Team USA 2023 in Liberec, Czechia.  Front Row: Eduard Nasybulen, Nicolai Mejevoi, Alla Mezhevaya, Elizabeth Afonkin, Joseph Huberman K5JGH, Ruth Bromer WB4QZG, Natalia Leoni, Nadia Scharlau KO4ADV (Team Captain), Erin Hammer, Sandy Quinn and Vadim Afonkin KB1RLI.  Back Row: Ken Harker WM5R, William Allen KG4OQO, Imre Polik KX4SO, Ian Shields, Alexander Myachin, Evgeny Danilov, Charles Scharlau NZ0I, Gheorghe Fala, Jonathan Kross and Bill Wright WB6CMD.  (Photo courtesy Imre Polik, KX4SO)

Homing In:  Medals for ARDF Team USA in the Czech Republic

by Joe Moell KØOV

Submitted for CQ Magazine, November 2023, still awaiting publication

A 16th century north Bohemian city with 21st century amenities -- that's Liberec.  It began as a textile center named Reichenberg, flourished in the Austria-Hungary empire, became part of Germany following the first world war and then part of the Czech Republic after World War II.  Located 90 kilometers northeast of Prague, this city of 107,000 souls is the gateway to a major winter sports area in the Jizera and Lusatian Mountains.  In 2023, it hosted the biggest international competition in radio-orienteering, or Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF).

Traditionally, world ARDF championships have taken place in the late summer of even-numbered years in various European and Asian counties that have been chosen by committees of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU).  After a very successful world championships in Korea during 2018, the Amateur Radio Union of Serbia (SRS) was scheduled to host in 2020 and the Czech Radio Club was scheduled for 2022.

The pandemic forced SRS to cancel and reschedule for 2021, but that also became a no-go because of continuing travel restrictions.  Then the war in Ukraine began, causing many national societies to decide to skip the world championships in Serbia if a Russian team was to participate.  So SRS realized again that championships in their country were not economically viable.

With just a few weeks to spare, the Bulgarian Federation of Radio Amateurs (BFRA) stepped forward and agreed to host a scaled-down world championship for 2022.  The Russian Ministry of Sports announced that it would not permit a Russian team to compete because, as a member of the European Union, Bulgaria was considered to be an "unfriendly country" to Russia.

The last-minute changes and continuing travel restrictions for Asian countries made BFRA's championships the smallest in decades.  Before the war started, the ARRL ARDF Team Selection Subcommittee had offered 24 persons the opportunity to represent USA, but only four ended up attending.  Low participation led IARU officials to allow the Czech Radio Club to host in 2023 instead of waiting for 2024.  Hereafter, world championships are to be in odd-numbered years.

A Big Turnout

Even without Russia's big team in attendance, 2023's world championships became the largest ever, with nearly 400 competitors from 28 nations taking to the courses.  Team USA was also the largest ever, comprising 14 men and 7 women with a wide range of ages.  Of these, seven were first timers.

Some of the participants arrived early to take advantage of informal training sessions on August 25 and 26.  Sunday, August 27 was the official arrival day with opening ceremonies in the evening.  Lodging was in the dormitory of the Technical University of Liberec and all meals were included.

On Monday at 8 AM, competitors boarded buses for the trip to a large forest venue for the first day of classic competition.  Awaiting them were two full five-fox courses, one on two-meter AM and the other on eighty-meter CW.  Groups of competitors in different categories were started at five minute intervals, half for one band and the rest for the other band.  They sought the required transmitters for their category and then rushed to the finish, which was in a different location from the start.

In classic ARDF, all foxes are on the same frequency, transmitting for one minute each in sequence.  Competitors use their map-and-compass skills to choose and follow what they believe to be the optimum route to reach their required foxes, which may be found in any order.  There is a continuous transmitter on a separate frequency near the finish to help those who get lost, lose their map or break their glasses.  Measured point-to-point from start to each fox and then to the finish by the shortest route, these classic courses for various categories typically range from four to eight kilometers.

At international championships, there are medals for the first three individuals in each category.  There are also national team awards in each category, based on the aggregate scores of the two or three individual team members.  The team members are not permitted to assist one another on the courses.

First-timer Ian Shields of North Carolina nears the finish line in an 80-meter event at the 2023 World Championships.  Ian is new to radio-orienteering but took advantage of several practice events staged this summer by Backwoods Orienteering Klub to increase his skill.  (Photo by Ken Harker WM5R).
Medals for USA

This first day was a big success for the women of Team USA as Nadia Scharlau KO4ADV and Natalia Leoni earned bronze team medals for their combined scores in the W55 category on two meters.  Other top-ten finishers were Ruth Bromer WB4QZG placing sixth in W65 and Alla Mezehvaya ninth in W45, both on two meters.  On 80 meters, Erin Hammer finished tenth in W35.

