Outer Banks Round 2

I was back down in the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a few days this week. Since I was there for a family function, there wasn’t much time for ham radio. I did, however, get on the air for a bit one morning with a haphazard antenna.

We were staying with family in a rental house just down the road from the one we were in last month. Like the previous house, it had a beautiful view of Currituck Sound.

One morning, everyone went over to the beach for some surf fishing. Since I’m still dealing with my knee issues, I stayed behind and broke out the radio.

I took my KX3 out to a small, 3rd story deck and broke out two 25-foot pieces of speaker wire for an antenna. I wrapped one around the deck railing for the radiator. For a counterpose, I tossed the other wire off the deck. I used a BNC-to-binding post adapter to connect up to the KX3.

Operating from the deck in Corolla, North Carolina, on the Outer Banks
Operating from the deck in Corolla, North Carolina, on the Outer Banks

Frankly, I wasn’t expecting much from this antenna with 5 watts. When I turned on the rig, though, I heard some very loud signals on the 40M band. After calling CQ a few times, I saw a dozen spots on the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).

Over the next forty-five minutes, I had a couple of rag chews with stations in New York and New Jersey. I also logged a Parks of the Air (POTA) station in Connecticut.

My KX3 out on the deck. You can see the two pieces of speaker I used for an antenna.
My KX3 out on the deck. You can see the two pieces of speaker wire I used for an antenna.

Before packing up, I moved up to 20M and heard a French station calling CQ. I threw out my call and heard, “WB3?.” My 5 watts and the thrown-together antenna made it to France. Unfortunately, a loud, low-pitched version of my CW was coming from somewhere down below. As it turns out, the wire hanging off the deck was right next to an outdoor speaker. I didn’t complete the contact for fear of creating too much of a racket.

By this time, I was losing my shade anyway, and it was getting hot out there. So, I took down my makeshift antenna and packed up the radio. This brief—but fun—session was the only opportunity I had on this trip for ham radio.

It never ceases to amaze me what you can do with 5 watts and a couple of pieces of wire.

72, Craig WB3GCK

September Weekend Sprintathon

I haven’t made too many Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) contacts lately, so I took some time today to participate in the Weekend Sprintathon (WES). I drove up to my daughter’s property and operated from one of the fields.

To keep things simple, I used my usual 19-ft vertical mounted on the truck. I took advantage of the beautiful weather and set up a table and chair under a shady tree. I used my KX3 at 5 watts, along with my little MS2 straight key.

My operating location for the September 2021 Weekend Sprintathon (WES)
My operating location for the September 2021 Weekend Sprintathon (WES)

I started on 40M and only heard a few WES stations to work. I called CQ for a while and bagged a few more contacts. Based on my Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) spots, the band was in good shape. Before changing bands, I found two Parks on the Air (POTA) activators and worked them. 

I switched to 20M and found that the two loudest stations were from France. I had back-to-back WES contacts with Bob F6EJN and Bert F6HKA. Bob and Bert gave me RSTs of 559 and 569, respectively. I tried a few stateside stations, but I wasn’t getting through—go figure. I did log two more POTA stations, though. 

My KX3 and MS2 straight key
My KX3 and MS2 straight key

I gave 40M another try and found WA3GM doing a POTA activation in the next county over. Greg gave me a 339, but he was able to pull me out. After working three more WES stations, I started packing up.

I ended up with a dozen WES contacts and five POTA stations. Regardless of the number of QSOs, it was a great day to take the radio outside.

73, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at PA State Game Lands 234

I did another brief Parks on the Air (POTA) activation today. My target this time was PA State Game Lands 234 (K-8931). This one was close by, as a section of it is only 15 minutes from home. It was certainly quieter than my last activation.

The parking area is right across the street from a residential area. Also, there were powerlines directly across from me. There was a steady stream of hunters coming and going, so the parking area was crowded. It’s dove season here in Pennsylvania.

Entrance to PA State Game Lands 234 near Royersford, PA.
Entrance to PA State Game Lands 234 near Royersford, PA.

With all the hunting going on, I didn’t venture into the gated area. Instead, I operated from the parking area. I used my usual setup—my 19-foot vertical on the back of the truck and my KX3 (5 watts) inside.

I started off on 40M with a park-to-park (P2P) contact with VE2VIA in Quebec. After spotting myself, things picked up. I soon had my required ten contacts. After 30 minutes, the 40M activity began to slow down. I moved up to 20M and had 4 QSOs, including a P2P contact with KØBWR in Idaho. Despite some powerline noise, the 30M band produced another ten QSOs.

On four occasions, I stopped to answer questions from curious hunters. They were fascinated with my antenna and the fact that I was using Morse Code to communicate. I’m always happy to stop and give ham radio a plug.

