Skeeter Hunt 2018

NJQRP Skeeter Hunt LogoBzzz… All that buzzing you heard on the bands on Sunday was the annual running of the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt contest. Happily, I got home from my recent vacation in time to join in the hunt.

The theme of this year’s contest was “water – the breeding ground for Skeeters!” In the spirit of the theme, I headed down to Upper Schuylkill Valley Park along the Schuylkill River near Royersford, Pennsylvania.

It had been raining all morning and it was drizzling when I got to the park and started setting up. Because of the inclement weather, I opted to operate from inside my truck.  I put my usual 19.5-foot vertical on the back of the truck and fired up my KX3. I tested the rig on 40M by working a SOTA station in Vermont and a special event station in Illinois.

This was my view of the Schuylkill River during the Skeeter Hunt contest. This was taken shortly before it started raining again.
This was my view of the Schuylkill River during the Skeeter Hunt contest. This was taken shortly before it started raining again.

As I was operating, a fellow was curious about my antenna and walked over to ask about it. As I started to explain what I was doing, we both recognized each other. As it turns out, we were childhood friends and grew up less than a block away from each other. He happened to be visiting in the area and took his grand-kids fishing in the river. We hadn’t seen each other in more than 40 years, so we spent a half hour chatting and getting caught up. If he hadn’t been curious about my antenna, we never would have noticed each other. What an amazing coincidence!

My "stationary-mobile" set-up. You can see the antenna that attracted both skeeters and a long-lost childhood friend.
My “stationary-mobile” set-up.  My antenna attracted both skeeters and a long-lost childhood friend.

Back to the contest… I operated for about an hour and a half. There was some deep fading on the bands but 20M eventually seemed to open up a bit. I bounced between 40M and 20M, alternating between CQing and search & pounce.  When it started raining again, I figured it was a good time to wrap things up. I ended up with 20 QSOs (18 skeeters) in 11 SPCs.

Here’s my log:

UTC  BAND  CALL   MODE RST-S RST-R SPC  SKEETER NUMBER
1703 40M   N3AQC  CW   559   449   PA   Skeeter #77
1713 40M   KD3CA  CW   589   579   PA   Skeeter #44
1720 40M   VE2DDZ CW   569   559   QC   Skeeter #35
1723 40M   N8RVE  CW   559   559   OH   5W
1727 40M   WF4I   CW   579   559   NC   Skeeter #70
1733 40M   WQ4RP  CW   559   559   NC   Skeeter #11
1804 20M   W5IQS  CW   559   559   TX   Skeeter #170
1807 20M   KF5RY  CW   559   559   TX   Skeeter #26
1811 20M   NN9K   CW   599   599   IL   Skeeter #64
1817 20M   AD0YM  CW   599   449   MO   Skeeter #16
1821 20M   NE5DL  CW   559   559   TX   Skeeter #25
1825 20M   NQ3N   CW   599   579   FL   Skeeter #141
1829 20M   WB4OMM CW   579   579   FL   Skeeter #98
1841 20M   N5GW   CW   599   569   MS   5W
1844 20M   KD0V   CW   569   559   MN   Skeeter #99
1851 20M   W3HZZ  CW   559   559   GA   Skeeter #131
1907 20M   N0JBF  CW   559   559   MO   Skeeter #37
1913 20M   K4BYF  CW   599   549   FL   Skeeter #107
1915 20M   K4BAI  CW   559   589   GA   Skeeter #163
1920 40M   NK9G   CW   559   559   WI   Skeeter #6

As always, the Skeeter Hunt was fun, even with the lousy weather. Thanks to Larry W2LJ and the NJQRP Club for once again putting on this great contest!

72, Craig WB3GCK

 

Outer Banks 2018

My family and I went on our annual vacation in Corolla on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Ham radio-wise, it started off as a challenging week.

We arrived at the house we rented for the week after a long but fairly non-eventful drive. As we were unloading at the house, a storm rolled in. This delayed getting an antenna set up.

