Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Planning a Portable Ultralight DXing Session

Updated - December 2015 

For some people this would seem as easy as grabbing a radio as you head out the door; I have found that more planning is required to get the most from my portable Ultralight DXing session.

When I am planning a portable Ultralight DXing session my first step is to arrange a suitable day and time. I am happily married and we have small child so ensuring the domestic front is happy goes a long way to ensuring I can have a good time. Having all my domestic duties done and ensuring you have been spending enough quality time with my better half and child makes this easier. I like to try and arrange my outings around times when my wife won't be home or is busy; this makes it easier to be away from home. Only you known your own domestic situation and can assess the best way to do this, too often I hear of domestic situations where one persons hobbies or interests have a negative effect on the household as a whole. Normally I aim to have at least one portable Ultralight DXing session a week, normally a Saturday afternoon or one night during the week, however this can change based on the above. Of late I have been taking my daughter for more walks and quite often I take my ultralight dxing kit in the bottom of the pram in case I find a suitable location.

Once a suitable day and time has been found the next step is to check the weather forecast for that day. In the past when I was involved in the radio scanning / amateur radio hobby I used to undertake quite a bit of out and about scanning / sitting on hill tops / lookouts / mountains, from doing this I learnt two VERY important lessons: 
- Sitting in the sun for hours at a time is not fun and this reduces your enjoyment.
- Sitting in the cold for hours at a time is not fun and this reduces your enjoyment.

Based on this I like to make sure the weather will be suitable. While the cold can be overcome with extra clothes, being too hot is much harder to control and in extreme cases this can be quite bad for your health (dehydration, sun stroke and so on). Storms and other weather extremes are also not fun to be out in so I like to try and avoid these if possible. During our Australian summer’s bush fires are a very real risk and given most locations are prime fire spots, the fire danger rating (FDR) and a safe access / escape are very important to consider. The local sunrise / sunset are also checked and this helps with planning a suitable time to leave home to be at the chosen location to maximise any advantage from these different times of the day.

Next is to decide on a location, I like to have a mix of new locations and some proven ones. Some are quite close and others are quite a distance to drive. The things I consider when deciding on a location are: 
- Distance to drive (The cost of fuel is a factor in this, as is the amount of time I have) 
- Access (some areas are locked after hours) 
- RF profile (Some locations are better due to distance from AM stations) 
- Comforts (Shops, toilets, etc) 
- Personal Security / Safety (See notes below) 

Of these points, all are fairly easy to assess except for personal security, yet this is the most important. The city I live in is fairly safe and crime it is not always the first thing I think of, yet our personal security and safety is very important. Sitting in your car or walking in the bush with multiple radios, by yourself, after dark, in locations such as lookouts or hill tops, beaches, parks or car parks can expose you to an increased risk to your personal safety. These locations at times can be used by people for a number of reasons which may not be legal or which may cause you to witness things you didn't want to witness. Some of these locations are used for drug dealing, exchanges or people meeting others whom they are not married to in a "lover’s lane" type situation. Generally locations with a good level of passing traffic or close to houses are better than isolated spots.  Good lighting is also a benefit as is having multiple entry and exits points. The best advice is to keep your doors locked if in your car and to be aware of your surroundings both in your car and while on foot. If you feel unsafe or uneasy it is better to cut your session short than get caught up in somebody else's problems or risk your personal safety. Having a torch and a mobile phone plus telling somebody where you will be and when you will be home are all good safety tips. Some larger torches can be used as a weapon is the most serious of situations.

My planning really starts the night before or early in the morning when I prepare everything I am going to take, charge batteries and pack up my gear. My normal kit consists of this: 
- Receivers (1, 2, 3 or more in my bag)
- Batteries (Fully recharged and also some spare alkaline AA's)
- Head phones (I prefer the ear bud type and these are easier to carry)
- Log book and pen + spares
- Wire with clip attached for some shortwave listening if I feel like it.
- Torch
- List of all Australian and NZ AM stations by frequency order.
- Multi-tool
- Blanket (if it is cold) 
- Spare jacket / vest
- Digital camera
- Food and drinks
- Bandaids and a small towel
- Mobile phone
- Identification such as a driver’s licence (which you should be carrying anyway if you are driving)

In the past I have used digital camera bags and hard ABS type cases, these types of cases / bags each have advantages and disadvantages. ABS cases standout and make it look like you are carrying expensive equipment, which might not be a great idea in some remote locations. Soft cases on the other hand don’t provide enough protection in some circumstances, this I have found to be an issue with my 7.5” loop stick Tecsun PL-380. Recently I have taken the best of both worlds and made my own personal setup based on a digital camera bag with a strong inner hard case: http://ultralightdxing.blogspot.com.au/2015/07/stealth-ultralight-dxing-bag-mk2.html

Before leaving home I check my kit and confirm I have everything I need. When I arrive onsite I do a quick recon of the area to make sure it is safe, no dodgy people around and I feel comfortable. Then I do a quick scan of the bands and check for the normal stations, now I can sit back, relax and get serious about logging. If it is going to be an extended session in the car I get out of the car every half hour and walk around just to keep the blood moving and to get some fresh air. I also try to eat something and drink to keep my fluids up. I like to also get some photos each time I go out DXing for the report on my blog. If I am going portable I like to try a few different spots and also interact with anybody I see, even if this is just a passing hello on a track. On returning home I make sure I spend some time with my wife and daughter before checking my loggings and entering these in to loggings spreadsheet.

