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ARDF Update: Three Medals for Team USA at the 2010 ARDF World Championships


By Joe Moell, K0OV
ARRL Amateur Radio Direction Finding Coordinator

The 15th ARDF World Championships have just ended and Team USA members stood proudly on the podium once again.

ARDF Team USA has just returned from Croatia, the site of this year’s World Championships of Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF). Three team members have new medals for their collections, the most medals ever earned in the World Championships by the USA.

On September 15, the first of two competition days, Karla Leach, KC7BLA, and Ruth Bromer, WB4QZG,captured second place among national teams in the category for women over age 60 (W60) in the 80 meter band competition. Then in a rainstorm on September 17, George Neal, KF6YKN, won the individual bronze medal in the category for men of ages 50-59 (M50), also on the 80 meter band.

ARDF -- also called foxtailing and radio-orienteering -- requires map-and-compass proficiency, as well as skill in using direction-finding gear. It is done entirely on foot. Each day, the competitors set forth into a 1700 acre woods containing five “fox” transmitters in unknown locations. The foxes for each band are all on the same frequency and each one comes on the air for 60 seconds at a time in rotating sequence. Only men and women in the prime age category are required to look for all five; those in the other age/gender categories search for fewer, in accordance with International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) rules.

Karla and Ruth were required to seek numbers 1, 2 and 3. George had to find numbers 1, 3, 4 and 5. After punching in at as many of those transmitters as possible, they had to make their way to a finish point that was marked on the map. It also had a continuous homing beacon on another frequency that they could track with RDF.

The shortest point-to-point route for start to each required fox and then to the finish was 2.25 miles (3.64 km) for W60, and 2.45 miles (3.94 km) for M50, but such a direct route was impossible due to the terrain; their actual distances traveled were closer to four miles. Karla and Ruth found two of their required transmitters in 1:26:09 and 1:50:43, respectively. The rules require team members to work independently and they are started at separate times. Individual results are combined to determine team scores. George found all four of his required transmitters in 0:54:57. This was just 97 seconds more than the M50 gold medalist’s time.

ARDF on the Adriatic

The ARDF World Championships take place in even-numbered years in countries selected by the international ARDF Working Group. Besides the ARRL team, 22 other national Amateur Radio societies sent teams to this year’s events, which took place near Opatija on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. The grand hotels of this resort city were once the winter hideaways for Yugoslavian dictator Tito in the mid-20th century, and before that, for Austrian nobility in the 19th century. There are many beautiful forests nearby, full of bay laurel.

Each ARDF contestant ran two courses, one using 80 meters and one on 2 meters. On the first day, men between age 40-49 (M40), as well as all of the women, sought the 80 meter transmitters in the woods; everyone else went after the 2 meter transmitters. It was the reverse on the second day of competition, which was in a different location. Organizers planned a day of rest between the two competition days, with tours for everyone to the ancient city of Porec.

As usual, most of the medals went to Eastern European nations such as Russia, Ukraine and the Czech Republic, where ARDF is a prominent sport that has been going on for more than 50 years. By contrast, this was only USA’s seventh trip to the World Championships, but each time, our performances have improved.

Karla has been participating in ARDF since 2000. This is her fourth time as a competitor in the World Championships and her first world medal. As a long-time member of Backwoods Orienteering Klub, Ruth was already familiar with running in the forest with a map and compass when she went to her first ARDF event last year near Boston, quickly catching on to the direction-finding aspects of the sport. Karla and Ruth qualified for Team USA by taking the top two positions in W60 category at the 2010 USA ARDF Championships in Ohio. Karla’s husband, Harley Leach, KI7XF, and Ruth's daughter Lori Huberman also competing in Croatia this year. On the second competition day, Ruth and Lori were the fourth place individual finishers in their respective age categories on 2 meters.

George has been active in ARDF for much of his life. As HA3PA, he competed for his native Hungary. When he relocated to the USA, he became a leader in developing the sport here by helping to train our team members. He was in USA’s first delegation to the ARDF World Championships in 1998. This is the second time he has captured a World Championship medal for the USA, the first being at the 2008 events near Seoul, Korea.

In addition to those listed above, the following USA team members competed on the radio-orienteering courses in Croatia: Vadim Afonkin, KB1RLI (M40); Dick Arnett, WB4SUV (M60); Jerry Boyd, WB8WFK (M40); Bob Cooley, KF6VSE (M60); Jennifer Harker, W5JEN (W35); Kenneth Harker, WM5R (M21); Jay Hennigan, WB6RDV (M50); Dale Hunt, WB6BYU (M50), and Alla Mezhevaya (W35). Kuon Hunt, KB7WRG, was the USA Team Captain. Marvin Johnston, KE6HTS, Represented the USA and IARU Region 2 on the international jury that oversaw the competitions.

A Special Event for the Visually Impaired

Also in Opatija during championships week were the First ARDF World Championships for the Blind. Among the competitors was Dennis Schwendtner, WB6OBB, of Santa Barbara, California. Dennis has many years of experience in direction-finding, both mobile and on foot. He won USA’s first ARDF national championships for the blind at the Dayton Hamvention in 2007.

Croatians hams are pioneers at adapting ARDF for non-sighted persons, holding regular foxtailing events at Amateur Radio clubs for the blind in that country. Their rules call for participants to seek five 80 meter transmitters on a large flat lawn, such as a soccer field. They are started individually with the first transmitter already on the air. Upon finding #1, it is turned off by an official and #2 is turned on to find, and so forth. Navigating to within 8 feet (2.5 meters) of a transmitter is considered to be a “find.”

Besides Dennis, there were 13 visually-impaired competitors from Croatia, three from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and one from Germany. Dennis placed fourth in the category for men over age 50, finding all five transmitters in less than five minutes. That was an excellent showing against the well-practiced Croatians.

In the week prior to the World Championships, the Croatian organizers put on four full days of optional ARDF training and practice in various locations near Opatija. Several members of Team USA took advantage of some or all of these opportunities to train. There was also a “model event” on the day before the first competition, giving everyone a chance to make final equipment checks.

Most Team USA members had already been training all summer in their home towns. For instance, Marvin Johnston, KE6HTS, put on two weekend “training camps” at an 8000 foot elevation in the Los Padres National Forest of Southern California -- one in July and one in August. Participants had to seek all five fox transmitters on each band during those sessions, no matter what their age/gender category.

More results and photos of Team USA members at the 2010 ARDF World Championships are at Additional photos will be posted as more of the participants arrive home.

ARDF makes an excellent activity for ham clubs. Find out more about the sport and equipment for it at my Web site. I will soon be announcing the site and dates of the 2011 USA ARDF Championships. Like the World Championships, the USA Championships will award medals for the first three places in each of the 11 age/gender categories. Our national championships are open to all and they are qualifying events for Team USA. Is there a future champion in your club?



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