ARDF Update: Team USA Forming after USA ARDF Championships
By Joe Moell, K0OV
ARRL Amateur Radio Direction Finding Coordinator
“California, here we come!” Fans of on-foot transmitter hunting converged on the Golden State for five days of Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) training and competition.
The urge for contesting seems to be natural among ham radio operators. Who can contact the most states, countries or zones in a weekend? Who can amass the most counties worked? From DXing to microwaves, nearly every facet of our hobby has its competitions. But there are no more ardent contesters than the ones who take to the fields and forests to see who can locate the greatest number of radio transmitters in the shortest time. They call themselves foxhunters, foxtailers, radio-orienteers and ARDFers. Each year, they come together from around the country to see who is best. Every two years, the best from each country gather to see who is tops in the world.
The 12th USA ARDF Championships took place May 30-June 3 near Mt Laguna, California. In September, the 15th ARDF World Championships will get under way at the resort city of Kopaonik, in central Serbia. Standard rules and procedures of the International Amateur Radio Union govern these competitions.
A Mountain of Foxhunters
Mt Laguna Village, population 57, is a 75 minute drive from Downtown San Diego, first 40 miles east on Interstate 8 and then 10 miles north on Sunrise Highway. It sits at almost 6000 feet above sea level and was designated a National Recreation Area by Presidential Proclamation in 1926. Most participants stayed in the rustic cabins and Spartan motel rooms of Laguna Mountain Lodge.
An ARDF course isn’t really challenging if you can’t leave the trails. The mapped area of Laguna Mountain includes thousands of acres of navigable forest in hilly country that give competitors the opportunity to make route choices and “run the contours” in hopes of minimizing their footsteps and their time. There’s lots of room for running and walking among the Black Oaks and Jeffrey Pines, though care must be taken to avoid tripping over fallen limbs.
Los Angeles Orienteering Club was this year’s primary sponsoring organization, with assistance from San Diego Orienteering and the mobile transmitter hunters of San Diego and Orange Counties. Marvin Johnston, KE6HTS, was General Chair of the organizers. A winner of medals in three previous national championships, Marvin also organized the USA ARDF Championships in 2004 and 2007. He had numerous helpers for transmitter setting, course timing and participant transportation. Radio amateurs on his “staff” included Les Benson, W6CGE; Joe Corones, N6SZO; Tom Gaccione, WB2LRH; Joe Loughlin, KE6PHB, and Gary Sanders, KC6TWZ.
National ARDF Championships are for individuals only; no teaming or assistance on the course is permitted. Participants were divided into six age categories for males, and five age categories for women. Medals for first, second and third place were awarded to winners in each category. Just as in other ham radio contests, there are “big guns” and “little pistols.” All are welcome. Fans of foxtailing came from nine states, plus Canada. For 24 percent of them, it was their first championship direction-finding experience.
Training, Foxoring and Sprints
For those new to ARDF -- and for old-timers wanting more practice --, Marvin and his helpers put on an optional training camp on Wednesday and Thursday before the start of competition. There was a full-length 2 meter course on the first morning and a full 80 meter course on the second. Following a tri-tip beef barbecue lunch on Thursday, it was time for the trainees to experience a new hybrid of orienteering and ARDF.
Foxoring was developed to get classic orienteers interested in ARDF. It also helps ARDF enthusiasts to improve their orienteering skills. Championship foxoring is presently done only on 80 meters.
At the starting line, foxoring competitors are given a map marked with circles for at least 10 transmitters, plus the start and finish. The fox transmitters are close to or within the map circles. They must be at least 250 meters from one other and at least 250 meters from the start and finish lines. All of the foxoring transmitters operate continuously. They are very weak (about 10 mW with 1-foot vertical antennas), so their range is about 100 feet. Competitors start at two minute intervals and navigate to the circles using their maps and compasses. Then they complete the final approach by direction-finding. After “punching in” at all required foxes, they head to the finish line.
More competitors arrived on Friday, the first official day of the championships. One 2 meter and one 80 meter test transmitter were on the air for participants’ equipment tests starting at noon. Later, it was time for the second of the two new ARDF events.
The sprint competition is a shortened form of the regular five-fox 80 meter ARDF run. It was originally designed to be a demonstration for the public. At world championships, the sprint course has two loops with a spectator corridor between them. The first loop has five transmitters on one frequency. They transmit for 12 seconds each in numbered sequence for a one minute total cycle; this is five times faster than the rate of IARU standard 80 meter competition transmitters. The second loop has five transmitters on another frequency, transmitting in sequence at the same fast rate.
Sprint competitors normally start at two minute intervals. They run through the start corridor, which leads to the area with transmitters 1-5. After finding all the required transmitters from this loop in any order, they run to the spectator corridor transmitter and then out to the area where transmitters 6-10 await. They find all the required transmitters from this second loop in any order, and then they rush to the finish transmitter and the finish line. Sprint transmitters must be at least 100 meters apart and are at least 100 meters from the start and finish. They run about half the power of regular 80 meter competition transmitters.
Friday evening after the sprints, Marvin hosted a get-acquainted meeting with a briefing on safety and other important information about the big hunts to come. The formal 2 meter competition took place on Saturday and the 80 meter event on Sunday. Thanks to electronic scoring, it was possible for the medal awards ceremony to start shortly after the 80 meter hunt concluded, to accommodate participants who had flights to home that afternoon and evening.
Who Got the Medals?
The weekend competition courses were designed to be difficult, on par with those at world championships. Straight-line distance from the start to each of the five transmitters in optimum order and then to the finish near the lodge was about 6.4 kilometers each day. Elevation of the finish was 300 feet higher than the start, with lots of hills and ravines between.
