The POTA Babe and AX1 Make Up

by Teri (KO4WFP)

Sunday, March 10th, my son had another Dungeons & Dragons session. I figured why not play QRP radio again on the north end of Skidaway Island at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. The weather appeared more conducive for radio than my previous visit. My friend Glenn W4YES accompanied me.

Skidaway Island’s Location in Savannah, GA area from Google Maps
UGA Institute of Oceanography at north end of island as per Google Maps

I chose as my location the bluff behind the aquarium which contains picnic tables and looks out over the intracoastal waterway. There was a stiff breeze but what a pretty place to play radio!

My QTH on the bluff

The Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) was holding the Weekend Sprintathon (WES), a monthly event for members. As I mentioned in my previous Skidaway article, SKCC is an organization with 28,000 plus members that use mechanical keys (straight, cootie, and bug) for their QSOs. Participating in their sprints is a simple way (like POTA) for new ops to gain experience and build confidence.

I figured I’d accomplish several things at once today: get more QRP experience with something other than POTA, garner a few more QSOs on my march toward Senator for SKCC, and use the AX1.

In researching my upcoming summer POTA trip, I read a post by Bob Condor (K4RLC) on the W4SOTA about modifications to the AX1. I plan to attempt my first SOTA activations during the trip and want light, nimble antenna options.

Admittedly, the AX1 and I haven’t been on the best terms. Bob modified his by adding three 14’ radials instead of the counterpoises with which the antenna comes.  He used this configuration during a trip to Greece and had good results. I figured, why not give it a try? It was easy to make the radials with a lug connector on each end to add them to the AX1 mount on my Joby Gorillapod (the only tripod I currently have).

While Glenn took a leisurely walk on the nature trail at the bluff, I began on 20 meters.

I engaged the ATU which dropped the SWR from 2.2 down to 1. There were a lot of stations on 20 meters but I finally found a place to settle. After 8 minutes calling CQ, Randy K8ZAA answered me and gave me a 579 in MI, a good signal report for the AX1.

Given the paucity of stations answering my CQ, I decided to move to 17 meters but realized the WARC bands are not allowed in the SKCC WES so I opted for 15 meters instead. After a few minutes calling CQ, Bob AF5Z answered me. He gave me a 449 in Texas.

It became quiet again after that QSO so I jumped to 40 meters, had no callers, and moved back to 20 meters. After 10 minutes calling CQ, Jerry WA4JK answered me and gave me a 559 in Alabama. By this point, the wind had increased and Glenn and I had enough of being buffeted by what felt like gale-force winds. However, I still had an hour and a half before my son’s Dungeons & Dragons session ended so this POTA Babe wasn’t ready to call it quits.

We packed up and relocated to the field in which I set up last time, it offering less windy conditions.

We set up the AX1 again, this time on top of the car draping the radials over the front and both sides. I called CQ on 14.043 and Steve NQ8T kindly answered my call. From Ohio, he gave me a 559.

Okay. Time for me to stop “trash talking” the AX1 because it was performing just fine today. Oh, by the way, Steve was running 1 watt and I gave him a 559 for his RST. QRP-2-QRP is fun!

SKCC QSO Map at Skidaway Island 3-10-24

At this point, it was time to call QRT and pick up my son.

Overall, the outing was a success in my book. Of the four SKCC QSOs I had, three helped me with my progress toward Senator. I now stood at 61 out of 200 contacts needed to reach that rank.  I had also deployed the AX1 and was pleased with its performance.

The one “fly in the ointment” for this outing was my key. I used the CW Morse SP4 (my portable key), changing the KX2 CW key settings to “hand” to make it a mechanical key. When I sent with the key, sometimes the key sounded like it was bouncing which distorted my characters. I didn’t have another key I could use as a mechanical key with me so I made do with it as best I could. (Thank you to those who contacted me for their patience with my unusual fist.)

Later that evening, Glenn figured out one of the paddles is twisting slightly. The movement doesn’t affect the characters when I use the SP4 in iambic mode but it certainly showed when being used a cootie. What is also strange is I can use the SP4 as a cootie with my Yaesu FT-891 using a mono plug to make it mechanical and it sends flawlessly – no extra dits or scratchy sounding code.

I could bring my CW Morse camelback key (a straight key) for any portable SKCC work, but I’d prefer a cootie which is my favorite key. So I’ll open it up to y’all to suggest a cootie for QRP portable work that is actually a cootie and not a paddle jimmy-rigged into being a cootie.

See everyone next time when I head out for some radio therapy.  As I often say, stay tuned…

Equipment Used

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9 thoughts on “The POTA Babe and AX1 Make Up”

  1. I often operate with my AX1 mounted on a small tripod and find it works very well. Just this past weekend I was experimenting with that setup mounted on top of our GMC Acadia, secured to the luggage rail. The bands seemed to be in poor condition early Sunday afternoon, but I was able to check into the Elecraft 20 meter SSB net and was heard in northern Illinois, Colorado (58 report), and California. (I made a short blog entry about it. Just search online for “KR8L blog”.)

  2. The AX1, and for that matter all verticals, have very narrow tuning ranges. The fact that you saw 2.2 suggests the whip was fully extended to where the antenna would work well at the top / voice end of the band. Shortening the whip will get it tuned down in the CW portion of the band, and there’ll be less need for wasting some of the rig’s precious power in warming the parts in the tuner. I’ve found that a quick adjustment using a NanoVNA gets much better performance from the AX1. From Ctrl FL, it easy to reach NE, CO, TX with the AX1.

    The AX1 just needs a bit more care … and yours will certainly work better knowing you’ve given up trash talking about it. 🙂

    1. Bob:

      Who knew antennas had feelings? ????

      I will keep what you mentioned in mind, play with the extension of the whip, and see how that affects the SWR results. Thanks for the comment and educating me. ????

      The POTA Babe

  3. Hi Teri, I have a Viz Key Cootie that I like very well. I have owned this for several years and although a bit heavier than your Morse paddle it would fit fine in a portable operation. Unfortunately, the company is currently relocating operations and the keys do not appear to be available at this time. If you are interested you might give them a call as to when they will be available again. 72 es gl!

  4. Hey Teri,
    You may want to take a look at the Electronics USA MK-33 Mini Single Lever Paddle. They are rugged, lightweight, and inexpensive.

  5. I 3D printed a miniature cootie that uses a piece of hacksaw blade. I have a American Morse Mini-B that can be wired as a cootie but I prefer the “soft landing” of a flexible arm.

  6. Everyone:

    Thanks for the comments. I appreciate the suggestions and will keep them in mind!

    The POTA Babe

  7. GE Terry. Vy nice write up and great photos of the island. Glad you tried the AX1 again. Thomas is really the master of the AX1-it’s amazing he makes so many Qs with it. While your op was similar to mine in Greece, with salt water nearby, Ole Sol was not helping you. Sun spots were way down: 77 on 3/10 dropping to 54 on 3/11. Highs for March have been163 on 3/25 & 171 on 3/22 ! The tripod I used was aluminum. Also, for car ops, I put a mag mount on top of the 4Runner and attach the antenna to the mount. That way, the car is a ground plane. Works great QRP. Best to Glenn. 73 es GL.

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