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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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 Call for Ideas – Planning a VHF/UHF Antenna Shootout

Ideas and suggestions are sought for a hamfest forum in June I am trying to gin up – a shootout for VHF and UHF antennas.  Have you ever been to one, participated in one, read about one, or just have some ideas for me (other than don’t do it, you dummy)?

Here’s the plan as it now stands – we’d have three categories: factory-built, homebrewed, and whips for HT’s.  I’ve just ordered a MFJ Field Strength Meter that comes next week, so my hope is to use that, stationed say, one hundred yards away from the contestants, to record signal strength as generated by the contestants’ 5 watt HT’s.  This has been stimulated by my own desire to know what antennas are best, despite manufacturers’ claims, in real-world conditions.  If the distance is too close, we could try to station someone a mile or so away, but the logistics of that in a hamfest settting, with all the normal commotion, may not be practical.  Maybe reserve that for a club meeting or Field Day.

Another method may be to have a willing ham with a station out of town, listen for us on simplex from his QTH.  I’d have to find the right ham in the right location in hilly Atlanta, and hope that he can hear any of us.

So, if my ideas are lame, please pass along your no doubt better ideas.  Tnx & 73, de Wayne, k4wk, http://www.hamdom.com.

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.

Split Personality

Illustrating my Split Ham Personality – QRP or QRO?  I am conflicted.  On the one hand Dr. Jekyll wants to use QRP for the fun and challenge of minimal operations; because you can build your own gear and antennas, and because of portability – take it to the field!

But Mr. Hyde wants to work DX and collect countries and is tired of being a 90-lb barefoot weakling being pushed around by more powerful stations so he craves power!

Yes, I know about John Shannon, K3WWP, (who is a national treasure by the way) who’s worked the world many times over on 5 watts and simple wire antennas and who has made a QSO a day for 19 years (>7,000) on QRP so we all know it is possible but if you are still working full time as I am and have a limited amount of time to devote to DXing or even to just hamming in general, a little extra power is nice.  Is this a long sentence or what?  John’s excellent and interesting website is http://home.windstream.net/johnshan/ and worth a visit, IMHO.

The upper amp in the pic is an old Heathkit SB-200 that I have not been able to get on the air and the lower is a “new” used Ameritron 811H I just acquired and with a tuner that is coming soon I will have it on the air when needed.  My strategy, initially at least, will be to go barefoot to try to make a DX contact calling CQ but failing that, up the power.

The rigs on the bottom are my Yeasu 817 bought used in 2012 and my NorCal 40A built from a kit in the nineties.  It needs a new keyer at the moment, by the way.

I still want DXCC QRP and have 88 countries so far, so I’ll resume that after I get to 200 countries barefoot or QRO.  Two hundred countries seems to be a nice threshold for DX accomplishments, based on the number of people at the DX dinner at Dayton a few years ago I attended.  A well-attended event, the moderator had everyone stand who had 100 countries and of course that was most of us, absent spouses.  Then remain standing if you have >200 and at least half the room sat down.  So, I scientifically conclude that >200 would put you in the upper half and that’s where I want to be.  As the count increased to 250, etc. more and more people sat down till just one hero remained but I don’t expect to ever get into a rarefied atmosphere; just the upper half will do for me.  So I’ll use my amp(s) to get me there, then sell one and keep the other for special occasions.

Wish me luck; I have 111 entities confirmed (but 146 worked) as of July 2013 so this could take a while!split-personality-qrp-or-qro

QSO365 Streak Busted 12APR12

Inspired by the QSO365 Challenge I learned about on a Practical Amateur Radio Podcast in December, I began the New Year making a qso a day everyday I was in town (I had to relax the strict rule a little as I travel a bit on business and do not yet have a good, reliable portable radio setup) and managed it 103 days (minus travel days as discussed), but today I was busted.

I was returning from out of town and at first I didn’t think I’d even get back to the shack by 8pm EDT (2400Z) in time to even attempt a qso for April 12, but I did arrive abt 7:20pm.  After unloading, I was on the air by 7:35, in plenty of time, I thought.  But, Murphy conspired against me and I couldn’t hit anyone.  Tried a couple of Titanic commemorative stations (this wk is the 100th anniversary) but too much QRM and competition from stronger stations.  Finally, I heard K9KU calling CQ on 40m CW with a strong signal abt 7:58pm.  I answered him twice but he didn’t come back!  😦  At 8:01 I heard W8VLN a KHz up and answered him but to be honest with myself, it was after midnight UTC so it was the next day.

However, my reward was one of the best CW qso’s I’ve had in quite a while.  Larry, who lives west of Dayton, has been a ham for 57 years and been to Dayton 55 years!  However, he said he may not go this year.  He was very nice about QRS for me, which I needed as my CW is just plain lame right now.  We went on and talked about Dayton; he told me they had like 44,000 attendees 15 yrs ago but in recent yrs has been more like 18,000.  I went last yr for the first time (and will go agn this yr), and I thought it was plenty crowded at 18,000!  He told me (I think; my copy is ragged) they have 1,000 dealers this yr and 3,500 spaces outside.  Not sure if I copied that rt, tho.

As I received 599 from him, I lowered pwr to 50w and still got 599.  Lowered it agn to 25w and got 579.  Interesting thing to try in mid-qso.  I raised it back to 50w for remainder of qso, just for his ease of copy.

QSO356: will I go back to it or not?  It has been both a liberation and a burden.  A liberation as it has made me get on the air with diligence, and as a result, I have learned a lot more abt the many buttons and features on my rig.  A burden in that sometimes I am tired and returning fm an evening event at 10 or later in the evening and still feel the need to make that qso.  Often, just to make that qso for the log, I have found a DX station and done a quick 599 TU and got it over in a matter of seconds, which frankly is not that satisfying to me.

I think I’ll go back to attempting a qso a day but not be obsessive about it, and stress quality qso’s, like tonight’s, over just getting one in the log.

Bye bye!