I packed up after an hour and fifteen minutes. I ended with 29 QSOs, including the two P2P contacts. Thanks to WD9IGY, who worked me on both 20M and 30M.

This outing was a fitting wrap-up for a long holiday weekend here in the U.S. I hope my fellow U.S. hams had a safe and happy Labor Day.

73, Craig WB3GCK

A Different Kind of QRM

I did a brief Parks on the Air (POTA) activation today. My destination was Pennsylvania State Game Lands 043 (K-8742) in Elverson, PA. While it was successful, I ran into something I hadn’t encountered before: loud gunfire.

Before heading out, I took a look at the area using Google Earth. I found a public shooting range in the Game Lands with a large parking lot. It looked like an easy place to set up. As it turns out, it was not without some challenges.

Pennsylvania State Game Lands 043 (POTA K-8742) entrance
Pennsylvania State Game Lands 043 (POTA K-8742) entrance

When I got there, the parking lot was bustling with shooters out for some target practice. I parked away from the shooting range and set up my antenna on the truck. My rig was my trusty KX3 at 5 watts running CW.

The cell coverage wasn’t great, but I managed to spot myself on 40M. Almost immediately, I got a call from WA8ERJ, who gave me a park-to-park contact. I had a bit of a pile-up and logged ten contacts in the first twelve minutes. I logged a park-to-park contact with K8DRT before changing bands.

My setup in the public shooting range parking lot in Pennsylvania State Game Lands 043
My setup in the public shooting range parking lot in Pennsylvania State Game Lands 043

Up on the 20M band, the activity was somewhat sparse, and there was some noise from nearby powerlines. I managed to log two contacts before moving down to 30M. The 30M band was more productive, producing eight more for the log. 

The whole time I was operating, there was quite a bit of audio frequency QRM from the shooting range. My earbuds don’t provide much sound isolation. For the most part, though, the noise was intermittent and manageable. When necessary, I turned the volume up on the rig and rolled up the window.

The last contact was a bit difficult. The signal was weak and hard to hear over the noise from the range. He had to repeat his callsign five or six times before I got the whole thing. My apologies to that operator.

After an hour, I packed up and headed home. I ended up with 22 contacts, including the two park-to-park QSOs. Also, K9IS worked me on both 40M and 30M from Wisconsin. 

According to the POTA website, I was only the second person to activate this entity. It was also the first time I had to deal with loud gunfire during an activation. Of course, I was the one who picked this location. I should have anticipated the noise and brought some over-the-ear headphones.

On the drive out, I found another parking area further down the road from the shooting range. Next time, I’ll give that a shot—no pun intended.

73, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at Ridley Creek State Park

I did another impromptu Parks on the Air (POTA) activation this morning. This time I drove down to Ridley Creek State Park in Delaware County, Pennsylvania (POTA K-1414). 

Although it’s only about a 30-minute drive from home, this was my first visit to Ridley Creek. Before I left, I did some quick aerial reconnaissance using Google Earth. I picked out a spot near a trailhead that looked promising and happened to have restrooms. 

On arrival, I found a parking spot near some trees away from other visitors and vehicles. I used my trusty 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck and set up my KX3 in the cab. As usual, I kept my power to 5 watts and ran CW only. 

My parking spot at Ridely Creek State Park.
My parking spot at Ridely Creek State Park.

I spotted myself on the POTA website and started calling CQ on 40M. Within a minute, I began receiving calls. It took less than ten minutes to make the required ten contacts. After 40M slowed down, I moved to 20M for a while, later finishing up on 30M.

After 90 minutes—the apparent limit of my attention span—, I had 34 contacts, including three park-to-park QSOs. I worked KØBWR out in Kansas on all three bands. Thanks, Steve!  VA2NB (aka VE3WMB), my QRP friend to the north, worked me on 40M and 20M from Quebec. Thanks, Michael!

The equestrian facility located within Ridley Creek State Park
The equestrian facility located within Ridley Creek State Park

With that, I packed up for the drive home. Before I left, I drove around the park to do some exploring. On my way out, I stopped near a horse farm within the park to take a picture.

It was a fun morning at Ridley Creek. I’m sure I’ll be back to activate it again. 

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

Outer Banks 2021

Yep, it’s that time of year again. My extended family and I headed down to Corolla on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for our annual vacation. Of course, I spent some of that time on the radio. 

On Friday August 14th, after a long drive and a bunch of unpacking, I went about setting up an antenna. We had rented this house before, so I was familiar with the layout. 

I considered other antenna options, but in the end, I went with my trusty 29.5-foot vertical wire and 9:1 unun. With my limited mobility right now, it was a quick and easy option. Like last year, I mounted the 31-foot Jackite pole on the 3rd story deck and set up my radio in the shade on the 2nd story deck overlooking Currituck Sound. 

