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ARDF Update: Bearings in Beantown: USA's 9th ARDF Championships


Amateur Radio operators in California, Georgia, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas have something in common:. The USA national championships of Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) have taken place in their states. Every year since 2001, hams and future hams have gathered to see who is best at finding hidden radio transmitters in the forest. Besides ARDF, the sport has other names such as foxhunting, foxtailing and radio-orienteering.

This year, for the first time, our national championships will take place in the Northeast. Foxhunting fans of all skill levels will gather near Boston June 5-7 for two days of intense competition. Saturday's competition is on 2 meters, while Sunday's is on 80 meters. Early arrivals can have a day of practice and equipment testing on Friday.

Maps and Compasses for All

In accordance with standard ARDF rules of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU), participants will be divided into nine age categories, five for males and four for females. With their direction-finding gear and a full-color orienteering map in hand, they will set forth each day with the goal of finding all of their required transmitters (five, four or three, depending on category).

Each person is individually timed and transmitters may be found in any order. There is no need to dig in the dirt, because a special flag will mark the check-in point at each fox location. After that, contestants will head for the finish line, guided by their map and a homing transmitter on a separate frequency. The goal is to find the most transmitters in the shortest elapsed time. Medals await the winners each day, as well as opportunities to join ARDF Team USA for the next ARDF World Championships, scheduled for 2010 in Croatia.

The 2009 USA Championships offer another first: A combination of championship ARDF and classic orienteering. Our transmitter hunts will share the forest with local sessions of the New England Orienteering Club. Besides reducing costs for everyone, the inclusion of ARDF at the NEOC meet will expose orienteers and local Scouts to Amateur Radio and to this radio sport.

This year's site is the Blue Hills Reservation, a 7000 acre open space about 10 miles south of downtown Boston. It is the largest conservation land area within a major metropolitan area in the USA. There are 125 miles of trails that wind through forests, marshes, swamps and meadows, as well as an Atlantic white cedar bog.

The concurrent ARDF and classic orienteering competitions will have separate electronic scoring systems. Distinctive flags will be at each hidden transmitter to avoid confusion with any nearby orienteering controls. The foxboxes each send a distinct Morse signal for 60 seconds in rotating sequence. You don't need to know the code, because a fox's number can be easily determined by counting dits.

The Blue Hills Reservation area is now off limits for anyone who will be entering the 2009 USA ARDF Championships. To avoid any unfair advantage, potential competitors may not go to these woods until competition time. Maps showing the boundaries and finish location will be issued just before start time.

From Russia, with Radio Foxes

ARDF first grew to prominence in Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union countries more than two decades ago. The organizer and host of this year's USA championships experienced that for himself. He is Vadim Afonkin, KB1RLI. Vadim, as UZ3AYT, learned the sport in his native Russia. After winning his first medal in the USSR Championships at age 16, he joined the Soviet team for several international and military competitions.

Upon moving to the USA with his ARDF gear in 1994, Vadim was disappointed to learn that there was no international-rules on-foot transmitter hunting here at the time. Almost a decade later, he found out about the Third USA Championships in Ohio. He entered the competition and won medals on both the 2 and 80 meter bands. This encouraged him to resume his physical training, propelling him to two gold medals at the Fourth USA Championships in California, as well as a place on ARDF Team USA at the 2004 World Championships in the Czech Republic.

Vadim has won gold in the five-fox M21 category at the USA Championships every year since then. He has been on Team USA for the World Championships in 2006 (Bulgaria) and 2008 (South Korea). In Korea, he took fifth place worldwide in the M40 category on 80 meters.

Vadim is an expert on ARDF course design, so you can expect challenging contests on both bands this year. I think they will be reminiscent of courses that were set in Umstead Park near Durham, North Carolina by former USSR champion Nadia Scharlau. She and husband Charles, NZ0I, hosted the USA Championships in 2006. Nadia captured USA's first World Championships medal in that same year.

Competitors are responsible for bringing their own direction-finding gear to the national championships. Extra sets might be available for loan from other attendees, but inquire ahead of time. Receivers must not radiate signals that can be heard by others. Transmitting on the course is not allowed, except in emergencies. Using GPS to find your way is also forbidden. Each person competes as an individual. There is no teaming or person-to-person assistance on the courses.

Everyone Can Get Involved

Even if you aren't up to the challenge of a big-forest foxhunt, there is a good chance that someone in your family or circle of friends is a potential champion. Tell them about this opportunity and offer to help with RDF equipment and local practice sessions. As always, USA's ARDF Championships are open to anyone who can run or walk through the forest while carrying RDF gear for 5-10 kilometers. A ham license is not a requirement.

Vadim is putting out the welcome mat for ARDF beginners and experts from all parts of the world. Expect to meet radio-orienteers from elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, because this year's USA Championships are being combined with the biennial championships for IARU's Region 2. Foxhunters from other countries have expressed interest in attending and competing as visitors.

To encourage first-timers and foreign visitors, the competition entry charge will be waived for persons who have never participated in the USA ARDF Championships, as well as for persons coming from outside North America. They will have the option of purchasing event t-shirts. The two-day competition fee for all others will be $50 per person, including a t-shirt.

Vadim is now accepting pre-registrations and inquiries via e-mail. He has a Web site about the 2009 championships with his blog entries and opportunities for your replies, inquiries and comments. Plenty of lodging and meal options are close to the Blue Hills Reservation. Expect daytime high temperatures in the low 70s. There is a 1-in-3 chance of rain each day, but only a 1-in-10 chance of a thunderstorm.

For a quick introduction to ARDF Rules, techniques and gear, visit my Web site. You will see equipment ideas for both 2 meters and 80 meters. Photo pages from previous championships will give you a good idea of what to expect in the woods of Massachusetts.

These cold winter evenings are ideal for building simple ARDF gear such as tape measure Yagis and offset attenuators. As soon as warmer weather arrives, schedule some ARDF practice sessions in local parks. For even more fun, make it a club activity, perhaps with a barbecue or potluck.

I am looking forward to meeting radio foxhunters from your town at the USA Championships!

Joe Moell, K0OV, Contributing Editor
ARRL Amateur Radio Direction Finding Coordinator



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