We were also visited by a security officer for the development we were in. Apparently, my daughter’s small cargo trailer was in violation of the Development’s rules. I won’t go further into that but, because of that drama, I decided to keep my antenna as low-profile as possible.

On Sunday afternoon, I finally got an antenna set up. I sloped a 29.5-foot wire down from a 3rd story deck to a wooden fence behind the house. It tuned up OK and I appeared to be getting out. Unfortunately, the local noise level was horrendous. Despite the high noise levels, I managed three quick contacts in the SKCC WES contest.

My Alexloop set up out on the deck.
My Alexloop set up out on the deck.

On my second full day there, I used my Alexloop outside on the deck. It helped to make the noise situation more manageable on most bands. The 20M band was still a bit noisier than I would have liked, though. Even though we were only 2 blocks from the ocean, our rental house overlooked a scenic little lake. The struggle with the noise levels was at least partially offset by the great view I had.

My view from the 3rd story deck
My view from the 3rd story deck

On the third day, I removed the sloper and installed a 53-foot inverted L antenna. I mounted a 9:1 UNUN near ground level and ran the wire up the deck support. I ran the horizontal portion of the wire along the top rail of the deck. I estimate that the vertical portion was about 20 feet with the remaining 33 feet running horizontally. Surprisingly, the inverted L had significantly lower noise levels and seemed to be getting out pretty well.  There was a picnic table conveniently-located near the antenna’s feed point, which provided a shady spot in the morning hours.

Operating from the picnic table. Above my arm, in the background, you can see the feedpoint for the inverted L antenna. My 9:1 UNUN is wrapped up for weather protection.
Operating from the picnic table. Above my arm, in the background, you can see the feedpoint for the inverted L antenna. My 9:1 UNUN is wrapped up for weather protection.

For the remainder of the week, I fell into a pattern of getting on the air each morning for a few QSOs. Most of my contacts were casual rag chews. It was nice to chat with a few familiar stations I haven’t worked in a while. The shade out there was usually gone by 1PM, so I limited my operating to the morning hours. The rest of the time was spent with the family and doing the usual things you would expect for a beach vacation.

It was a great vacation.  This week was a perfect example of why I always like to bring several options for antennas.  These rental houses are all different and sometimes you never know what you’re going to run into when you get here.

72, Craig WB3GCK

25 Years of QRP-Portable

My (far) better half was going through some old pictures recently and came across some pictures of me operating while tent camping on a family vacation back in August 1993. After I studied the picture for a bit, it dawned on me that the old photograph had captured my first time operating QRP-portable.

Back in the early ’90s, I was just getting back on the air again after a long period of inactivity. I had a station at the house but what I really wanted was a portable QRP rig. I eventually purchased an MFJ-9030 QRP rig for 30M so I could take my hobby on the road.

Right around that time, we were getting ready to take a week-long vacation of tent camping on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Wanting to take my new rig along, I hurriedly went about assembling a portable station. I bought a gel cell battery from a local hobby shop and threw together a 30M dipole. I wasn’t sure how much coax I would need so I used 50-feet of RG-8x, which, in hindsight, was overkill. Together with my old Radio Shack straight key, I packed everything in a small, waterproof container and placed it with the rest of the camping gear.

Being the detailed planner and organizer that she is, it took my wife no time at all to spot my container of radio gear. This prompted a stern reminder that this was a family vacation and no way was I going to spend all day on the radio and leave her to deal with the kids. Despite my assurances that I wouldn’t do that, she remained skeptical.

The day after we arrived and got our camp set up, I went about putting up my dipole. Because of the dense pine trees, my dipole only ended up about 15 feet up. I had to coil up the majority of my 50-foot coax at the base of a tree. Yep, my fifty feet of coax was definitely too long. (It was replaced with 30 feet of RG-174 when I got home.)

