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.
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…