ARDF Update: Team USA Forming after Successful National Championships
"Texas is supposed to be flat!" Those were the first words of Nadia Scharlau after she crossed the 2 meter finish line at the 2008 USA Championships of Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) on May 9. She had just earned another gold medal to add to her collection by finding her four required "fox" transmitters on a surprisingly hilly 6.6 kilometer course in Central Texas.
Nadia, a medal winner at the World Championships two years ago, was one of the fans of on foot "foxhunting" who in May, came to the Lone Star State to see who is best at it and to encourage newcomers. This year's participants ranged in age from 12 to 66.
Planning for our eighth national championships began immediately after last year's championships near South Lake Tahoe, California. Kenneth and Jennifer Harker, WM5R and W5JEN, volunteered to organize and host the 2008 event. They had competed at the USA Championships in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007. Each won medals on both bands in the South Lake Tahoe hunts. Together, they put on the first Texas ARDF Championships in October 2005.
Ken and Jen live in Austin, about an hour away from Bastrop State Park, a favorite venue for events of the Houston Orienteering Club. Bastrop was an obvious choice for the championships site, but also a very good one. With rolling terrain and woods full of loblolly pines, this well-mapped park is an ideal ARDF venue. Locals call these trees the "lost pines" because they are separated by 150 miles from the piney woods of East Texas.
World ARDF Championships take place in even-numbered years. In those years, it's best to hold the USA championships in the spring, allowing plenty of time for selecting and assembling our national team. Texas was a good choice for spring since the summer and early fall days are considered too hot and humid for orienteering and other strenuous outdoor activities. Temperatures on this second weekend in May got into the 80s, about average for the month. Ken and Jen would have preferred a few weeks earlier, but much of Bastrop State Park is closed in April as that is breeding season for the endangered Houston toad. The world's largest population of this species lives in the park.
Flexible Yagis Everywhere
Radio-orienteers -- from nine states plus Canada -- gathered at Copperas Creek campground in Bastrop Park on May 8 for equipment checking and practice. Test transmitters were nearby on both 2 meters and 80 meters. The campground was filled with foxhunters carrying Yagis and other directional antennas, causing some campers to ask, "Are you trying to get TV?"
After the practice, everyone gathered as field medic April Moell, WA6OPS, drew numbers from a hat to determine the starting order of the competition. This was followed by presentations from Matthew Robbins, AA9YH, and Ken Harker, WM5R. Matthew gave an overview of ARDF that was beneficial, especially for the first-timers. Ken talked about the competitions to come, including technical parameters and what to expect out in the woods -- snakes, spiders and poison ivy! What are we getting into here? Fortunately, the probability of serious injury was low and medical care was close at hand.
Friday's 2 meter course was in the western half of the park. According to IARU ARDF rules, each competitor seeks three, four or five transmitters, depending on their age/gender category. Shortest distance from start to each fox, and then to the finish, varied by category from 5.5-6.7 kilometers. The terrain made it impossible to go point-to-point most of the time, and most competitors stayed close to the trails, so actual track lengths were much greater.
The rolling hills in this part of Texas are reminiscent of the Missouri Ozarks. Temperatures climb through the day and peak about suppertime, so getting the competition completed by 2 PM was a big help. Fortunately, there was no lightning or rain during the championships.
Vadim Afonkin, a 39 year old from Boston, turned in the best overall performance of the day; he bagged all five foxes in under 88 minutes. This is his fifth consecutive year of winning medals at USA Championships. He was on Team USA for the World Championships in 2004 (Czech Republic) and 2006 (Bulgaria).
After resting for the remainder of the afternoon, everyone gathered at the park dining hall for a catered supper and presentation of gold, silver and bronze medals for the 2 meter event. Ken and Jen had arranged for plenty of lasagna and salad to get everyone ready for another round of competition. The cake was good, too.
80 Meters, Too
Many attendees wanted to get home in time for Mother's Day, so the 80 meter hunt on Saturday started an hour earlier. Again, all of the fox transmitters came on like clockwork and the start went smoothly.
Whereas the usual RDF systems for 2 meters include a flexible-element Yagi or phased directional array, the "weapons of choice" on 80 meters are loop and ferrite rod antennas. The 80 meter sets are much smaller and the signals don't reflect from the terrain, so hunting on this band is much more straightforward and times were better for almost everyone, even though the courses were longer, 6.1-7.5 kilometers. Vadim Afonkin again had the best time of the day, just under 83 minutes for all five foxes. No hunters exceeded the 3 hour maximum time on this band.