WB3GCK operating QRP-portable for the first time back in August 1993 at a campground on the Eastern Shore of Virginia
WB3GCK operating QRP-portable for the first time back in August 1993 at a campground on the Eastern Shore of Virginia

My log shows that I made my first-ever QRP-portable contact on August 15th with K3EEL (SK) up in northern Pennsylvania. I made 3 more QSOs before calling it a day. I only operated for about an hour but I was hooked!

I’m an early riser. The rest of my family… not so much. So, for the rest of the week, I fell into a routine of getting on the radio early in the morning, while the coffee was brewing on the camp stove. I usually got on again later in the afternoon while the kids were relaxing before dinner. My better half soon realized that my ham radio habit could peacefully coexist with the rest of the family’s activities. In fact, one lazy afternoon she said, “Why don’t you get on the radio for a while?”

I had a lot of fun that week, making 34 contacts. Since then, a QRP rig has gone along on every camping trip or vacation we have taken.

Here’s to the next 25 years of QRP-portable operating!

72, Craig WB3GCK

Flight of the Bumblebees 2018

Flight of the Bumblebees (FOBB) has always been one of my favorite QRP contests. Although I didn’t think I was going to be able to participate this year, I managed to get in on the first hour or so of the contest.

My (far) better half and I took our “QRP camper” up to French Creek State Park (PA) for the weekend. I figured we would be packing up and heading home about the time FOBB started, so I never signed up for a Bumblebee number. We ended up packing up most of our stuff in the morning, leaving my ham radio equipment for last. So, I was able to get in a little operating time before we had to vacate our campsite.

The WB3GCK “QRP Camper” at French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania. The Jackite pole supporting my 29-foot vertical wire can be seen on the right in the photo.
The WB3GCK “QRP Camper” at French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania. The Jackite pole supporting my 29-foot vertical wire can be seen on the right in the photo.

Without a Bumblebee number, I operated as a “Home” station, despite being portable.  Although the bands seemed a little weak, my hour of work yielded 8 contacts, including 6 bumblebees. One of the highlights was working Ed WA3WSJ who was using the Boschveldt QRP Club callsign, W3BQC. Ed hiked up to Pulpit Rock on the Appalachian Trail for the event. Having operated as W3BQC during Field Day several times over the years, it was fun to be on the other end for a change.

Hopefully next year I’ll have more time to spend in the contest.

72, Craig WB3GCK

 

MFJ-1820T Whip

I made an impulse buy this week. After reading an old Elecraft mailing list post from Wayne Burdick N6KR where he made a strong recommendation, I ordered an MFJ-1820T whip antenna. I need another portable antenna like I need a hole in the head but I figured it might be fun to give this little whip antenna a try.

If you aren’t familiar with it, the MFJ-1820T is a 4-foot, telescopic, loaded whip for the 20M band. It collapses down to a tiny 10-inches. It will handle 25 watts but my whip will never see that much power. It sells for around $30 (U.S.).  Wayne recommended using at least one 13-foot radial with it. I went with two 13-foot radials made from some cheap speaker wire I had on hand.

MFJ-1820T Collapsed
MFJ-1820T Collapsed

This morning, while operating from a local park, I connected the whip to my KX3 with a BNC right angle adapter. I connected my radials to one of the knurled nuts on the KX3 with an alligator clip. To keep the whip from swiveling, I used a small, plastic spring clamp.

The MFJ-1820T whip connected to my KX3. The plastic spring clamp was used to stabilize the whip. You can also see the alligator clip for the radials.
The MFJ-1820T whip connected to my KX3. The plastic spring clamp was used to stabilize the whip. You can also see the alligator clip for the radials.

The KX3’s internal tuner loaded up the whip with no problems. I heard W8SVC calling CQ from Michigan and gave him a call with 5 watts. He got my callsign on the first call but he wasn’t sure he had copied it correctly. I upped my power to 10 watts (gasp!) and called again. He gave me a 559 and we exchanged our basic information. Unfortunately, I lost him when the band faded.

