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

Boschveldt QRP Field Day 2018

Boschveldt QRP Club patchThe intrepid members of the Boschveldt QRP Club got together for another great Field Day. The weather for much of the weekend was rainy but that didn’t stop up us from having fun.

Like last year, we held our Field Day on a nice piece of privately owned property in Malvern, Pennsylvania. The Boschveldt members on hand this year were Ed K3YTR, Glen NK1N, Ron WA8YIH and WB3GCK. Although he didn’t camp overnight with us, Jerry WC8R was on-hand for the weekend.

Part of the W3BQC Field Day site. Some of the VHF/UHF antennas are in the foreground. You can see the satellite antenna array in the background (above the car's hood).
Part of the W3BQC Field Day site. Some of the VHF/UHF antennas are in the foreground. You can see the satellite antenna array in the background (above the car’s hood).

We operated QRP in the 2A (battery) class this year, using our club callsign, W3BQC. On HF, WA8YIH worked SSB and digital, while I handled the CW chores. K3YTR worked 6M, 2M and 440 (with help from WC8R), while NK1N worked the satellites. Normally, Ed WA3WSJ participates but, unfortunately, he was under the weather.

WA8YIH operating underneath his tarp shelter at W3BQC Field Day 2018. At night, the tarp sheltered the hammock he slept in.
WA8YIH operating underneath his tarp shelter at W3BQC Field Day 2018. At night, the tarp sheltered the hammock he slept in.

After we arrived on Friday afternoon, we put up our tents and shelters, along with some of our antennas. Most of this work was done with some light rain and drizzle coming down. As is our custom, we headed out to a local restaurant to have dinner and do some catching up.

(l-r) K3YTR, WC8R, and WA8YIH enjoy the campfire at W3BQC Field Day 2018
(l-r) K3YTR, WC8R, and WA8YIH enjoy the campfire at W3BQC Field Day 2018

On Saturday morning, we attended to some last-minute equipment preparations. For the HF stations, WA8YIH and I kept things simple. We both used simple inverted L antennas fed through 9:1 UNUNs. K3YTR had a variety of antennas for VHF and UHF and NK1N had an elaborate system for tracking the satellites.

NK1N working the satellites during the W3BQC Field Day 2018
NK1N working the satellites during the W3BQC Field Day 2018

Our little group of QRPers tends to run a very laid-back Field Day. When the event got officially underway, we interspersed periods of operating with lots of socializing and eating. By Saturday evening, the lousy weather cleared out enough for us to do a campfire. Of course, there was more socializing and eating.

K3YTR working VHF/UHF during W3BQC Field Day 2018
K3YTR working VHF/UHF during W3BQC Field Day 2018

On Sunday, the weather finally cleared up and the sun came out. We also took advantage of openings on the 15M and 10M to make some more contacts towards the end of the event. We were happy to have a visit from Ed WA3WSJ. He felt well enough to come out to the site for a few hours. He even brought an assortment of sandwiches for lunch.

WB3GCK operating CW from my tent during W3BQC Field Day 2018
WB3GCK operating CW from my tent during W3BQC Field Day 2018

As is always the case, Field Day seems to be over far too soon. No records were broken this year but the Boschveldt QRP crew had a great time.

72, Craig WB3GCK