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ARDF Update: Foxhunting Fun in the Blue Hills of Boston

06/24/2009

The largest open space within a major metropolitan area lies just 10 miles south of the Old North Church in Boston. The Blue Hills got their name because European explorers were intrigued by the bluish hue that they saw on the slopes from the nearby sea. Every non-winter weekend, these hills are filled with hikers, swimmers and mountain bikers. On the first weekend of June, they were full of hams -- and would-be hams -- carrying receivers and strange antennas.

This was the Ninth Annual US Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) Championships for the USA, combined with the fifth biennial ARDF championships of International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) Region 2; both North and South America belong to Region 2. It was a magnet for fans of hidden transmitter hunting from all over the USA plus Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Russia, Sweden, United Kingdom and Ukraine. Because it was the first time this event had taken place in a northeastern state, over half of the competitors were first-timers.

Organizer and host this year was Vadim Afonkin, KB1RLI, who learned ARDF as a youth in his native Russia. It would be hard to find a stateside ham who is more knowledgeable and skilled in the sport. From his first time in 2003, he has turned in the best performance at our national championships almost every year. His extensive connections within the ARDF community of Eastern Europe resulted in participation by some world-class experts who have much to teach to stateside radio-orienteers.

As planning for the championships progressed over the past nine months, Vadim repeatedly told me that he had two goals. One was to raise the level of performance among our country’s best radio-orienteers, which would lead to more Top-10 and medal-winning performances by USA at upcoming World Championships. He did this by finding a difficult venue and setting courses comparable to those at the World Championships.

Vadim’s second goal was to bring newcomers into the ARDF fold, especially young people. He provided equipment and training to several members of the New England Orienteering Club including Lori Huberman, Brendan Shields, Ian Smith, Ross Smith, and Leszek Lechowicz, NI1L. Three of them became medal winners. I am confident that ham radio licenses are in their future.

This year’s youngest participant is also the youngest to win gold at the USA championships since 2003. Addison Bosley, 11, has just finished sixth grade as a straight-A student at Tichenor Middle School in Erlanger, Kentucky. He began classic orienteering about a year ago with the Tristate Regional Orienteering League. Now he easily completes adult skill level orienteering courses on his own. Having developed excellent map reading skills, the next step for him was ARDF training with other Cincinnati-area foxhunters, including Bob Frey, WA6EZV; Matthew Robbins, AA9YH; Brian DeYoung, K4BRI, and his grandfather Dick Arnett, WB4SUV, who also won gold in his age category.
“Addison became hooked when we played the game of hunting multiple low power transmitters in our neighborhood,” Dick told me. “When he could successfully find all of the transmitters on his own, I knew he was ready. Because of the competition, he is now studying for his Amateur Radio license.”

By car, train and airplane, participants converged on Boston Thursday, June 4. Event headquarters was near Interstate 93 in Braintree. But Friday’s practice session was a 22 mile drive in the opposite direction at the Breakheart Reservation in Saugus. This was an opportunity to compare and test RDF equipment, to review map-reading and navigating skills and to put faces with the names of fellow foxhunters who had been e-mail correspondents in prior months.

2 Meters on Saturday

Vadim’s instruction for June 5 was for all competitors to gather in a large parking lot at the south end of the Blue Hills Reservation, about a half-mile from Interstate 93. This turned out to be close to the finish area, near the shore of Houghton Lake. After applying sunscreen and bug repellant, they were led to the start. It was a 1.6 mile hike along roads and trails and a 200 foot climb to the top of Buck Hill, not far from the eastern boundary.

The hilltop was an excellent site for 2 meter bearing-taking, but the trek caused some to break out their water bottles early. Fortunately for the competitors, there was a minor problem with one of the transmitters. The delay for repairing it provided a chance for them to fully recover.

From first to last, it took about an hour to get everyone onto the course. International rules call for competitors to be started in groups at five minute intervals, with no persons of the same category in a group. The start of each group must be carefully timed to coincide with the start of transmission from Fox #1. Competitors must not turn on their receivers until they reach the end of the marked start corridor. Knowing that bearings from high locations are more likely to be accurate that bearings from lowlands, many of them lingered there to mark their fixes for all five transmitters on their maps before descending into the deep woods.

The start and finish locations were only a mile apart, but the total straight-line distance from start to each transmitter and then to the finish was 3.5 miles. Much of it was a climb, with two of the foxes located near the tops of Houghton Hill and Tucker Hill. Truly this was a world-class course.

