On Learning Humility; a POTA Evening with Bugs in Florida

Monday April 30 I set up at Hobe Sound Nature Preserve, KFF-0220180418_160217.jpg41, to activate on 40 and 20 meters.  I waited till late in the day, arriving on site about 5:30pm EDT to set up and get ready for 40m to wake up as the sun goes down.  Took my time walking the entire area to scout a good spot.  Was previously here two weeks ago in a

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time-pressured situation and hastily set up at the first thing I found, a simple park bench.  Not that much from which to choose here as this is principally a minimally-developed natural resource area, appealing to fishermen, hikers and nature-lovers, and not as well furnished with picnic areas like a State Park.

Got a eleven or twelve qso’s that day with the Link Dipole arranged up only a dozen feet in the beloved inverted vee style.  Not the best operating position, but sufficient.

Below, in the orange shirt, I am posing for the original activation, looking brave despite the ominous smoke on the horizon (see next pic; just a controlled burn, actually).

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After Sunday’s outrageously successful activation of Jonathan Dickinson State Park, only a few miles from here, I just knew I could return to Hobe Sound Preserve and easily catch many more Q’s.  To earn the coveted WWFF recognition you must have a total of  forty-four to get credit for a valid activation.  These can be on different days, even with the same stations.  One can also work the same station the same day, if on different bands or modes.  The World Wide Flora and Fauna site is wwff.com and the US site is http://wwff-kff.org/.  At JD (Editor’s Note: Jonathan Dickinson’s friends often called him JD in 1696), I got 23 qso’s Saturday but still a few short of 44 so went back Sunday and got 49 more in under an hour!  Figured I could readily to do that again at nearby Hobe Sound Monday.

Confidently, I left the house 5pm to head to the site.  Sorry I don’t have a picture of me confidently walking out the door or confidently driving my car but just look how confident I’m look upon arrival; who wouldn’t want to work a ham in a blue shirt like this one? (Editor’s note: thousands, it turns out).

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Took my time to better scout the best location to set up and found this tranquil spot; looks idyllic, doesn’t it?

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No cooperating trees in vicinity, so let’s set up a tower.  Below’s the view from the picnic table, opening to the North by Northwest (Editor’s Note: a great movie), dandy for Southeast coast of Florida and the same orientation as yesterday – good omens, thought I.

 

 

 

I’ve learned how to erect a tower alone; step one is to lay out the antenna (EndFedz in this case) to judge where to place the tower and its guy lines.  Lay the tower down, tie on the guy lines and provisionally place your tent stakes.  Remember to attach the antenna and attach your coax to said antenna (Editor’s Note: the voice of experience is speaking) before pushing up the tower.  This is the dicey part, when having an assistant would be helpful, but in the spirit of self reliance, you can do this if you’ve guessed well where to place the tent stakes.  Something I’ve started to say to curious Muggles, especially when the Muggle is a Park Ranger, is “I’m setting up a radio station for a simulated emergency situation.”  They will eat this up.  (Editor’s note: good thing this was not a real emergency situation with the pitiful performance that followed).

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After some fumbling, your tower will finally look like this:

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This tower tip is at 22-23 feet; yesterday, same time, same antenna, and same band, I was up 35′ thanks to a handy tree.  But still, this looked really good so I expected similar if not better results, qso-wise.  Here’s the low end of the EndFedz on a photographer’s lighting tripod, up ten feet and guyed.  I’ll explain the round disc in another blog post.

Bodacious good SWR as you can see in image below.  All’s well, it seems (Editor’s Note: false confidence).

Eager and self-assured, about 6:30 I begin calling CQ, ready for the inevitable pileups. Quickly I stumbled onto a net and was invited to check in, so I did.  Not POTA, but

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a start.  A next contact happened 2-3 minutes later.  These always start slow, right?  Twenty-seven minutes pass, my confidence dwindling, before getting another contact, AA5UZ, whom I worked yesterday.  I’m going, “what’s wrong?”  This same setup yesterday was causing pileups; I could hardly write down the call signs fast enough.  I fiddled with the antenna, getting it higher, but no improvement in qso rate.

So what is it?  Is it Monday versus Sunday, are the bands that different one day to the next, is it that I the antenna location is that much different to limit results?  I kept at it, watching the sun go down and aware I failed to pack a table lamp or a decent flashlight but wanting the darkness to come and boost results.  Had a few small stretch when I got 4-5 contacts in quick succession, and heard others trying me that I just not quite could make out, but nothing like yesterday’s results.

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I dunno; packed up at 8:17 (end of civil twilight), and it was pretty dark when I finally departed, rather deflated.  From the time I left the house to when I returned, it was over four hours invested.  This was a lot of work for eleven qso’s, and I’m still only half way to the magic forty four.  As an experiment, I shall return (Hatlo Hat Tip to General MacArthur) to that happy spot at JD State Park where I got the 49 in an hour, and try again there to see if similar results occur at the same time, same band, same antenna setup.  Surely lightning can strike twice!  Please stay tuned.

