Northbrook Canoe Challenge

Earlier this week, my orthopedic surgeon gave me the OK to drive again. This allowed me to take part in the Northbrook Canoe Challenge, an event to benefit the Cerebral Palsy Association. My local ARES-RACES group has provided communications for this event for many years.

This year I served as Net Control Operator for the event. Tim KB3FCJ set up a canopy for us along the scenic Brandywine River. We were situated near a dam, which the canoeists needed to portage around. A water rescue team was on hand to ensure the safety of the participants. 

My operating position for the Northbrook Canoe Challenge. This was taken while we waited for the canoes to make their was down the river.
My operating position for the Northbrook Canoe Challenge. This was taken while we waited for the canoes to make their way down the river.

As events go, it was pretty uneventful. There were no medical emergencies or overturned canoes. Just a nice day on the river operating with my Chester County ARES-RACES colleagues. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Patience is a Virtue

I’m still not able to drive yet, so my (far) better half offered to take me out for another POTA activation. Things got off to a slow start, so much so that I was tempted to throw in the towel. I hung in there, and eventually my patience paid off.

Like last week’s trip, we kept it close to home. We headed down to Ridley Creek State Park (POTA K-1414, WWFF KFF-1414) for some Parks on the Air action.

Like last week, I kept my gear simple and used my KX3 (5 watts) and AlexLoop. After calling CQ for a while on 40M, I finally logged a contact. Moving between 20M and 30M, I made three more contacts. Despite some decent spots on RBN, I was stuck with four contacts for what seemed like an eternity.

WB3GCK at Ridley Creek State Park (PA) (K-1414, KFF-1414)
WB3GCK at Ridley Creek State Park (PA) (K-1414, KFF-1414)

After bouncing around the bands for a while, I ended up back on 20M. I was going to spend a few more minutes calling CQ before packing it in and accepting defeat. 

The propagation must have improved, because a pile-up appeared out of nowhere. Over the next few minutes, I made seven more contacts. That was enough to qualify the activation plus one for good measure. Those contacts included 3 park-to-park contacts.

As I was packing up I saw something I hadn’t encountered in almost 30 years of portable operation. A little pot-bellied pig stopped by to say hello. His owner was trying to take him hiking on a nearby trail, but the little guy seemed to prefer socializing with the other people in the park. Eventually he responded to his owner’s call and went off trotting down the trail.

Boss the pig stopped by to say hello. Apparently, I wasn't the only "ham" in the park today.
Boss the pig stopped by to say hello. Apparently, I wasn’t the only “ham” in the park today.

It wasn’t a great day for radio, but at least I made enough for a valid POTA activation. Radio notwithstanding, the weather was excellent, and I got to meet Boss the pig. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

Getting My QRP-Portable Fix

It’s been more than a month since my last QRP portable outing. I’m still recovering from my knee surgery, and my doctor hasn’t cleared me to drive yet. My (far) better half must have recognized that I was going through portable radio withdrawal, because, out of the blue, she offered to drive me somewhere to get my portable radio fix.

Naturally, I took her up on her offer. For my XYL’s sake, I wanted to keep it short, so I opted to do a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation at nearby Evansburg State Park. To keep things simple, I grabbed my KX3, a battery, and my Alexloop.

We ended up in a small picnic area. It’s still a little early for picnics, so we had the area to ourselves. While I set up the radio equipment, my XYL occupied herself with a book. 

WB3GCK at Evansburge State Park (K-1351/KFF-1351)
WB3GCK at Evansburg State Park (K-1351/KFF-1351)

It has been quite a while since I’ve used the Alexloop, so I was rusty at getting it tuned up. I was having some trouble finding a peak in the receiver noise. I concluded this location was just too quiet (RF-wise). Turning on the preamp during tune-up, I had no trouble finding the noise peaks. My five-watt signal seemed to get out fine with the loop.

I operated for about an hour, logging 16 contacts, including one park-to-park contact in Florida. There weren’t any exotic QSOs today, but I had a nice two-way QRP contact with N1MX near Boston. Mike was running two watts and sounded great. I also had a QSO with fellow Boschveldt QRP Club member, NK1N, over in New Jersey. It’s always a pleasure to work Glen.

