Having reached the Centurion level (100 SKCC member QSOs) back in mid-March, I set my sights on reaching the Tribune level (50 QSOs with Centurion or higher members). Thanks to the many SKCC members who were eager to add me to their logs with my new “C” designation, I made great progress over the following 2 weeks.
So, by last Monday (March 28th), I needed just 3 more QSOs to reach the Tribune level. Despite some rough band conditions, it only took about 30 minutes to reach my goal. The QSO that put me over the top was a nice chat on 20 meters with Pablo KP4SJ in Puerto Rico. Pablo’s QSO helped me reach Tribune on the 2-month anniversary of my SKCC membership. It was especially gratifying doing it with 5 watts into my rainspout antenna. SKCC members, apparently, have very good ears!
Now begins the long climb towards the Senator level. That entails 350 more contacts with Centurion or higher members and 200 more contacts with Tribune or Senator level members. That, for sure, is going to take quite a while.
I made a number of 2-way QRP SKCC QSOs during the week, as well. I worked K8FAC in Ohio, NC4RT in North Carolina, N0HYD (portable) in Kansas, AH6AX in Maryland, and NF1U in Connecticut.
I’m hoping that “Life-in-General” settles down a bit next week and lets me get out for some portable operating.
On Good Friday, I found myself with a free afternoon. I decided to take advantage of the great Spring weather and make a spur-of-the-moment trip to activate the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (NS37). I hastily threw some equipment into my truck and headed out.
About 45 minutes later, I was on site and ready to get started. But first, I had to resolve some antenna issues. For some reason, my SWR was higher than normal and not very stable. I found a loose BNC connector on my 4:1 unun that I think was the culprit. I eventually managed to get things stabilized enough to operate. I was using my FT-817 at 5 watts into a 29.5-foot vertical wire antenna with two counterpoise wires. I operated all CW.
I couldn’t spot myself due to lack of a cell signal, so I just started calling, “CQ NPOTA.” After about 35 minutes with no takers, I was pretty close to packing up and heading home. Finally, I worked a Wisconsin station on 20 meters. I tuned down the band a bit and heard N4CD activating a park in Texas. I got him on the first call. So, at least, I was getting out to somewhere.
I moved down to 40 meters a worked stations in New York and Michigan. One of them must have spotted me because things picked up quickly after that. I spent the rest of my time on 40 meters and wound up with 30 contacts in the log (including 2 park-to-park QSOs) after an hour and forty-five minutes.
After I packed up, I stopped by the visitor center and chatted a bit with the park rangers. They were very welcoming and happy to have their park activated again. They were curious about how many contacts I made and how far I was able to get out. As I was leaving they thanked me for putting their park on the air.
I have some repair work to do on my antenna but it was a nice afternoon for an NPOTA activation.
Back in January, I decided I wanted to add a new facet to this hobby that I’ve enjoyed for more than 42 years now. I have always heard a lot of Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) activity on the bands and it sounded like fun. So, I signed up for an SKCC number, dusted off my trusty J-38 key and jumped into the fray.
More than 20 years had passed since I made the switch to paddles and Iambic Mode B keying. Needless to say, my straight key fist was very rusty. After some off-air practice, I heard NN9K near Chicago calling, “CQ SKCC,” on 30 meters one day. I grabbed the J-38 and a few minutes later, Peter had given me my first official SKCC contact.
A few days later, it was time for the February SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES). The monthly, weekend-long WES contests are like most other CW contests except they are friendlier and run at a slower pace. After a fun weekend operating on and off, I ended up with 38 more SKCC contacts in the log. One particular highlight was working Bert F6HKA on two bands with my meager 5 watts and rainspout antenna. (Full disclosure: Bert’s awesome station gets most of the credit for these contacts. He was louder than most stateside stations.) After my first WES, I was hooked.
