Summer 2009 Issue

Homing In

Championship Foxhunting Brings
the World to Boston

By Joe Moell, KØOV

Every five minutes, up to four competitors in different age/gender categories are started as fox #1 begins transmitting. In the 2-meter starting corridor are Addison Bosley from Kentucky, the youngest competitor at this year’s championships, and Bill Smathers, KG6HXX, a long-time radio-orienteer from California who is now in M50 category. (All photos by
Joe Moell, KØOV)


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. This year, for the first time, they were the site of a multi-nation RDF (radio-direction-finding) contest.

International-rules on-foot RDF contesting (also called foxtailing), radio-orienteering, and ARDF, came to the USA 18 years ago. 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 is Vadim Afonkin, ex-UZ3AYT, of Boston.

Vadim learned the sport as a youth in his native Russia. Indeed, he learned it well, because beginning with his first USA championships in 2003, he has taken overall top honors almost every year. Last fall, he volunteered to put on the 2009 championships for USA and IARU (International Amateur Radio Union) Region 2 (North and South America).

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. However, Vadim, now KB1RLI, did almost all of the leg work himself. He got excellent cooperation from the NEOC (New England Orienteering Club) in arranging for the site and getting detailed orienteering maps. In return, he 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 to beginners. Most important, he set two world-class ARDF courses, one on 2 meters and the other on 80 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 natives, just 10 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 2-meter ARDF receivers, especially older European models which have wide intermediate-frequency stages. As it turned out, these worries were mostly unfounded1 and Blue Hills was an ideal location.

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