After sitting for an hour, my knee was getting stiff. So, we packed up our stuff and loaded up the car. We took advantage of the great weather and went for a walk before heading home.

Many thanks to my incredible XYL for this brief field trip today. It sure felt great to be operating outdoors again.

73, Craig WB3GCK

I’m Back – Sort of

I finally had my knee replacement surgery a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been singularly focused on recovery and physical therapy. As a result, I haven’t been on HF since before my surgery. This weekend, however, I finally ventured down into the basement where my HF gear resides. 

The Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) Weekend Sprintathon (WES) was running this weekend, so I grabbed hold of my trusty J-38 key and got on the air. Band conditions weren’t all that great, but I made a handful of contacts during a few brief sessions on the radio. 

My trusty J-38 straight key - wb3gck.com
My trusty J-38 straight key

For those who have inquired, the new knee is getting a little better each day. I still have a month of physical therapy ahead of me, and it’ll probably be a few weeks before I’m able to drive again. 

I miss going out portable, but in the near-term, I’ll be on the air from home from time to time.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Spring Equinox Outing

I celebrated the first day of spring with a QRP-portable outing today. I headed out to my daughter’s property and set up on top of the hill to test a new antenna and make a few contacts in the process.

Spring notwithstanding, it wasn’t a great day to be up there. Strong thunderstorms last night left the ground soft and ushered in a cold front. Along with overcast skies, there were some strong wind gusts. So, I set up the KX3 in the shelter of the truck.

Mother Nature was trying her best to knock down my antenna
Mother Nature was trying her best to knock down my antenna

I set up the antenna I planned to test—the subject of a future post—and ran it through its paces. The results were less than satisfactory. It needs a little tweaking, and I found a mechanical issue that will need some attention. Add that to the to-do list.

As a backup antenna, I went with a Rybakov-style vertical, with a pair of 26.5-foot wires, one vertical and the other on the ground for a counterpoise. I grabbed a small 4:1 unun that I built a few years ago and mounted it at the feedpoint. The male BNC on the coax cable refused to go onto the BNC jack on the unun. It looks to me like the center connection in the BNC jack has some corrosion or something in it and needs to be replaced. Another task for the to-do list.

Fortunately, I had another 4:1 unun in the truck, and I quickly got that set up. This particular unun is about 10 years old and has never let me down. It got me on the air, so I could at least make a few contacts.

I tuned around 40M and made a couple of contacts with Virginia QSO Party stations. Later on, I checked the Parks on the Air spotting page to see what parks were being activated. I worked a couple of parks on the 40M band and moved up to 20M to work N4CD at a park in Texas.

Although I spent most of the time fiddling with antennas, I’m glad I could get out and play radio for a while. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be having knee replacement surgery this week. The recovery and rehab process will probably put me out of commission for a few weeks.

Enjoy your spring!

73, Craig WB3GCK

Auburn Valley State Park Re-visit

I made another quick trip to Delaware this morning for a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation. My destination was Auburn Valley State (POTA K-4366, WWFF KFF-4366), a park I activated by in November of last year. Delaware state parks resume charging a parking fee on March 1st. It’s $4 for state residents and $8 for out-of-state vehicles like mine. So, I saved a few bucks today.

Parking fee sign at Auburn Valley State Park in Delaware
Parking fee sign at Auburn Valley State Park in Delaware

Like last time, I parked at the Yorklyn Bridge Trail trailhead. Once again, I used my KX3 at 5 watts with my 19-ft vertical mounted on the back of my truck. The last time I was here, there was a little of noise on the bands, but, fortunately, that noise was nowhere to be found today. 

My cell coverage wasn’t as good as the last time. Using the Wi-Fi in my truck, however, I managed to post a spot on the POTA website. Unfortunately, I fat-fingered the park designator and inadvertently spotted myself at a park in Iowa. Doh! I quickly made the correction and got on the air.