Even though SKCC promotes the use of manual keying methods, i.e., straight key, bug, cootie key; they have some pretty sophisticated, computer-based tools that can help you reach the various award levels. There are a few SKCC-specific logging programs. I use AC2C’s SKCC Logger for logging during WES contests and keeping track of all of my SKCC contacts. The K3UK SKCC Sked Page is an online gathering place for members looking for contacts. Another slick tool is the SKCC Skimmer. This software tells me who is online on the Sked Page and which SKCC members have been spotted on the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN). Most importantly, it lets me know if they have SKCC numbers I need for award levels I’m pursuing.
The thing I like most about SKCC is the friendly attitude of the members. They are particularly helpful to newbies and will always slow down to match the sending speeds of slower operators. Many times, operators would recognize my new SKCC number and take the time to welcome me to the club — even during contest exchanges.
After a month and a half of general operating and two WES contests, I found myself with 99 SKCC contacts. I needed just one more to reach the SKCC Centurion level. With some sort of geomagnetic disturbance going on, I resorted to the SKCC Sked Page for help. Within minutes, there were several stations trying to work me to put me over the top. Werner, N8BB in Michigan, was finally able to get me there. I applied for my Centurion award and received it later that day. I’m now in the process of trying to work 50 Centurion, Tribune, or Senator level members for the Tribune level.
I’m pleased to report that my old straight key fist is back in shape and I have rediscovered the elegant simplicity of the straight key. Many thanks for the good folks who run the SKCC organization. It’s easy to see why the SKCC is one of the fastest growing clubs in ham radio.
I didn’t have a lot of time today but I wanted to get out for an hour or two for the annual Freeze Your B—- Off (FYBO) contest. FYBO is sponsored by the Arizona ScQRPions. I didn’t do a lot of advanced planning for this event, so I threw my backpack into my truck and headed out with a couple of possible locations in mind.
I ended up in the Schuylkill Canal Park in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania, just a few miles away from home. I’ve been to this park many times but I had never operated from there. The spot I had in mind had some high voltage power lines nearby so I headed a little further down the road. I wound up in a parking lot next to the canal lock. There was still some snow on the ground and the area looked muddy, so I set up in the truck with the window down. (It was 36F when I started.) I used my YouKits HB-1B and a 29.5-foot vertical.
Now, normally, when people see my antenna, they usually just give some curious stares and move on. Not so today. Before I had even made a contact, I noticed a county park ranger drive by. He circled back around and pulled up next to me. He was curious about the antenna and I ended up discussing ham radio with him for the next 5 minutes or so. He wished me well and drove off.
A few minutes later, I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a car with two park rangers behind me. They were staring at the antenna, so I got out and went over to talk to them. I gave them my ham radio spiel and a few minutes later they drove off. I was finally able to get back to the radio and start making some contacts.
In my hour or so of operating, I only managed to work 3 FYBO contesters on 20 meters. There was very little FYBO activity heard. In fact, I worked more Minnesota QSO Party stations than FYBO stations. Before I packed up, I dropped down to 40 meters and picked up a Vermont QSO Party station.
Just before shutting down, a fellow who had been walking his dogs walked up to my truck and asked about what I was doing. Once more I gave my ham radio spiel. In all the years I’ve been operating from portable locations, I can’t remember ever getting this much attention. Maybe I enlightened a couple of folks today.
Even though it was a short outing and I’m sure I wasn’t a big threat in the FYBO contest, it’s always good to get out and play some radio.
My original plan was to get outside or, depending on the weather, operate “stationary-mobile” from my truck for Winter Field Day 2016. However, my XYL and I had a long-standing obligation to head out of town for a weekend of babysitting our grandson. So, “Plan B” was put into effect. I would have to operate in the “Indoor” category and, at least, hand out some points to those braving the elements.
On Saturday morning, I started to set up my portable station at my daughter’s house. I secured the feed point of my LNR EFT-10/20/40 end-fed antenna and tossed the rest of the antenna out of a second story window.
