KO4WFP: A Difficult But Productive Learning Experience at the Halifax Citadel (VE-4841)

Many thanks to Teri (KO4WFP) for the following guest post:

A Difficult But Productive Learning Experience at the Halifax Citadel (VE-4841)

by Teri (KO4WFP)

Life is full of interesting experiences and my attempted activation at the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site (VE-4841) proved to be one of them.

Source: Halifax Military Heritage

For those of you unfamiliar, my family and I planned a trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia this summer. I decided while there, I would activate six or seven parks. I had never attempted such a feat in a foreign country under the limitations of what I could carry on a flight and using a rental car with which I would be unfamiliar. The previous month and a half, I acquired equipment and skills to (at least in theory) adequately prepare for this undertaking.

The morning of Wednesday, June 28th, we headed to the Citadel.

We arrived in Canada the previous day much later than the anticipated arrival time so there was no time to check out the site beforehand. Before my trip, I queried a Canadian op who had activated the site and his response was helpful though it did give me pause since I would not have as hefty a vertical as he uses for his activations.

The weather forecast was not promising. The previous night, fog pervaded the drive from the airport to our airbnb. It felt like we had indeed landed in a foreign land. Gone were the live oaks and Spanish moss replaced with firs and what looked like aspens or birch trees. The day’s forecast called for more of the same – fog with a chance of showers later in the day.

My husband and son decided to check out the fortifications while I did my activation. I dropped them off at the main gate and headed to a spot on the side closer to the bay which I hoped would be a better spot for my signals to reach into the United States.

I decided to start with the AX1 on 20 meters, figuring I’d reach more ops on that band and knock out the activation in short order. Also, the counterpoise for 20 meters is shorter than the one for 40 meters and I didn’t have much room to play with at the site.

Boy, was I wrong about a quick activation! First of all, I had to figure out how to support the antenna without it blowing over in the wind. My Subaru Crosstrek back home has rails on the top to which I can bungee my gorillapod. No such luck with the Ford SUV we were assigned.

I first tried to bungee the gorillapod to the car’s antenna on its roof. Nope. Then I tried bungeeing it to the side view mirror. That would work as I could roll down the window and pass the coax into the backseat. But what to do with the counterpoise? On one side of the car was a sidewalk and the other, a road. No foliage in sight! So I opted to run it to the fencing by the sidewalk and attached some flagging tape to warn pedestrians of its placement.

You wouldn’t believe how many people will walk into flagging tape if you would let them! I eventually placed a Walmart bag on the sidewalk hoping that would get anyone’s attention walking along. Nope! After having to continually jump out of the car to warn hapless pedestrians, I chose to move the counterpoise alongside the car and place the bag next to it.

20 meters was very noisy. And, worse, I could hear a regular pulsing noise which I figured was the Roomba-like mowers the citadel employs on the grounds. What I did not know was that 20 meters was a mess that day and those conditions would challenge the AX1.

In the 10 minutes I called CQ, I only logged one QSO. It was a crazy situation, trying to figure out if my signal was getting out, watching for people to warn them about the counterpoise, and remember here I am KO4WFP/VE1. At this point, I seriously considered throwing in the towel.

However, I wouldn’t give up that easily. Out came the EFRW antenna but how the heck to deploy it in this difficult situation? I figured I would run it to the metal fence (like I had with the counterpoise). The ends of the antenna have loops that were the perfect size to fit over the spikes at the top of the fence. But I kept having difficulty attaching the feed-end to the car because either I didn’t have a good way to attach it or the angle would cause the antenna to touch the metal of the car. Ugh! Eventually, I decided to pull up a windshield wiper, attach the feed-end to that with a S carabiner and run the antenna in one direction to the fence and the counterpoise in the other. It took me 25 minutes to sort all this out. I, sadly, don’t have a photo of this arrangement and I’ll explain why shortly.

I jumped back on 20 meters and began calling CQ. In 20 minutes, I had four contacts. I was halfway to an activation!