But now, it’s time for ice cream; that usually makes me feel better.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.  De k4wk, Wayne, http://www.hamdom.com

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Vanity Calls – More practical than vain

When I was a Grasshopper Ham, and somehow stumbled my way through the 20 wpm code requirement then in effect to become an Extra Class, I wanted something more than KT4QK.  I wanted my initials (vainly, but in vain), because K4WR or W4WR were not available when the vanity calls came out in the nineties.  Living in the South, I wanted a “four” call so I did limit myself that way.

In truth, it seemed that one of those calls might be available as it had expired and not been renewed by an older ham in Alabama.  It wasn’t really up for grabs yet as less than two years had passed since expiration, so I surmised he had passed on to the land of ham radio nirvana (you know, then one where there’s no qrm or qrn and the sun spots are always hot and the DX always hears you), but I felt funny trying to reach his widow or family to see if he’d died so I didn’t do it.  Instead, I settled on K4WK (Wayne K Robertson is my name) and I love it; dandy for CW.

WA4YNE was available at the time and momentarily tempted me as something clever, but as one who operates CW more than Phone, felt it would be kind of messy, a sort of morse code tongue-twister.

WA4YNE has now been claimed by a ham named Thomas but his middle initial is W so maybe that’s for Wayne, and W4WR is now owned by someone who’s initials match, so I hope everyone’s happy and radioactive.

This is Wayne,  k4wk, http://www.hamdom.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.

#POTA Activation of JD Mac Arthur SP in South Florida

This, my second POTA activation, was a much bigger su20180321_171323ccess (39 qso’s in an hour) than the first (a mere dozen), despite #2 being on a weekday afternoon vs. Sunday for #1.  I attribute this to my savvy scheduling to avoid ARRL’s DX Contest and at the same time, ARRL’s respectful consideration for a Big Gun like me in not trying to compete!  As the Borg said, “Resistance is Futile.”

The other big factor was getting a few hams to spot me on the clusters.  I was quite surprised, and thrilled actually, to be the subject of a pileup for a few minutes.  Imagine, lil’ ol’ me, being sought after; I hardly knew how to handle the fame!

Things started kinda slow, my first contact being a ham about two miles away; I’m thinking, oh boy, this’ll be a long afternoon.  Will I ever get the requisite ten qso’s to count a POTA activation?  I tried to spot myself but on Dxsummit.fi it is so awkward to do on your smartphone.  With ten thumbs like me, mistakes are made.  I did ask several hams to spot me and soon a few did, and then I was in demand, even at 4pm on a Tuesday afternoon.  I never knew there were so many retired or unemployed hams sitting around bored during the day.  From South Florida I worked hams in NY, CT, MI, PA, MN, AZ, CA, England and Spain!

I used my link dipole antenna up approx 24′ at the apex, set for 20m.  By closing a pair of links, it can be reset for 30 or 40 meters.  I built this antenna a while back, and tuned and trimmed it carefully for each of these bands, so no tuner necessary.  I’ve tried a PAR EndFedz and a homebrew Buddipole for HF and this is the best for me, thus far.

 

From left to right: the dipole (made of speaker wire) rolled up on custom deluxe wire winder; middle, the handsomely crafted center SO; and right, the links for 30m, left open so antenna resonates at the shorter 20m cut.  Note “stress relief” at the SO and use of safety pins to carry the tension of the dipole when hoisted.  Below is pic of my antenna launching tool; it was too heavy at first so I drank half the contents.  Also below is a pic of my tie down line, fluorescent builder’s twine.  I’ve decided to be stealthier in the future and will change that out for something that’ll blend better.

 

I want to be stealthier so I don’t draw attention to my station and my suspicious behaviors.  Even though I have a right to be there at a picnic table not all Park Rangers got the memo and some may think they should run me off.  Last week a Ranger did stop by and I thought “well, here we go,” but actually he just wanted to chat; his Dad had been a ham, so I tried to recruit him.  I had another visitor, too; note to self, don’t operate so close to garbage cans!

 

And finally, a note to the wise for operating out of doors in Florida; bring your bottle!

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This is Wayne,  k4wk, http://www.hamdom.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.

QST Article – “Live Trees Affect Antenna Performance” – implications for #POTA #SOTA

In February 2018’s QST was a very interesting and scholarly article, the cover story actually, on the effects of live trees on the performance of both vertical and horizontal antennas.  Things to ponder:

  1. Living wood (trees, as opposed to dry dead wood such as boards) absorbs EMF from vertically polarized antennas.
  2. Living wood resembles human tissue in terms of dielectric properties, so wearing your HT on your belt will greatly reduce your effective antenna power.  Presumably, unless you’re a real fathead like me, talking into HT held at your face should not be too bad.
  3. A single vertical tree has next to no effect on horizontal antennas, such as dipoles.
  4. A forest, containing lots of vertical trees, is even worse than a single tree like in your backyard, so for us backpackers and hikers, we need to find a clearing when trying to use our HT’s in the woods.
  5. Worse, a forest will affect both vertical and horizontal antennas so when we’re operating in the field, for POTA or SOTA for example, we should look for a Goldilocks spot with enough trees to launch the, say, dipole, but not too many.  Better in Winter after leaves fall, though.