The next part was a little tricky since there was still more than a foot of snow in the backyard and I neglected to bring boots. Anyway, I trudged through the snow to secure my 31-foot Jackite pole to the fence. I used three velcro cinch straps that I had recently purchased. I used some twine to hoist up the far end of the antenna. It turned out to be mostly horizontal but with a little bit of sag in it. Then, I set up my YouKits HB-1B and my logging computer on the dining room table.
About 2 hours before the start of Winter Field Day, I fired up my YouKits HB-1B and had a nice 2-way QRP chat with John, W3FSA, up in Maine. So, my slightly sagging antenna wasn’t doing too badly.
In between entertaining my 1-year-old grandson and taking my grand-dog out for walks, I got on the radio. There didn’t seem to be a large number of stations on, so I bounced back and forth between 40 and 20 meters. At the end of the first day, I had worked 22 stations and a few stations not in the contest.
I got on for a bit on Sunday morning but things had really thinned out a lot. I made a few non-contest contacts. It was a while before I heard any WFD activity. I only managed to pick up one new one. Around 10 AM, I packed up and tore down my antenna.
With my 23 contacts, I certainly didn’t set any records. It was, however, a fun event. Hopefully, I can get outdoors next year.
Each year, I spend a weekend in January with some QRP friends in the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area. We’re all members of a loosely-organized group of QRPers known as the Boschveldt QRP Club. We stay in a cabin at the Mohican Outdoor Center (MOC) near Blairstown, New Jersey. We have come to call this annual trip, “Camp Run-a-MOC.” This year, the Boschveldt crew convened Camp Run-a-MOC over the weekend of January 15-17. There were four QRPers in attendance: WA3WSJ, NK1N, KB3SBC and me. As a bonus, this year’s trip coincided with the National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) event.
Mohican Outdoor Center is run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. It is located within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and is popular stop-over point for Appalachian Trail through hikers.
I rolled into camp around mid-day on Friday and the others were waiting for me in the parking lot. I got out of my truck and threw my backpack into WA3WSJ’s truck and we took off for a hike up to the Catfish Fire Tower. We hiked up the Fire Tower road and connected up with the Appalachian Trail. This location was an NPOTA “twofer.” It encompasses both the Delaware Water Gap (RC07) and the Appalachian Trail (TR01).
While the others were operating pedestrian mobile, I hiked a little further down the trail in search of a good place to hang my EFHW antenna. There weren’t a lot of good options. There were a lot of dense woods up on this high ridge and the trees weren’t particularly tall. I eventually got my antenna up in an inverted vee configuration. It was NVIS at best. I set up my YouKits HB-1B on a convenient flat rock and got on the air.
I worked one station on 20M CW but I didn’t hear much other activity. I moved down to 40M and started calling CQ. I fired off a quick text message to my friend, Carter N3AO, down in Virginia. A few minutes later he answered my CQ. After he spotted me on the cluster, I was soon met with a hoard of very strong signals calling me. However, the pile-up was short-lived and the activity quickly slowed down. About that time, the wind was blowing across the top of the ridge and it started getting cold up there. I packed up and rejoined the others for the hike back down the hill. I ended the day with 17 QSOs, most of them on 40M CW.
After breakfast, we all packed up and headed out to the Crater Lake area to activate RC07. While, the others continued on to Crater Lake, I pulled off into the Blue Mountain Lake trailhead parking lot. It was a bit colder than the day before, so I opted to operate “stationary-mobile” from my truck. I set up a 30 foot vertical on the back of my truck, using my bike rack mount, and set up my station in the truck.
I worked several stations on 20M including WA3WSJ who had hiked up to Kittatinny Mountain for a combined SOTA (W2/NJ-003) and NPOTA activation. I heard a lot of activity on 30 meters, so I moved there next. That turned out to be a very productive move. I finished out my session on 20 meters. I worked NK1N who was with KB3SBC several miles away at Crater Lake.
The skies were starting to look threatening, so I started packing up. Over 2m simplex, WA3WSJ told me he had started hiking back down to Crater Lake. I drove over to Crater Lake to join up with the rest of the crew and we soon headed back to the cabin for lunch. It was a short session but I ended with 21 QSOs.
