NK9G Skeeter Hunt Video

If you have ever taken part in a QRP field contest, you have undoubtedly heard Rick NK9G’s big signal coming out of Wisconsin. Rick produced a great video on the 2021 Skeeter Hunt QRP contest to mark the 10th running of this annual event.

Rick’s video shows the equipment and planning that goes into producing that loud signal from the field. The video also includes a picture of yours truly (at the 1:42 mark) operating from the Outer Banks of North Carolina for last year’s Skeeter Hunt.

The Skeeter Hunt is one of my favorite events, and I look forward to it every year. If you haven’t yet operated in a Skeeter Hunt, jump on in and join the fun.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Boschveldt Winter Outing 2022

The Boschveldt QRP Club has a long-standing tradition of getting together each January for a winter get-together. For years, we rented a cabin at the Mohican Outdoor Center in northern New Jersey. This time we tried a different location: the Daniel Boone Homestead in southeastern Pennsylvania. We weren’t able to make this trip last year, because of the pandemic, so we were all excited to try this new (to us) location.

This site in Berks County, Pennsylvania, is the birthplace of Daniel Boone, the legendary American frontiersman. The Wayside Lodge is one of several buildings on this 579 acre historic site. Our intrepid band of QRPers rented the lodge for the weekend to use as our base of operations.

During the wee hours on Friday, Mother Nature provide some wintertime ambiance for the weekend. She replaced the moderate temperatures we have been having with temperatures near freezing and a few inches of snow. It was enough snow to make everything look nice, but not so much to complicate my drive later in the day.

I arrived at the lodge mid-afternoon on Friday. Wayside Lodge is a large, rustic log cabin. There are two separate bunking areas and a large “great room” between the two. Despite its rustic nature, it has some modern amenities. There’s a small kitchen with a refrigerator and stove, and there are three bathrooms. 

The Wayside Lodge at the Daniel Boone Homestead
The Wayside Lodge at the Daniel Boone Homestead

A few Boschveldt members arrived the day before, and there were radios and antennas up and running when I got there. The attendees this year included Ed K3YTR, John NU3E, Walt KB3SBC, Ed K3BVQ, Rob KE3TI, and me. After settling in and catching up with old friends, we enjoyed a lasagne dinner courtesy of Ed K3YTR. Walt brought a projector and screen, so we had some movies for entertainment. 

It quickly became apparent that we were in for a cold weekend. On Friday night, my thermometer showed that the great room was around 45° F (7° C). There was some heat in the bunk rooms, but it was only about 55° F (13° C) where I was staying. A fireplace provided some warmth in the great room, and we went through quite a bit of firewood over the weekend.

Walt KB3SBC stoking the fireplace
Walt KB3SBC stoking the fireplace

John set up his 20M QRP rig in one of the bunk rooms and ran his end-fed half wave wire out to a tree behind the lodge. Ed K3BVQ ran a 40M half wave wire up and over some beams in the great room. The far end of his antenna ended in one of the bunk rooms. His unusual antenna configuration worked great for him with his QRP rig.

Walt brought his military shelter trailer and parked it in the parking lot near the lodge. This little trailer contains a complete ham shack—with heat—and room for sleeping. He was on the air from there hunting some Parks on the Air (POTA) stations.

The KB3SBC shelter
The KB3SBC shelter

Saturday morning, the temperature in the great room was only 35° F (1.7° C). Stoking the fire, along with plenty of hot coffee (courtesy of Walt), helped warm things up. We also had an outstanding French toast breakfast, courtesy of Rob. 

Later on Saturday, I drove to a picnic area about a mile away from the lodge. I wanted to take part in the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest, while avoiding interference to the other stations back at the lodge. Operating from my truck, I made 20 contacts, including two K3Y stations. I also contacted K3BVQ back in the lodge.

WB3GCK at the North Picnic Area at the Daniel Boone Homestead
WB3GCK at the North Picnic Area at the Daniel Boone Homestead

Bill KA3RMM and Chris W3CJW stopped by to visit on Saturday. Chris was kind enough to drop off a load of firewood for us. We certainly appreciated that!

Saturday night, five of us went out for dinner—and some warmth—at a local restaurant. After dinner, we went back to the lodge to watch another movie before turning in for the night.

John’s Belgian waffles have become a Sunday morning tradition at our winter outings. As always, John didn’t disappoint. The waffles were incredible.

We spent the rest of the morning packing up and cleaning up the cabin. Before heading out, we posed for a group picture. 

Boschveldt QRP Club members at the Wayside Lodge. L-R standing: KE3TI, NU3E, WB3GCK, K3YTR, KB3SBC. Seated: K3BVQ.
Boschveldt QRP Club members at the Wayside Lodge. L-R standing: KE3TI, NU3E, WB3GCK, K3YTR, KB3SBC. Seated: K3BVQ.

Despite the cold temperatures, it was a fun weekend. We’re already planning to return to the Daniel Boone Homestead next year. It’s always great to spend time with some old friends and get on the air with our radios. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

Zombie Shuffle 2021

WB3GCK QRP Zombie credentials

Last night was the annual running—or shuffling, I should say—of the Zombie Shuffle QRP contest. Organized by Paul NA5N, it’s a silly little sprint that I look forward to each year. 

As in recent years, I had to take part in the contest from home. This puts me at a distinct disadvantage; running 5 watts into my rainspout with S5 noise levels can be challenging. Undeterred, I jumped right into the fray. This year’s rules allowed you to use any spooky name of your choosing. I went with Bones.

The 40M band was very productive, netting me seven zombies before I had to take a break for dinner. I never heard much on 20M, but that isn’t the strongest band for my makeshift antenna. 