All timing and scoring for these championships were done with SPORTident registration stations and competitor-carried RFID chips. Equipment was provided by Marvin Johnston, KE6HTS, and the Los Angeles Orienteering Club. Each competitor received a printout with his or elapsed time to each of the foxes found and to the finish. "E-punch" made it possible to start awarding the 80 meter medals before 1 PM.
Packing gold medals in their suitcases for the trip home were Vadim Afonkin (M21 2 and 80 meters); Michael Bayern, W2CVZ (M19 2 and 80 meters); Jerry Boyd, WB8WFK (M50 2 meters); Bob Cooley, KF6VSE (M60 2 meters); Jay Hennigan, WB6RDV (M50 80 meters); Harley Leach, KI7XF (M60 80 meters); Nadia Scharlau (W35 2 and 80 meters), and Charles Scharlau, NZ0I (M40 2 and 80 meters).
Congratulations also go to visitor Valeri Georgiev, who had best 2 meter time in the M40 division. He grew up with ARDF in his native Bulgaria and would like to have regular radio-orienteering sessions in the Montreal area, where he now lives. If you live in southern Quebec and want to join in, contact me and I will put you in touch. He would be an excellent teacher.
Hats off to Ken and Jen for providing a wonderful championship get-together this year. Their thorough organization and attention to detail resulted in a low-stress event for the competitors and increased fun for everyone. As always, local volunteers made it go more smoothly. Dale Martin, KG5U, helped with setting up and retrieving the foxboxes on Friday and Saturday. Helping at the start and finish areas were Roger Agnew, K1KQ; Skip Cameron, W5GAI; Jim George, N3BB; Larry Hammel, K5OT; Tom Risher, KD6HWD, and Vicki Risher, KD6MCM.
Your Town Next Year?
I am looking for hosts and organizers for ARDF events in 2009. USA ARDF Championships have taken place in New Mexico, Georgia, Ohio, California, North Carolina and Texas so far. Almost every state has an area of forest that is suitable for the sport. Excellent orienteering maps may already be available, because there are US Orienteering Federation clubs in 40 states. Besides maps, these clubs can assist with scoring systems, flags, site acquisition, insurance and so forth.
Don't worry too much about the transmitters. There are plenty available for loan from active groups. Instead, concentrate on the site and the hospitality aspects, such as where people will stay, what they will eat and how they will get from place to place. If your club or ham group has put on a big hamfest or ARRL convention, you probably have the skills and resources to organize the USA ARDF Championships. The optimum months will be July and August. If you or your club is interested, please contact me via e-mail.
Team Openings Remain
Have you ever thought about competing on the world stage? There are some openings available to compete for the USA this September at the ARDF World Championships in Korea, sponsored by the Korean Amateur Radio League (KARL). All of this year's USA gold medalists plus those from last year and other competitors who did well have been offered positions on ARDF Team USA for the 14th ARDF World Championships. Many are unable to go this year for a variety of reasons, so at this time there is at least one opening remaining in every category except M50 (males age 50-59). This makes it possible for relatively inexperienced radio-orienteers to join the team. It is also possible to attend as a non-competing visitor, but all visitors must be listed on the national team roster.
If you are interested in traveling to the 2008 ARDF World Championships as a member of Team USA (or a USA visitor), to please contact me immediately via e-mail. Do not contact the Korean organizers directly. If you have not been on Team USA before, please include your full name, call sign, mailing address, home phone number and date of birth in your e-mail. If you wish to participate as a citizen of another North or South American country (non-USA), please e-mail IARU Region 2 ARDF Coordinator Dale Hunt, WB6BYU. Canadians should also contact RAC ARDF Coordinator Joe Young, VE7BFK.
To be safe at the World Championships, participants must be capable of solo navigating with a map and compass in the forest for several miles. IARU rules limit Team USA membership to US citizens and legal residents. Each member is responsible for his or her own travel arrangements and entry fees. For more information, check out the Championship Foxhunting News page on my ARDF Web site where prospective participants can get team status reports and download the latest bulletins from the organizers.
The peak months for transmitter hunting activities are upon us, so join in the fun. I always welcome your foxhunting stories and photos.
Joe Moell, K0OV, Contributing Editor
ARRL Amateur Radio Direction Finding Coordinator