My parking spot at Auburn Valley State Park in Delaware
My parking spot at Auburn Valley State Park in Delaware

I spent most of my time on 40M and quickly racked up 27 contacts. I moved up to 20M, which was good for another seven contacts. Although the 17M band seemed to be open, I only picked up one QSO there. After an hour and a half, I packed up and headed back north to Pennsylvania.

I ended up with 35 QSOs in the log with three park-to-park contacts. One of the park-to-park contacts was with W6LEN in California. The best DX of the day was with TI5JON in Costa Rica. 

Delaware parks are always fun for POTA. I swear, a Delaware location adds a few decibels to your signal.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Fox Point State Park

Fox Point State Park sign

I drove down to Delaware this morning to do a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation of a new (to me) park. Fox Point State Park (K-1738, KFF-1738) is located along the Delaware River near Wilmington. The park is in an industrial area, with busy railroad tracks on one side and cargo ships navigating the river on the other side.

I parked my truck near a picnic pavilion and a large playground. The park was mostly empty today. At times, I was the only one in the park.

WB3GCK at Fox Point State Park in Delaware
WB3GCK at Fox Point State Park in Delaware

I went with my go-to setup: my Elecraft KX3 (5 watts) and my homebrew 19-foot vertical. The hunters showed up en masse on 40M a minute or two after posting a spot. The activity was steady for about thirty minutes, netting me twenty-five contacts..

The higher bands weren’t quite as productive. I only picked up three on 30M and one on 20M. The 17M band yielded another four contacts. I headed back to 40M for another thirty minutes before packing up.

A cargo ship making its way up the Delaware River at Fox Point State Park
A cargo ship making its way up the Delaware River at Fox Point State Park

I finished up with forty-eight contacts today, including seven park-to-park (P2P) contacts. The park-to-park contacts included QSOs with KØBWR in Kansas on three bands. I also had a P2P contact with K3RTA, who was at another Delaware Park down the river from me. The best DX of the day was EC1R in Spain on 17M. Alfonso gave me a 339 report. I’ll take it!

It was another good day in the state of Delaware. I always enjoy operating from the “First State.”

73, Craig WB3GCK

Weekend Sprintathon in the Park(s)

This weekend was the monthly running of the Straight Key Century Club’s (SKCC) Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. I took part in this month’s contest from two state parks, combining both the WES and Parks on the Air (POTA).

Marsh Creek State Park (POTA K-1380, WWFF KFF-1380)

I went to Marsh Creek State Park on Saturday. It had been about six months since I last activated Marsh Creek. Today, I had two goals in mind. First, since the World-Wide Flora and Fauna (WWFF) program requires 44 QSOs to qualify an activation, I needed 19 more contacts from this park. Second, I needed 4 more qualifying SKCC contacts to achieve the Senator x2 level. 

The view of the lake at Marsh Creek State Park from my "shack"
The view of the lake at Marsh Creek State Park from my “shack”

I started on 40M and picked up 17 QSOs. When things started thinning out, I moved up to 20M, but my 5-watt signal wasn’t being heard by anyone. I checked the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) and found that I wasn’t getting a single spot on this band. With no luck on 20M, I went back to 40M. I couldn’t get the SWR below 3:1, and that was highly unusual. Time for some troubleshooting.

Although the temperature today was moderate for Pennsylvania at this time of year, it was cloudy and very windy. My 19-foot vertical had been whipping around with the wind gusts. The wind had moved the antenna around enough to disconnect the ground connection to the body of the truck. After I remedied that issue, I went back and logged a few more on 40M. My last QSO was with F6HKA on 20M.

My session ended with 18 contest contacts and 2 POTA park-to-park contacts. Although I had enough to meet my WWFF goal, I fell short of my SKCC goal. I still needed one more qualifying contact for the Senator x2 level. I picked up that last elusive contact after I got home.

Ridley Creek State Park (POTA K-1414, WWFF KFF-1414)

This morning (Sunday), I drove down to Ridley Creek State Park to work a few more SKCC stations. The weather was different this time out. The temperature had dropped to 32°F, and there was a couple of inches of snow on the ground. Fortunately, there wasn’t much of it sticking to the roads.

