ARDF Update: New Mexico Hosts Successful Foxhunting Championships
By Joe Moell, K0OV
ARRL Amateur Radio Direction Finding Coordinator
It’s called “Duke City.” Perhaps that’s why the hams of Albuquerque treat visitors like royalty.
Results of the USA’s 11th national championships of Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) are in the record books. Members of Albuquerque Amateur Radio Club (AARC) went all out to provide a top-notch experience for fans of on-foot transmitter hunting, also called radio-orienteering and foxtailing. They came from 10 states and four other nations to see who would win medals by finding transmitters in the forests of central and northern New Mexico.
From September 14-18, competitors took to the woods with directional antennas and receivers. They navigated not with GPS sets, but with maps and compasses. Their goal was to find all of their required transmitters and to get to the finish line in the shortest elapsed time. Transmitters were on for one minute each in rotating order, in accordance with standard rules for the sport
The 11th USA ARDF championships were combined with the 6th ARDF championships of IARU Region 2 (North and South America). This two-in-one event called for two sets of medals: One for the stateside and Canadian hams of Region 2, and another for the visitors who came from China, Germany and Ukraine.
An Optional Training Camp
Although the majority of participants at our ARDF events are experienced, there are always first-timers who want additional support as they learn the intricacies of taking bearings, navigating in the forests and following an orienteering map. Long-time foxtailers also welcome opportunities for more practice. Like those of recent years, the 2011 championships featured an optional two-day “training camp” for immersion in the sport and one-on-one help. This year’s training took place Wednesday and Thursday in the woods surrounding Oak Flat picnic grounds, 17 miles southeast of the city.
Friday was arrival day for the rest of the participants. There was a get-acquainted meeting at the event hotel, including a thorough briefing on the international rules of the sport, plus advice about health and safety in the New Mexico wilderness. Everyone was cautioned to use plenty of sunscreen, to carry and drink plenty of water and to watch out for the perils of the forest, including bears, cougars and poisonous snakes.
Next there was a drawing to determine the order of starting in the competitions. To spread them out on the courses, up to five people in different categories would set out at five-minute intervals. After the meeting, there were two transmitters on the hotel grounds for RDF equipment testing and setup.
For fairness, the organizers didn’t disclose the exact sites of the competition in advance. That kept anyone from doing advance reconnaissance in person or via Google Earth. Competitors boarded buses on Saturday and Sunday mornings, not knowing where there were going.
In addition to site secrecy, there are three other reasons why ARDF championships in Albuquerque have always had bus transportation to the venues: It’s important for everyone to arrive and depart at the same time, parking at the sites is often quite limited and buses would provide rapid evacuation of the area in case of a fire. Furthermore, the buses make rental cars unnecessary for out-of-town visitors.
The 2 meter competition on Saturday was close to Los Alamos, about two hours north of Albuquerque at 7200 feet elevation. A 2650 acre area by the cemetery north of the town had recently been mapped. Fortunately, it had not been destroyed by the Las Conchas fire earlier this year.
The 2 meter starting corridor -- normally a dirt path into the woods -- was a rocky canyon this year. Participants had to carefully proceed through it and out into the forest, carrying their RDF gear. Most of them used three- or four-element Yagi beams that were connected to receivers that gave wide-range RF attenuation to give accurate bearings as they approached the transmitters. Many of the beams were home-built using tape-measure elements.
The best overall performance of the day belonged to Volodymyr Gniedov, a visitor from Ukraine. He dashed to all five transmitters in optimum order and got to the finish in just under 72.5 minutes. Among the Region 2 competitors, the best was Vadim Afonkin, KB1RLI, of Boston in the category for men ages 40 to 49. He punched in at his four required foxes and got to the finish in just under 85 minutes. In the category for men ages 60 to 69, Jay Hennigan, WB6RDV, of Goleta, California took almost the same time as Vadim to find his required three foxes.
A Second Chance on 80
The 80 meter competition on Sunday was at about the same elevation, but it was much closer to Albuquerque along the road to Sandia Crest. Direction finding on this band is easier than on 2 meters because there are no confusing signal reflections from hills and other terrain features. Almost all of the competitors fared better on this band. They carried small receivers with RF gain controls to pick up the CW signals.
Most 80 meter sets had multi-turn loop antennas of about 10 inches diameter. These provided very sharp signal nulls to indicate direction. A few had ferrite rod antennas instead of loops. Both types of 80 meter tracking systems are lighter and easier to carry than typical 2 meter RDF gear.
Once again, Volodymyr Gniedov had the best five-fox time of the day, more than 18 minutes faster than his 2 meter time. Vadim Afonkin was nearly 30 minutes faster than the day before, getting his four foxes in less than 56 minutes. In the category for men ages 60 to 69, it was a close race between two Californians, both of whom found their required three transmitters in under 81 minutes. Hennigan won gold again, edging out silver medalist Bob Cooley, KF6VSE, of Pleasanton, California, by 39 seconds.
AARC’s Co-chairs of the organizers for this year’s championships were Jerry Boyd, WB8WFK, and Mike Pendley, K5ATM. Boyd was on USA’s team for the ARDF World Championships in 2004, 2006 and 2010. In addition to designing the courses and determining the transmitter locations, he played a big role in mapping and field-checking the venues. As host of the competitors, Pendley was the primary contact for the hotel and for the buses. He was also the emcee of the Saturday night banquet, when medals were presented to the 2 meter event winners.
Other key organizers included Scott Stevenson, KC5VVB, who was in charge of the starting areas on Saturday and Sunday. Marvin Johnston, KE6HTS, organized the training camp and brought additional electronic scoring equipment. April Moell, WA6OPS, headed up the First Aid support. Many members of AARC and Los Alamos Amateur Radio Club played important roles at the start and finish lines. Additional support was provided by New Mexico Orienteers.
Depending on age/gender category, competitors had to find from two to five of the transmitters each day. The transmitter numbers to be found for each category were predetermined and were announced in advance. Straight-line course lengths from start to each transmitter to the finish were 2.0 to 4.4 miles, depending on category. Those who found all required foxes were at the top of the standings, in order of elapsed time. Those who found all but one were next, and so forth. There was a three-hour elapsed time limit each day.
Congratulations to the Region 2 gold medalists (in alphabetical order): Vadim Afonkin, KB1RLI (M40, both bands); Ruth Bromer, WB4QZG (W60, both bands); Brian DeYoung, K4BRI (M50, 2 meters); Marji Garrett, KJ4ZKC (W50, 2 meters); Jay Hennigan, WB6RDV (M60, both bands); Lori Huberman (W21, both bands); Harley Leach, KI7XF (M70, both bands); Alla Mezhevaya (W35, both bands); Nick Roethe, DF1FO (M50, 80 meters), and Grant Van Skiver, VE7GVS (M21, both bands).
More on the Web
For complete results of each competitor on both days -- including order of finding transmitters and exact elapsed times to each one -- go to the event website. For more information about ARDF Team USA and the sport of ARDF, plus many more photos of these championships, go to the Homing In website.
Watch for my announcement of the next USA ARDF championships, now being planned for June 2012. Medal winners at the 2011 and 2012 USA ARDF Championships may receive invitations to join ARDF Team USA for the 2012 ARDF World Championships, which will take place next September in Serbia. USA’s national championships are open to all, so now is the time to start learning the sport and helping the promising radio-orienteers in your own area to get ready.