By this time, my husband and son had returned from visiting the citadel. They were helping me prevent people from walking into the antenna and counterpoise. The weather that earlier had threatened to intervene had already begun to do so. My son, Sean, sitting in the hatchback area of the car (since I was taking up the entire backseat) was getting wet from the light sprinkle. And then the sky opened up and it started pouring rain. At this point there was nothing to do but throw in the towel.

I hastily gathered up the antenna and counterpoise, grabbed the bag and my luggage which I sat on the sidewalk to call attention to the presence of wires, threw the antenna/counterpoise in the backseat, closed the back hatch, and felt like a complete failure.

As we attempted to leave the site, we were stopped at the main gate for the noon cannon firing. I sat there in the car waiting and mulled over the past hour and a half in my mind. What were the takeaways from this failed activation?

First of all, I think activating this site was a poor choice on my part given the unknowns and limitations with which I was faced. Deploying the SOTAbeams travel mast would have saved me time and the constant aggravation of warning people of the antenna and counterpoise’s presence. But the foreboding weather (thankfully) prevented me from choosing that option because the only way I had to sufficiently support it was inside the car out of the windows (as mentioned in a previous article) so we and the interior of the car would have been drenched!

I also let the constant interruptions and obstacles drag down my confidence. By the time I finally called quits, I was a nervous wreck!

Yet, on the other hand, I survived. Yes, I didn’t have a valid activation. However, I DID get on the air and log five contacts despite the poor band conditions. I did not give up even in the face of my confidence spiraling downward. I was doggedly determined to work through each challenge I faced until the weather conditions forced me to quit.

Next thing I knew, bang, the cannon had fired and the reverberations from it echoed off the city buildings surrounding the site. Smoke wafted through the air. It was time to take my lumps, incorporate what I learned into my knowledge base, and move on. Tomorrow is a new day and opportunity. Would it offer a better activation experience? Stay tuned…

14 thoughts on “KO4WFP: A Difficult But Productive Learning Experience at the Halifax Citadel (VE-4841)”

  1. Thank you for sharing this report, Teri.

    I see this as a success because:
    1.) At this park, you were well outside of your comfort zone. I would have been, too. Setting up the way you did was not ideal, but you did it with 2 different antenna configurations!
    2.) Speaking of which, when one antenna wasn’t performing well, you actually deployed another even though it was very difficult to make it work. I love how you used the car.
    3.) Propagation that day was in the dumps. I tried for an hour to work you myself here in WNC. That day, was exceptionally bad. I’m impressed you were able to make the contacts you did with compromised antennas and QRP!

    I love your spirit, too! You did have some valuable takeaways from this experience. Who cares if the park wasn’t validated; you still make contacts there and those hunters now have this park.

    Plus, your hubby and son got to explore the Halifax Citadel! 🙂

    I’m looking forward to your other Nova Scotia reports. Safe travels!


  2. There are no failed activations – as you state in your title, these are learning experiences. You managed to make contacts in a challenging environment, and given more time, you would probably have managed your ten contacts. I see on your POTA profile page that you did add a few VE activations to your POTA portfolio- congratulations. However, what I don’t see is the record for this activation. Even though you did not get ten contacts, the people you worked still are owed – and deserve – credit for making contacts. Please upload that log as well. As I half jokingly told a friend recently, an activator who does not show unsuccessful activations in their POTA profile is lying. We’ve all had them. And they make us better operators because we learn from them.

    Thanks for sharing.

    de Karl Heinz – K5KHK

    1. Karl – All the activations I’ve done before this trip have had 10 plus contacts. I did not realize until reading your and Thomas’ comments that I still needed to upload contacts for an activation with less than 10 contacts. That will be taken care of before the end of today. Thanks for educating me about this item.

    2. I receive a lot of questions from readers about activations where they simply didn’t get the full 10 contacts to complete the activation within the UTC day. Many believe they’re not supposed to upload logs with less than 10 contacts since the activation wasn’t “validated.” When they ask about this I tell them to always upload the log even if they only made one contact.

