I’m sure we’ve all had memorable contacts. You know, the ones where you can recall the content and the events surrounding them, even decades later. I was going through one of my old logbooks today and I saw an entry from almost 22 years ago that brought back a flood of memories.
Back in August of 1995, my wife and I took our two daughters on a weeklong tent camping trip to the Eastern Shore of Virginia. My wife had a “milestone birthday” that week (I won’t say which one) and that’s how she wanted to spend it.
We arrived at our campsite on Saturday, August 12th, 1995, and quickly set up our tents. As is my usual custom, I brought a QRP rig along. My simple set up for this trip was my old MFJ-9030 30M rig and my old J-38 straight key. I strung a lightweight dipole between two pine trees and ran the RG-174 coax down to a picnic table. The rig was powered by a 7 A-H gel cell battery, which was enough power for a week of casual operating. The MFJ-9030 put out about 3 watts under battery power. On a typical day, I got on the radio each morning for a couple of contacts and again later in the day.
Our vacation got off to a great start. While my wife was away from the campsite on her birthday, the girls and I threw her a surprise birthday celebration. We decorated the campsite with balloons and streamers. My family enjoyed spending time outdoors without the distraction of TV and telephones. Back in 1995, smartphones weren’t available and I didn’t own a cellphone yet. By Monday, there weren’t any other campers near us. So, we were blissfully unaware of what was going on in the world outside of our little campsite.
The morning of Tuesday, August 15th, 1995, was a typical morning for me while camping. I was up earlier than the rest of the family. I got the percolator ready and fired up our old Coleman camp stove. While the coffee was brewing, I turned on the radio and tuned around the 30-meter band.
Just before 7:00 AM local time, I made contact with Clark W8IHN/8. Clark was operating portable from Houghton Lake, Michigan. We had a very nice rag chew. During our CW conversation, Clark mentioned that he was 79 years old and had been on CW for 66 years! He was interested in our camping set up and our location. He asked me if I was following the news. I said I hadn’t been. He said I should since there was a hurricane heading our way. He said it looked like the Virginia coast was going to be getting high winds and “big surf.” He advised that we not wait too long to leave the area. We signed off after an enjoyable 45-minute chat. In my notebook, I wrote, “QSL for sure. Send a postcard.”
Concerned by Clark’s warning, I got in the car and tuned the radio to a local broadcast station. Clark was right — Hurricane Felix was heading our way. Before we left Pennsylvania, Felix was still churning around in the Caribbean. It didn’t seem to be much of a threat to our vacation plans. Now, a hurricane warning, which included our location near the lower Chesapeake Bay, had been issued. To the south of us, they were planning an evacuation of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Things were getting serious.
We spent the day listening to the news on the car radio and considering our options. I suggested that we head inland and look for a safer campsite. In the end, we decided to just head home the next day.
The next morning, I made two last contacts on 30 meters before taking the dipole down. After breakfast, we tore down the tents and packed up for the trip back to Pennsylvania. We stopped in the campground office to check out. They said they were planning to evacuate the campground later that day. Since they were planning to close the campground, they gave us a credit for our unused nights.
We were all disappointed that our vacation was cut short. At least, we able to get out of the area, avoiding the traffic and confusion of an evacuation. As we drove home, I was glad that I brought the QRP rig along and very grateful for that CW contact with W8IHN that had tipped us off to the bad weather heading our way.
In the end, Felix never did make landfall in the U.S. It did, however, impact the East Coast. In addition to major beach erosion, nine unfortunate souls lost their lives due to the heavy surf.
Clark and I exchanged QSL cards but I don’t think I ever worked him again after that. His real name was Whittier E. Clark. Doing some Internet research, I found out that he became a Silent Key two years after our contact.
Wherever you are, Mr. Clark, I still think about our CW contact in the summer of 1995 and the concern you showed for me and my family.
73, Craig WB3GCK