Ten thousand years ago, the area south of today's Boston was the home of Algonquian natives called the Massachusett, meaning "people of the great hills." That's how the state got its name. Nowadays, those hills are a major source of recreation, with skiing every winter followed by hiking, fishing, camping and swimming in the warm months. In 2009, for the first time, they were the site of a multi-nation radio direction finding (RDF) contest.
International-rules on-foot RDF contesting, also called foxtailing, radio-orienteering and ARDF, came to the USA in 1991. In the early years, the only stateside activity was on the west coast. The first major event east of the Mississippi didn't take place until 2002. Ideal radio-orienteering locations exist in New England, but only one person from that part of the country became an ARDF regular. He was Vadim Afonkin, formerly UZ3AYT, of Boston (pictured at right).
Vadim learned the sport as a youth in his native Russia, where he won numerous awards. After coming to America, he first participated in USA's national championships in 2003, where he won silver and bronze medals in the five-fox M21 category. He has competed in M21 at every USA championships since then and has had the best five-fox time of all stateside participants every time. As a member of ARDF Team USA, he has been to the 2004, 2006 and 2008 World Championships. In 2008, he finished in fifth place among competitors from 18 nations in the M40 category on 80 meters.
A Mostly-One-Man Show
Normally it takes a club or a large committee to put on an ARDF event of this size and scope. But Vadim, now KB1RLI, did almost all of the leg work himself. To keep participant costs to a minimum, the ARDF championships were combined with a local meet of the New England Orienteering Club and used NEOC's excellent maps of the site. In return for this cooperation, Vadim taught ARDF to interested NEOC members --- more about that later.
With diplomatic help from ARRL Headquarters, Vadim invited ARDF experts from eastern Europe to come to America to take part. He found discounted lodging for participants and extra RDF gear to loan out to beginners. Most important, he set two world-class ARDF courses, one on two meters and the other on eighty meters. "I want to take our USA team up to the next level," he told me, "so we all will do better at future world championships."
Vadim and I discussed two possible forest locations for the contests. One was in the western part of the state, a lengthy drive from Boston. The other was Blue Hills Reservation, the former home of the Massachusett, just ten miles south of the Cradle of Liberty. These 7000 acres are the largest open space within a major metropolitan area. Most of the woods are runable, if you don't mind trails that go up and down 300-foot hills.
The Blue Hills Reservation is away from the expensive downtown area, yet it's easily reached by commuter rail. My only concern about this site was that high levels of urban ham activity and other RF sources might adversely affect two-meter ARDF receivers, especially older European models that have wide intermediate-frequency stages. As it turned out, these worries were mostly unfounded (except for some QRM to sensitive 80-meter receivers from a nearby FM broadcast station). Blue Hills was an ideal location.
Radio-orienteering championships in the USA always attract interest around the world, despite the difficulty of getting visas from some countries to visit the States. For a while, it appeared that foxtailers from China and Mongolia would attend, but that didn't work out. The final list of competitors included representatives from Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Russia, Sweden, United Kingdom and Ukraine.
Among the starters were eight Massachusetts residents, none of whom had been to a large ARDF event before. Five of them were members of the New England Orienteering Club (NEOC). Their experience with map-and-compass navigation gave them a good start in the sport. Beginning in March, Vadim helped them achieve RDF skill by putting on practices and "dry runs" in sites such as Franklin Park.
Up and Down
NEOC's map of the western section of Blue Hills encompasses almost 2000 acres. All of it was used for each of the two transmitter hunts. The finish areas for two meters on Saturday and 80 meters on Sunday were close to the beaches of Houghton Pond in the south. The starts for the two days were at opposite ends. Knowing that two-meter signals can be blocked and reflected by terrain features and wanting to make sure that all of them could be heard, Vadim chose the top of Buck Hill for the start of that event. At 480 feet elevation, it is the highest point in the eastern half of the hunt area.
Vadim's world-class two-meter course was 3.5 miles point-to-point from start to each of the five transmitters in optimum order and then to the finish. Actual routes of the competitors were considerably greater than that, of course. Four of the foxes were near the tops of Burnt Hill, Tucker Hill, Houghton Hill and Hemenway Hill. The fifth was on the steep eastern slope of Great Blue Hill near Wildcat Notch. Time limit was three hours.
The undisputed "Best in Show" for 2009 was 58-year-old Nikolay Ivanchihin UR8UA of Ukraine. He chose the most difficult five-fox M21 category and easily defeated men half his age and younger. Impressive performances on two meters in M21 were turned in by Matthias Kuehlewein DL3SDO, Igor Kekin, Jay Thompson W6JAY, and Ian Smith. But UR8UA beat them all by 27 minutes or more.
What is his secret? It isn't his equipment, which for two meters is a standard Ukrainian ARDF receiver built into the boom of a three-element yagi. According to David Williams M3WDD of the UK, Nikolay has perfected the ability to predict the likely hidden transmitter locations and to continuously estimate his distance from each one by listening to the signal.
