Amateurs Keep Targa Tasmania on Track
Targa Tasmania is a tarmac car rally, with a focus on historic and classic cars, which runs over five days and covers much of Tasmania. For many years, Amateurs have formed the core of the communications team, this year deploying repeaters on 26 stages and providing 42 SOS and other radio points. The team included 22 Amateurs and sixteen others operators. Close to 300 competitors covered more than 2,100 kilometres, including 450 kilometres on 42 competitive stages. Many on the communications team covered similar distances, though at less favourable times of day (and at a slower pace!) Normal day time hours were spent “on the job”, followed by “after hours” travel to the next days location. The first stages each day involve teams being set up and ready for operations as early as 05:45. But, it can’t be all bad because some teams have been coming back for more for 10 years!
In 2007, a new dimension was added. Most Amateurs with an interest in APRS often comment that it is good to see mobile stations on the APRS map. The great majority of stations simply sit there going nowhere. (It would be a worry if they did move because most are QTH’s and digipeaters!) Targa Tasmania provides a virtual feast of moving vehicles and therefore an opportunity to make APRS a little more interesting. So, the organisers were approached to see if they were prepared to co-operate. They were, willingly – after having a taste of APRS on the Tasmanian Subaru Safari (A.R. Nov. 2006). That event was relatively easy to cover, being confined to an area of the Southern Forests of Tasmania over only two days.
Two thirds of Tasmania is reasonably well covered by APRS. Hill top digipeaters are sited on Mt Barrow (1,400m) in the north east - VK7RAA, Snug Tiers (400m) in the south east - VK7RHT, Mt Read (1,100m) in the west – VK7RWC plus Table Cape on the north west coast - VK7RAC. Several fill-in VK7 digipeaters also operate, including RAD in Hobart, DIK-1 in Ulverstone and ABB-1 near Penguin. Observations of travellers over several months gave an indication of the APRS coverage of the Targa competitive stages and the transport stages between them. There were some big gaps, especially on the east and west coasts.
Plans for two other hill top digipeaters were advanced. Dion VK7YBI built, licensed and deployed VK7RVP at Valentines Peak (1,100m) to fill the gap between the west and north west coasts. He also built the VK7REC digipeater which Joe VK7JG with NTARC (Northern Tasmanian ARC) members deployed on Snow Hill (970m) to provide additional cover on some of the East Coast and to fill a “dodgy” gap in the Midlands between Hobart and Launceston. These will stay in place as part of the Tasmanian “digi-fleet”.
RF connections between north and south are spasmodic. RAA on Mt Barrow can get into RHT on Snug Tiers reasonably often, but not so in reverse due to the much lower power (4W) of RHT. Therefore, IGated traffic was going to be integral to maintaining state-wide cover. Rally Command would draw it’s filtered data from an APRS server. Dick VK7DIK runs an I-Gate fed from RWC, Danny VK7HDM from RAD, Paul VK7KPG from RAA and Dave VK7DC from RAC. Unfortunately the hackers got into Danny’s network but Scott VK7HSE was able fill the hole via RHT.
The primary focus of the exercise was “big picture” – the general movement of the three strategic vehicles around, or along, each Leg (day) of the rally. However, more detailed coverage of each stage would be a “nice to have”. To this end it was decided to deploy fill-in digis at some of the Stage voice repeater sites. Up to four were deployed each day.
Perhaps the biggest challenge came almost at the end. Mt Arrowsmith is the longest and geographically most remote of all the stages. It is 48 kilometres in length, winds between high mountains and is remote from hill top digis. RWC on Mt Read is the nearest but there are high barriers between Mt Read and the Mount Arrowsmith stage. It was known that the voice repeater site on the Strahan stage had good access to Mt Read. The next stage, Queenstown, had given mixed coverage from its repeater site direct to Mt Read but was expected to reach the Strahan repeater site OK. Targa voice cover for the Mount Arrowsmith stage is achieved via the Forestry Tasmania and Parks networked repeaters on Mt Owen and Mt King William.
The remoteness of the stage precluded thorough testing, so a contingency was planned for. This was to place a battery operated digipeater as high on Mt Owen as access and logistics would allow (involving an even earlier pre-dawn start, possibly snow, and recovery afterwards). Permission to access the locked mountain track was obtained. A digipeater would also be deployed at a Targa Radio Point located 32 kilometres into the stage at the Frenchman’s Cap helipad.
So, how did it go? The
Clerk of the Course reported that the system was very helpful with only one
hole of any consequence. Coverage of most stages and transport legs
was excellent. Unfortunately, the two hardest areas, the upper East Coast
and Mount Arrowsmith were frustratingly missed. The East Coast because of
the failure of a PRM radio used on the Weldborough Pass digipeater (lost Tx)
and, even more frustratingly, on Mt Owen because of what is suspected to be
something as simple as a BNC connector not correctly attached to a radio.
Set up checks of both, including
TNC LEDs and local RF output, gave the appearance that all was
well, but later bench tests found output measurable only in milliwatts. A
lesson learned the hard way!
way of compensation, the deployment of the digi on Mt Owen was exciting in
it’s own right. A reconnaissance in daylight located a suitable site which
was revisited pre-dawn, in thick mist, the next day. The track is very
steep, four wheel drive only. Most of the way up, nothing was visible on
one side, mainly because there was nothing there – nor was there for a very
long way down. The mast base was jammed between rocks and guys attached to
more rocks. The digi and battery were enclosed in a waterproof bag with
Sunrise occurred whilst the job was being completed giving
spectacular lighting of the cloud tops below and the sheer rock faces
above. A retreat, with a stop for eerie photos back down in the clouds,
returned the intrepid explorers to the bitumen. Unfortunately, further
access was barred until the rally had passed, so the ailing digi stayed
This successful Amateur event was largely enabled by the excellent cooperation within the Tasmanian Amateur Radio community. A list of all concerned would be long. However, special mention has to be made of Dion VK7YBI who built both RVP and REC digipeaters and deployed RVP with the help of Steve VK7FWWF, and to mountain man Joe VK7JG, for technical input and REC deployment. The input of Scott VK7HSE must also be recognised. He provided me with much guidance until illness made it impossible. It was great to have him out of hospital and back on board for the event. VK7s Brian BW, Bruce MBD, Peter TPE and the writer, in addition to their normal Targa roles, established digis at, or close to, their primary job locations each day. Also thanks to the I-Gate owners, mentioned earlier, who maintained the feeds.
More pictures here
– mouse GPS, TinyTrak3 Plus, PRM (25W) – alternate paths TAS3-3 and WIDE1-1,WIDE3-3
– mouse GPS, TinyTrak33 Plus, PRM (25W) – alternate paths TAS3-3 and WIDE1-1,WIDE3-3
- mouse GPS, TinyTrak3, Maxon data radio (4W) – alternate paths TAS3-3 and WIDE1-1,WIDE3-3