Winter Field Day 2016

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.

Antenna support for my LNR EFT-10/20/40 EFHW antenna
Antenna support for my LNR EFT-10/20/40 EFHW antenna

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.

My portable station for Winter Field Day 2016
My portable station for Winter Field Day 2016

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.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Delaware Water Gap Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoEach 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.

Our home for the weekend at Mohican Outdoor Center
Our home for the weekend at Mohican Outdoor Center

Day 1

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).

Hiking to Catfish Fire Tower. L-R: KB3SBC, NK1N, WB3GCK. (Photo by WA3WSJ)
Hiking to Catfish Fire Tower. L-R: KB3SBC, NK1N, WB3GCK. (Photo by WA3WSJ)

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.

Catfish Fire Tower
Catfish Fire Tower

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.

Operating along the Appalachian Trail near Catfish Fire Tower
Operating along the Appalachian Trail near Catfish Fire Tower (Photo by NK1N)

Day 2

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.

Stationary-mobile setup at the Blue Mountain Lakes trailhead
Stationary-mobile setup at the Blue Mountain Lakes trailhead

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 Boschveldt QRPers at Crater Lake. L-R: WB3GCK, WA3WSJ, NK1N, KB3SBC. (Photo by WA3WSJ)
The Boschveldt QRPers at Crater Lake. L-R: WB3GCK, WA3WSJ, NK1N, KB3SBC. (Photo by WA3WSJ)

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.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Fast Log Entry (FLE)

I recently discovered a very useful piece of software.  Fast Log Entry (FLE) is a small text editor that lets you quickly get your QSO information from paper logs onto your computer.  I originally installed FLE about a month ago but I didn’t immediately see its benefits.  After taking a closer look at it, I have now added into my logging utility “toolbox.”  FLE is a free download from DF3CB, although donations are welcomed.  It is a Windows application but it runs great on Linux under Wine.

Here’s a typical use case for me.  Quite often, I’m operating portable and logging my contacts in a small notebook.   If there’s a small number of contacts, I could just enter them into N3FJP’s ACLog, which I use for my main log.  However, entering into ACLog can be a little tedious if I have a significant number of contacts to deal with.  This is where FLE comes into play.

FLE provides a simple, keyboard-only, way of entering the information.  It uses a very simple format for the information.  To get started, you enter the date in the format YYYY-MM-DD.  Then, enter the band (e.g., 40m, 20m, etc.). Similarly, for the mode, you can just enter it (like “CW” or “SSB”).  See the screenshot below for an example.

Fast Log Entry (FLE) main screen
Fast Log Entry (FLE) main screen

You can now start entering your contacts.  Once you enter a contact at a particular time, you only need to enter the portion of the time that changed for the next contact.  For example, let’s say you worked a station at 1510 and another at 1511. After you enter the contact at 1511, you only have to enter “11” (i.e., just the minutes) for the next contact.  If you run a string of stations, you only need to note the time periodically in your paper log (say every 5 or 10 minutes).  FLE will interpolate the time for your contacts after you enter them if you like.  Also, there’s no need to worry about capitalization; FLE takes care of that.  You can enter RST (send and receive) information, or let it default to 599 or 59.  You can populate the “comments” field by enclosing the comment in angle brackets <>.  You can also add grid square information by prefacing it with a pound sign, like “#FN20.”

After you have finished entering your contacts, you can easily export an ADIF (Amateur Data Interchange Format) file for ingesting into your logging program.  FLE will also let you create a Cabrillo file for contest submissions.

My brief attempt at describing FLE probably doesn’t do it justice.  I recommend going to the author’s website to download a copy and taking it for a spin.  Be sure to check out the step-by-step instructions on the website.  Another great resource is a video by VK5PAS.  He gives a very thorough introduction to FLE and explains it much better that I can.  Although his video is targeted at the WorldWide Flora and Fauna program, it is a great tutorial on using FLE.

So, if you do a lot of portable operating with paper logs (think SOTA, NPOTA, IOTA, WWFF, etc.), take a look at FLE.

72, Craig WB3GCK

New Year’s Day NPOTA Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoA 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.

My “stationary-mobile” location
My “stationary-mobile” location

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.

My somewhat messy operating position
My somewhat messy operating position

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!

YFKtest logging software on my Linux netbook computer
YFKtest logging software on my Linux netbook computer

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.

National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge
National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge

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!

72, Craig WB3GCK

YFKtest Logger

I’m planning to take part in ARRL’s National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) event next year.  In fact, I plan to activate Valley Forge National Historic Park on New Year’s Day.  It will likely be cold so I plan to operate “stationary-mobile” from the cab of my pickup truck.  I suspect there will be a lot of “chaser” stations so I’m planning to use a computer for logging and sending CW.

I considered a couple of options.  One is to use N3FJP’s ACLog on my Windows laptop.  I use ACLog for my main log and I’m very comfortable with it.  The drawback is that my Windows laptop might be a bit large for the cramped cab of my little truck.  That led me to using my little Acer netbook computer, which runs Ubuntu Linux.

In my search for a contest-type logger for Linux, I tried several programs before stumbling across one called YFKtest.  YFKtest satisfied my three main requirements for a logging program:

  • It has to be simple to use with keyboard input only; I don’t want to have to use a mouse.
  • It needs to provide programmable CW messages and be able to key my transmitter.
  • It has to have the ability to export logs as ADIF files that I can import into my main log.
YFKtest main entry screen
YFKtest main entry screen

Fabian DJ1YFK is YFKtest’s original author while Bob Finch WY9A currently maintains the software.  Since it has been around for a while, the code base is stable.  YFKtest is a PERL program, so it runs under Linux.  It supports a large number of contests, including some QRP contests.  It generates CW over a serial or parallel interface, as well as via Winkey.  It works with the same serial interface that I use with the N3FJP software, so that’s a plus.  If you are so inclined, YFKtest will do rig control using the hamlib utilities. It also generates ADIF, Cabrillo and contest summary files.

YFKtest screenshot showing my custom CW messages
YFKtest screenshot showing my custom CW messages

Installation on Linux was straight-forward.  The user interface is a bit “old school,” compared to other logging software.  It was, however, easy to configure and use.   For NPOTA use, I took the “DXPED.def” definition file for DXpeditions and made a few minor tweaks to it. To give myself some peace of mind, I created a cron job in Linux that automatically backs up my log files to an SD memory card every 15 minutes.

YFKtest is hard coded for “599” or “59” signal reports.  There may be a way to accommodate honest signal reports, but I haven’t explored that yet.  Since LoTW doesn’t use signal reports, this is a non-issue for NPOTA logging.

Bob Finch’s support is top-notch.  During my initial testing with it, I reported a bug in the ADIF files.  In a day or two, Bob uploaded a fix.  You can’t complain about support like that.

So, I’m going to give YFKtest a shot for my New Year’s Day operation.  I’m anticipating a lot of NPOTA activity on the first day and that YFKtest will help me keep up with it!

For more information, visit the YFKtest website.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Antenna Testing at Black Rock Sanctuary

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.

My vertical antenna. 29.5-foot radiator fed through a 4:1 unun with two 29.5-foot radials.
My vertical antenna. 29.5-foot radiator fed through a 4:1 unun with two 29.5-foot radials. It loaded up great 40M through 10M.

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.

A view of the "cockpit" of my truck.
A view of the “cockpit” of my truck.

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.

72, Craig WB3GCK

‘Twas the day before Christmas…

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.

Christmas Eve 2015 Weather
Christmas Eve 2015 Weather

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.

Stationary-mobile set up in Charlestown Township Park
Stationary-mobile set up

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!

72, Craig WB3GCK