Eureka Rally 2019

I usually write two blogs when doing a WICEN event. Once for the WICEN web site and one for the hiking ham. However I’m being slack and using the WICEN blog post below. Enjoy.

The Eureka Rally is the opening round of both the Australian Rally Championship and the Victorian Rally Championship. It’s held around the Ballarat region and is hosted by the Ballarat Light Car Club. The event also includes classic rally cars.  WICEN Victoria was there on Sunday 25thAugust to provide emergency communications support, which is the second time WICEN has supported this great event.

 Around a dozen WICEN members took up positions at seven SOS points across the course to provide communications back to AWI, the WICEN HQ located at Rally Base in Beaufort.  Many members arrived the day before as Beaufort is approximately a two-and half-hour drive north west of Melbourne.  The township is located on the Western Highway midway between Ararat and Ballarat, in the Pyrenees Shire.  Many operators had to manage fatigue, and with an early morning start on race day, elected to camp at or near their checkpoints.  The night before the race several operators were heard on VK3RWA checking in with each other and discussing local conditions.  Mobile phone coverage was patchy so getting an up to date weather report from another operator is very useful.  

 The rain mostly stayed away, with Saturday temperatures reaching 16 degrees Celsius, making it a great day to be out in the forest.  Overnight lows were just above freezing, but with experience comes preparedness and WICEN operators in the field need to be fully self-catering with shelter, food, clothing and radio communications.   For most is was an early start with the requirement to be operational by 0830hrs.  WICEN was to provide voice communications only at the SOS points.  Preplanning identified the use of VK3RWA a local 2M repeater, which would provide very good radio communications across the event.  

 Operators reported the first of the pre-race cars, usually identified as the 0, 00 and 000 cars, and then the first competitive car, as they passed our SOS point.  After the last competitive car passed - and there was 47 that started in this year’s event - there came the sweep, or a 999 car, and possibly others such as the MIV (Medical Intervention Vehicle).  So, radio traffic in general would be considered light.  

 However just before the end of the day’s proceedings, SOS Echo reported a roll over and literally minutes later a second roll over was reported.  Radio traffic started to build as the Rally Safe System in the rally cars alerted in real time Rally Base HQ.  VK3LEL at SOS Echo called for medical assistance and dealt with lots of chatter from officials on the ground.  

 This is where keeping your cool is key, sifting through the pieces of information knowing what to relay and when.  Lachlan VK3LEL was dealing with all this while information from mobile phones, the rally communications system and mobile event apps on smart phones transmitted and received information.  The roll overs were out of his line of sight, but Lachlan is an experienced WICEN operator familiar with such events, and managed the situation with professionalism, keeping his cool while under pressure.  Great job Lachlan, and if you’re wondering, all the drivers and co-drivers in the roll overs walked away with only very minor injuries.

 As quick as the radio chatter rose, near silence returned.  It was time to seek permission to close, as the final official vehicle arrived at our SOS point.  We made our way out of the forest back to the black-top for the drive home. As operators are scattered across a wide area and closing their check points at various times, we don’t often to get catch up before and or after an event.  Our event logs are usually scanned and emailed to the WICEN Event Commander once home. These events are training exercises to practise our skills and hone our equipment should in the real-world event were needed ensuring we are truly ready.  

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Working Digital Mobile

I work a fair out of my work vehicle but also wanted to find a solution that ideally would assist with that do as well as allow me to work the radio’s digitally from the 4WD with ease. In other words a place to host the laptop. A ram style mount to hold a laptop would require installation, be suitable for only the vehicle it’s installed in and there not inexpensive. So while researching possabilities I stumbled across Working Mobile https://workingmobile.com.au/ a business operated by Owen Wade. After perusing the web site late one evening for some time I decided upon one of their desk options. However I was unsure and wanted to take a look before ordering as there not inexpensive either.

Overview of desk, laptop and radios

Overview of desk, laptop and radios

I called Owen the following day as he’s based in Victoria and explained what I was trying to achieve. Owen invited me out to his home office to take a look at their products. Owen was very genuine and accomadating and I decided upon the Roadmaster desk. https://workingmobile.com.au/collections/car-desks/products/roadmaster-car-desk While not their most expensive in vehicle desk option it meet most of my requirements.

