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

QRPp in the November WES

Years back, I regularly ran QRPp. It’s been a while, so I had some fun getting re-acquainted with QRPp during this month’s SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES).

On Saturday, I headed out to Black Rock Sanctuary, one of my favorite spots for a quick stationary-mobile outing. The temperature was in the 30s, so I operated from my truck. I mounted my trusty 19-foot vertical on the back of the truck and set up the KX3 in the cab. I turned the power down to 1 watt and got busy looking for WES stations.

My set up at Black Rock Sanctuary during the November WES
My set up at Black Rock Sanctuary during the November WES

The 40M band seemed to be in good shape, but there were RTTY stations all over the place. Despite the RTTY interference, I didn’t seem to have much difficulty making contacts. I didn’t have as much luck on 20M, but I did pick up two stations (Florida and Georgia).

After an hour and a half, I had to pack up to run some errands. I ended up with 8 contacts in the log. That’s better than I expected.

I didn’t have much time for radio this weekend, but I did pick up a couple more contacts from home on Sunday. It was a bit more of a challenge at home with my rainspout antenna. My final tally was 10.

It never ceases to amaze me what you can do with 1 watt. Thanks the great operators who managed to pull me out of the noise.

72, Craig WB3GCK

WES at Frances Slocum State Park

My (far) better half and I hitched up the “QRP camper” and headed north to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Our destination for the weekend was Frances Slocum State Park. It was our first visit there and we had a great time. As a bonus, our trip coincided with the monthly SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest.

Frances Slocum State Park, located north of Wilkes-Barre, covers 1,035 acres. The centerpiece of the park is Frances Slocum Lake. The campground is relatively small and very quiet. Ours was one of the larger sites available and was nicely secluded.

Frances Slocum Lake
Frances Slocum Lake

After getting the camper situated, I went about setting up my antenna. I had a bit of trouble driving in my Jackite pole ground mount. The ground was very rocky and it took 5 or 6 tries to find a spot to drive it in. I wound up putting it at the edge of our site near a large stand of pine trees.

My antenna at Frances Slocum State Park. It took 5 or 6 tries to find soft ground to drive in the ground mount.
My antenna at Frances Slocum State Park. It took 5 or 6 tries to find soft ground to drive in the ground mount.

I got on the air Saturday morning just as the WES contest was starting. In general, it seemed like my 5-watt signal was getting into the southern states with good signal reports but reaching New England was a problem at times. I’m guessing that the mountainous terrain surrounding the park was a factor.

WB3GCK doing some early morning operating inside the camper at Frances Slocum State Park
WB3GCK doing some early morning operating inside the camper at Frances Slocum State Park

After operating on and off on Saturday (and a little bit early Sunday morning), I ended up with 20 WES contacts in 12 SPCs. Not too bad, considering the time I spent on the air. I also worked KX0R out in Colorado. This was the second camping trip in a row where I worked George during one of his SOTA activations.

All in all, it was a very nice weekend. The weather was great and the radio wasn’t too bad.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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