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

Warm November Outing

With temperatures up in the 70s and clear blue skies, we had a beautiful Fall day here today in southeastern Pennsylvania. When you get a day like this, you have to take advantage of it. For me, that meant getting outside for some QRP-portable operating. The SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) is happening this weekend, so that’s where I focused my attention.

I drove out to the small farm that my daughter and her husband purchased earlier this year. The fields have tall grasses growing on them for later harvesting for hay. So, I drove my truck out into a clearing and set up my radio gear. I mounted my 19-foot vertical on the back of the truck and set up a small table for my KX3.

My setup for the November SKCC WES contest
My setup for the November SKCC WES contest

There was a fair amount of activity on 40M, so I spent most of my time there. The band was dead quiet, and the signals were strong. That’s a refreshing change of pace from the RF noise I have to deal with at home.

I moved up to 20M for a bit and worked F6HKA. Bert always has great ears. He gave my 5-watt signal a 579 report, so I was happy about that. Coincidently, I was at this location when I last worked him back in March.

WB3GCK operating in the November WES on a beautiful Fall day
WB3GCK operating in the November WES on a beautiful Fall day

My operating was mostly casual, with a couple of breaks to walk around the property. I also stopped by to take a look at the farmhouse being renovated and chatted with the contractor.

I ended up with 15 QSOs in the log. Best of all, I got to enjoy this beautiful Fall day and play some radio, too.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Zombie Shuffle 2020

WB3GCK QRP Zombie credentials

Last night was the 23rd annual Zombie Shuffle QRP Contest. It’s 2020, and we’ve seen a lot of scary stuff. Why not throw in some zombies, too?  

This year, I operated from home, using my KX3 and rainspout antenna. I didn’t start until after dark, so I headed first to 40M. My local noise level on 40M was somewhat higher than normal, so I came away empty-handed. I spent the rest of my time on 80M, which is the best band for the rainspout anyway. 

There was a fair amount of activity on 80M, and I heard some familiar callsigns and some old friends. It was good to hear my friend, Dan KA3D, and my Boschveldt QRP buddy, Glen NK1N. Glen was one of the bonus stations this year.

Speaking of the Boschveldt QRP Club… Ed WA3WSJ was operating as a bonus station using our club’s callsign, W3BQC. Sadly, I didn’t hear Ed at all this year. I think we’re located a little too close to each other.

I operated for about 90 minutes and ended up with 11 zombies in my log. That’s two more than last year and a tie with my personal best in this contest. 

My thanks go out to Paul NA5N and Jan N0QT for organizing this fun contest. It was one of the bright spots in an otherwise crazy year.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Fall Camping in Gifford Pinchot State Park

With just two more trips left, our camping season is quickly winding down. For our penultimate camping trip, we spent a beautiful Fall weekend in Gifford Pinchot State Park (POTA K-1356, WWFF KFF-1356) in south-central Pennsylvania.

We arrived Friday afternoon, and it didn’t take us long to get things set up. So, my next task was to get my antenna set up. I tried several times to drive my Jackite pole ground mount in, but the ground was just too hard. I ended up strapping the pole to a steel lantern post. 

Leary about having my antenna wire so close to the metal pole, I took care to make sure the wire stayed at least two inches away from it. I used some extra straps and lightweight bungee cords to make sure the wire stayed in place.

This weekend was a busy one for ham radio. The SKCC WES contest, the Pennsylvania QSO Party, and a couple of others were all going on. I opted to do some casual operating in the SKCC contest. 

My daughter lives about 30 minutes away from the Park, so she brought my grand-kids down for a visit. So, I spent Saturday afternoon hanging out with the kids. Along with hotdogs cooked over the campfire, the kids enjoyed making s’mores.

I still found time for the contest. I operated on 40M during daylight hours and 80M at night and early in the morning. There was enough WES activity on those bands, so I never ventured up to 20M.

WB3GCK doing some early morning operating from Gifford Pinchot State Park in south-central Pennsylvania
WB3GCK doing some early morning operating from Gifford Pinchot State Park in south-central Pennsylvania

The metal lantern pole didn’t seem to affect my 29-foot vertical wire at all. Running 5 watts, I was getting some strong spots on the Reverse Beacon Network on 40M. Even with a compromise antenna on 80M, I was able to work stations from Canada to Georgia and several stations in Indiana and Illinois. 

My Jackite pole strapped to a steel lantern post. I took great care to keep my antenna wire as far away from the post as I could.
My Jackite pole strapped to a steel lantern post. I took great care to keep my antenna wire as far away from the post as I could.

I finished out the trip with an even 30 SKCC QSOs in my log. I didn’t do a formal Parks on the Air activation this weekend, but I submitted my log to both POTA and WWFF. 

All in all, it was a great weekend. I enjoy camping in the Fall, with the cooler temperatures and the beautiful Fall colors. We have one last trip with the camper before it’s time to get it ready for storage over the Winter.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Heads Up – QRP Afield

If you haven’t heard, the annual running of the QRP Afield contest is Saturday, September 19, 2020. This contest, sponsored by the QRP Club of New England, has been around for decades, and it’s been one of my favorites. 

The contest runs from 1500Z – 2100Z. You can get all of the details from the QRP Club of New England’s website

QRP Afield is one of the contests I always add to my calendar each year. Unfortunately, family obligations will probably prevent me from participating this year. However, if you are so inclined, head out to the field and give it a go!

72, Craig WB3GCK

Skeeter Hunt 2020

NJQRP Skeeter Hunt Logo

Today was the annual running of the Skeeter Hunt contest sponsored by the New Jersey QRP Club. It was a miserable day for a portable QRP contest, but it was a lot of fun nonetheless.

Since it was raining here in southeastern Pennsylvania, I opted to operate from my truck from a local park. I mounted my trusty homebrew vertical on the back of my truck and fired up my KX3.

I started on 40M, and the Skeeters were swarming. It only took me a minute to log my first Skeeter. I had a steady stream of contacts for the first half-hour or so. I heard lots of familiar callsigns, and I added a fair number of new ones to my log.

My location for the 2020 Skeeter Hunt contest
My location for the 2020 Skeeter Hunt contest

With the steady rain, it was a little uncomfortable in the truck. It was getting warm, but if I opened my window too far, I got rained on. So, after about 2 hours I decided to call it quits. I ended up with 24 contacts in the log. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever done, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. 

WB3GCK operating in the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt contest and sporting my Skeeter Hunt t-shirt
WB3GCK operating in the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt contest and sporting my Skeeter Hunt t-shirt

As always, I extend my thanks to Larry W2LJ for coordinating this great contest. It’s always a good time.

72, Craig WB3GCK