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

Stationary-Mobile for the January WES

I took some time this weekend to visit two of my favorite local parks to make some SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contacts. Given the recent sub-freezing temperatures, I wimped out and operated from the truck.

On Saturday I stopped at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. Things got off to a slow start; I logged just five contacts in the first hour. I really had to work for some of them. Things did pick up a bit over the next half hour, though. Although I ended up with only ten contacts, five were new ones that I need to reach the next Tribune level. I also worked a few K3Y event stations

WB3GCK at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. What the heck... When the QSOs slow down, you might as well take a selfie.
WB3GCK at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. What the heck… When the QSOs slow down, you might as well take a selfie.

On Sunday I drove out to Black Rock Sanctuary. We had a couple of inches of snow overnight but the parking log was clear of snow by the time I arrived. It a bit colder this afternoon, though. My fingers started getting numb in the few minutes it took to set up the vertical on the back of the truck.

The WB3GCK rolling ham shack at Black Rock Sanctuary with the remnants of the snow we got overnight.
The WB3GCK rolling ham shack at Black Rock Sanctuary with the remnants of the snow we got overnight.

The bands seemed better today; I logged 13 contacts in about an hour. One of those counted in my quest for the Tribune x7 level. I was starting to feel the cold in my toes, so I packed up and headed out. The truck’s heater sure felt good on the ride home.

It was good to get out twice this weekend but I really miss the warmer months. I’m definitely looking forward to Spring!

72, Craig WB3GCK

Ringing in the New Year

It’s been my custom to start the new year with some QRP-portable operating. For various reasons, I missed the past two years. One of my New Year’s resolutions (well… my only resolution) was to start this year off right.

I headed out to a nearby county park but that was a bust. The County closed the park for the holiday. So, I turned around and paid another visit to nearby Black Rock Sanctuary near Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. This was the same park I operated from on Christmas Eve.

The temperatures today were well above normal for this time of year. The moderate temperatures, however, also brought some antenna-bending wind gusts. My 19-foot vertical swayed in the wind but still performed well.

My somewhat cluttered operating position inside my truck.New Year's Day at Black Rock Sanctuary near Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
My somewhat cluttered operating position inside my truck.New Year’s Day at Black Rock Sanctuary near Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.

My focus today was making some SKCC contacts and I wasn’t disappointed. With Straight Key Night (SKN) still in progress, there were a bunch of SKCC members on the air this afternoon. Some seemed to be collecting SKCC numbers, while others were looking for SKN contacts. I was more than happy to accommodate both.

Most of the activity seemed to be on 40M and that’s where I made all my contacts today. I called CQ and received a steady stream of callers. I stayed for about an hour and a half and ended up with a dozen SKCC members in my log. The best “DX” of the day was Arkansas on 40M.  Three of the contacts were new ones in my SKCC log, so 2019 is off to a decent start (for me, at least).

The walking path at Black Rock Sanctuary.
The walking path at Black Rock Sanctuary.

For some reason, my antenna attracted more curious passersby than usual today. I’m always happy to entertain their questions. I’m always ready to give them my “30-second elevator speech” about ham radio and what I’m doing. I’ll expound on this topic in a future post.

So, from my shack to yours, have a very happy new year. I look forward to hearing you on the air in 2019.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Christmas Eve QRP-Portable

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been pretty much missing in action, radio-wise, for the past few weeks. Today I took a brief break from the holiday preparations to scratch my QRP-portable itch.

I drove out to nearby Black Rock Sanctuary in Phoenixville, PA; a place I haven’t operated from in a while. Except for a few dog walkers, I had the place to my self. It was cloudy, windy, and cold, so I stayed in the relative warmth of my truck with my 19-foot vertical mounted on the back.

My operating location at Black Rock Sanctuary
My operating location at Black Rock Sanctuary

I fired up the KX3 on 40M and made a couple of quick SKCC contacts with K1NIE in Ohio and K1EDG up in Maine. I tuned down to 7.030 and answered W9KY’s CQs from Indiana. Our signals weren’t very strong but we had a nice ragchew.

Next, I called CQ on 20M a few times and N0KCJ in Minnesota gave me a call. He was using a 3-foot loop in his shack. Cool! We got in a couple of exchanges before the band started fading.

I tuned down to 30M and had a short QSO with AE4DB in Florida. After we wrapped up, I packed up and headed home to spend the rest of Christmas Eve with my (far) better half. It was another short outing but it’s always fun to get out there.