Skies were partly cloudy with temperatures mostly in the 70s, making for good running conditions. All of the competitors and their gear were taken by van to the starting point, which was four miles by road from the lodge. After a delay for repair of one transmitter, they set out on the 2 meter course in groups of three or four, each group consisting of hunters in different age and gender categories.
Because one 2 meter fox transmitter failed and some competitors had RDF equipment problems, the most foxes found by anyone on Saturday were three. Of those 3-transmitter finders, the best time (1:12:38) was posted by Nicolai Mejevoi, a former ARDF champion for the USSR and Moldava, who now lives in Illinois. The second best time (1:34:12) was by Vadim Afonkin, KB1RLI, of Boston. Almost as fast (1:35:30) was 69 year old Bob Cooley, KF6VSE, of Pleasanton, California.
With no signal reflections from the hills to confuse them, ARDF competitors usually do better on 80 meters than on 2 meters. Sunday’s competition on 80 meters was no exception. Whereas 2 meter times had been mostly between two and three hours, the majority of the 80 meter times were under two hours. Every 80 meter participant except one found all required transmitters.
Ian Smith of Somerville, Massachusetts was required to find all five foxes and he did it in only 1:11:40. In the categories requiring four foxes, Vadim Afonkin, KB1RLI, got them in just under 53 minutes, which was almost 20 minutes faster than Nicolai Mejevoi. Bob Cooley, KF6VSE, had the third-best time of the day (1:21:08), finding his three required foxes.
Other medal recipients (in alphabetical order) were Dick Arnett, WB4SUV (M60 silver on 80 meters and bronze on 2 meters); Ruth Bromer, WB4QZG (F60 gold on 80 meters and silver on 2 meters); Brian DeYoung, K4BRI (M50 gold on 80 meters and bronze on 2 meters); Marji Garrett, KJ4ZKC (F50 gold on both 2 and 80 meters); Jay Hennigan, WB6RDV (M60 gold on 80 meters and silver on 2 meters); Joseph Huberman, K5JGH (M60 gold on 2 meters and bronze on 80 meters); Lori Huberman (F21 gold on both 2 and 80 meters); Harley Leach, KI7XF (M70 silver on both 2 and 80 meters); Karla Leach, KC7BLA (F60 gold on 2 meters and silver on 80 meters); Alla Mezhevaya (F35 gold on both 2 and 80 meters); Scott Moore, KF6IKO (M50 silver on 2 meters and bronze on 80 meters); Matt Robbins, AA9YH (M40 bronze on both 2 and 80 meters); Christine Sanders, KE6BRY (F50 silver on 2 meters); Mike Schuh, KF7QDZ (M50 gold on 2 meters and silver on 80 meters); Ian Smith (M21 gold on both 2 and 80 meters) and Brad Weyers (M21 silver on 80 meters).
Every orienteering venue has its perils. Mountain lions are the biggest concern in the remote forests of Southern California. As he searched for a transmitter in mid-course, Grant Van Skiver, VE7GVS of New Westminster, British Columbia, saw one run right past him. Grant remembered the advice that April Moell, WA6OPS, had given at the safety and medical briefing: “Look big, wave your arms and make noise.” He did that and the cat ran away. Unfortunately, Grant lost his Yaesu VX-3R transceiver in the process, putting an end to his quest for transmitters that day.
Complete results of the 12th USA Championships are available online. Lots of photos were taken and are being published on the web. Go to my Homing In website for links to these photo pages as they appear, as well as much more about the growing sport of ARDF.
Ready for the World
The Mt Laguna results -- as well as those of last year’s USA Championships in New Mexico -- have determined which radio-orienteers are receiving invitations to go up against others from about 30 countries at the 2012 ARDF World Championships, September 10-16. A maximum of three competitors in each age/gender category may be on a nation’s team.
The three categories for males between 40 and 69 (ages as of December 31, 2012) already have a full slate of team candidates. The categories for males of other ages and for all females presently have uncontested openings, so it is possible for inexperienced radio-orienteers in these ranges to join the team. It is also possible to attend as a non-competing visitor, but all visitors must be listed as such on the national team roster.
In addition to the usual 2 meter and 80 meter competitions, the 2012 World Championships will include the first World Sprint and Foxoring ARDF Championships. For more information including location, transportation, housing, meals and tours, download Bulletin #2 from the organizers.
Just before the World Championships for national teams, the Amateur Radio Union of Serbia will host the ARDF World Cup, a four-event open competition for individuals from any country. The Second ARDF World Championship for the Blind will also take place there on September 11.
If you are interested in traveling to the 2012 ARDF WCs as a member of Team USA or as a USA visitor, please contact me now via e-mail. Do not contact the Serbian organizers directly. If you have not been on Team USA before, include your full name, call sign, mailing address, home phone number and date of birth.
If you wish to participate as a citizen of another North or South American country (non-USA), send an e-mail to IARU Region 2 ARDF Coordinator Dale Hunt, WB6BYU. Canadians should also contact RAC ARDF Coordinator Joe Young, VE7BFK.
Now it is time to plan for next year's national championships. Several locations are under consideration and a decision will be made in a few months. If you think your locality has suitable sites and the other resources necessary for a top notch ARDF event, please contact me right away.
If you haven’t experienced on-foot foxhunting for yourself, why not give it a try? You don't have to be an Olympic athlete to have a great time. It's a wonderful way to get the whole family involved in an outdoor ham radio activity.
See you in the woods!