Rain Gutter Antenna
41 Countries in 5 Hours with 100 Watts into a Rain Gutter!
by Jack Ciaccia, WMØG
I decided to try the ARRL International CW DX Contest from my new, super stealthy HF radio setup… let me explain.
My HF rig is an ICOM 745 and a Dentron trans match running 100w but my antenna system is a little unusual, though. After I moved to my new QTH in Lafayette, CO, I tried to put up my trusty old Butternut HF6VX Vertical. I am located in a covenant controlled neighborhood and thought the vertical would suffice as it is ground-mounted and is not taller than my house. But, the local neighborhood HOA “watchdog” showed up at my front door about one week after I put it up and reminded me about the HOA rules of NO OUTSIDE ANTENNAS! It turns out, she lives in the house directly in back of me and can see the antenna from her dining room window—my typical luck! Well, not to put the nice radial system I had recently “planted” to waste, I started to think about some alternative, stealthy antenna designs.
I noticed the rain gutters and downspouts of my house. They were aluminum and brand new so they probably made contact continuously. The downspout section is about 25 feet high and it connects to a horizontal gutter run which is 35 feet long. Hmmm… 60 feet of conductive material in an inverted ‘L’ Marconi type design and ready-made! I’d heard of Hams loading up their rain gutters before but never thought that I would be relegated to this option myself. I ran a 50-foot piece of RG-8X out from the “shack” to the bottom of the drain spout. I drilled a hole in the drain pipe and attached a sheet metal screw. To this screw, I attached the center conductor of the RG-8X coax. The shield side of the coax was then soldered to the ground radial leads. The ground radial system consists of 10 random lengths of 4 conductor antenna rotor cable buried in the lawn and the ends of three of these radials are also screwed into my basement’s metal window wells too.
I tested the stealth antenna with my MFJ antenna analyzer to see if there were any inherent resonant points on this system. There were a few spots where the “Rain Gutter Antenna” was under 2:1 SWR.
Coincidentally, these occurred at the top of the 75-meter band and again in the middle of the 15-meter band… “Life is good”. Time to attach it to the trans match and HF rig and “fire it up”. It loaded up nicely on 75 meters so I thought I would try to check into one of my favorite WAS nets, the GERATOL Net on 3.768 MHz. Net control was in Indiana and had no problem hearing me. As the net went on, Yardley Beers, WØJF, a local, also checked in and now I had a reference station for reported signal strengths. The signal reports Yardley was getting from the same stations we worked were very similar to mine, although once in a while he would be an S unit above me. Not too bad, considering he was using a well-designed trap vertical for 75 meters.
So now I had some confidence in my antenna system and decided to try the DX contest. This would be a difficult test due to the pile-ups on the DX stations. Fortunately, though, the contest DX stations have some excellent antennas and operators. I worked all bands 80M to 10M. As I said in the title, I worked 41 different countries in 5 hours of operating time on all bands. I was selective in who I called too. I worked 78 total “band countries” and made 97 contacts. Most of these stations answered on my first call. I also made sure to “zero beat” right on top of their frequency before I called.
I spent about half of my 5 hours on 40M and worked 28 different countries there in the evening. In one hour on 20M, I worked 20 more countries; one hour on I5M yielded 14; 15 minutes on 10M another 9 countries; and about 15 minutes on 75M with 7 more. Of course, I had duplicated some of the same countries on these different bands, but the totally different countries worked was 41. 12 of these countries were in Central America and the Caribbean, 6 in South America, 14 in Central and Eastern Europe, 3 in the South Pacific, 2 in Asia, 1 in Africa, 1 in Antarctica, plus Alaska and Hawaii.
No doubt, the “wile and guile” I’ve learned over my many years of DXing played a small part in my getting through, but the “Rain Gutter Antenna”, I thought, played pretty well too. If I had known this antenna was going to perform so well, I would have planned to work the entire contest and attempt to achieve a DXCC country count! I’ve written this article in hopes of inspiring other Hams living under similar conditions to look around at the possibilities of not-so-typical antenna designs and give HF and DXing a try. There are many ways of devising a stealthy antenna and many books have been written on the subject. The satisfaction of making a QSO under not-so-ideal conditions is a lot more gratifying than working DX with a KW and a multi-element array at 150+ feet. Ask anyone who works QRP! Plus, working under adverse conditions hones up your operating skills and then, when you do have a better antenna farm, you will probably be a better operator as well.
The feed to the rain gutter is barely visible in these photos as well as the braided connection to the radials.
The rain gutter antenna has a vertical component approximately 25′ high and extends horizontally across the roofline for 35′.