Monday, July 18, 2011

Amateur Radio on Hawaii Island

What a busy weekend!  Thanks to some excellent weather, Hawaii Island residents were able to select a range of community events to spend with their families. Our radio station covered a bunch of events, ranging from the Hawaii Island outrigger canoe paddling championships to the July Points meet at the Hilo Drag Strip.  The weather has improved considerably since late June, when most of us on "the rock" thought the seasons had been reversed.  Usually, our rainy season runs from November to April with generally clear, warm weather balancing out the remainder of the year.  However, this year, rainy conditions extended into June.  The rain was welcome, since most of the island has been griped in an extended drought that began almost two years ago.  There has been rain, but not enough to keep pastures green and crops growing.  Even Hilo, which normally gets around 120-130 inches of rain per year, has received only about 40 inches so far, about 20 incles below normal.  Since many rural residents rely on catchment systems or private wells, any shortage that leaves tanks below half-full is call for concern.   Those of us living on former sugar plantation lands with built in  water systems (reservoirs, installed pipes, and distribution systems) fare a little better.  Of course, our weather problems are minor compared to the heat wave that is baking the nation's mid-west and south-west.  I guess we islanders should count our blessings.  There's nothing quite like a partly sunny day with 10-15 mph trade winds and a temperature hovering around 75-80 degrees.

The favorable weather gave me a few hours to repair antennas in the back yard.  The effects of salt air, wind, and sunlight are noticeable after a few weeks on any antenna structure on Hawaii Island, be it our station's towers or my own modest 40-meter vertical.  Maintenace and repair are constants in this paradise graced by storms and volcanic eruptions.  Volcanic haze (vog) is especially corrosive on metal surfaces.  The Kilauea Volcano has been active since 1983.  The output of this formation has dumped millions of tons of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere.  Once the gases combine with moisture, one sees the formation of sulphuric acid and other compounds which can damage crops, buildings, car metal, and even antennas.  The weekly wash and wax routince for the van is one of those tasks that must be done.

So far, I've been able to keep ahead of the corrosion attacking the "antenna farm".  Thanks to coax-seal, enclosed plastic containers, and other weather-proofing techniques antenna maintenance isn't a big chore.  As for the various rigs that launch my mighty 10 watts into the either, I always keep them covered after operating--this step keeps most of the dust and air-borne pollutants away from swithches, dials, and relays.    Hawaii hams residing near the shore experience more corrosion problems than those of us above the 1,200 level.  The corrosion problem is especially acute for our local power utility (Hawaii Electric Light Company).  Company crews have line maintenance and replacement schedules in effect that keep most problems to a minimum.  Of course, unexpected events such as auto accidents, lightning, and termite damage can down a pole at any time.  So, brownouts and power losses are always players in keeping the QTH supplied with electricity.  Rather than depend on commercial power for my amateur radio activities, I've opted for deep cycle marine batteries charged by solar panels.  I also have a standby generator in case I need to power something in the house or run higher power.

Amateur Radio in the rural areas of Hawaii presents a challenge, but one that usually ends positively if alternate power sources are incorporated into the station arrangement.
I keep my system simple--easy to build antennas, reliable rigs, and modest power demands.  Your mileage may vary--one should do as much with their amateur radio interests as finances allow.  For me, resources are limited, so I resort to what I have available for my various projects.  You'd be surprised what the local hardware or automotive supply store can offer for the radio amateur.  If one is creative and watches the expenses,  amateur radio can be enjoyed without breaking the family budget.

Have a good week and get on the air--no matter how humble your station is.  The object is to have some relaxing fun amidst the turmoil of this uncertain decade.  Of course, you may have a lot more fun with a 100-foot tower, a four-element mono beam for 20-meters, and an Alpha amplifier.  One can dream.  Now, if I could only get a federal "stimulus" package to fund my amateur radio fantasies,  I would have nothing to complain about.  Alas, reality for me is a Kenwood 520 (plus other old rigs), an ancient J-38 key, and an ultra simple and cheap 40-meter vertical.    Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.