Using a suction mount to hold a scanner or hand held radio

Using a suction mount to hold a scanner or hand held radio

The desk can be easily transferred between vehicles and using your typical suction mounted holders I’m able to set the desk up to suit the type deployment. You will need to use a suction disk mount first however there less than two dollars and readily available on EBay.

A have a few idea’s for some additional modifications which I’ll share with you when done. So if your looking for a easily transferable vehicle desk this might be a solution for you. While not inexpensive it did meet most of my requirements being easily transferable and no drilling installation. Since most times I travel alone loosing the passenger seat is not a concern. If it is then a ram mount option assuming your vehicle is large enough may be the way you’ll need to go. Give Owen a call if your looking for a mobile work solution for work or radio play. They also have several other products you may be interested in if your a mobile worker like me.

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Suction Mount

A closer view

It’s a long weekend

I’d been hanging out for this long weekend and with having a leave pass as the wife and kids had other plans it couldn’t come quick enough. Usually WICEN would be at the Malley Rally over the Queens Birthday Weekend however the Rally had been cancelled for 2019 just a month earlier. So on the Saturday the SCU (Special Comms Unit) part of WICEN met for an 80M antenna shoot out. The antenna had to be suitable for 80m mobile operations. I caught up with some familiar faces and a few new ones. In all there was 8 operators and 12 antenna’s were tested. More important than the results were operators getting together and sharing and showing their antenna’s with the aim in making us all better operators.

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The rec. loop antenna’s

80M Antenna Shoot Out

Mid afternoon Marshal VK3MRG arrived and we headed bush to Mac’s Cove for 2 nights. I hadn’t

felt well on the Saturday feeling a fever coming on. We arrived at camp in the dark but our hosts

graciously offered us a camp fire roast beef and veggies for dinner. With a cold night approaching

Marshal and I set camp had a few adult beverages and then headed for the swags. For me from here

on in it went down hill feeling lethargic and every bone in my body aching. I spent most of Sunday

feeling miserable and lying in my swag. Fortunately our hosts who are wonderful people kept

Marshal busy with a few activities around the property.

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Our camp site

VK3MDH & VK3MRG

The Sat night had been extremely cold but the new Darche -12Deg C. 1100mm wide sleeping bag worked well despite the way I was feeling. From time to time I would emerge from the swag on the Sunday and we were able to get a dipole up and work a few stations as part of the Shires contest weekend. Our radio of choice was the FT-817nd running QRP. Hoping to be more active the next time we have a long weekend.

A wintery morning

Macs Cove - Victoria

Kenda Rally 2019

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The event is put on by the ADMCC, the Alexandra & District Motorcycle Club.  It’s a self navigated event with multiple stages (loops) through the picturesque Rubicon Valley.  This year, most likely due to the two long weekends (Easter and Anzac Day), competitor numbers were down on previous years.  However over 350 riders took to a wet course on Sunday May 5th.  Only a few days before the start heavy rains almost saw the event cancelled entirely, but with some track changes made to accommodate permits, it went ahead.

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WICEN was on hand to provide the emergency and logistical support.  Around nine operators were deployed into the field to provide voice and data communications.  All riders are “tracked” via TRAK, a WICEN packet radio software.  A specific form is created for the event to allow data entry of specific client requirements.  For this event rider numbers and times are sent back to WICEN HQ known as AWI.  Two meters was used for data, most via digital repeaters on Mt Buller and in Eildon.

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The organisers were very happy with WICEN’s participation, as noted by WICEN Vic State Secretary Alan Stratford, who also participated in the event. Voice communications on locally used 70cm repeaters were surprising quiet, but for the right reasons. Alan’s post event email noted only one bike recovery was necessary due to a fuel pump failure and one rider with a broken arm was treated on site by paramedics and taken to hospital by family. This is a testament to the preparedness of the riders and the course preparation by the organisers. Many operators spent the night before in the field and with temperatures falling into single digits and rain falling we were grateful for the fine weather forecasted for race day. Looking forward to Kenda 2020.