Many hunters closely followed their bearings and navigated directly toward each fox in what they judged to be the optimum order. Going cross-country slowed them down as they had to go over hills and through heavy vegetation. By contrast, Nikolay and some other experts made good guesses about the fox locations, then mentally plotted fast courses to each, using the trails. They would continue on the trail until the signal was close and directly to the side, then dive into the woods to punch in at the transmitter.
David's own performance was outstanding, too. M3WDD was the runaway leader in the four-fox M40 category both days. He was more than an hour faster than second place on two meters. Two weeks before, he had won the two-meter hunt at the British ARDF Championships in Shropshire, England.
At the 2008 World Champions near Seoul Korea, UR8UA had taken fifth place on two meters in the M50 category. This was the category in which George Neal KF6YKN was third, making him the second Team USA member to bring home a medal from a World Championship event. On the podium with George that day was Igor Kekin of Russia, who won the gold in that category. KF6YKN couldn't be in Boston this time, but Igor came as a visitor. Even though he is over age 50, he chose to run in M21 and took third place on two meters behind UR8UA and DL3SDO.
At every USA championships, there is friendly rivalry between the OH-KY-IN (Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana) group in the Cincinnati area and the foxtailers from California to see who will get the most medals. This time, it looked like the battle ended in a draw with one of each color medal won by each group. For California, Bob Cooley KF6VSE took gold in M60 on 80 meters and bronze on two meters. Jay Hennigan WB6RDV got silver in M50 on 80 meters. For the Cincinnati group, Dick Arnett WB4SUV captured gold In M60 on two meters, Matthew Robbins AA9YH picked up silver in M40 on two meters, and Bob Frey WA6EZV took home bronze in M60 on 80 meters.
But wait, there was a new team member from OH-KY-IN. Addison Bosley of Erlanger, Kentucky is the grandson of Dick Arnett. At age 11, he was the youngest competitor at these championships. Addison earned gold medals in the M19 category on both bands. Congratulations!
Also performing well as a group were the new hunters from Massachusetts. Lori Huberman won gold in W21 category on both bands. (Lori is the daughter of Ruth Bromer WB4QZG of Raleigh, NC. Ruth also competed and received two gold medals in the W50 category.) Brendan Shields was awarded bronze in M21 on 80 meters. Leszek Lechowicz NI1L received silver in M40 category on 80 meters.
The best group of all in the medal count comprised the visitors from abroad. Seven gold, seven silver and two bronze medals went into suitcases for overseas flights home.
The concurrent ARDF and classic orienteering competitions had separate distinctive flags and scoring systems. Electronic scoring for the ARDF events was provided by Marvin Johnston KE6HTS and the Los Angeles Orienteering Club.
As always, first aid expert April Moell WA6OPS was ready for any medical problems. This time she had help from Pavel Nelyubin, a cardiac nurse at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. The most serious injury was to Valeri Georgiev of Montreal, who sprained his ankle and had to drop out of the championships after finding one two-meter transmitter.
Many thanks to KB1RLI for giving a jump-start to ARDF in New England. Judging by the enthusiasm of the east coast newcomers in attendance, interest in the sport has risen to a new high.
Joe Moell KØOV
USA ARDF Coordinator
