(Almost) Gone with the Wind

I was long overdue for some outside QRP-portable operating. Although we had some heavy rain overnight, it looked like it would be gone by mid-day. So, yesterday I headed out to nearby Towpath Park to take advantage of some milder temperatures.

I had a couple of objectives for today. First, I was hoping to make some QRP to the Field (QTTF) contest QSOs. I also wanted to test a new ground mount I put together for my cheap eBay telescopic pole.

When I got to the park, the rain had stopped. Unfortunately, last night’s heavy rains left the park a bit on the swampy side. That, coupled with some gusting winds, would make for an interesting test of my new ground mount. I was a bit leary but went ahead and set up the antenna anyway.

As I was setting up, a Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission officer got out of his car and walked up the path towards me. While it’s true that I was using a fishing rod (for my antenna), I was about 50 yards away from the river! As he approached, I told him that I was a ham radio operator. He said, “I know.” As it turns out, he was also a ham and had spotted my callsign on my license plate. He was just stopping by to say hello. As we talked a bit, we also found out that we also had some former employers and co-workers in common. Small world!

WB3GCK at Towpath Park
WB3GCK at Towpath Park

As we were chatting, the gusting wind blew my antenna over to a 45-degree angle. The ground was too soggy to hold my antenna mount. It never fell over, so I gave my antenna mount a passing grade for this extreme test. Unfortunately, in my rush to straighten out the antenna, I never took a picture. Pity. It put that tower in Pisa to shame. I moved the antenna a few feet to a somewhat drier spot and that did the trick. I’ll show a closer look at my ground mount in a future post.

My vertical ground-mounted in the soggy ground. This picture was taken while Mother Nature was on a brief break from trying to blow my antenna over.
My vertical ground-mounted in the soggy ground. This picture was taken while Mother Nature was on a brief break from trying to blow my antenna over.

When I finally got on the air, I found the bands dominated by Michigan and Ontario QSO Party stations. I didn’t hear any QTTF stations at all. So, I spent some time handing out points to some of the QSO Party stations.

After a while, I had had enough of the wind and packed up my gear. As I was packing up, the sun came out and the wind subsided. Go figure!

72, Craig WB3GCK

My Favorite Apps for Portable Operating

I do the majority of my HF operating while out at portable locations. Like most people these days, I always have my cell phone handy. While I have a bunch of apps installed, there are a few that I use most often to figure out where to go and where I am.

Before I begin, I should mention that I use an Android phone. Some of these apps may be available for the iPhone or there may be similar apps available for you.

I should also point out that I do most of my hiking and biking on well-established trails. Suburban Philadelphia is not exactly a wilderness area. Wilderness and backcountry folks will likely have different needs.

Having said all that, here are the non-ham-specific Android apps I use most often in the field.

Where Am I?

This appropriately-named app by Ejelta LLC does exactly what it says. Using your phone’s location services, it shows where you are in the world. It shows your city, zip code, phone area code, sunrise and sunset times, elevation, and GPS coordinates. It also identifies the county you’re in, which is useful for setting up a new location in the TQSL software for Logbook of the World (LoTW).

Where Am I? Screenshot
Where Am I? Screenshot

The sharing feature is also important to me. When I’m out alone, I use Where Am I? to text my location to my (far) better half. I can send her the location of where I parked my truck and where I stopped along the trail to play radio.

Maidenhead Grid Locator

Another piece of information I need for LoTW is the grid square I’m in. For years, I used (and still use) an app with the simple title, Locator. As I started writing this post, I found that this particular app is no longer available in Google Play. No worries; there are lots of other apps to determine your Maidenhead grid square. Here are a few:

  • Ham Locator (by OH5GQF) shows your grid square (6 characters) on a map. You can toggle between street view and satellite view.
  • If you use HamLog (from Pignology) for portable logging, check the “Tools” tab. There’s a grid locator tool there. You can navigate around a map to find the grid square anywhere on earth.
  • HamGPS (by EA4EOZ) is a grid locator on steroids. It shows your current grid square out to 10 characters, along with your coordinates and compass heading. It also shows the location and status of the GPS satellite constellation. That can be fascinating to watch.
Ham Locator Screenshot
Ham Locator Screenshot

TrailLink and AllTrails

These are two similar apps that I use for planning trips to new trails. The Rails to Trails Conservancy produces TrailLink, while AllTrails is from AllTrails, Inc. They both give you maps, directions, reviews, and more. Both apps have paid versions that will let you save maps to your phone. That’s handy if you are in an area with poor cellular coverage.

AllTrails map display. You can zoom in and navigate around the map to see a detailed view. With the paid version, you can save maps to your device for offline use.
AllTrails map display. You can zoom in and navigate around the map to see a detailed view. With the paid version, you can save maps to your phone for offline use.

Storm Radar

Last but not least… There’s no shortage of weather apps for your phone. I have one that I use for the usual weather forecasts: daily, hourly, and so forth. I also use Storm Radar (The Weather Channel) and it has saved my bacon on a few occasions.