Once again, we had a great winter QRP getaway at Mohican Outdoor Center. The Boschveldt QRPers are already making plans for next year.
A few years ago, I started a tradition of going out on January 1st for some QRP portable operating. Since the ARRL National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) program kicked off today, I headed over to nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park to operate.
I set up in the parking lot for the Wayne’s Woods area of the park. I picked a secluded corner of the lot so I would be away from hikers and bikers using a nearby trail. I used my drive-on mast support to support my antenna. I used a 29.5-foot vertical wire supported by a 31-foot pole. I laid out two 29.5-foot radials. One was run around my truck and the other was laid out in a grassy area behind the truck. The antenna was coax-fed through a 4:1 unun.
I used my FT-817 at 5 watts, along with a Z-817 tuner. As mentioned in an earlier post, I used the YFKtest logging program on my little Linux netbook computer.
I started out on 20M and my first contact was with RA1M/MM who was also running QRP. After making a second contact on 20M things slowed down. I dropped down to 40M and started calling, “CQ NPOTA.” It took a while before I got a response. I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to make the requisite 10 contacts to validate my activation. Just then, Dave Benson, K1SWL, called from New Hampshire, followed by Jim W1PID. After Dave spotted me on QRPSPOTS, I had a mini pile-up on my hands. I’m normally a “search and pounce” kind of operator, so I wasn’t prepared to hear a bunch of stations calling me at the same time!
As it turns out, I wasn’t the only Valley Forge activator today. Fellow QRPer, Walt KB3SBC, was parked on Mount Joy about a mile or so away. Walt and I worked each other on 2 meters simplex. Walt was running SSB and had a good morning. He logged about 38 QSOs until he ran out of paper!
After two hours, I was starting to get hungry and a little chilly. I packed up and headed home. I ended my activation with 25 CW QSOs and the one FM contact with Walt.
My next activation will be the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area and Appalachian Trail in New Jersey in a few weeks. Walt, KB3SBC, will be there also. This is going to be a fun year!
I almost talked myself out of going out today. My grandkids got together and gave me one heck of a cold for Christmas. Thanks a lot, kids. 🙂 Despite being a little under the weather, I packed up and headed out. I’m glad I did.
I drove to nearby Black Rock Sanctuary to test the equipment I plan to use for a National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activation on New Year’s Day. My antenna today was a 29.5-foot vertical wire with two similar wires on the ground for a counterpoise. I ran one of the wires around the tires of my truck. I ran the other wire into a grassy area directly behind the truck. I figured I was in an area that wouldn’t see any pedestrians. (More on that faulty assumption later.) My rig was my old Yaesu FT-817 and Z-817 tuner.
I had last used the FT-817 on 14.060. So, when I powered up the radio, I immediately heard my QRP buddy, Ed WA3WSJ, and gave him a call. Ed was operating pedestrian mobile on Monocacy Hill about 20 miles away from me. He had a great signal. Right after I signed with WA3WSJ, Ed W1GUE gave me a call from New Hampshire.
On 15 meters, I called CQ on 21.060 and got a quick response from WA8IWK/8. Allen was portable in Michigan. While I was working Allen, a woman walked her dog directly behind my truck. I noticed her child looking down at the ground. After they left, I went back to check. They apparently had gotten caught up in my counterpoise wire. I re-routed the wire around the truck. Fortunately, I didn’t notice any difference in the antenna tuning.
I moved down to 17 meters and heard Jim W1PID working HK1MW. Jim was hiking in New Hampshire with W3ATB. I moved down a little bit and called CQ. I was hoping that I would catch Jim’s attention. It worked! Conditions were great on 17 meters and Jim said I was very strong into New Hampshire.
On 30 meters, I got a call from a familiar callsign. Wink WA8KOQ from Tennessee is a regular on 30 meters. I’ve worked Wink many times over the years and it was good to hear him again.
I went back to 20 meters to see if I could find Tim W3ATB. No luck today.