Tested / Researched Ultralight DXing Locations - Tasmania

Cataract Gorge / Gees Lookout
Distance from Launceston CBD: 10 minutes + 10 minute walk
Facilities: None. Nearest public toilet are Gorge grounds or CBD.
Notes: Access is via a rough dirt / gravel track. Lookout has a weight limit and grated open floor so you need to be careful not to drop items down.

Freelands Lookout - Trevallyn
Distance from Launceston CBD: 9 minutes. You can park at the very top.
Facilities: Paved parking area and viewing hut. Gates locked after sunset but able to park on the road and walk in. Nearest public toilets are at Cliff ground, Lions park or Riverside Woolworths shopping centre.
Notes: One of my regular ultralight dxing locations, this site has good access and views of the CBD and Tamar valley. Some UHF commercial two way equipment in a hut and close to a FM broadcast station so these bands do have issues at times at this location.

Newstead Reserve (off Amy Road)
Distance from Launceston CBD: 10 minutes. You can park directly out the front.
Facilities: Large open space and children’s play ground. Nearest public toilet is Punchbowl reserve or Newstead shopping centre.
Notes: Being in the middle of a residential area this is fairly heavily used. Some paved areas but mostly open grass.

Punchbowl Reserve
Distance from Launceston CBD: 12 minutes to main car park. 
Facilities: Very large bushland park with children’s play ground, duck pond and lots of walking tracks. Public toilets located near BBQ area over a foot bridge. My preferred location is the bottom park behind the duck pond.
Notes: Excellent location and offers multiple possible dxing spots. Top of the cliffs can be accessed via Blamey Road or a walking track. During summer snakes are a common sight.

Talbot Road Lookout
Distance from Launceston CBD: 10 minutes
Facilities: Car park and lookout tower. Nearest public toilets is Punchbowl reserve or Newstead shopping centre.
Notes: Views from the lookout tower are amazing towards Mt Barrow and down the Tamar River.

West Tamar Trail
Distance from Launceston CBD: 5 minutes
Facilities: Multiple walking tracks. A viewing platform over the Tamar River. Nearest public toilets is Tailrace Park, open during daylight hours.
Notes: Very busy track and well known for snakes in summer.

Tailrace Park
Distance from Launceston CBD: 7 minutes via West Tamar Road
Facilities: Car park, play ground, BBQ, public toilets (open during daylight hours), boat ramp, multiple walking tracks, a viewing platform over the Tamar River.
Notes: This park is very busy during summer and offers many possible locations.

Queechy Lake
Distance from Launceston CBD: 10 minutes
Facilities: Car park, small playground and seats. Nearest public toilets is Punchbowl Reserve or Newstead shopping centre.
Notes: One of my favourite locations growing up. Has good Ultralight DXing potential which is yet to be fully explored.

Bradys Lookout:
Distance from Launceston CBD: 20 minutes via West Tamar Highway + 5 minute walk.
Facilities: Public toilets open during daylight hours. BBQ and seating area. Multiple seats around the lookout and at the top viewing platform.
Notes: One of my preferred locations, a good distance from town but still easy to access. Highway noise can be an issue so headphones are recommended.

Mt George / Georgetown
Distance from Launceston CBD: 45 minutes via the East Tamar Highway
Facilities: Car park and lookout tower. Nearest public toilets are in Georgetown.
Notes: Steep drive to car park and then a short steep walk to lookout towers. Good views from the top. A number of mobile phone, commercial two way and FM broadcast stations have towers at this location.

Low Head
Distance from Launceston CBD: 52 minutes via East Tamar Highway and Georgetown.
Facilities: Car park and light house, extensive walking area around this and down to the rocks / water’s edge. Nearest public toilets are in Georgetown.
Notes: Most northerly point on East Tamar side of the river. Has a good take off towards mainland Australian. Gates locked after 6pm.

Mt Barrow
Distance from Launceston CBD: 1.15 hours via A3
Facilities: Small hut at the very top. Nearest public toilets are Myrtle Park hall.
Notes: One of my all time favourite locations. Road is 4WD only but passable when not snowing in a 2WD with caution. An amazing Ultralight DXing location. A number of commercial two way, UHF Television and FM broadcast stations have towers at this location on South Barrow Peak and North Barrow Peak.

Devonport Bluff
Distance from Launceston CBD: 1.15 hours.
Facilities: Multiple car parks, beach, playground, Light house. Public toilets and a cafe / shops are close by.
Notes: I have only undertaken one day time Ultralight DXing session from near the light house, this was very enjoyable.

Round Hill Burnie
Distance from Launceston CBD: 1.40 hours
Facilities: Two lookouts and a climbable lookout tower with views towards Bass Straight and mainland Australian. Nearest public toilets are in the Burnie city area.
Notes: A number of mobile phone, commercial two way, UHF television and FM broadcast stations have towers at this location. I have only undertaken one day time Ultralight DXing session from this location, weather conditions meant I had to cut it short.

Table Cape - Wynyard
Distance from Launceston CBD: 2.05 hours
Facilities: Two lookouts, sealed car parking, walking tracks, Light house. Nearest public toilets are at Wynyard or Boat Harbour Beach.
Notes: An excellent Ultralight DXing location, I have only undertaken one day time session from this location. Transmitter for 7BU on 558KHz is located close by.

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