The night before we used a collapsible oven by Coleman on the gas cook top to heat meat pies.  It worked a treat and in temperatures well below 10 Deg C. They were very munched welcomed by myself (pictured) and Lachlan VK3LEL who also spent the night before out in the Rubicon Valley.

The night before we used a collapsible oven by Coleman on the gas cook top to heat meat pies.  It worked a treat and in temperatures well below 10 Deg C. They were very munched welcomed by myself (pictured) and Lachlan VK3LEL who also spent the night before out in the Rubicon Valley.

Taking advantage of a short week

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Taking advantage of the short week after Easter I headed away with the kids to ripper property at Macs Cove near Eildon for four days and three nights. Most of the time was spent with the kids exploring the 300 acres of pine forest on the property as well as spot lighting at night and day trips to Mt Buller.  However I did take the opportunity to get some radio time in.  I was able to set up a portable station outside our new Coleman 4 person instant pop up tent which was purchased from Tentworld.

https://www.tentworld.com.au/buy-sale/coleman-instant-up-gold-vestibule-darkroom-tent-4PV

The tent was right for our needs but the external awning in the wind wasn’t really stable.  Good for when the winds aren’t blowing. 

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A 80m vertical antenna was set up on day one to test portable operations for Emcomm digital work.  The antenna performed well connecting into a node station in Traralgon South on as little as five watts.  Forgetting to pack the squid pole I had to set up the  linked dipole on top of the vertical antenna mast that sits approx. 4 meters off the ground.  While not ideal it performed very well on the 40m and 80m bands.  Having a zero noise floor is always a bonus however night time temperatures where in single digits and light rain was falling.  Not the best operating conditions for the operator however day time temperatures made up for it as they where very comfortable.

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Thanks you to all the stations worked especially on Anzac Day.  While I would have liked more time on the air I had to balance my time with the kids.

A few from the log on Anzac Day - AX4XQM, VK4SYD & AX5PAS

73’s

Mark

VK3MDH

Duncans Run 2019

Duncans Run 2019

Duncans Run 2019

WICEN Victoria was there again on Saturday 23rdMarch providing logistical and emergency communications for Duncan’s Run that in 2019 was a sell-out.  Total competitors had more than doubled since the running of the 2018 event and with the Ultra Marathon (100kms) being held this year there was just under five hundred runners in total.  For WICEN this meant being operational from Saturday morning as early as 5am until Sunday 1am the next day.  Eight marshal points were manned with WICEN operators with voice and packet radio capability as well as AWI (WICEN HQ) at the main event area.  

 

Lachlan - VK3LEL @ his check point

Lachlan - VK3LEL @ his check point

WICEN provided a voice network across all marshal points as well as tracking every runner in the 21, 50 and 100km events.  The topography across the Tara Bulga State Forest is challenging at the best of times with some stations sending packet direct to HQ while others needing the use of digi repeaters.  Here are some stats below from the packet radio network WICEN operated for around 15 hours with no loss of data, which we call Trak.

 

.  100km run:  about 70 runners through 11 checkpoints in total (8 physical checkpoints)

.  50km run:  about 130 runners through 6 checkpoints

 .  21 km run:  about 230 runners through 3 checkpoints.

 Overall there were about 495 runners (some on a 6km course WICEN didn't track)

 

John - VK3ZRX @ AWI

John - VK3ZRX @ AWI

As john VK3ZRX points out there would be no way this would be possible using voice alone.  The amount of traffic (runners times and bid numbers) could not have been managed that way.  Trak is a very powerful tool developed by WICEN, Paul VK3YFF, that we use at many of the events we do annually.

 

VK3MDH’s home for 2 nights.

VK3MDH’s home for 2 nights.

Around 16 WICEN operators volunteered their time with many arriving as early as Friday for a two night three day deployment.  With the Ultra Marathon back on this year’s calendar it extended the time many of the Marshal Points are operational.  This means ensuring you have enough battery capacity to last the distance.  Having spare capacity or work arounds is a must. Personally, I had a failed solar controller rendering my solar panels useless.  However, I was able put another battery in parallel with ease ensuring no loss of station uptime.  WICEN welcomes any battery company’s sponsorships J

 

Finally, a note from John VK3ZRX. “Feedback from the runners was overwhelmingly positive, even glowing. They really liked the course and there were no complaints about the event, according to the Event Director, Travis McInnes.  The organisers were extremely grateful for the assistance from WICEN, too”.  For more about the event take a look at http://www.duncansrun.com.au/

Night time operations @ Duncans Run 2019

Night time operations @ Duncans Run 2019

Pajero Challenge 2019

The 2019 Pajero Challenge was held 9th and 10th February in the Big River State Forest.  