After breakfast on Sunday morning, I set up the radio to test the antenna. I made three quick POTA contacts to verify that things were working. 

Later that day, I participated in the New Jersey QRP Club’s Skeeter Hunt contest. Storms in the area made for some rough conditions, and the static crashes were horrendous at times. After an hour and a half, I saw some lightning across Currituck Sound from a storm cell headed my way. With 8 QSOs in the log, I decided to pull the plug and head indoors.

WB3GCK operating in the NJQRP Club's Skeeter Hunt contest from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This was also my "shack" for the remainder of the week.
WB3GCK operating in the NJQRP Club’s Skeeter Hunt contest from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This was also my “shack” for the remainder of the week.

For the rest of the week, I got on the air each day after breakfast for an hour or so. I made a handful of CW contacts each day, primarily chasing POTA activators. There was no shortage of activators to hunt, and I worked a couple of ATNOs (all-time new ones). These are parks activated for the very first time.

My antenna set up on the 3rd story deck of the house we rented for the week.
My antenna set up on the 3rd story deck of the house we rented for the week.

Like last year, I had intermittent noise on 40M, presumably, from something inside the house. That’s not unusual, as I generally run into some degree of noise issues in these rental houses. I still managed to make contacts, but it was a real challenge at times. I’ll probably try a different antenna next year. My Up & Outer worked well here in 2019, so I’ll probably go that route again next time.

The forecast for Friday—our last full day—was calling for rain and thunderstorms most of the day. So, I decided to take the antenna down a day early. Despite the noise and weather, I ended up with 37 CW QSOs in the log for the week.

I also like to check into the Thursday night net on the local repeater system when I’m here. The Outer Banks Repeater Association maintains linked repeaters that cover the entire area. Last night they were running a hurricane exercise and passing simulated emergency traffic. Being involved in EmComm myself, I enjoyed listening in on their emergency operations.

Man, this week went by fast. It seemed like I turned around, and it was time to pack up for the long drive home. We’re already looking ahead to next year, though, and we’ll probably rent the same house again. So, I have a year to think about next year’s antenna. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Dodging the Rain at Marsh Creek State Park

I was in a Parks on the Air (POTA) mood this morning. I planned to visit Marsh Creek State Park, a nearby park that I have yet to activate. The weather forecast was dismal, and I almost talked myself out of going. 

Looking closer at my weather radar app, it looked like I might have a break from the rain if I got loaded up and on the road. It was pouring as I left the house, but it stopped when I was about halfway to the park. 

I haven’t been to Marsh Creek in quite some time. Years back, I did a lot of fishing and ice fishing on the lake. I planned to operate from one of the boat launch areas. I’m not sure I have ever been to this part of the park; It sure didn’t look at all familiar. As I pulled into the park, it was a downhill drive to the boat launch. Given the hilly terrain on this side of the lake, I didn’t have high hopes for making contacts.

WB3GCK at Marsh Creek State Park (POTA K-1380, WWFF KFF-1380)
WB3GCK at Marsh Creek State Park (POTA K-1380, WWFF KFF-1380)

I parked along the lake, and I was ready to get on the air in less than 10 minutes. I operated from my truck using my KX3 (5 watts) and my homebrew 19-ft vertical on the back. I spotted myself and started calling CQ on 40M. It took a few minutes before I started hearing from chasers. 

Despite the hilly terrain behind me, I had a pretty good string of contacts. It took me about 30 minutes to make my required ten contacts. But, it was on 20M where things got interesting. 

Up on 20M, things really got going. My first contact on 20M was a park-to-park QSO with EC1R in Spain, so my 5-watt signal was making it across the pond. I also worked F4HZR in France. It was nice to hear W6LEN calling from California, showing I was also making it out to the West Coast. 

After a little more than an hour, I logged my 25th contact. That’s when I started seeing some raindrops on the windshield. When I have my antenna on the truck, I have to keep the cargo cover open. I had some things back there that I needed to keep dry, so it seemed like a good time to shut down. I was happy with the 25 contacts (including 3 park-to-park contacts) during my short activation, so I declared victory and headed home. 

As I was leaving the park, the skies opened up, and it started raining like crazy. I timed this activation just right. My luck doesn’t usually run that way.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Flight of the Bumblebees 2021

Today was the annual Flight of the Bumblebees (FOBB) QRP contest. Sponsored by the Adventure Radio Society, this field contest is one of my favorites. Although I’m not getting around too well right now, I decided to get out for part of it, at least.