Water, sports drinks and bananas awaited competitors at the finish line. Cardiac nurse Pavel Nelyubin and first aid expert April Moell, WA6OPS, were ready for their medical needs. This was important when Valeri Georgiev of Montreal limped in after finding only one transmitter. Unfortunately, his ankle sprain was severe enough to keep him from competing the next day.

As they recovered from their runs, participants discussed their routes with one another. Despite talk of snakes, bears and spiders, nobody reported any dangerous wildlife encounters; almost everyone managed to steer clear of the abundant poison ivy.

The best overall time on Saturday was by Nikolay Ivanchichin, UR8UA, of Ukraine, who found all five foxes in just over 85 minutes in the M21 category. Also especially noteworthy was the four-fox time turned in by David Williams, M3WDD, of the United Kingdom. He did it in just under 90 minutes, which was more than an hour ahead of all others in his M40 category.

After a shower and change of clothes, everyone headed to a nearby restaurant for the banquet supper. There were no long speeches to endure, just a time to converse with old ARDF friends and to get acquainted with new ones.

A Second Chance on Sunday

The gathering point for the 80 meter foxhunt on Sunday was the same and the hike to the start was about the same distance, but in the opposite direction. This time it was on the northwestern corner of the map and the starting corridor went uphill into the forest.

More than half of the starters were surprised to find a great deal of noise in their receivers when they turned them on. Some could not copy any of the CW fox transmissions. Only a few receiver models were completely unaffected. Who would have guessed that an FM broadcast station could do this? The 100 kW signal of the famous public radio outlet WGBH-FM was coming from a tower on the Great Blue Hill, only one kilometer south of the start. Yes, the name of this hill is what the call letters stand for! Fortunately, the interference problems eased as competitors went eastward into the deep woods and got closer to the foxes.

The optimum point-to-point 80 meter course was five miles, much longer than the previous day’s course. There were no transmitters on hilltops, but there were high hills in between them and everyone had to decide whether to take the long way around on the trails or attempt to go cross-country over the hills.

For similar course lengths, elapsed times on 80 meters are usually better than on two meters. Even with the interference and greater fox separation, this was true at Blue Hills. In M21, Nikolay again had best overall time, bagging all five foxes and getting to the finish in less than 75 minutes. David turned in another amazing performance in M40. His 81-minute run was 56 minutes ahead of second place Leszek Lechowicz, NI1L.

The electronic scoring equipment provided by Marvin Johnston, KE6HTS, and the Los Angeles Orienteering Club made it possible to award medals soon after the 80 meter course closed. Gold, silver and bronze were presented to first, second and third finishers in each age/gender category, regardless of nationality.

In six of the eight categories, the gold medalists were the same on both 2 and 80 meters. In alphabetical order, these dual winners were Addison Bosley (M19); Ruth Bromer (W50); Lori Huberman (W21); Nicolay Ivanchichin, UR8UA (M21); Nick Roethe, DF1FO (M50), and David Williams, M3WDD (M40). In the M60 category, Dick Arnett, WB4SUV, got the gold on 2 meters and Bob Cooley, KF6VSE, won on 80 meters. In W35, Jennifer Harker, W5JEN, was best on 2 meters and Brigitte Roethe took the honors on 80 meters.

In addition to those listed above, the following participants were the best USA finishers in their categories, putting them on track for positions in ARDF Team USA 2010: Jay Hennigan, WB6RDV (M50, 80 meters); Dale Hunt, WB6BYU (M50, 2 meters); Leszek Lechowicz, NI1L (M40, 80 meters); Matthew Robbins, AA9YH (M40, 2 meters); Brendan Shields (M21, 80 meters), and Jay Thompson, W6JAY (M21, 2 meters).

Complete results and more photos are in the Homing In Web site.

Congratulations and thanks to Vadim Afonkin, KB1RLI, for organizing an excellent event that put smiles on the faces of almost everyone. Next year’s USA ARDF Championships will take place in the spring or early summer. Afterwards, Team USA members will be announced and travel plans will be made for the Fifteenth World ARDF Championships in Croatia.

I am investigating several possible localities for our next national championships. If your club is interested in hosting a future event, please contact me.

All Photos by Joe Moell, K0OV
 

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



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