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Pajero Challenge 2019

supported by WICEN Victoria

This annual event is organised by the Pajero 4WD Club of Victoria and has become one of the best and most challenging self-guided, off-road Navigational events in Australia. The Pajero Challenge is open to experienced Four Wheel Drivers and experienced Navigators. All brands of 4WDs are welcome, but vehicles must be set up with good off-road tyres and suspension lift to suit High Country terrain.

The Mitsubishi Motors Pajero Challenge is a 24-hour 4WD navigation competition, split into four sections, each of which allows for 3-4 hours of driving. The driver and navigator(s) find their way from point to point, answering questions as they go. Many teams have multiple navigators and also swap drivers; it’s a team event!

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Checkpoints are manned by members from various 4WD clubs and WICEN. There are special stages where points can be gained, such as a written navigational test, skills task and team activities. Compulsory rest stops at each stage.  The focus of the event is teamwork, observation and navigation. The terrain will be typical of High-Country driving and teams must prepare for dry and wet conditions.  This is not a race because the objective is to make the least number of errors to beat the test of the competition.

WICEN Victoria has for many years provided the logistics and emergency communications support for this event. A dozen WICEN operators were involved scattered across the Victorian High Country at each of the event check points, as well as in the sweep vehicles. Effective communications were made possible by the placement of a portable repeater located on Mount Duffy and two meters was used as the primary frequency.  However, in the early planning stages, communications into Woods Point to one of the control points was identified as not possible.  A temporary UHF translator with permission was installed and manned through out the event at Mount Matlock.  This allowed operators in or near the township of Matlock and Woods Point to have communications back to AWI (WICEN HQ) at Frenchman’s Creek Camp Ground.

Aussie Disposals one of the many event sponsors

WICEN Operators worked through out the 24hr period to provide information of each of the vehicles at the many check points throughout the event.  Communication reliability was excellent thoughout the event with the Mount Duffy Repeater working extremely well.  WICEN is no stranger to the Big River State Forest which also annually holds the Stockman’s Rally.  Good local knowledge ensured great communications coverage.  Operators reported fair coverage even as far out at Ecnoch Point.

The event ran without issue with only a few teams pulling out due to reasons other than vehicle damage or medical issues.  It’s a very friendly event with many in the 4WD community catching up annually for this event.   WICEN Victoria is looking forward to the Pajero Challenge 2020 with dates and location already being set. 

Australia Day Fun Run 2019

This the first event of what will be a busy year for WICEN Victoria.  The Rosebud Australia Day Fun Run is a great way to kick the new year for WICEN.  It’s a relatively simple event to ease our way into the new yea, consisting of a 10km run from Safety Beach to Rosebud Village Green, or the 5km run from Dromana to the Rosebud Village Green.  The event attracts hundreds of serious runners and thousands of casual runners and walkers.  It’s a 100% volunteer-run event, with funds raised from the day supporting local sporting and community groups whose members volunteer their time each year to run this fantastic event.  http://www.ausdayfunrun.com.au

WICEN deployed ten operators across the length of the course.  Our role was to provide emergency and logistical radio communications. Radio traffic is generally light, and all operators could use a handheld radio to operate effectively, though a high gain antenna is recommended.  With a local repeater not being available due to technical issues with its recent relocation, a crossband repeater was established on one of the operator’s vehicles (2M in) using a UHF link frequency to the transmitter located at the McCrae Yacht Club.  One WICEN operator was located on a SES minibus which also serves as a sweep vehicle along the road. A mag mounted antenna was a must for improved communications with this station.

