Outer Banks 2019

Once again, my family made our annual vacation trip to North Carolina. We rented a house in Corolla on the Outer Banks for the week. Of course, in between the usual vacation activities, there was some ham radio involved.

For various logistical and traffic reasons, it took us longer than usual to get there. It wasn’t until the next day (Sunday), that I was able to get an antenna up. This year, I went with my trusty “Up & Outer” antenna.

I mounted a 28-foot pole on the 3rd story deck for the vertical element. I strapped a smaller pole to a fence to support the horizontal element. I put a BNC-to-binding post adapter on my KX3 and fed the 300-ohm twin-lead directly. It loaded up fine from 60M through 10M. Surprisingly, the ambient noise levels were low. Man-made noise is usually a challenge in these rental houses.

Poles supporting my "Up & Outer" antenna. The pole on the left is supporting the vertical wire. The pole on the right is the end support for the horizontal wire.
Poles supporting my “Up & Outer” antenna. The pole on the left is supporting the vertical wire. The pole on the right is the end support for the horizontal wire.

I operated from a 2nd-floor deck on the rear of the house. This spot provided some nice shade for most of the day and gave a great view of Currituck Sound.

My outdoor shack for the week. The chair was particularly comfortable and the view of Currituck Sound was great.
My outdoor shack for the week. The chair was particularly comfortable and the view of Currituck Sound was great.

I managed to catch a few hours of the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. Running 10 watts, I worked 20 stations and added 8 more new contacts to my quest for the Senator Award. For good measure, I also worked DP6A in Germany who was participating in another contest. So, the antenna set-up appeared to be working fine.

The view of Currituck Sound from my antenna
The view of Currituck Sound from my antenna.

For the rest of the week, I fell into a pattern of casual QRP operating for a bit in the late mornings. The rest of the time was spent swimming, crabbing, and riding bikes with my grandkids. I still managed to make a handful of contacts each day and enjoyed some nice rag-chews.

Mid-week, we had some unsettled weather. I had a “Plan B” for inclement weather, though. I planned to move my radio gear into an unused sitting area not far from my outdoor location. I was going to use a small piece of pipe insulation to route the twin-lead in through a sliding door and keep it from touching the metal door jamb. Fortunately, the weather cooperated and “Plan B” never came into play.

As usual, the week went by too fast. On our last day, I made two more contacts before it was time to pack up the radio and tear down my antenna.

This was another fun vacation, radio-wise. I made 40 contacts, including some very nice early morning CW chats. I also worked a couple of stations who were also operating portable while on vacation and made a couple of DX contacts to boot. Plus, I continued my slow-but-steady progress towards my SKCC Senator Award, adding 16 new ones this week.

It was nice to be using a decent antenna in a low-noise environment — a welcomed change of pace from my home station!

72, Craig WB3GCK

WES at Cunningham Falls State Park

My (far) better half and I took our little camper to one of our favorite campgrounds for the weekend. Our destination was Cunningham Falls State Park in north-central Maryland. Our trip coincided with the Straight Key Century Club’s (SKCC) monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES). So, I spent most of my ham radio time operating in the contest.

Our site was wooded and nicely shaded but not large enough for the larger antenna I planned to use. Instead, I strapped my Jackite pole to a lantern post and used my trusty 29.5-foot wire and 9:1 unun.

I got on the air on Saturday at 1200Z when the contest started. The noise from my trailer was very low (for reasons unknown) and I heard some strong signals on 40M. Things got off to a good start but got a bit more challenging as the day went on.

I worked the contest on and off over the weekend with mixed results. I was able to easily make some contacts while others were difficult, if not impossible. Cunningham Falls is located in a very mountainous area. That, coupled with some sketchy band conditions, made it an interesting weekend.

I’ve been working towards my SKCC Senator award but I’ve been in a bit of a slump the past few weeks. I decided to increase my KX3’s power to a whopping 10W to improve my odds. This was the first time I haven’t been in the QRP category for a WES contest.

WB3GCK working hard (or hardly working) during the SKCC WES contest from Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland
WB3GCK working hard (or hardly working) during the SKCC WES contest from Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland

Despite the terrain and propagation issues, my casual operating resulted in 28 contacts in my log. Most were on 40M with a couple on 80M.

Here are the highlights:

  • I managed to add 12 more QSOs toward my Senator award. I only have 65 more to go.
  • On Saturday evening, I heard R7DA calling “CQ WES” from Russia on 40M. I gave him a call and got a “WB3? AGN.” It took quite a few tries before he had my full callsign and we were able to complete the QSO. Alex deserves major props for his patience and persistence in pulling my puny 10W signal out of the noise.
  • On Sunday morning, I got on the radio for a few final contacts before packing up. As I was tuning around looking for WES stations, I found N4ZN doing a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation in New York. I gave him a call and had a park-to-park QSO. After that, I pulled the plug and started packing up for the long drive home.

Despite the occasional frustrations, it was an enjoyable weekend of camping and ham radio.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Father’s Day Camping in Maryland

I spent Father’s Day camping in Maryland. My (far) better half and I took our little camper down to Susquehanna State Park (POTA/WWFF K/KFF-1601). It was a beautiful weekend and our first time camping this year without rain.

Susquehanna State Park is relatively small but it’s one of my favorites. Our campsite this time was large, heavily-wooded, and secluded. It was just what we needed after a busy weekend — a peaceful place to relax.

