Townsville 1997 Region 3 ARDF Championships Report

An Unofficial Rambling Account of the 2nd IARU Region 3 ARDF Championships

This account is being written for a number of different audiences (foxhunters, orienteers, observers), so please ignore all the bits you
know already. It’s also LONG !

Last week Australia held it’s first international ARDF event, the 2nd ever IARU (International Amateur Radio Union) Region 3 (Asia-Pacific) championship. The event was very sucessfully hosted by the Townsville Amateur Radio Club, the driving force being Wally Watkins, VK4DO.

Day 1 (Monday) was arrival day, and quite a lot of arriving happened. For some reason I have still yet to establish the Australians (Us) and the New Zealanders were accomodated in the West Halls of the James Cook University just outside Townsville and everyone else (and meals) were in the Central Area. Maybe Wally thought we needed the exercise.
Went shopping and laid in essential alcohol supplies (which of course are strictly banned on campus… Nah..Surely that only applies to the students ? ).
Got to meet the New Zealand contingent of competitors and referrees whilst waiting for an elusive bus.

Day 2 (Tuesday). Official Opening Ceremony. Lots of film wasted by many parties (Hint: Never lend your camera to someone else to take photos…)
Most of your film has gone before you know it !). The Japanese lived up to their reputation and took enough photos to line a house. One little Japanese had a video camera permanently attached to his eye. We’re sure he won’t know where he’s been till he gets home and has a chance to look at the hours of video tape.
Present were USA (ARRL) (Hi Kev!), Bulgaria (BFRA), China (CRSA), Korea (KARL), New Zealand (NZART), Japan (JARL), Poland (PZK) and Australia (WIA), as well as some observers/officials from Thailand and Malaysia.

Afternoon was for practice. A couple of Radio Transmitters were setup around the university grounds and we had to find them. These RDF championships consisted of two events. One is held using transmitters operating in the Amatuer 2m band (145.300 MHz) and the other on 80m (3.58 MHz). The sorts antennas and receivers needed to these two events look quite different.
The 2m antennas are either 2 or 3 element Yagi antennas (they look a bit like TV antennas). The 80m antennas are ferrite rods or DF-loops with sense antennas. I won’t go into technicalities here, but the idea is to to work out which direction the transmitter you are trying to find is in, and then head in that direction (either directly of in-directly depending on the
terrain) till you find the transmitter. Near the transmitter is a orienteering Red/White flag and a punch.

There are 5 transmitters (controls) with punches. Depending of your category (Junior, Senior, Old Timer, Woman) you need to find 4 or 5 of these transmitters.
There is also a 6th transmitter on a slightly different frequency at the finish to help guide you back.

The 5 transmitters are all on the same frequency, so they can’t all be on at the same time otherwise no-one would be able to work out what’s going on.
What happens is each transmitter transmits for 1 minute, then turns off in time for the next transmitter and so on. This means each transmitter is only on for 1 minute out of 5 minutes…so you have to remember bearings taken earlier to work out where to go. Drawing lines on the map using a compass is one way to do this. Each transmitter identifies itself using Morse code. Don’t let this worry you however. I don’t know Morse Code either, but all you have to do is count the short pips at the end to know which transmitter you are listening to.

The map you get is pretty much a standard orienteering map with Start and Finish marked on it. The controls are not marked !

I use a 3 element Yagi with a TJN/XAJ Ultra Sniffer for 2m. For 80m , (taking a more unusual approach), I have a 10m version of the Ultra-Sniffer fed by a 80m to 10m converter attached to an 80m loop and sense antenna.
Just like your AM radio, a ferrite rod (or loop) alone can’t tell you which of two directions the radio transmitter is (“bi-directional”), so the sense antenna is another antenna which can be used to resolve this ambiguity.
All my gear seemed to work OK during the practice and I was able to quickly locate the four various transmitters.
One of the Australians (Jack VK3WWW) noticed that one of the transmitters seemed to decrease in power after about an hour. This was to prove a significant observation that would have an effect the following day during the 2m competition.

After throwing boomerangs around the oval for about an hour (the VK3’s had all recently purchased these from Roger at the Mt. Gambier foxhunt champs and we were keen to try them out) we had dinner, followed by a Jury meeting for the upcoming event.

