a ham, we were introduced to a philanthropic opportunity to purchase new repeaters, controllers, link radios, PV panels and batteries. I am happy to say that in the near future the USVI island repeater system will be linked using resilient UHF link radios. The entire system will be powered by PV panels and batteries and will be off grid. Future projects include the addition of Echolink / IRLP on the system, as well as linking to another similar system which has coverage reaching Dominica to the south.

Field Day was a great chance to get out & test our capability to operate from well, the FIELD. Thanks to a great promotional effort spearheaded by Daryl, NP2QD, turnout from supporting local agencies was high. VITEMA, the VI National Guard, St. Croix Rescue, American Red Cross, and a few reporters joined in the activity. Nearly all states & provinces were contacted.

“Class photo” at Cramers Park – STX VITEMA Mobile EOC

Well, the Territory continues to recover and rebuild. Keeping our fingers crossed that none of the conga line comes to visit us this year.

73 – Fred, K9VV / NP2X
Section Manger, USVI Section

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September 9, 20180 commentsRead More
Hams In Paradise – MARCH 2018

Hams In Paradise – MARCH 2018

Welcome to Spring! The long season of “Christmas Winds” seems to have drawn to a close and the temperatures are actually starting to warm up a bit! Warm is a relative term, so for readers not located in the VI, the all-time record lows are: St. Thomas: 52F, St. John: 55F and St. Croix: 57F. Anything below 70F is cold to us. The ocean temps rarely go below 79F, even at 70 to 80 feet below the surface.

While some of our Northern friends might think of these warm temperatures as good, in reality the warm ocean surface temperatures provide fuel for hurricanes when the conditions are right. One interesting fact is that the ocean’s surface temperature will drop some ½ degree Fahrenheit following the passing of a large hurricane! Think of the square MILES of energy this represents, and then it’s not hard to understand how storms can be so strong!!

Speaking of hurricanes, there are not many folks who have experienced a pair of category five hurricanes in a span of just under two weeks. Peak winds in Maria lashed St. Croix with gusts in excess of 200 MPH! Irma devastated St. Thomas & St. John. Little wonder that the territory’s infrastructure suffered immense damage. Ham radio was the only method of communication with St. John for a week following Irma.

On St. Croix some 90-95% of all utility poles were destroyed. Many places in the Territory experienced power outages in excess of 100 days! Landline telephone service still isn’t restored in the majority of businesses, and residences are even farther out on the restoration schedule. In true island spirit, one creative local musician wrote a song called “My Generator” sang to the tune of “My Generation” by The Who. Here’s another creative example of the lengths people would go to have their power restored:

The linemen who came from the States to restore power are folk heroes in the island. Personally, there was no better Christmas present we could have received than having our power restored on Christmas Day. Even some 5 months after the storm, there are still several hundred linemen performing cleanup of the hasty power restoration steeple chase. Thank you linemen!!! You are our true heroes.

PROPAGATION

In a word propagation has been AWFUL! Smoothed sun spot numbers have hovered near 70, and now frequently dip below 70 with multiple days of zero sunspot sightings. (It’s the sunspots that create the solar winds that excite the atmosphere, which facilitates HF propagation)

The contesters are in the Spring doldrums and fixing their hurricane damaged antenna systems in preparation for the Fall contest season which is right around the corner. The continuance of extremely low solar activity means contesters will have to work harder for DX and contacts.

MEDIA

The St. Croix ARC migrated the www.vihamradio.org domain to a new host service (thanks Sean, WP2SC!) and also a new format – WordPress. We hope you like the new format and will contribute news & other interesting content to keep our website interesting and lively.

The old Yahoo Group which served our reflector needs for several years has been retired in favor of groups.io. This new service does not require a Yahoo login, which hopefully will bring more folks in touch with our VI ham radio activities.

OPEATING ACTIVITIES

On the heels of the wildly successful ARRL’s NPOTA & W1AW/* operations comes a new challenge for 2018. The National Grid Chase challenges participants to work as many grid squares in 2018 as possible. The band & mode of QSOs matters not. Just the total number of grids confirmed in the logbook of the world. LoTW. Information is available at http://www.arrl.org/international-grid-chase-2018

Digital modes have taken the hobby by storm and allow for sub-audible QSOs, thus further increasing our RF ‘reach’ in challenging conditions. Brad, WP2B worked Kuwait (9K2) on 6m JT-65 as well as Western Australia on 80m 1.5 hours BEFORE local sunset. I don’t care how many years you’ve been licensed, that’s pretty cool stuff! Now the FT-8 digital format accounts for 58% of all uploads to ClubLog, a popular online QSO confirmation utility.

Digital mobile radio (DMR), and other digital formats, have also become very popular. Planning is in the early stages to revive the club’s interest in ‘mesh networks’ www.broadbandhamnet.net interest to link a planned intra-island repeater system.

