I’m Back – Sort of

I finally had my knee replacement surgery a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been singularly focused on recovery and physical therapy. As a result, I haven’t been on HF since before my surgery. This weekend, however, I finally ventured down into the basement where my HF gear resides. 

The Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) Weekend Sprintathon (WES) was running this weekend, so I grabbed hold of my trusty J-38 key and got on the air. Band conditions weren’t all that great, but I made a handful of contacts during a few brief sessions on the radio. 

My trusty J-38 straight key - wb3gck.com
My trusty J-38 straight key

For those who have inquired, the new knee is getting a little better each day. I still have a month of physical therapy ahead of me, and it’ll probably be a few weeks before I’m able to drive again. 

I miss going out portable, but in the near-term, I’ll be on the air from home from time to time.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Weekend Sprintathon in the Park(s)

This weekend was the monthly running of the Straight Key Century Club’s (SKCC) Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. I took part in this month’s contest from two state parks, combining both the WES and Parks on the Air (POTA).

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

I went to Marsh Creek State Park on Saturday. It had been about six months since I last activated Marsh Creek. Today, I had two goals in mind. First, since the World-Wide Flora and Fauna (WWFF) program requires 44 QSOs to qualify an activation, I needed 19 more contacts from this park. Second, I needed 4 more qualifying SKCC contacts to achieve the Senator x2 level. 

The view of the lake at Marsh Creek State Park from my "shack"
The view of the lake at Marsh Creek State Park from my “shack”

I started on 40M and picked up 17 QSOs. When things started thinning out, I moved up to 20M, but my 5-watt signal wasn’t being heard by anyone. I checked the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) and found that I wasn’t getting a single spot on this band. With no luck on 20M, I went back to 40M. I couldn’t get the SWR below 3:1, and that was highly unusual. Time for some troubleshooting.

Although the temperature today was moderate for Pennsylvania at this time of year, it was cloudy and very windy. My 19-foot vertical had been whipping around with the wind gusts. The wind had moved the antenna around enough to disconnect the ground connection to the body of the truck. After I remedied that issue, I went back and logged a few more on 40M. My last QSO was with F6HKA on 20M.

My session ended with 18 contest contacts and 2 POTA park-to-park contacts. Although I had enough to meet my WWFF goal, I fell short of my SKCC goal. I still needed one more qualifying contact for the Senator x2 level. I picked up that last elusive contact after I got home.

Ridley Creek State Park (POTA K-1414, WWFF KFF-1414)

This morning (Sunday), I drove down to Ridley Creek State Park to work a few more SKCC stations. The weather was different this time out. The temperature had dropped to 32°F, and there was a couple of inches of snow on the ground. Fortunately, there wasn’t much of it sticking to the roads.

My parking spot at Ridley Creek State Park. There was a huge change in the weather from the day before.
My parking spot at Ridley Creek State Park. There was a huge change in the weather from the day before.

I drove to a picnic area on the top of a hill and got the antenna and radio set up. There weren’t as many WES stations as yesterday. As I was operating, the snow started coming down steadily. I had to get out a few times to clear the snow off the exposed connections on my antenna matching box.

I didn’t stay too long today, but I made 14 WES contacts, plus one POTA park-to-park contact. Among those contacts were W7GB in Washington State on 20M and F6EJN in France on 15M.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad weekend. My SKCC WES score won’t set any records, but I always have fun participating in this contest.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Winter Field Day 2022

Thanks to a snowstorm and some personal matters, my Winter Field Day effort was limited this year. The snow didn’t stop until midday Saturday, so I waited until Sunday morning to get out and make some contacts. Wanting to stay close to home, I drove over to Black Rock Sanctuary, a county park about 15 minutes away. 

When I arrived at the park, the County had done an excellent job of plowing the parking lot. It was no surprise that I was the only one there. The temperature was 17° F (-8° C) with a windchill of 7° F (-14° C), so I raced to set up my vertical on the back of the truck to avoid numb fingers. Fortunately, the sun shining through the truck’s windows helped to warm up my operating position.

My mobile QRP shack at Black Rock Sanctuary for Winter Field Day 2022
My mobile QRP shack at Black Rock Sanctuary for Winter Field Day 2022

I spent about 45 minutes on 40M CW, doing all “search and pounce”. Normally, there isn’t much noise at this location. Today, however, the noise on 40M was S4-S5 at times. The 20M band was much quieter, so I spent the rest of my time there. Before packing up, I plugged in my microphone and made a couple of SSB contacts.

I was on the air for just under 2 hours, using the exchange: 1O EPA. In the end, I had 30 contacts in the log. The best “DX” today was California.

I was glad I could take part again this year, if even for a short time.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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