Finally, I went back to 17 meters and had a quick QSO with John, YV5IUA in Venezuela.
I’m glad I went out today. The bands were in good shape and my antenna seems to be working great. I should be ready for my NPOTA activation next week.
Or was it? You certainly couldn’t tell by the weather. It reached a balmy 71 degrees F today here in southeastern Pennsylvania. It just doesn’t seem right being outside in late December wearing a T-shirt.
Anyway, the shopping was done and the presents were wrapped, so I decided to sneak out to a local park for a little QRP-portable. I drove a couple of miles down the road to Charlestown Township Park and set up in my truck. The forecasters were predicting possible storms, so I operated in the truck today. I used my roll-on support to put my 31-foot Jackite pole up. I used one 30-foot wire as a vertical and another on the ground for a counterpoise. I fed it through a homebrew 4:1 unun. I used my YouKits HB-1B running 4 watts.
I started out on 20 meters but had no luck there. Moving down to 30 meters, I got a call from Walt WB8E near Detroit. Walt had a nice signal in Pennsylvania, despite some fading on the band. Next, I went to 40 meters and had a nice, long chat with Lou WA3MIX in Williamsport, PA. Lou grew up in my area and has some relatives in nearby towns. Finally, I went back to 20 meters and called CQ on 14.060MHz a few times. As I reached over to shut off the radio, I heard Dave KB8XG calling me from Michigan. This was Dave’s second CW contact. After wrapping up with Dave, I packed up and headed home.
Whatever your weather is like, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!
I can’t believe it– three decent weekends in a row. Thanks to El Niño, we’re headed for record temperatures this weekend. I definitely needed to take advantage of these mild temperatures. So, I drove down to Valley Forge National Historic Park to do some portable operating. I had planned to operate from Mount Misery (aka Valley Forge Mountain) for a while but never got around to it.
Following some directions that my friend, Carter N3AO, gave me, I hiked up the Mount Misery Trail. Carter operated a QRP field contest there years ago and said it was a nice spot. I hiked in about a mile and branched off onto the Horse-Shoe Trail for another half-mile or so. Most of the other hikers seemed to be staying on the Mount Misery Trail. I figured the Horse-Shoe Trail would be more secluded. I was right. The only other person I saw was a Park Watch volunteer. She came by as I was trying to figure out where to hang my antenna. I’m sure she was wondering why I was standing there staring up into the trees.
My biggest challenge of the day was getting my antenna up in the trees. I continued to hike looking for something that resembled a clearing. The woods up there are dense and there is a lot of brush just waiting to snag my antenna wire. After about 20 minutes, I managed to get my LNR EFT-10/20/40 EFHW antenna up. I set up my trusty YouKits HB-1B and got on the air.
I called CQ on 20 meters and AF5BA answered from Arkansas. After that, I got a call from fellow QRP Polar Bear, WA8REI. Ken was also QRP portable, operating from his trailer in a deer camp in Michigan. Next up was VE1BA in Nova Scotia. John’s 5-watt signal was booming into Pennsylvania.
I moved down to 40 meters, but I didn’t hear a lot of activity. I tuned around and heard NM1I calling CQ from Massachusetts. I gave him a call and we had a nice chat.
I took a break to stretch my legs and take a few pictures before heading back to 20 meters. I worked the VE9CRM club station in New Brunswick. The operator was VE9BEL. Their club station was putting out a very strong signal.
I was getting ready to shut down when I heard KG0YR calling me from Missouri. Dave was running 1 watt and had a nice signal. On his heels was K4AKC from Alabama. Tom was running 5 watts. I hated to cut our QSO short, but I needed to pack up and hike back down the hill.
All in all, it was a productive 2 hours.
I did have one take away from today’s outing. I have been using 20 lb. test monofilament line with a 2-ounce lead sinker to get my antenna up. It works great, but the line becomes completely invisible in the woods. I need to get some high-visibility line and paint the sinker.
Across from Mount Misery is another mount named… Wait for it… Mount Joy! That’s on my list for a future outing.