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

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

Antenna Testing in the Field

While other parts of the country are bracing for snowstorms, the East Coast has had a run of Spring-like weather. I took advantage of one of those days yesterday to do a little antenna experimenting.

I headed back out to the property that my daughter and her husband own. I wanted to play around with some end-fed wires that I plan to use as backup antennas. (The antennas were nothing exotic, but I’ll do a couple of future posts on them.)

I set up my equipment in one of my favorite spots and started experimenting with a couple of antenna configurations. It was a little breezy on top of the hill but nowhere as bad as it was back in January.

Field testing some end-fed wire atennas
Field testing some end-fed wire atennas

I spent most of my time playing around with antennas, but I did make some contacts. The monthly SKCC WES contest was underway, so I worked eight of my fellow members. I also heard a POTA activator in North Carolina, so I gave him a call.

I accomplished what I set out to do and made a few contacts in the process. So, I declared victory and packed up for the drive home.

One of the antennas I used today was the one that had been missing since November. This time out, I couldn’t find the replacement antenna I made up. As I was searching around in my truck for it, I found the missing original antenna. As luck would have it, I also found the replacement antenna when I got home. This time, I put both antennas in places where I’ll be sure to find them. Hopefully, I’ll remember where those places are.

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

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

Outer Banks 2020

Once again, our family headed down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for our annual vacation. Naturally, I made ham radio a part of my vacation.

We rented the same house in Corolla that we were in last year. It’s a great place that overlooks the Currituck Sound. Plus, I already knew what to expect, radio-wise, and how to set things up.

After a long but uneventful drive down on Saturday, we arrived at the rental house. So did some thunderstorms. Despite the weather, it didn’t take us too long to get unpacked and settled in. 

After the storm had passed, I took a few minutes to set up an antenna for HF. I kept things simple this year. I strapped my 31-foot Jackite pole to the railing on the 3rd-floor deck and set up a 30-foot vertical wire and 9:1 unun. I ran 25 feet of coax down to the second-floor deck, so I had a shady place to operate during the day.

My 31-foot Jackite pole strapped to the railing on the 3rd story deck of the rental house. I operated from the deck below with a great view of Currituck Sound.
My 31-foot Jackite pole strapped to the railing on the 3rd story deck of the rental house. I operated from the deck below with a great view of Currituck Sound.

After a late breakfast on Sunday, I took my KX3 out to the deck to catch a little bit of the monthly SKCC WES contest. This month’s theme was Homebrew Keys, so I brought along one that I made a couple of years ago. The band conditions weren’t great, but I ended up with 10 QSOs before pulling the plug and heading for the pool. 

My homebrew key for the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES). For a bunch of junkbox parts, it has a suprisingly good feel.
My homebrew key for the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES). For a bunch of junkbox parts, it has a suprisingly good feel.

During the WES, I encountered much more RFI coming from the house than I experienced last year. To my good fortune, whatever was making the racket stopped after a while, and things improved somewhat. For most of the week, I still had some S2-S3 noise at times, but it was manageable. 

For the remainder of the week, I did a little casual operating each morning, while I still had shade out on the deck. I spent the rest of the day doing the usual Outer Banks vacation stuff—swimming, crabbing, and just hanging out with my family. 

WB3GCK operating in Corolla, NC, on the Outer Banks (with a cold "807" on the table)
WB3GCK operating in Corolla, NC, on the Outer Banks (with a cold “807” on the table)

Most of my contacts this week were casual rag-chews along with a few POTA stations here and there. During the week, John W3FSA worked me twice from Maine. It’s always good to chat with him.

For something different, I checked into the Outer Banks Area Wide Net on Thursday evening, while enjoying the sunset from the deck. I used my handheld to access one of the linked repeaters in a system that covers the entire Outer Banks. The net had a friendly mix of locals and visitors to the area.

For the most part, the weather was great this week—sunny, hot, and rain-free. Things got a little unsettled on the last day, though. There were storms in the area, but I still got in some more time on the air before tearing down the antenna and packing up the radio. My last QSO of the week was on SSB with my friend, Glen NK1N, who was doing a POTA activation in New Jersey.

I always say that our annual vacation on the Outer Banks is the shortest week of the year. That was true again this year, as the week just flew by.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Socially-Distant Antenna Testing

With the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been spending a lot of time at home lately. We had some decent weather today, so I went out to do some portable operating while practicing social distancing.