I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a joyful and peaceful holiday season.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Revisiting the Rybakov 806 Vertical

Some recent Internet discussion got me thinking about the Rybakov 806 Vertical antenna. This easy-to-build antenna has served me well over the years. So, I went back and revisited some of the ways I’ve used it.

What the heck is a Rybakov anyway?

The Rybakov 806 Vertical appears to be the brainchild of Enrico IV3SBE from Italy (now 5Z4ES in Kenya). The term, Rybakov, is Russian for “fisherman.” That’s right… It’s an antenna with a Russian name designed by an Italian who lives in Africa — truly an international creation. From what I could glean from exhaustive Internet searches, this design dates back to the mid to late 2000s. I found numerous references to it from 2009.

The classic Rybakov configuration is a 7.6m or 8m (~25 or 26 feet) wire fed through a 4:1 UNUN. The length isn’t critical, as long as you avoid resonance on the bands of interest. It’s often supported by a telescopic fishing pole (hence, the name, “Rybakov”). Being a non-resonant antenna, you need to use an antenna tuner to make it work. You also need to use radials or some other type of ground.

The antenna can cover 80M through 6M (the “806” part of its name, I suppose). The band coverage depends on the wire length used and the capabilities of your tuner. With a 7.6M wire, you can cover 40M and up without problems. For 80M coverage, plan on using a longer radiator.

The only thing you need to build is the 4:1 UNUN. The IW7EEHC website provides detailed instructions for building one. Beyond that, you just need to cut some wire to length for the radiator and radials. Easy peasy!

My experience with the Rybakov

I had been using this type of antenna before I even knew it had a name. Rick KC8AON had a version of this type of antenna he called, “The Untenna.” That’s where I found it.

My first experiment with it was in a “stationary mobile” setup. I rigged up a 26-foot vertical wire and grounded the UNUN to the body of my truck. My Z-817 tuner was able to load it up with no difficulty. I had no problem making contacts and I liked the multi-band coverage.

I next used the Rybakov at a Boschveldt QRP Club Field Day. I set up a 26-foot ground-mounted vertical and used about six 16-foot radials with it. Again, the performance seemed decent and I remember doing well on 10M that year. The only shortcoming was that it wouldn’t load up on 80M.

The next year, I solved the 80M problem by using a 50-foot wire in an inverted L configuration. For the ground, I used six 16-foot radials and two 33-foot radials. This configuration gave me full coverage from 80M to 10M and it worked great. This antenna configuration became my “go to” Field Day for several years. In later years, I used a 53-foot radiator.

My typical implementation of the Rybakov 806 antenna. A length of 25 to 27 feet does well from 40M and up. I go with a 53-foot radiator for 80M coverage.
My typical implementation of the Rybakov 806 antenna. A length of 25 to 27 feet does well from 40M and up. I go with a 53-foot radiator for 80M coverage.

I used another version of the Rybakov with the pop-up camper that I used to own. I strapped a 31-foot Jackite pole to the camper and used it to support a 27-foot wire. I grounded the UNUN to the body of the camper. This antenna worked great on 40M to 6M and, best of all, I didn’t need to go outside at night to change bands. I used this antenna with good results for several years until I sold the camper.

I also built a Rybakov that I use as a backup antenna in the field. I built a small 4:1 UNUN that I use with a 26.5-foot radiator and a 26.5-foot radial. The antenna, along with a short length of coax, is easy to carry in my pack.

The bottom line (for me, at least)

I’ve had good luck with the Rybakov Vertical over the years. Is it the best antenna? Nope. Purists will argue about UNUN, ground, and coax mismatch losses. Yep, there are those. Yet, its simplicity and “no gap” band coverage are hard to beat. It’s easy to deploy in the field and it really does work.

If you’re in the market for a simple portable antenna project, the Rybakov 806 is an easy one.

[Update 4/3/2019: I’ve always wondered about the rationale behind the 25-foot radiator often used with the Rybakov antenna. An article in QST [1] by Joe Reisert W1JR shed some light on that for me. Joe’s article discusses the 3/8-wave vertical antenna. According to the article, the 3/8-wave antenna has a low take-off angle and its 200-ohm feedpoint is easily matched with a 4:1 transformer. Its higher radiation impedance provides good performance with just four 1/4-wave radials. For 20M, a 3/8-wave radiator is about 25-ft. Similarly, for 40M, it would be 50-feet. So, my guess is that’s the concept behind the Rybakov design.]