The serious runners completed the 10kms in just over 30 minutes and the majority of the final runners were all in within a few hours.  As the sweep passes our control points along the route, we progressively close those points, giving permission for those operators to close.  Some head for home after an early start (in position by 8am) while others come to the finish (Village Green) for a coffee and hamburger.  So why is this a good event to start the year off?  Well it’s a half day deployment, with a handheld (or two for a backup), minimal radio traffic and it’s relatively close for most attending operators (about an hour from home).  

WICEN Victoria’s next event is the Pajero Challenge in the Big River State Forest 9thand 10thFebruary, where we’ll be providing communications support over two days.  This will be a two night / three-day deployment with operators needing portable masts, beams, VHF, UHF and HF capability.   Many will be in areas only accessible by 4WD.  We’ll be operating for approximately 18hours and needing to be self-sufficient in the Victorian high country.  

WICEN is always looking for new operators to join us so if your interest please get in touch.  WICEN is a volunteer organisation that provides communication support to other emergency agencies under the Victorian Emergency Services Act.  We use these events as training exercises to hone and develop our members skills.

Summer Field Day 2019

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Summer field day has come and gone for 2019 and the provisional results are in.  Due to work commitments on the Sunday I operated as a home station for an 8-hour period.  The 2M and 70cm beams were reconfigured for horizonal use on the rotator and a coax switch installed so I could switch between the beams and the Diamond X510 vertical antenna. This was a change since the last competition.

Maybe I’ll look at the 1.2GZ band for future contests but I would like to see a rationalisation of the 6M band so there is more activity between Standard and Advance licence holders.  It’s a little lonely up the band at 52.150 MHz with many Advance operators not able to work further up the band as their antenna are not resonant there.  Also, I think the Standard operators might be forgotten there so a huge thanks to those stations taking the time to work me higher up on 6 metres.

All in all, I was pretty happy with the results and look forward to the next field day contest.

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Field Testing the new portable 80M vertical antenna

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Between Christmas and just after New Year I have been able to get in, three, two night trips away.  One at the family farm in country Victoria, one in the Big River State Forest Taking my four year old daughter and the most recent with VK3MRG were we headed out past Warburton into the surrounds of Reefton.  Apart from hanging out with family and friends I also wanted to do some real world testing of the new portable 80M vertical antenna.  However a seperate blog on how that’s worked out for me coming soon.

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Each of the trips away bought about challenges with equipment dealing with rain, wind, extreme heat and a four year old.  On the most recent trip Marshall and I experienced the extremes in temperatures.  With day one temperatures hitting the low thirties with the following day’s temperature to hit fourth three degrees.  The cool change promised never seemed to come until around seven pm and even then it wasn’t as dramatic as other area’s had commented on ABC radio.  Being a state wide total fire ban day we were monitoring ABC radio as well as local CFA frequencies for most of the day. 

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Keeping batteries charged with solar was a challenge as the solar blanket was only 120 watts and the fridges compressor seemed to run most of the time as expected under those conditions.  We were keeping in touch using digital HF as we had no VHF/ UHF comms.  So our second battery which is only 25% the size of our primary battery got a hammering.  However by using several systems, Emcomm and Winlink we were able to get messages in and out of our site.  We had no telephone comms coverage area with Optus and  Telstra had marginal coverage allowing Marshal on days two and three to get the occasional SMS. 

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Keeping hydrated in extreme temperatures is so important and I think on day two I drunk around 6 litres of water.  Marshall had several good idea’s while away on this adventure and one of those we have to thank Little Creatures, Session Ale, Dog Days for their support.  Radio and Beer do mix in moderation until you run out (of either).  However hear my warning if you over Hydrate you run the risk of needing after noon nap (right Marshall). 

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Marshalls other great idea to support the VK3KQ, VHF / UHF field day station in maximising their points is centred around keeping Ralph, VK3LL at the microphone longer.  So Ralph we have developed the ultimate radio seat for you .  It will enable you not to have to make the drive to the nearest outpost minimising any near misses.  It puts a hole new meaning to talking S@%@#^T on the air :-). 

Day 3 we made a side trip to Mt Donna Buang were it was raining, in cloud and 10 degrees C.  Fourty three degrees the day before who would have thought.

73’s and Happy New Year

Mark - VK3MDH