PLACE BIB NAME AND CALLSIGN TXs TIME COUNTRY M19 Males ages 19 and under 4 Transmitters 1 122 Addison Bosley 1 1:12:44 USA M21 Males ages 20 through 39 5 Transmitters 1 134 Nikolay Ivanchihin UR8UA 5 1:25:20 Ukraine 2 117 Matthias Kuehlewein DL3SDO 5 1:53:14 Germany 3 139 Igor Kekin 5 1:59:52 Russia 4 124 Jay Thompson W6JAY 5 2:04:28 USA 5 135 Ian Smith 5 2:05:15 USA 6 126 Kentaro Kurogi 5 2:26:35 Japan 7 103 Kenneth Harker WM5R 4 2:33:07 USA 8 109 Brendan Shields 4 2:44:49 USA 9 127 Masahiko Mimura 4 2:52:49 Japan 10 137 Harald Dettling DC1GB 3 2:53:24 Germany 11 110 Ross Smith 2 2:54:29 USA M40 Males ages 40 through 49 4 Transmitters 1 141 David Williams M3WDD 4 1:29:58 UK 2 132 Matthew Robbins AA9YH 4 2:31:12 USA 3 133 Csaba Tiszttarto 4 2:33:30 USA 4 112 Leszek Lechowicz NI1L 4 2:44:02 USA 5 118 Brian DeYoung K4BRI 4 2:57:03 USA 6 113 Mark Diggins VK3MD 3 2:30:19 Australia 7 119 Valeri Georgiev 1 1:05:15 Canada M50 Males ages 50 through 59 4 Transmitters 1 107 Nick Roethe DF1FO 4 1:57:34 Germany 2 129 Dale Hunt WB6BYU 3 1:59:14 USA 3 125 Jerry Boyd WB8WFK 3 2:24:28 USA 4 145 Greg Burakovskiy 3 2:37:40 USA 5 121 Jay Hennigan WB6RDV 3 2:46:18 USA 6 130 Scott Moore KF6IKO 2 2:26:57 USA 7 116 Robert Evans N1BE 2 2:32:26 USA 8 101 Bill Smathers KG6HXX 2 2:34:56 USA 9 131 Guy Olsen 2 2:52:56 USA 10 128 Bill Noyce AB1AV 3 3:02:17 USA (Overtime) 11 143 Steve Stutman KL7JT 1 4:13:28 USA (Overtime) M60 Males ages 60 and up 3 Transmitters 1 123 Dick Arnett WB4SUV 3 1:36:08 USA 2 120 PA Nordwaeger SMØBGU 3 1:37:12 Sweden 3 102 Robert Cooley KF6VSE 3 1:42:52 USA 4 106 Robert Frey WA6EZV 3 1:59:51 USA
W21 Females ages 20 through 34 4 Transmitters 1 111 Lori Huberman 3 2:49:49 USA 2 136 Susanne Walz DG4SFF 2 2:49:06 Germany W35 Females ages 35 through 49 4 Transmitters 1 104 Jennifer Harker W5JEN 2 2:18:16 USA 2 108 Brigitte Roethe 2 2:54:08 Germany W50 Females ages 50 and up 3 Transmitters 1 142 Ruth Bromer WB4QZG 3 2:14:25 USA
PLACE BIB NAME AND CALLSIGN TXs TIME COUNTRY M19 Males ages 19 and under 4 Transmitters 1 122 Addison Bosley 1 1:35:50 USA M21 Males ages 20 through 39 5 Transmitters 1 134 Nikolay Ivanchihin UR8UA 5 1:14:56 Ukraine 2 139 Igor Kekin 5 1:31:04 Russia 3 109 Brendan Shields 5 1:35:40 USA 4 135 Ian Smith 5 2:10:42 USA 5 117 Matthias Kuehlewein DL3SDO 5 2:17:27 Germany 6 110 Ross Smith 5 2:28:59 USA 7 124 Jay Thompson W6JAY 5 2:30:50 USA 8 127 Masahiko Mimura 4 2:55:27 Japan 9 137 Harald Dettling DC1GB 2 2:43:10 Germany 10 103 Kenneth Harker WM5R 2 2:48:49 USA 11 126 Kentaro Kurogi 1 2:44:02 Japan M40 Males ages 40 through 49 4 Transmitters 1 141 David Williams M3WDD 4 1:20:59 UK 2 112 Leszek Lechowicz NI1L 4 2:16:50 USA 3 113 Mark Diggins VK3MD 4 2:20:29 Australia 4 132 Matthew Robbins AA9YH 4 2:58:05 USA 5 133 Csaba Tiszttarto 2 2:24:15 USA 6 118 Brian DeYoung K4BRI 0 0:46:07 USA (Equipment damaged)
M50 Males ages 50 through 59 4 Transmitters 1 107 Nick Roethe DF1FO 4 2:15:27 Germany 2 121 Jay Hennigan WB6RDV 4 2:20:43 USA 3 129 Dale Hunt WB6BYU 4 2:45:01 USA 4 131 Guy Olsen 4 2:58:30 USA 5 125 Jerry Boyd WB8WFK 3 2:25:24 USA 6 128 Bill Noyce AB1AV 3 2:48:13 USA 7 130 Scott Moore KF6IKO 2 2:09:52 USA 8 116 Robert Evans N1BE 2 2:15:50 USA 9 145 Greg Burakovskiy 2 2:49:13 USA 10 101 Bill Smathers KG6HXX 2 3:15:45 USA (Overtime) 11 143 Steve Stutman KL7JT 0 3:42:28 USA (Overtime) M60 Males ages 60 and up 3 Transmitters 1 102 Robert Cooley KF6VSE 3 1:35:45 USA 2 120 PA Nordwaeger SMØBGU 3 1:38:26 Sweden 3 106 Robert Frey WA6EZV 3 1:46:03 USA 4 123 Dick Arnett WB4SUV 3 1:56:32 USA W21 Females ages 20 through 34 4 Transmitters 1 111 Lori Huberman 4 2:41:42 USA 2 136 Susanne Walz DG4SFF 3 3:29:14 Germany W35 Females ages 35 through 49 4 Transmitters 1 108 Brigitte Roethe 4 2:33:43 Germany 2 104 Jennifer Harker W5JEN 2 2:50:14 USA W50 Females ages 50 and up 3 Transmitters 1 142 Ruth Bromer WB4QZG 3 2:54:13 USA
Click for five pages of photos in this Homing In site, plus links to other competitors' photos.
Portions of this report have been excerpted from my Homing In column in the Summer 2009 issue of CQ-VHF Magazine.
Additional details and photos are in my ARDF Update feature "Foxhunting Fun in the Blue Hills of Boston" on the ARRL Web site.
Text and photos copyright © 2009 Joseph D. Moell. All rights reserved.
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This page updated 21 April 2014