      I’ve a number of incomplete activations over the past few years. As you say, Karl, especially in those early POTA days, it was difficult to “get your ten” when the hunter population was orders of magnitude smaller. 🙂

      Then again, I also have a number of completely incorrect entries in my POTA stats due to some error when the regional volunteer uploaded my logs (prior to self-uploads) and I have yet to remove those. They’re all for parks I’ve never visited. Frankly, I simply don’t look at my numbers enough to even remember to remove them. 🙂

      There are some activators who’ve never had a failed activation, but they’ve had to stay on site for long periods of time (esp. in those early days) to make that happen. (I don’t think my friend WD8RIF has ever not validated an activation).

      Funny thing is, I *almost* walked away from an activation this past week with only 9 stations logged. Right before I called QRT (I had an appointment in town) I got the tenth contact. I would have been fine with 9, though. 🙂


      1. Well said, Thomas! I do think we sometimes get too hung up on getting ten contacts. Especially with QRP that can be difficult some times. At the and of May I had two outings to a National Forest looking for the elusive red crossbill (bird). I had only limited time for the radio, so on both trips at the end I pulled out my KX2, slapped on the AX1, and started hunting for P2Ps. The first day I got two contacts and the second four contacts. I had a blast! and no regrets about not achieving an “activation.” It was fun, a beautiful setting, and I got to help out others by giving out K-4482 to a few people.

        But here’s a little tip to improve your success rate. Remember, every contact counts, so if you can plan your POTA activity around a low-impact contest such as a state QSO Party, the Medium Speed Test, or the Slow Speed Test for example, you should have no trouble getting your ten or more. Last month on a POTA outing I was stuck at six contacts. I was about ready to give up, but tuned back down to 20 meter CW for one last check. Well, the MST was in progress! I did a quick check of the rules for the proper exchange, then I jumped in and picked up ten more contacts for a total of 16 and an official “activation.” I would have been happy with six, but it was nice to get several more in the log.

  3. Bravo! Lessons learned. I managed zero contacts on my first two attempts, even though I could hear ops from across the US. You did much better!


    1. i just checked my activation history, and of the first ten that I uploaded, only five had ten or more contacts. My very first attempt resulted in zero contacts. This was using QRP SSB back in 2018 when it was much harder to make POTA contacts. I learned a lot during these early activations. If you can walk away from playing radio outside and you can say that you learned something new, or got better at something, it was not only fun, but a big success!

  4. What a great report, thank you! For inspiration I’d like to pass along some of my favorite quotes for you to keep in mind.

    Attributed to Thomas Edison: “Success? Why, I’ve had lots of success! I know thousands of things that won’t work!”

    Scarlett O’Hara: “Tomorrow is another day.”

    Detroit Chapter, Sports Car Club of America: “Press on Regardless.”

    Looking forward to your next report!

  5. A wise person once said, “You learn more from your failures than you do from your successes.” So, even though this technically was a failed activation, it was a great success in adding knowledge to your toolbox, thoughts on how to prep for more tricky situations, and some great experience points!

    I’ve had more than a few “failed” activations, all of which taught me a lot!

    And of course, upload your log anyway! They still count as QSOs for you and your hunters.

    1. Alan: Thanks for your comment. Those logs are now uploaded. And yes, we learn more from our “excellent mistakes” than our successes.

  6. Teri, Thanks making me aware of this website and your reports. I also tried to hear you from CO via a HamAlert notification without success.

    Looking forward to your next report.

  7. That’s the beauty and magic of ham radio. It’s a lot like fishing. If you wanted to make sure that you had a fish at the end of the day, you would just go to the store and get one. Some days your reel gets jammed, other days, the line breaks, another day you might not have the right lure. And sometimes you have everything set up perfectly and they still aren’t biting.

    Fish on the line or not, completed activation or not, as long as you are looking forward to the next time then it has been a success 🙂

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