73, Craig WB3GCK

 

Reference Links:

Reference Articles:

  1. Reisert, Joe W1JR, “The 3/8-Wavelength Vertical — A Hidden Gem,” QST, April 2019, pp. 44-47.

 

Sling Pack for My QRP Stuff

My XYL has accused me of being obsessed with bags, backpacks, and storage containers of all sorts. She’s an excellent judge of character.  This one, fortunately, wasn’t very expensive.

A few years ago I bought a backpack with ham radio in mind. I wanted one big enough to carry my Alexloop antenna, along with my QRP rig, battery, and, assorted emergency and survival-type gear. (I could survive a zombie apocalypse with all the stuff I put in that pack.) Although it continues to serve me well, at 35 liters it’s a bit overkill when I don’t need to carry all that stuff. I wanted something a bit smaller and lighter for short hikes and casual outings.

After looking at a dizzying array of small packs, I settled on the Rambler sling pack from Red Rock Outdoor Gear. It’s a bit larger than most other sling packs but I needed one that would accommodate my essential radio gear. It measures about 10 inches x 16 inches x 4 inches and has lots of compartments and MOLLE webbing.

The main compartment comfortably accommodates the box that holds my KX3 and accessories. I also carry a LiFePO4 battery and my antenna wires in this compartment. I use one of the outer compartments to hold safety and comfort items, e.g., first aid kit, sunblock, insect repellent, emergency poncho, etc. In the remaining outer pocket, I keep a headlamp, emergency whistle, compass, a copy of my Amateur Radio license and a notepad and pencil. There’s a compartment on the back of the pack that’s perfect for carrying a folding sit pad and a large contractor garbage bag that I use as a ground cloth. With the water bottle pouch on the side of the pack, I don’t have to use up space inside the pack to carry water.

My Red Rock Rambler sling pack. My 19-ft fiberglass pole is attached to MOLLE webbing on the side of the pack. The HT pouch I added is on the lower left of the pack.
My Red Rock Rambler sling pack. My 19-ft fiberglass pole is attached to MOLLE webbing on the side of the pack. The HT pouch I added is on the lower left of the pack.

The Red Rock Sling Pack also does double-duty for public service events with my local ARES-RACES group. I just remove the QRP gear from the main compartment and replace it with my HTs, spare batteries, emergency vest, etc. Oh, did I mention snacks? Yeah, lots of snacks.

With all the MOLLE webbing on the pack, I couldn’t resist adding a few things. On the back of the pack, I added a pouch for my HT. I added a cell phone holder in the front on the shoulder strap. I use the webbing on one side of the pack to carry my telescopic fiberglass pole, which I fasten with some adjustable bungee cords. And just for the heck of it, I added some molle-compatible velcro strips for attaching a morale patch.

The back side of the Red Rock Rambler sling pack. There's a pouch behind the padded back of the pack that holds a folding sit pad. The small strap at the bottom of the picture helps to stabilize the pack but can be tucked away if not needed. My cell phone pouch is at the bottom of the shoulder strap.
The back side of the Red Rock Rambler sling pack. There’s a pouch behind the padded back of the pack that holds a folding sit pad. The smaller waist strap at the bottom of the picture helps to stabilize the pack but can be tucked away if not needed. My cell phone pouch is at the bottom of the shoulder strap.

In use, I find it very comfortable. The padded strap is non-reversible and goes over my left shoulder. That’s my preference anyway. The zippers on this bag have all worked smoothly without a lick of trouble. (Nothing frustrates me more than balky zippers!)

After nine months of use, the sling pack is holding up well and has fit my needs exactly. It provides a handy and comfortable way of carrying my radio stuff out into the field. There certainly are more expensive packs available but, for less than $50.00 USD, the Red Rock Sling Pack has been money well spent.

Now, all I need is to find some time to get back out into the field for some QRP fun.

72, Craig WB3GCK

[Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in Amazon or any these products. I’m just a satisfied customer.]

Links:
Red Rock Outdoor Gear Rambler Sling Pack
Tactical MOLLE Smartphone Holster
OneTigris MOLLE Radio Holder
Del Molle Strips for Attaching Tactical ID Patches