Somewhere about this time the Kazakhstan (KARC) Contingent turned up. They had mistakenly booked flights to Brisbane only, thinking that Townsville was merely a suburb of Brisbane. They hopped into a Taxi after waiting in vain for some sort of ARDF official to approach them. They could speak little English, and consequently they were driven by Taxi to Townsville ! The driver
must have taken pity on them I suspect, because the trip cost them A$600. This isn’t bad considering it’s over 1300kms ! The team consisted of 3 boys (Junior category) and their teacher (Old Timer) from the Kazakhstan Higher Radio Engineering and Radio Sports School. With a name like that what hope did us poor foxhunters have ?

Had a quiet (illegal) drink with the New Zealanders to pass the evening.

Day 3 Wednesday. Competition Day ! Had get up at the non-existant time of 5.45am in order to be ready for breakfast. We were taken by bus to the secret location for the event somewhere near Mt. Louisa. Suddenly the bus stopped in the middle of the road. The location was so secret even the bus driver hadn’t been told ! Ah. There it was…next to those forbidding looking hills (mountains ?). It was getting quite warm too. About 24 DegreesC.

We were all herded into the Start quarantine area. We had to place our equipment in another area to be picked up just before start. Something had gone wrong with one of the transmitters so there was a bit (well an hour actually) delay whilst the organisers sorted that one. Sat around getting nervous. I’ve never done a real one of these before (only our practice hunts with 3 transmitters) ! What was it going to be like ?

The competitors started to head out. Pre-determined groups are released at 5 minute intervals, so it took over 2 hours between when the 1st and Last groups were released. I went off in group 8 (luckily reasonably early…it was getting hotter as the day wore on).

I pick up my sniffer (antenna & receiver), get a number pinned on and get given a map. I have about 9 minutes to study this before I start. I decide pretty much which way I’m going to head first off…before I’ve heard a single transmitter. When you start you have to run down the “start corridor” before you are allowed to turn on your receiver. Hmm. Tx 1 seems back near the finish so I’ll leave that to last. Tx 2 and 3 seem both roughly ahead so I keep going as per original plan. Phew! Both Tx4 and Tx5 look like they’re also on my “return” journey from a big loop. I keep heading
for Tx3. About 15 mins in I come accidentally across some officials. Unless I’m horribly mistaken there must be a transmitter nearby ! I know it isn’t Tx3, so it must be Tx2. I wait around a bit for the transmitters to cycle round to Tx2 (noting the bearings of the others for future reference). I find Tx2 which was rather well hidden. I thought these flags weren’t meant to be placed in hollows ?

Onto Tx3, passing Kevin Kelly N6QAB (ARRL) who was taking it easy by this stage. Found Tx3 when it wasn’t transmitting just by following my original bearing. This is working out quite well. Tx4 was a little harder, but I also found this one whilst it was off. Wow, only 35 mins for the 1st three checkpoints. As you can no doubt guess disaster is about to strike. I figure Tx5 is the other side of the “mountain” so up I go (on what turns out to be an unfortunate tangent). Tx5 didn’t come on till after I had gone over a ridge and this was to be my undoing. I got a “dud” bearing due to being on the wrong side of a hill from the transmitter and headed downhill at what turned out to be right angles to Tx5. I kept getting odd bearings until I was well down in the valley. It then became obvious. Tx5 was right up the top, even higher than the ridge I had crossed sometime (and many meters up) before. I was starting to regret I hadn’t had a drink at Tx4. It was about halfway up the hill (again) that I discovered I had lost my punch card. After a few fruitless minutes of unrepeatable dialog with various deities (lucky non-one else seemed to be nearby!) I figured I
had almost no chance of finding the card again and thought I might as well find the final 2 transmitters anyway, even though I knew I was disqualified.