This is Wayne,  k4wk, http://www.hamdom.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.

My #POTA Pickle, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the ARRL #DX Contest

Sunday March 4th was a beautiful and slightly cool (mid-seventies) day in Jupiter, Florida and was the day I selected for my first #POTA activation (parksontheair.com).

I picked the 11,000 acre Jonathan Dickinson State Park, KFF-1887, just six m20180304_103921.jpgiles from my Florida QTH.  I had scouted out locations a few days earlier and chose the picnic area near the river, with cooperating pine trees and handy limbs.

Using my unique antenna launch tool (see pic) on the second try I hit my target limb and hoisted the “high” end of an EndFedz antenna cut for 20 meters.  My battery was charged, I had a sandwich, I even had a cushion for the hard picnic table bench seat.  Right on time I was ready to spot myself, all settled and happy.  Do you hear a “but” coming?

This was 20180304_112008.jpgalso the weekend ARRL chose, without checking with me, for their hugely popular annual DX Contest.  There were a few thousand hams on 20m, most, it seemed, with a kilowatt and a pretty good beam competing with me barefoot with a dipole up all of fifteen feet.

I spotted myself on DXSummit.fi but apparently nobody cared.  I raised my friend Rick on the local repeater and got him to listen for me at 14.244 a few miles away and we could barely hear one another on ground wave.  We were in a wall of sound (and I was learning the value of a filter for sideband.)

So there’s my POTA Pickle; I’m in the right place and all set to operate POTA but cannot compete with a thousand big gun stations.  Well  golly, let’s join in on the fun then.

First I took down the End Fedz that just doesn’t work that well for me and put up my link dipole made from lamp cord and began to hunt and pounce.  Worked a dozen international stations in an hour and called it, after all, a good non-POTA day.

This is Wayne,  k4wk, http://www.hamdom.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.

 

A Personal Self Defense Weapon, a Utility Hammer, and a DMR #Hamradio, All-in-One

My first impression of my new TYT MD-380 (and Steve, KA4RSZ, felt the same way), was the solid, sturdy feel of the thing.  Not at all what you’d expect from an $88 plastic cased electronic device of any sort.  We were both quite impressed, and the reason has become clearer as I’ve learned more.  This radio or its kin, were built for non-ham, heavy-duty use by folks like security guards and retail store personnel, not dainty and refined hams such as ourselves.

Reading the User’s Manual has been fun, and incidentally makes the bizarre Icom manuals seem lucid.  Filled with handy tips, I love where it cautions me on page one “Do not transmit too long, for the radio may heat and hurt the user.”  Also advising “if the radio appears smelly or smoke, please shut off…”  Great tips for us all.

On page six it is reassuring to be told “wearing the radio in your waist will not make you feel uncomfortable.”  I just love Chinglish!

Signing off for now, de k4wk, www.hamdon.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.

On the Air – SOTA, POTA, BOTA, IOTA and now, COTA

Cinderella's Castle

Photo Attributed to Katie Rommel-Esham, commons.wikimedia.org

The newest OTA I’ve discovered is the World Castles Award, or COTA – Castles on the Air.  Not sure if COTA is official or not, but let’s call it that for now, since it rhymes so well with SOTA, POTA and BOTA.  (IOTA is only a half-rhyme).

You might think “We Americans don’t have any castles here; we were settled after the period of castle-building, so how is this relevant to me?”  Well, you can think that if you want to, but you might be wrongish.  True, we have no castles in North America (or do we? – see below), but we do have other structures that the wise men and women of WCA have recognized as eligible structures of note.  Happy Dance!  Here’s a new game we can play once we’re all worn out activating all the mountains in SOTA, parks in POTA, and beaches in BOTA.

Here in the Southeast that I inhabit, there are scores of eligible structures.  In my own tiny hometown of Decatur, GA, pop. 18,000, I find that we, too, have a castle called Oakhurst Castle.  I need to find out what that is, and of course, activate it.  Look for me on Dxsummit some day.

Forts, even if not fortified, can qualify, such as Fort Jackson, SC, where I spent three happy months one summer and most if not all other military bases with “Fort” in their title.  Also, historic forts like Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida qualifies but the towns of Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers and Fort Pierce where we can imagine forts once stood, are sadly excluded.  However, don’t despair – you can still go to the beach in those towns and activate your suntan via BOTA!

Mansions, or “Stately Homes,” also seem to qualify, such as the indisputably stately Biltmore House in Asheville (raise your hand if you’ve been there).  The WCA styles it as “Biltmore Castle.”

Scanning the list I see others in my haunts I can consider activating and some that raise questions such as one on Marco Island known only as “Unknown Castle.”

But there is one I expected to see that has been overlooked – probably the only purpose-build Castle in the United States, and it’s certainly not unknown; of course I’m talking about Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom (raise your hand again if you’ve been there).  If you are as hurt as I am at this (rather slight) slight, please join me in a letter-writing campaign to the WCA to help right this wrong.  We’re Americans – we fought for our freedom, now we must fight for Cinderella’s honor!

Signing off for now, de k4wk, www.hamdon.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.