When I got back on after dark, activity was sparse on 40M, producing only three more contacts. I dropped down to 80M and picked up four more before calling it quits.

I ended up with 14 contacts, none of which were bonus stations. Thanks to those who hung in there as I asked for multiple repeats. My apologies to the one or two stations I couldn’t pull out of the noise. 

If you’re looking for a fun, low-key contest, give the Zombie Shuffle a try next year.

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

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

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

Winter Field Day 2021

Plans have a way of changing in a heartbeat. I originally planned to do my usual stationary-mobile setup for Winter Field Day. A trip to visit family in central Pennsylvania nixed that plan. Then, at the last minute, an impending snowstorm caused us to cancel that trip. And just like that, Winter Field Day was on again—at least some limited participation.

Due to the last-minute change in plans, Saturday was out of the question for me. Instead, I headed out Sunday morning for a few hours. I went out to nearby Black Rock Sanctuary, one of my regular haunts. I kept things simple and went with my usual stationary-mobile setup: KX3 at 5 watts and my 19-foot vertical on the truck. I also left the laptop at home, opting for paper logging. 

WB3GCK hunkered down for Winter Field Day 2021. Although it was in the 20s outside, it was a balmy 40F in the truck.
WB3GCK hunkered down for Winter Field Day 2021. Although it was in the 20s outside, it was a balmy 40F in the truck.

I made a few contacts on 20M, but 40M was more active. So, I spent most of my time on 40M. As is my custom for Winter Field Day, I dusted off my microphone and made a rare appearance on SSB. 

I found this device in my bag and used it for a few Winter Field Day QSOs.
I found this device in my bag and used it for a few Winter Field Day QSOs.

I was out for about 2 hours until the snow started coming down steadily. I ended up with 24 WFD QSOs—19 CW and 5 SSB. My toes were getting cold anyway, so I packed up and headed home. Although it wasn’t my best showing, I did better than last year. In any event, Winter Field Day is always a fun time.

Now it’s time to break out the snow shovels and get ready for the snow storm that’s coming.

73, Craig WB3GCK

K1EL WKmini Morse Interface

I haven’t bought any new ham radio toys lately, so I decided to upgrade the homebrew passive CW interface I use for contesting. I had been looking at the K1EL WKmini USB keyer for a while. I recently bought one, and it fit my needs exactly.

I’m not a big contester, but for Field Day, Winter Field Day, and some POTA activations, I key the radio using macros in the logging software. For years, I used a passive interface built into a DB-9 connector, along with a USB-to-RS-232 adapter. The interface consists of a resistor and a 2N2222 transistor. It served me well, but occasionally, there were some hiccups. With this simple interface, the logging software on the laptop is doing all the CW work. Once in a while, I noticed some timing issues in the code sent.

The WKmini is based on the WinKeyer 3 chip and designed for use with contesting logging software. The WKmini takes on the work of generating the CW, so it eliminates those timing issues. The logging software sends commands and data to the keyer, and the keyer does the rest.

The other nice feature is the paddle input. This feature allows me to instantly send CW manually when needed. I was able to do this in my previous setup, but it was a bit more complicated. The WKmini keyer is a more simple, elegant approach. Its small form factor makes it ideal for portable operating.

The WKmini Morse Interface from K1EL Systems. This compact device measures 2.25" W by 1.75" D by .5" H.
The WKmini Morse Interface from K1EL Systems. This compact device measures 2.25″ W by 1.75″ D by .5″ H.

The WKmini was incredibly easy to set up. I connected the keyer to my laptop, and Windows immediately recognized it. I used the free K1EL WKscan utility to determine which COM port the keyer was using. I connected the keyer to my KX3 using a stereo patch cable with 1/8-inch connectors. Using the K1EL WK3demo utility, I was successful in keying up the radio and sending some code. 

The last thing I needed to do was to configure my N3FJP logging programs to use the WKmini instead of the old passive interface. The WKmini doesn’t have any external controls; the logging software provides the necessary settings. There is a long list of software that supports WinKey keyers, including the N3FJP suite of software. The User Manual covers the N3FJP software, which was helpful. So, with a few mouse clicks, I was in business. All of this testing and setup took less than 15 minutes.

Like other K1EL keyer products I own, the WKmini is a solid performer. I’m hoping to give this little gem a workout during Winter Field Day later this month. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

WES at Black Rock Sanctuary

Today I headed out to Black Rock Sanctuary, one of my favorite winter-time operating locations. My primary objective was to make some contacts in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES). I was also curious to see if I could hear any ARRL 10M Contest stations.

When I arrived, there was a thick fog blanketing the park; I could feel the moisture hanging in the air. I went with my usual set up, my KX3 and 19-foot vertical, and was on the air in a few minutes.

The WB3GCK QRP-Mobile at Black Rock Sanctuary. You can see some fog over the hills in the background.
The WB3GCK QRP-Mobile at Black Rock Sanctuary. You can see some fog over the hills in the background.

I found lots of SKCC activity on the bands. 40M was wall-to-wall, and there was a fair amount of stations on 20M, as well. I ended up with 18 SKCC stations in my log, including F6HKA. Bert is always good at hearing QRP stations. I also worked a station using KS1KCC, the SKCC club callsign.

When I tuned around 10M, I didn’t hear much. I hadn’t used the 19-vertical on 10M before, and I found that the KX3’s internal tuner could only get the SWR down to 2:1. I suspect that the antenna is not super efficient on that band. Nonetheless, I did work a couple of local stations operating in the contest.

I made a few more SKCC contacts and worked a POTA station in Kansas before packing up. As I was taking down the antenna, the fog had dissipated, and the sun had come out. Isn’t that always the way?

73, Craig WB3GCK