I needed to keep things easy this year, so I went up to my daughter’s property and set up out in one of the fields. One aspect of the contest is that field stations should get to their location under their own power. On doctor’s orders, I’m wearing a knee brace and using a cane for a while. So, I limited my hike to my operating location to about 20 yards. However, it took me a few trips to get my gear there. 

I used my KX3—at 5 watts, of course—with a 29.5-foot vertical wire and a 9:1 unun. It took a bit longer than usual to set up, but it wasn’t too bad. I set up my equipment and was ready to go for the start of the contest.

WB3GCK operating in the 2021 Flight of the Bumblebees (FOBB) contest
WB3GCK operating in the 2021 Flight of the Bumblebees (FOBB) contest

I started on the 40M band. I didn’t hear much FOBB activity there, but I logged a few familiar stations. There was more activity up on 20M, though. I was able to work everyone I heard. 

After about an hour, it started raining. I grabbed my radio and some other gear and headed down the hill for my truck. Just in case I needed to bail out early, I moved my truck up closer to my table. 

Fortunately, my rain delay only lasted about 15 minutes or so, and the sun came back out. I set the radio up again to make a few more contacts. Not hearing any new stations, I decided to pack up and head home.

I ended my short stint with ten contest QSOs, including nine bumblebee stations. Outside of the contest, I logged a POTA activator in Quebec. 

I’m glad I was able to participate this year. Thanks to the Adventure Radio Society for sponsoring this fun contest.

72, Craig WB3GCK

WES at Susquehanna State Park

My (far) better half and I took our little camper down to Susquehanna State Park in Maryland (POTA K-1601) over the weekend. I’m still dealing with knee problems, so it was an excellent opportunity to rest my knee and get on the air. The Straight Key Century Club’s (SKCC) Weekend Sprintathon was on this weekend, so that’s where I focused my efforts.

We rolled into the park on Friday afternoon and proceeded to get set up. Our campsite was densely wooded and secluded. However, we found the site had what I call The Three Rs: rocks, ruts, and roots. It was a little tricky leveling the trailer, but we got it done. The site was in a low spot, not an optimum location for radio. We were camping without hookups, so at least I didn’t have to deal with RF noise from the trailer.

Our campsite at Susquehanna State Park in Maryland. My KX3 is located on the little green table to the left.
Our campsite at Susquehanna State Park in Maryland. My KX3 is located on the little green table to the left.

I managed to get my antenna set up just before severe storms rolled through the area. Thunderstorms passed to the north and south of us, but the heavy stuff just missed us. After the weather cleared up, I made a couple of contacts to make sure everything was working.

We had much better weather on Saturday, so after breakfast, I set up my KX3 outside. I heard a lot of WES activity in the morning, and the signals were strong. It got more challenging as the day went on, though, with some deep fading on the bands. I also seemed to have trouble working stations to the south of me, for some reason. I had to work harder to make contacts, but I was still making them. 

We had to pack up early on Sunday morning, but I managed to make a handful of WES contacts while the coffee was perking. I ended up with 25 WES QSOs plus two additional contacts before the contest. 

Early Sunday morning operating at Susquehanna State Park. My better half is a late sleeper, so I keep the lights low.
Early Sunday morning operating at Susquehanna State Park. My better half is a late sleeper, so I keep the lights low.

Overall, it was a relaxing weekend, and the radio was fun. We’ll be back at Susquehanna State Park again in a few weeks. I plan to concentrate on POTA next time.

72, Craig WB3GCK

4th of July Weekend POTA

It had been a while since I’ve done a POTA activation, so I did a spur-of-the-moment activation today. Valley Forge National Historical Park (POTA K-0761) seemed like an appropriate park to activate for the 4th of July weekend.

The weatherman was forecasting temperatures in the upper 90s today, so I headed straight for my favorite shady parking spot. Unfortunately, someone was already parked there. I headed off to a remote corner of the parking lot away from the picnics. There wasn’t any shade there, so I operated inside the truck. At least I would be out of the direct sunlight. I put my 19-ft vertical on the back of my truck and set up my KX3 in the cab.

WB3GCK at Valley Forge National Historical Park (POTA K-0761, WWFF KFF-0761)
WB3GCK at Valley Forge National Historical Park (POTA K-0761, WWFF KFF-0761)

Before I had even spotted myself, I got a response to my first CQ on 40M. After that, the QSOs came steadily. It only took about 15 minutes to get my requisite ten contacts. I divided the rest of my time between 40M, 20M, and 30M. 

Even with all of the windows open, it got pretty hot inside the truck. I also noticed my KX3 was getting pretty warm, so I decided to wrap things up and head home. After an hour or so, I had 31 contacts logged, including one park-to-park QSO. 

I hope all of my U.S. friends had a happy and safe 4th of July holiday weekend.

73, Craig WB3GCK