My daughter and son-in-law recently purchased an old farmhouse that they are restoring. The farmhouse is located on a large piece of property with plenty of room for QRP-portable operating. No one was there today, so I had all that acreage to myself. That made the social distancing thing easy. 

I had a portable delta loop antenna that I built a year or two ago but never tested. Today seemed like a good time to try it out. I set the antenna up behind an old barn and operated my KX3 from a camp chair. (I’ll be doing a detailed write-up on this antenna soon.)

My operating position today
My operating position today

I spent some time seeing which bands the KX3 would tune. Once that initial testing was done, I tuned up on 20M and started calling CQ. After the third CQ, I received a call from fellow SKCC member F8FSC in France. We both struggled with fading, but I was thrilled that he heard my meager 5-watt signal.

I bumped my power up to 10 watts to improve my odds. I heard N3PDT calling CQ from Missouri and gave him a call. We exchanged SKCC numbers and chatted for a bit. 

Tuning down the band, I heard F6HKA booming in from France. I sent my callsign once, and he got it the first time. Bert gave me a 549 and said I was peaking at 569. We exchanged SKCC numbers and chatted for about 10 minutes before signing. I’ve worked Bert many times, and it’s always a pleasure.  

It was sunny but somewhat chilly and windy out there today. As I was working Bert, though, it started getting cloudy. I was starting to feel the cold, so I figured it was a good time to pack up and head home.

It felt great to be playing radio outside and not thinking about the pandemic.

Stay safe, everyone.

73, Craig WB3GCK

A Brief Snowy Outing

The weatherman was predicting snow, sleet, and who-knows-what for my area today. I figured I get out for my QRP-portable fix before the weather got too bad.

My location was Schuylkill Canal Park in nearby Mont Clare, Pennsylvania. It’s just across the river from Phoenixville, and it’s been a while since I operated from there. 

My parking spot at Schuylkill Canal Park shortly after arrival.
My parking spot at Schuylkill Canal Park shortly after arrival.

By the time I got to the park, there was a coating of snow on the ground, and it was still coming down steadily. Except for a couple of mountain bikers and joggers, I had the park to myself.

After putting the antenna on the back of my truck, I tuned around on 40M and found W8BJO calling CQ from Ohio. Our QSO was interrupted by QRM, and I lost him.

WB3GCK hunkered down in the truck.
WB3GCK hunkered down in the truck.

I went up to 20M and worked K0RO from Mississippi. Ralph was operating as K3Y/5 in the annual SKCC K3Y event. Next, I called F6EJN, who was operating in the K3Y event representing Europe. Bob was very strong into Pennsylvania, and he gave me a 589 report. My last QSO was with fellow SKCC’er, WD5BVQ, in Louisiana. 

Schuylkill Canal Park in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania. The Locktender's House is on the left.
Schuylkill Canal Park in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania. The Locktender’s House is on the left.

The temperature was about 20°F, and I was starting to feel it. I started the truck once or twice for some heat, but that caused some noise in the radio. The accumulation was over an inch, and the road into the park was untreated. I figured I had better head out before things got worse.

It was a short but fun outing, but it was good to get home and warm up.

72, Craig WB3GCK

The Forgotten Antenna

We’re expecting some snow and sleet tomorrow, so I figured I head out for a little QRP-portable operating before the nasty weather moved in. So, I drove to nearby Black Rock Sanctuary for a quick outing.

The temperature today in southeastern Pennsylvania was a mild 42° F. I planned to operate from a picnic table using my AlexLoop clamped to the table. However, in my haste to get on the road, I neglected to put the AlexLoop in my truck. As Homer Simpson would say, “Doh!”

I had some antenna wires, but I didn’t think it was a good idea to mess with trees in a nature preserve. Fortunately, I always keep the necessary equipment for my stationary-mobile set-up in the truck. With my 19-foot vertical mounted on the back, I operated from inside the truck.  

A view of the "cockpit" of the truck
A view of the “cockpit” of the truck

The bands were in great shape this afternoon. It didn’t take long on 40M to put 5 SKCC contacts in the log. I also had a nice rag chew with K8RQX in Michigan before moving up to 20M.

Up on 20M, I had a coast-to-coast SKCC QSO with WD7JS in Washington. Russ was booming into Pennsylvania and gave my 5-watt signal an “honest 539.” I’ll take it! I moved down to check out 30M and had a quick SKCC QSO with K5MP in Florida before packing up.

Despite my absent-mindedness, It was a nice outing. Next time, I’ll have to pay better attention to my checklist.

72, Craig WB3GCK