When I wasn’t just goofing off, I was on the radio. My original plan was to put up an inverted L but there were just too many trees (and I was too lazy). So I stayed with my usual 29.5-foot vertical and 9:1 unun.

A conveniently-placed tree stump made a great operating table.
A conveniently-placed tree stump made a great operating table.

Instead of doing a formal POTA/WWFF activation, I focused on making SKCC contacts towards my “Senator” award. The bands were up and down but at times they were pretty good. Since we were “dry camping” without hookups, I didn’t have to contend with a bunch of noise from the trailer.

Breakfast time at the "QRP Camper" in Susquehanna State Park (MD).
Breakfast time at the “QRP Camper” in Susquehanna State Park (MD).

One of my first contacts on Friday was Florida on 40M. So, that was a good sign. On Saturday morning, there was some good SKCC activity on 30M. I worked several mid-West stations, including AK9A in Wisconsin. Bob was running 1 watt and putting out a great signal. Later in the day, I caught a good opening on 20M, netting me 579 reports from Louisiana and Manitoba, Canda. At the end of the weekend, my casual operating netted me 19 contacts. Six of them counted towards my SKCC “S Quest.”

Other than that, we caught up on much-needed sleep and ate lots of good food. Now, it’s back to the real world.

Life is good...
Life is good…

I’ll be busy this weekend getting stuff together for Field Day next weekend. I’ll be operating with the Boschveldt QRP Club (W3BQC). Give us a shout if you hear us!

72, Craig WB3GCK

WES Portable in Valley Forge

This weekend is the SKCC‘s monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. When I can, I like to go out and operate portable for at least part of the contest. I headed to Valley Forge National Historical Park for a couple of hours to take advantage of the great weather.

On arrival, I headed for a shady spot that I’ve used a few times before. I mounted my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck and set up a small table behind my truck. I fired up my KX3 and got on the air.

My set up in Valley Forge
My set up in Valley Forge

In short order, I logged several stations on 40M, including a POTA park-to-park QSO. (Valley Forge is POTA/WWFF K/KFF-0761.) Moving up to 20M, I made a few more contacts.

I decided to check 15M and I’m glad I did. I found several very strong stations who easily heard my meager 5-watt signal. I called CQ for a while and picked up a few more stations. I seemed to have a pipeline to Indiana and Illinois. It was great to hear some WES activity on 15M.

After a couple of hours, I started to run out of shade. I was getting hot and so was the KX3. I decided to pack up for the day. Besides, I had to do some preparations for a public service event early the next morning.

It was a great day for portable operating and I added a few more QSOs towards my SKCC Senator award.

72, Craig WB3GCK

My Quest for SKCC Tribune x 8

I haven’t been posting much lately but I have been on the air a fair amount. I’ve been focusing my operating time on reaching a milestone in the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) award hierarchy.

I’ve been working on reaching the Tribune x 8 (Tx8) level on my way to reaching the Senator level. I needed to work 400 unique SKCC members (in increments of 50) who are Centurians, Tribunes, or Senators.

I began this weekend a mere 4 QSOs away from the Tx8 level. I had family coming for the weekend, so there wasn’t much time for radio. Despite that, I set a personal goal of finishing up the last 4 this weekend.

I got on the air on Friday night for about an hour and was on a roll. I worked 3 qualifying QSOs in a row, leaving me just 1 QSO away from my goal. A piece of cake or so I thought.

On Saturday morning I got on for a bit. I had several stations offer to help me give me that last QSO but we couldn’t complete the contacts. Between unsettled geomagnetic conditions and static from storms down South, I came away empty-handed.

Part of the reason for the noisey band conditions on Saturday morning, I guess.
Part of the reason for the noisy band conditions on Saturday morning, I guess.

I had about an hour and a half before my family arrived, so I drove out to a nearby park to try some portable operating. With the monthly SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) going on, I figured it would be easy to pick up the last QSO. Plus, using a decent antenna sure wouldn’t hurt, either.

Less-than-optimum band conditions on Saturday morning. Fortunately, things improved a bit later on.
Less-than-optimum band conditions on Saturday morning. Fortunately, things improved a bit later on.

Using my trusty 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck, I got busy trying to bag some WES QSOs. Band conditions had perked up a little. Surely, I would find that last qualifying QSO.

I worked several stations on 40M and one on 20M. Unfortunately, they were familiar callsigns already in my log. I was feeling a bit disappointed as I rushed to make one last contact before I had to pack up and head home.

When I got home, I entered my contacts into the SKCCLogger software. Guess what! That last contact turned out to be a new one, giving me that elusive 400th Tribune QSO! Thanks to Len KD8FKD for being the one that got me there.

It’s been a long, slow climb for me. I started working on the Tribune levels about 3 years ago. (I took a break from SKCC for a while.) I made the vast majority of my SKCC contacts running 5 watts (with a few at 10 watts). I was either out portable or at home using my rainspout antenna. I have enjoyed the challenge, though. I find the SKCC events to be a whole lot of fun and somewhat addicting.

So, what’s next? My application for the Tx8 award is in the queue for processing. Once it’s approved, I’ll start working on the Senator Award, the highest award in the hierarchy. For that, I’ll need to work 200 unique SKCC members who are Tribunes or Senators. I’m hoping to get there sometime this year.

Wish me luck…

73/72, 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