by Vince (VE6LK)
(As is my usual, this article is full of hyperlinks – click on as many as you wish)
The days leading up to my first Hamvention trip were a bit scattered to say the least. While I was pretty sure I remembered everything and even documented most of my gear on Twitter, I would only discover that the bag I intended to carry my gear around in was too small once I arrived in VE3-land. The very next morning I was shopping in several big box stores trying to find the perfect bag only, hours later, to discover an Army Surplus Store across the street from my activation and after the activation concluded.
Anyways, the short summary on the shopping trip was that I figured out a way to get me through the trip without spending a fortune.
The day’s goals were to make a simple activation at a park near the family where we were visiting east of Toronto. Before travelling I scoped out POTA entities that were nearby and had not yet received a CW Activation thus putting me closer to my CW goal for the year.
I landed up at Lakefront West Park VE-1480 in Oshawa Ontario. A recreational trail winds along the waterfront of Lake Ontario about 100m away, and eight baseball diamonds are the central feature here. Given the lack of trees at the park, and that I do not have a small mast on this trip for my EFHW -although I may remedy that at Hamvention- I chose to deploy my Comet HFJ-350M with some simple ground radials. With the solar reports showing SFI 149, SSN 134, A 19 and K 2, I chose 20m as the band for the day. 5W on my KX3 into a ground mounted vertical with one each 66′ and 33′ radial wires would have to be enough.
I have the full Comet HFJ-350M kit including the bag to carry all the pieces in. I also have a ground stake from eBay that comes with a 90 degree SO-239 adapter allowing me to attach feedline on the side and the antenna on the top. Not including the ground radials, the whole kit rolls up reasonably small, about 3″ in diameter and 12″ long.
You can find the stake on eBay by searching for “Antenna Bracket Holder Stand Mast Mount UHF SO239 ground anchor Tripod ham radio“.
The HFJ-350M works by using a small jumper from the base to taps on the coil along its length. From there you measure from the tip of the antenna to its base for the band of interest. A laminated reference card helps me to tune the antenna along with a small tape measure to get me in the range and I fine tune it with an analyzer to optimize it. In the way I set it up, it’s not the most efficient vertical -if you believe the words of others- but it gets me on the air in about 15 minutes and it has never failed me. I’m a fan of this product.
I recently sold my RigExpert AA-650 Zoom and purchased a RigExpert Stick XPro as its replacement. They are roughly equivalent in terms of features and capabilities, but the Stick is much smaller and has a slightly larger range for analysis. Given the sharp tuning notch on this antenna, I’m pleased to have the analyzer to get the best resonance I can.
Once the antenna was tuned up I was able to get the rest of my gear tuned up and on the air.
The solar conditions were not stable and it took 45 minutes to complete the activation on 5W, and many of the contacts were full of QSB and rapid fading. Partway through my activation, my beloved JBL Clip version 1 speaker suddenly stopped working. The lack of it’s built-in power indicator made it clear why … despite it having a full charge two days earlier, it was apparent that the speaker will need a battery replacement in the near future. I was able to pull out a small USB cable and plug it into the Talentcell and the speaker kept going.
I operated out of the rear of the SUV and held the CW key in my hand, only setting it down to log contacts. I’m thankful I’m not an inch taller for moments just like this given I was parked right up to the curb.
Once I completed the activation, the wrap-up was quick and easy. I store my 30 AWG radials on fly fishing reels as it makes it easy to wind them up. I store my feedline on cable winders. I store some items in bags, others in pencil cases. For this trip it will all be carried in a piece of carry-on sized luggage. A place for everything and everything in its place.
Gear list for the activation:
- Elecraft KX3 at 5W
- Comet HFJ-350M
- 30 AWG ground radial wires
- Inexpensive fly fishing reels (Amazon)
- 35′ RG-174 feedline with BNC connectors
- Talentcell 83Wh LiFePO4 battery
- JBL Clip speaker with integrated aux cable
- Begali Traveler Light key
- RigExpert Stick XPro analyzer
- Apple MacBook Air M1 2020
- Black Cat Systems’ DX Toolbox on iOS
- HAMRS.app for logging
With temperatures in the low 20s C / low 70s F, it was a pleasant activation and a full success in my books. As I have a workaround by powering it from the built-in USB port on the Talentcell, I’ll tear down the JBL Clip when I return from the trip. Hopefully I can find a battery to fit – that’s if I can get it open to complete the repair. You can follow this story on my Twitter or listen to the Ham Radio Workbench podcast to see the outcome of that story.
Most importantly, today was the first time that I noticed my CW skills noticeably improving. I was able to capture most callsigns without asking for a repeat. CW Academy -and other courses like it– just works as does practising every single day.
First introduced to the magic of radio by a family member in 1969, Vince has been active in the hobby since 2002. He is an Accredited examiner in Canada and the USA, operates on almost all of the modes, and is continually working on making his CW proficiency suck less. He participates in public service events around Western Canada and is active on the air while glamping, mobile, at home or doing a POTA activation. You can hear him on the Ham Radio Workbench podcast, follow him on Twitter @VE6LK, peek at his anemic YouTube presence (subscribe!), and view the projects and articles on his website.