My parking spot at Ridley Creek State Park. There was a huge change in the weather from the day before.
My parking spot at Ridley Creek State Park. There was a huge change in the weather from the day before.

I drove to a picnic area on the top of a hill and got the antenna and radio set up. There weren’t as many WES stations as yesterday. As I was operating, the snow started coming down steadily. I had to get out a few times to clear the snow off the exposed connections on my antenna matching box.

I didn’t stay too long today, but I made 14 WES contacts, plus one POTA park-to-park contact. Among those contacts were W7GB in Washington State on 20M and F6EJN in France on 15M.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad weekend. My SKCC WES score won’t set any records, but I always have fun participating in this contest.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Evansburg State Park

After a particularly challenging week, I desperately needed a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation. I made a return trip to nearby Evansburg State Park (K-1351, KFF-1351), and it was worth the trip.

Entrance sign at Evansburg State Park

My location in the park was exactly the same as the last time I was here. I once again used my KX3 (5 watts) and homebrew vertical mounted on the back of my truck. After a few minutes of setting up, I was ready to go.

The 40M band (CW) was really hopping. When I turned on the rig, I came across a POTA activator in Massachusetts and quickly had them in the log. When I started calling “CQ,” the calls came in non-stop for the next 45 minutes. 

I had some excitement at one point. As I was working fellow QRPer, N4DJ in Virginia, I heard a loud bang, and the radio suddenly went quiet. I got out of the truck and noticed that the 20-foot pole holding my vertical wire had collapsed. 

The pole in question is a 20-foot Black Widow pole from B’n’M that has served me well for over 25 years. When it collapsed, the impact broke and bent the little eyelet at the top of the pole. Using the little multi-tool that I always carry, I did a quick “MacGyver” repair. After untangling the antenna wire, I had the antenna back up in less than 10 minutes. By that time, N4DJ was long gone. I emailed him later to let him know he was in my log. 

Back on 40M, the pile-ups resumed. Right before I changed bands, it surprised me to hear a call from KL7E in Alaska. I had a grin on my face as I logged our QSO. I don’t think I have ever worked Alaska from Pennsylvania on 40M, let alone with 5 watts in broad daylight.

The 20M band was also in good shape. I was pleased to work my QRP friend, Fred KA4RUR in St. Louis. He had a weak copy on me, but we got it done. Not long after that, I had back-to-back QSOs with CU3DI and CU3HY in the Azores. I finished with a handful of QSOs on 17M.

After an hour and a half, I had 55 contacts in my log. Sometime this week, I’ll take a closer look at my Black Widow pole to see if I can do a more permanent repair. After 25-plus years of use, I certainly got my money’s worth out of that pole.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Winter Field Day 2022

Thanks to a snowstorm and some personal matters, my Winter Field Day effort was limited this year. The snow didn’t stop until midday Saturday, so I waited until Sunday morning to get out and make some contacts. Wanting to stay close to home, I drove over to Black Rock Sanctuary, a county park about 15 minutes away. 

When I arrived at the park, the County had done an excellent job of plowing the parking lot. It was no surprise that I was the only one there. The temperature was 17° F (-8° C) with a windchill of 7° F (-14° C), so I raced to set up my vertical on the back of the truck to avoid numb fingers. Fortunately, the sun shining through the truck’s windows helped to warm up my operating position.

My mobile QRP shack at Black Rock Sanctuary for Winter Field Day 2022
My mobile QRP shack at Black Rock Sanctuary for Winter Field Day 2022

I spent about 45 minutes on 40M CW, doing all “search and pounce”. Normally, there isn’t much noise at this location. Today, however, the noise on 40M was S4-S5 at times. The 20M band was much quieter, so I spent the rest of my time there. Before packing up, I plugged in my microphone and made a couple of SSB contacts.

I was on the air for just under 2 hours, using the exchange: 1O EPA. In the end, I had 30 contacts in the log. The best “DX” today was California.

I was glad I could take part again this year, if even for a short time.

72, Craig WB3GCK