Storm Radar. Fortunately, there was no rain in view when I captured this screenshot.
Storm Radar. Fortunately, there was no rain in view when I captured this screenshot.

Of course, Storm Radar‘s radar display lets you see exactly what’s coming your way. What I really like, though, is the real-time rain and lightning alerts. Even if I don’t have the radar display up, Storm Radar gives me a heads up on nasty weather headed towards me. There have been times when this app helped keep me and my gear from getting rained on.

Wrap-Up

So these are some of my favorite apps for portable operating. I didn’t cover any apps that are specific to ham radio but I may do that in a future post.

Do you have any must-have apps for outdoor operating? Let me know in the comments.

72, Craig WB3GCK

 

Links

[My usual disclaimer: This blog is not monetized in any way. I have no financial interest whatsoever in any of these products.]

OK. With that out of the way, here are links to the apps mentioned in this post:

 

Calm Before the Storm

We’re under a Winter Storm Warning today, with 5 to 8 inches of snow expected in some areas. I thought I would sneak out for a bit of QRP-portable before the snow starts. So I drove over to nearby Upper Schuylkill Valley Park, one of my regular Winter-time haunts.

The Upper Schuylkill River Trail at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park
The Upper Schuylkill River Trail at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park

There were a few people in the park when I got there, including a few hardy fishermen. After installing my 19-foot Vertical on my truck, I fired up the KX3 on 40M in search of some SKCC contacts. The bands seemed to be recovering from the geomagnetic wackiness from the past few days. There were some strong signals on the band but not much activity.

I only logged four contacts today but there were some nice chats. In particular, I had nice two-way QRP chats with W8BUD and AJ8S. The best “DX” of the day was with KR9Z in Florida on 20M.

After a while, a park ranger came by to tell me that they were closing the park in anticipation of the snow. So, I tore down, packed up, and headed home. No problem, I was starting to get hungry anyway.

As I write this, the snow has yet to arrive but the local weatherman assures us that it’s coming. I guess I better rest up for some snow shoveling tomorrow.

72, Craig WB3GCK

A Slippery Sloper

I spent the weekend with my grandkids out near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My XYL and I watched the kids while my daughter and son-in-law took a little anniversary get-away. Of course, there was some time for ham radio, too.

By the time I got around to setting up an antenna on Friday, it was dark and the temperature was well below freezing. Oh yeah, there was about 4 inches of snow in the backyard to boot. So, I was in need of a real quick and dirty antenna.

I decided to toss a 29.5-foot wire out of a 2nd-floor window. I then went out to the backyard to secure the other end of the wire. I used some shock cord to tie it off to the top of a 6-foot wooden fence. My total time outside in the cold and dark was about a minute.

Back inside, I fed the wire through a homebrew 9:1 UNUN with 18 feet of RG-8X coax. This particular wire and UNUN served me well as a vertical during many National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activations. I commandeered one end of the dining room table for my KX3 and powered up for a test. The KX3 was able to get a match on 80M through 10M.  Then, I went back to hanging out with the kids.

My impromptu sloper's feedpoint. The wire from the 9:1 UNUN is just pinched in the window.
My impromptu sloper’s feedpoint. The wire from the 9:1 UNUN is just pinched in the window.

By now I’m sure you’re wondering where the “slippery” part of the this post’s title comes in. Well, the next morning I looked out the window and saw that some ice had accumulated on the wire. The wire was dragged through the snow during installation and it froze overnight. The KX3 didn’t mind at all; the internal tuner loaded up the frozen wire without problems.

I got on the air for a bit on Saturday afternoon.  On the air, my impromptu antenna far exceeded my low expectations. I started off working N2CX on 40M. Joe was activating a park on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I followed that up with a nice two-way QRP chat with WK2J in North Carolina.

My dining room table set up.
My dining room table set up.

I worked a couple of QRPers in the FYBO contest sponsored by the Arizona ScQRPions. I also worked some Minnesota and Vermont QSO Party contesters. An assortment of SKCC, POTA, and SOTA stations also made it into my log over the weekend. The best “DX” of the weekend was VE7ST in the British Columbia QSO Party on 20M.

I didn’t expect much from this quickie antenna configuration but I was happy with the way it got out. Plus, set up/tear-down was easy and only took a few minutes. This sloper will likely be my go-to antenna for future visits to see the Harrisburg grandkids.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Winter Field Day 2019

Between errands and other obligations, I squeezed in a little time for Winter Field Day. I was only on for about 3 hours over the weekend but it was still fun.

On Saturday, I went to one of my usual Winter operating spots, Black Rock Sanctuary. (It’s one of a few local parks that have Porta-Potties year round.) I used my usual stationary-mobile set-up and operated from inside the truck.  I operated in category 1O from EPA.

WB3GCK operating in Winter Field Day 2019. If you look closely, you can see a microphone connected to my KX3. Yep. I actually made some SSB contacts.
WB3GCK operating in Winter Field Day 2019. If you look closely, you can see a microphone connected to my KX3. Yep. I actually made some SSB contacts.

