Connecticut River Island Activations
by Conrad (N2YCH)
August 22, 2023
I’m on a POTA quest – activate all references in the state of Connecticut. There are 136 parks in the state and four of them are islands, only accessible by boat. Three of which are in the Connecticut River: Dart Island (K-1659), Haddam Island (K-1673) and Selden Neck State Park (K-1714).
I don’t own a boat. Plus, even if I did, I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to tackle the Connecticut River on my own. I have no experience navigating these waters, and it’s a real river, more than you’d want to try with a kayak with the currents and all. Even the POTA web pages for these islands warns “Boating experience and channel knowledge recommended.”
This created a dilemma – how do I get to and activate these islands?
I strategized for a while and decided on chartering a “river cruise” boat who actually listed visiting Dart and Haddam islands as part of their services on their web site. The boat captain hadn’t visited Selden Neck, so that was new, even to him. However, he had a radar, and depth finder on his boat that mapped the channel and gave us the depths of the waters near each island. His boat drew 3 feet, so we had to have at least that much depth in each place we stopped. He also had a small “Achilles” boat that connected to the back of the cabin cruiser that we used to get ashore.
We left from a marina that was directly across the river from Dart Island but decided first to head South to Selden Neck and then work our way back North to Haddam and Dart.
Putting aside the island access for a moment, I also had to strategize on what gear to bring along to do these activations. I am primarily a digital mode activator and have used the Elecraft KX3 and AX1 antenna in many of my travels where I needed a light kit.
However, I thought, I can use the KX3 but take along a more efficient antenna. I used my Buddipole tripod and mast with a versa-T and a 17’ 9” Alpha whip antenna and a 15’ counterpoise elevated off the ground with a Home Depot electric fence post.
Because the mast elevates the versa T to 11’ high, and the telescoping whip at another 17’ 9”, I was able to get the antenna nearly 30’ off the ground to the top. It was easy to pack and carry and provided better coverage than the AX1 would have. You’ll see just how good QRP on FT8 can be in my Dart Island coverage map.
- Mindshift 18L Camera Bag Backpack for radio, cables, battery and computer
- Elecraft KX3 with CIV and audio cables
- Bioenno 1x 12V, 9Ah LFP Battery (PVC, BLF-1209A)
- Samsung Galaxy Book Flex2 Alpha 2 in 1 Laptop with Outdoor mode
- Sabrent USB external sound card adapter
- Buddipole Tripod with telescoping mast and Versa T in Buddipole case
- Buddipole 15’ RF coax and choke balun
- 15’ home-made counterpoise wire
- Home Depot 3’ electric fence post to suspend the counterpoise
- Alpha Antenna 17’ 9” telescoping whip
- Backup of everything in another bag in case I ended up in the water, including a spare radio and computer.
Once I decided on the KX3 and the Alpha telescoping whip, I packed my backpack with the computer, cables, the radio, batteries and extra antennas. I always have the AX1 and a Packtenna EFHW as backups and they fit easily into the backpack. Two bags would need to make it from the boat to each island, the radio gear with computer and the antenna bag with the tripod and telescoping antenna. To be safe, since it would not be easy to do this again if something didn’t work, I brought along an entire backup system, packed in a second backpack with an Icom 705 and my spare laptop.
One of my goals with POTA is local discovery, and my boat captain was very knowledgeable about the river and the various sites along the shores. I learned that a manufacturing plant owned by Pratt and Whitney still uses water from the river as part of their manufacturing processes and also that there was a sea plane airport along one bank. I saw an automobile ferry along the way that I had no idea existed and saw the site of the former Connecticut Yankee nuclear plant that was decommissioned in 2004.
The ride down the river was a little slower than I expected because of the frequent “No-wake” zones along the way where we had to idle the boat past various marinas and homes with docks and boats tied up.
When we finally arrived at Selden Neck, we anchored on the West side of the river, clear of the boat channel and river traffic and we used the Achilles with a small motor to cross to the East side.
Surprisingly, there was a small beach with a relatively new picnic table there for us to use for this activation.
Pictured above is the entire setup for Selden Neck State Park. The antenna, counterpoise and the radio and computer on the table. As of this writing, I am only the third activator of Selden Neck state park. I replicated this setup for the remaining two islands – unfortunately, I wasn’t as lucky to have a nice picnic table waiting for me at the other two.
The next stop was Haddam Island. We anchored and came ashore and I used a log that had washed ashore as my activation location.
With Haddam completed, we headed towards the final island of the day. Dart Island has no shore like the others…it’s a somewhat submerged sandbar and then there is a small beach. While I was set up on the beach, the tide was coming in, so I had to wrap it up before I had no beach left to work from.
Here’s a photo of my Dart Island beach activation (below). You’ll notice a single guy-wire coming off the mast opposite the counterpoise. By late afternoon, the breeze along the river had picked up and while I was getting the radio tuned and the computer running, I looked over to see the antenna laying on the ground and in the water. The Buddipole mast kit has a very easy to use guy accessory kit and I had to pull one of the anchors and lanyards out to keep the antenna from blowing over again.
Three activations later, we pulled into the marina we started out from and toasted to the successful trip.
We started our expedition at 10am and we returned to the marina at 5pm. The weather was probably one of the best days of the summer. I came prepared to fend off the insects with insect repelling clothing, hats and Deep Woods Off (I am a bug magnet), and was very fortunate that there were no biting insects after me at all the entire day.
This was the captain’s first POTA/ham radio excursion, and he was fascinated to see just what could be accomplished with a QRP radio and a telescoping whip. As promised, this is the QSO map from Dart Island. I made contacts from Utah (KN7D) to Poland (SP3Q) and I’m happy to report they’ve both confirmed via LOTW.
My quest to complete all references in Connecticut became much more than showing up at a State Park parking lot with my Jeep Wrangler and turning on my IC-7300 on the tailgate.
This days’ worth of activations required some real strategic thinking about how to accomplish it safely (without drowning or ruining my radios) and what to bring along that would allow me to achieve my goals of at least 10 QSO’s per location.
I continue to be amazed at the performance of the Elecraft KX3, my coverage map above is proof of that. I’m really loving the Samsung Galaxy laptop with the screen you can see in the bright sunlight and I’ve become a fan of vertical antennas from the little Elecraft AX1 to the antenna I used for these activations. They work surprisingly well.
I’ll wrap up here by saying that I was happy to have worked with someone with experience at navigating the river and the channel and with prior experience visiting these locations. When it comes to these types of challenging locations, I highly recommend seeking out people with experience to assist you with your own POTA quests.