In the aftermath of Irma and Maria, amateurs on all three islands volunteered over 2,200 man-hours of service supporting VITEMA, the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency, and other Federal & Territorial agencies, both governmental & non-governental. Numerous lives were saved and volumes of critical message traffic was passed on behalf of our supported agencies. The ARRL recognized this effort by both VI & PR hams and subsequently bestowed the annual International Humanitarian Award to those who selfishly gave of themselves during our homeland’s time of need. A HUGE thank you to all who assisted in this worthwhile effort. This is one of the cornerstones of our hobby.

SUMMARY

As we look forward, we must prepare both on a personal survivability and communications fronts. Family first certainly applies when preparing for, and in the aftermath, of hurricanes. The better prepared we are personally, the better we can support our served agencies. We continuously analyze our performance and recognize our strengths and also strive to make improvements to fulfill our public service role.

Well, that’s all for now. Stay R A D I O A C T I V E ! !

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March 5, 20180 commentsRead More
Hams In Paradise – FALL 2016

Hams In Paradise – FALL 2016

Welcome to Fall! Well, so far we’re at the peak of hurricane season (early September) and the tropics have been relatively quiet. Florida has experienced its first hurricane in 11-years, so there’s still potential activity in the Caribbean!

One possible explanation for the last several quiet years; dust from the Sahara desert. Saharan dust is a mixture of sand and dust from the Sahara, the vast desert area that covers most of North Africa.

How does it get to the Virgin Islands?

In the Sahara desert in northern Africa, wind blows strongly over deserts – whipping up dust and sand high into the sky. The wind in the upper part of the atmosphere then transports the dust in the direction in which it’s travelling, frequently toward the VI.

Once it is lifted from the ground by strong winds, clouds of dust can reach very high altitudes and be transported worldwide, covering thousands of miles. In order for the dust to get from up in the sky down to the ground, you need something to wash it out of the sky – rain.

When the raindrops fall, they collect particles of dust on the way down. Then when the raindrops land on something and eventually evaporate, they leave behind a layer of dust. The dust also reaches South America at times. In fact, a recent study by NASA scientists has found that the dust acts as a fertilizer for the Amazon rain forest.

Many have studies have indicated that the Sahara dust indeed squelches the formation of hurricanes, but the finer nuances aren’t totally understood. One theory suggests that the reflection of sunlight results in lower ocean surface temperatures, a key ingredient for hurricanes. For a detailed explanation, please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mineral_dust

PROPAGATION

Cycle 24 began in early 2008 and is on the downward side of the normal 11-year cycle. It is on track to have the lowest recorded sunspot activity since the mid-1700’s.

While this spells disappointment if you’re a high HF band aficionado (15, 10 & 6 meters), it generally means improved conditions on the lower bands, as well as additional use due to the high HF bands being closed nearly all the time.

The contesters are in the Summer doldrums and fixing their antenna systems im preparation for the Fall contest season right around the corner. Falling sunspot counts will mean they will have to work harder for DX and contacts.

NATIONAL PARKS ON THE AIR

There are 3 NPOTAs (parks) in STX.

* HP38 – Salt River
* NS10 – The Fort in C’sted
* MN08 – Buck Island (the STX Buck, not the STT Buck)

The first two NPOTAs have had well over 1,000 contacts in the form of several activiations by locals & visitors alike. Buck Island sits just over 100 contacts, so it’s in high demand. Photos from some of the STX activations can be viewed at http://vihamradio.org/photos/npota-operations.php

It is amazing what a simple vertical antenna near salt water will do. (Sale water = nature’s amplifier!) QSOs with the far reaches of the world (HS, ZL, 4X, UA9, UA0, etc.) have been had. Get your portable rig and join in the fun! More information available at http://www.arrl.org/npota

REPEATER UPDATES

147.25 MHz – NP2VI/r – East St. Croix – Thanks to Wess, K2AHU and Dan, NP2J, the repater has a new antenna which is working well! They also tightened up the squelch gate a bit.

147.11 MHz – NP2VI/r – West St. Croix – A club member has volunteered his new QTH high above Fredriksted (500+ feet!) for the permanent site of the 147.11 MHz repeater. The repeater will be permanently linked (through a cross-band link) with the 147.25 MHz machine.

146.81 MHz – KP2O – St. Thomas – The St. Thomas repeater is working well, but suffers from a lack of user traffic. Get on and say hello to fellow hams!

146.91 MHz – NP2OW – St. John – This repeater is located at the home QTH of Gilly, NP2OW. The duplexer has been retuned and the repeater seems to be working well. It too suffers from a lack of traffic.

146.76 MHz – VP2R – Tortola, BVI This repeater is located high on a mountain on the island of Tortola. It has not been heard on the air for quite some time. George, VP2VQ is the custodian of this machine.

Well, that’s all for now. Stay R A D I O A C T I V E ! !

73,
Fred, K9VV / NP2X

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October 10, 20160 commentsRead More