I got off to a rough start, though. My trusty Palm Mini paddles gave me some problems. The connector at the paddles wasn’t making reliable contact. After fiddling with it for a while, I managed to get them working again. I’m babying these paddles since Palm is no longer in business and parts are unavailable.

After I got on the air, I found that 40M was wide open. I was able to work pretty much any station I could hear. In a little over an hour of operating, I logged 19 contacts — all on 40M CW.

I packed up and headed home to have dinner with my (far) better half, who had been out of town most of the week. I also went to work on my Palm paddles with some contact cleaner.

On Sunday, I headed back to Black Rock to make a few more contacts. This time my paddles worked right off the bat. (Note to self: Hey, Craig! Do some maintenance on your portable keys once in a while, will ya!)

The QSOs came a bit slower this time around. In two hours, I logged 20 contacts on 40M and 20M. I even made some SSB contacts for the extra multipliers. (That’s a fairly rare thing for me.) My best “DX” of the day was California.

When it starting getting tough to find “fresh meat” on the bands, I decided to pack up and head home. It wasn’t the most adventurous Winter Field but it was fun to get out there to make a few contacts.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Mohican Outdoor Center 2019

Each January, the Boschveldt QRP Club makes its pilgrimage to the Delaware Water Gap. Each year has presented unique challenges. Over the years we’ve had to contend with rain, snow, fog, bitter cold, and power outages. This year, it was snow and ice.

The Boschveldt QRP Club's base of operations at the Mohican Outdoor Center. This picture was taken before the weekend snow and ice arrived.
The Boschveldt QRP Club’s base of operations at the Mohican Outdoor Center. This picture was taken before the weekend snow and ice arrived.

For the 16th year, our small band of QRPers has rented a cabin at the Mohican Outdoor Center (MOC) in northern New Jersey. (This was my 5th year making the trip.) We always look forward to doing some socializing and doing some QRP operating. We had the following QRPers on hand: WA3WSJ, KB3SBC, NK1N, WA8YIH, WB3GCK, K3YTR, K3BVQ, W3CJW, and NU3E.

The forecast for the weekend looked dire. Initial predictions called for up to a foot of snow with a layer of ice. Regardless, the weather forecast didn’t deter the Boschveldt crew.

By the time I arrived at the cabin on Friday, some of our crew had already installed three antennas and stations. After settling in, our activities included socializing, dinner, and operating. We had folks operating CW, SSB, and FT8, some going late into the night.

KB3SBC (left) and K3BVQ hard at work.
KB3SBC (left) and K3BVQ hard at work.

On Saturday, several members operated from the cabin. WA3WSJ and NK1N headed up to High Point State Park to do some pedestrian-mobile operating.

Two of the stations in the cabin. (l-r) NK1N, WA8YIH, and K3YTR.
Two of the stations in the cabin. (l-r) NK1N, WA8YIH, and K3YTR.

My plan was to operate from the Blue Mountain Lakes trailhead. But, I found the road to the trailhead snow-covered and closed to traffic. I returned to the cabin to make some contacts from there.

WB3GCK operating CW at the cabin
WB3GCK operating CW from the cabin

On Saturday night, we headed into town for dinner at a local inn. We were happy to learn that we would be getting less snow than initially predicted. After dinner, some of our stalwart operators again took to the airwaves.

WA3WSJ relaxing in the cabin
WA3WSJ relaxing in the cabin

On Sunday morning, NU3E made his amazing waffles with strawberries and whipped cream. John’s waffles are a traditional Sunday breakfast at our MOC gatherings.

K3YTR relaxing at MOC (with WA8YIH in the background)
K3YTR relaxing at MOC (with WA8YIH in the background)

Outside, we had 3-4 inches of snow overnight with a thin layer of ice on top. After packing up and cleaning off our vehicles, we all headed out and went our separate ways.

It was another fun weekend with the Boschveldt crew. The radio stuff is fun but it’s especially nice spending time with some old friends. This annual gathering always goes by too fast.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Heads Up: Boschveldt QRP Club on the Air

Boschveldt QRP Club patchThis weekend (January 18-20, 2019), the Boschveldt QRP Club will be holding our annual Winter get together. We’ll be converging on a cabin at the Mohican Outdoor Center in northern New Jersey for a weekend of QRP fun.

This year, our group will be resurrecting the Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event (PBMME). We’ll be using our club’s callsign, W3BQC. Some operators will be in the cabin and others will be out portable and pedestrian-mobile. Operations will be CW/SSB/Digital on various bands, 80M through 70cm. Times, modes, and frequencies are at the discretion of the individual operators. Your best bet is to watch for W3BQC on the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) or QRPSPOTS.com.

The Mohican Outdoor Center in northern New Jersey is a popular stop along the Appalachian Trail.
The Mohican Outdoor Center in northern New Jersey is a popular stop along the Appalachian Trail.

Everyone who works W3BQC over the weekend will receive a PBMME certificate. See the Boschveldt QRP Club website for full details.

If you hear us, give us a call!

72, Craig WB3GCK