Rain made the terrain and trails muddy, resulting in a fall for Kenneth Harker WM5R.  He wasn't injured, but half of the yagi reflector on his two-meter ARDF set broke off.  Ken quickly tore off the other half and continued with just the director and driven element, finding four of the five transmitters.

On the medal podium after the Sprint event are Natalia Leoni and Nadia Scharlau KO4ADV.  They earned team bronze in the category for women ages 55 through 64.  Nadia was Team Captain in 2023.  (Photo by Ken Harker WM5R)

Everyone was back on the buses Tuesday morning for the sprint, which is an 80-meter event with two five-fox short courses, a slow CW set and a fast CW set.  Each course is on a different frequency with twelve-second transmissions to give a complete cycle every minute.  There were four more top-ten finishes this day:  Nadia Scharlau KO4ADV seventh in W55; Alla Mezehvaya eighth in W45; Joseph Huberman K5JGH eighth in M70; and Alexander Myachin ninth in M50.

Wednesday was a day off for rest and sightseeing.  Thursday was the second classic competition in which each competitor went foxhunting on the band that they didn't hunt on Monday.  Finishing in the top ten on eighty meters were Nadia Scharlau KO4ADV fourth in W55; Ruth Bromer WB4QZG seventh W65; and Alla Mezehvaya ninth in W45.  On two meters, William Allen KG4OQO was eighth in M21.

Sandy Quinn of North Carolina is very new to ARDF, but she was an enthusiastic participant at the 2023 World Championships, finishing in the top ten in foxoring.  (Photo by Imre Polik KX4SO)

The final event, foxoring, was on Friday.  Foxoring is a hybrid of orienteering and RDF in which competitors receive a map marked with small circles.  They use their maps and compasses to make their way to the location represented by each circle and then use RDF gear to find the transmitter somewhere therein.  The foxes run very low power with short antennas on eighty meters, so they usually cannot be heard outside their circles.  As always in ARDF, scoring is first by number of required foxes found and second by elapsed start-to-finish time.

On this day, a total of ten transmitters were in the woods, plus the finish beacon.  The number of required foxes per category ranged from 5 to 10.  Winning an individual silver medal for Team USA was Ruth Bromer WB4QZG in W65 category.  Once again, Team USA's captain Nadia Scharlau KO4ADV just missed the medal platform, finishing less than a minute and a half behind bronze medalist Renata Cadova of Czechia to take fourth place.  Also in the top ten of their categories were Sandy Quinn eighth in W35 and Joseph Huberman K5JGH tenth in M70.

Ruth Bromer WB4QZG proudly wears her silver medal from the foxoring event.  She competed in the category for women ages 65 and older.  (Photo by Joseph Huberman K5JGH)

The next ARDF World Championships will be in Lithuania during 2025.  If you would like to represent USA there, you will have to earn your place on our team.  Each IARU society can send only three persons per age/gender category per event.  You can qualify by doing well at the 2024 USA ARDF Championships, which will be in Michigan during October.  Watch for more information about the upcoming fun in the Wolverine State in my Homing In Web site.

Scouts Hunt Foxes

Scouting's annual Jamboree-On-The-Air was October 21-22.  In addition to the usual Scout-to-Scout QSOs, JOTA presents a wonderful opportunity to introduce Scouts of all ages to hidden transmitter hunting.  If it was part of JOTA in your town, I would welcome the story and some good photos to share with Homing In readers.

Pre-JOTA foxhunting was the topic of an e-mail I received from John Abbott K6PFN of Los Angeles.  This summer, the Crescent Bay District asked him to participate in the Festival of Scouting, a showcase of Scouting activities for the public in a Culver City Park.  "They wanted more STEM offerings," John wrote, "so they asked me if I could do something with radio."

John continued, "I had participated in a foxhunt that Michael Hart KC6MEH put on at a Cub Scout campout in 2022.  Michael lent me his antennas and attenuators.  I researched fox transmitter options on the Homing In Web site and ended up buying from Byonics.  Booths at the Festival of Scouting included a rain-gutter regatta, stomp rockets, flag folding, and so forth.  Participants were given a passport that they would stamp at each booth they visited.  At our booth, they received a stamp once they found a transmitter.  Since we had a total of three transmitters, some folks stayed to find two or all three.  The Foxhunt was a hit!  The older children who participated got into the science of it.  The younger children (including some aged 5 and below) enjoyed holding the antenna and hearing the transmitter signals.  We had about 100 visitors in all."

John is a counselor for Scouting's Radio Merit Badge, which includes options for foxhunting as one of the qualifying activities.  "I will be encouraging our Scouts to work on the badge, come to our JOTA event in October, and get their license," he concluded.

Practicing their foxhunting skills are John Abbott K6PFN and his son, Joseph.  John organized a foxhunting demonstration at the Fall Festival of Scouting in Culver City, California on August 12, 2023.  (Photo courtesy K6PFN)

© 2023 Joseph D. Moell. All rights reserved.

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This page updated 1 February 2024