Moving up to the 20M QRP calling frequency, I called CQ a couple of times. AA8WQ (QRP at 5W) responded from Ohio and gave me a 569 report. Again, we were able to exchange our basic info before I lost him completely.

Frankly, I wasn’t really expected much from a 4-foot whip but I was surprised that I was able to make two contacts this morning. It certainly isn’t the best antenna for 20M but, when the band is in good shape and you need something that sets up in an instant, the MFJ-1820T is certainly a usable antenna. I’ll probably be carrying the MFJ-1820T in the field as a backup antenna.

72, Craig WB3GCK

4th of July in Valley Forge

I made a quick return visit to Valley Forge National Historic Park today. Although it’s still pretty hot here in Pennsylvania, the weather was slightly better than the last time I was here.

I parked in a shady corner of a picnic area parking lot. I installed my 19-ft Vertical on the back of my truck and set up my KX3 on a small table under a large tree.

WB3GCK operating from Valley Forge
WB3GCK operating from Valley Forge

I started off calling “CQ SKCC” on 40M and received a call from K2K, a 13 Colonies special event station. The operator, AE1N in New Hampshire, is a fellow SKCC member, so we exchanged our membership numbers.

On 20M, I worked SKCC stations in Florida, North Carolina, and Wyoming. I also worked KX0R who was doing a SOTA activation (W0C/SR053) in Colorado. After that, I packed up and headed home to fire up the grill and crack open a cold “807” or two.

I’d like to wish my fellow U.S. hams a happy and safe 4th of July holiday.

72, Craig WB3GCK

It’s Like a Heatwave

My apologies to Martha and the Vandellas for misappropriating the hook from their iconic hit song. Here in Pennsylvania, yesterday was Day 1 of a heat wave that’s projected to be around for the next 5 or 6 days. With that in mind, I headed out yesterday morning to get some QRP-portable time in before it got too hot.

I made a quick trip over to nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park and found a picnic table under a shady tree. I set up my Alexloop, KX3 and a straight key to see if I could conjure up some SKCC contacts.

WB3GCK operating at Valley Forge Park
WB3GCK operating at Valley Forge Park

I called CQ once on 40 meters and a very loud KG4W immediately came back to me from Virginia. I like when that happens! We chatted for a bit and, after we signed, I tried to make a few more contacts. It seemed like 40M dried up after that.

I moved up to 20M and tuned around. I didn’t hear much activity but I called CQ a few times. K4BXR, another Virginia station, gave me another SKCC contact. (Afterward, Ted emailed me a recording of me calling CQ on 20M. Pretty cool!) That was it for 20M, so I headed back to 40M for a last check. No takers there, either.

After an hour or so, the bugs had gotten the best of me. After something tried to take a chunk out of my ankle, I decided to pack up. I also noticed that the tree I was under was dripping sap on me and the KX3.

Boy, Mother Nature must have really had it in for me. At least I came away with a couple of contacts.

This morning, I gave it another try. I drove out to Towpath Park, which is a small community park a few miles away. There’s a nice little pavilion there that is one of my favorite spots. I got out there a little earlier this morning since the forecast high for today was 98°F  (36.6°C) with a heat index of 105°F.

My setup at Towpath Park
My setup at Towpath Park

I used the same setup as yesterday but the bands didn’t seem so hot this morning. I checked into the SKCC Sked Page to let folks know I was on the air. I called CQ for a while with no takers and didn’t hear any other activity around the SKCC 40M calling frequency. I moved up to 20M but the band didn’t seem quite open yet. KB2XX in Virginia contacted me via the sked page asking if I wanted to try a contact. We met on 40M and successfully exchanged our SKCC numbers. Another SKCC member in Missouri wanted to try 30M but, sadly, we couldn’t hear each other. I ended up my brief session with just one contact in the log. Oh well, at least I didn’t get skunked.

So for now, that’s enough of this hot weather for this old guy.  I think I had more bug bites than contacts this weekend.

Stay cool!

72, Craig WB3GCK