Staggered into Tx5 (it was, as previously guessed, right up the top), only to be told that I should keep going as there was a chance I wouldn’t be disqualified. Lucky I mentioned my ticket loss to the officials, and also lucky I decided to punch my map. So with a little more enthuiasm (after all I had plenty of time left) I coutoured around to Tx1 (hidden behind a rock just below another peak. I switched my sniffer over to the return beacon and started heading down (clambering would better describe the slope). I could hear the beacon OK but it did seem to be very very weak. Was I furthur away than I thought ? I came into the finish corridor with relief. That transmitter was still damm weak though, and I was within meters of it !
It turns out it was defective, and it was the same one Jack had noticed seemed to get weaker on the practice day.
I had taken 105 mins. Most of an hour was between 4 and 5. Surprisingly this mediocre result was sufficient to give me 8th place, the best WIA result. Obviously many others had had more problems than I did.

The jury meeting that evening decided to forgive my (and a Japanese competitor’s) lost ticket as they had evidence of all controls visited by the officials hidden at each TX site.

I will post the official results later, but the best time for the 2m event, senior (all Tx) category was by a Chinese bloke, Li Rp, who managed 50 minutes.

WIA corner:
Another noteworthy WIA result was Sue VK3LSL. She found 3 of her 4 required transmitters in 115 mins giving her 6th place and along with Sally (9th) a WIA 3rd team placement. Sue had not found any of the transmitters at our last practice hunt, so husband Mark’s (VK3JMD) training on their drive up to Townsville must have worked. She even beat Mark’s own result of 3 transmitters and 127 mins (Senior category).
Jack VK3WWW (Old Timer category) managed 16th with 4/4 Tx in 136 mins, just under the time limit of 140 min. This was sufficient for a 3rd team placement along with Ian (3/4 122 min). (well all he had to do was get in on time and beat the New Zealanders).

Day 4 (Thursday) Day Off.
Most went to Billabong wildlife sancutury. The VK3s and as it turned out the Americans decided to have a look at Magnetic Island. We respectively Mountain biked, scootered and Mini-Moked around the (rather small) island enjoying the sun, beaches & views before returning of the ferry in time to attend the Townsville Mayorial reception laid on for the ARDF. After more than sufficient alcohol and nibblies we returned for a hasty Jury meeting and an unofficial ARRL Vs WIA ordinary mobile foxhunt.

Kevin was keen to show us the capabilities of the DF Junior, so we patched together a Yagi & broomstick based system for Mark’s car to give him some competition. Our receiver was an ultra-sniffer with an extra external preamp. Jack was beamswinger, Mark driver & myself navigator (off a tourist map) and runner.
Kevin was joined by New Zealander, Andrew ZL2UKF as a navigator. Jeff Aust also put in a 1 person team attempt.

Results: WIA: approx 30 mins, 17 km
ARRL: Never actually got there, but close enough at 130 mins, ?? km

Hmmm. I’ve yet to be convinced about dopplers……
Many thanks the Bob Mann for the roof bar, and John VK4OB for being the fox at very short notice.

Day 5 80m Competition.
Another early morning. No bus arrives, but Wally then appears and informs us that we’re going to walk to the Start ! This event was held near the University on an orienteering map from the Thuringowa Orienteering Club.

I won’t give a blow by blow account of this one, sufficient to say that the hills seemed even higher than the last event, but all the WIA competitors did a lot better. I only made one slight error in climbing up to a peak that was higher than necessary, but managed the course in 80 mins for 5 Txs, just beating all of the Korean team (which I’m quite pleased about so you’re going to hear about it if you want to or not). This gave me 6th place.
Again the Chinese romped it in 1st, 2nd, 3rd with the best time an amazing 40 mins. This is under 8 mins per leg !

WIA corner again:
Mark managed 9th 106 mins 5/5, Sue 5th 102 mins 3/4 and Jack 8th 92 mins 4/4 in their respective categories.
Other WIA members well below this. Bit of a VK3 (Victorian) coup huh ?

After a cool swim in the University pool after lunch another Jury meeting cleared up remaining details.

The closing dinner was held that evening, lots of medals were awarded (well I didn’t get any) and gifts swapped. Bob Mann (president of the Townsville Amateur club) gave us truly dreadful renditions of various old songs. The Thailand representative, always full of beans and self-appointed social dynamo got us all up to dance.

Thanks from me and all the VK3’s to Wally, the Townsville Amateur Radio Club and all the competitors and referees who attended. Korea in 1999 ??? Who knows.

Bruce, VK3TJN