A Glancing Blow for the POTA Babe

by Teri (KO4WFP)

by (Wednesday, May 15th, Glenn W4YES and I decided to activate a new park for me – Sansavilla Wildlife Management Area (US-3773), a wildlife management area (WMA) along the Altamaha River next door to my last activation – Penholoway Swamp WMA.

Google maps

We arrived at a decent hour (9 AM) and ahead of schedule. The entrance is off Highway 25 and across the railroad tracks. After passing a church, the road changes from pavement to dirt and the fun begins!

Sansavilla WMA Map – source: Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources
Morning band conditions. source: https://hamradiofornontechies.com/current-ham-radio-conditions/

We drove down what is Sansavilla Road almost until it dead-ends as I hoped to set up close to the Altamaha River. However, along this road ran a good set of power lines. Given I would run QRP, it was time for Plan B.

Road into the WMA
power lines running along Sansavilla Road

We backtracked, took a right onto River Road and then a right toward the river. This road dead-ends at a public boat landing inside the WMA. There is a pavilion with concrete benches and tables. A short distance beyond the pavilion is the landing to which we drove for a quick view of the river whose current moved at a rapid pace.

route to boat landing
credit: Glenn W4YES
boat landing. credit: Glenn W4YES
Altamaha River

Glenn joined me this activation and, given the last experience, we made some changes to his set-up. Instead of using my Yaesu FT-891, he brought the Yaesu FT-991A in his possession with which he familiarized himself over the past week. He dialed the power down from 75 to 5 watts. (Yes, he’d be working QRP!) He also switched antennas from the Pacific Antenna 2040 trap dipole to the Chelegance MC-750, hoping the set up would be easier and give him the flexibility of changing bands.

While Glenn set up his station, I got to work on mine. Having my Helinox chair and Tufteln kneeboard, I was not tethered to the pavilion. I found a pine tree with low-enough branches (circled in red in photo below) and, after several bum tosses, finally snagged a branch for the EFRW. Daisy and I found a spot in the shade and I began calling CQ on 20 meters. Given the constant and massive pile-ups Glenn experienced during the last activation, we determined I’d start there and he’d find a quieter band with which to begin.

branches for which I am aiming are circled
messing with arbor line. credit: Glenn W4YES

During this activation, I chose to use a new key for me, one gifted to me by Brian K3ES. It is based on the design of David VK3IL and is a paddle with pressure sensors on either side of a circuit board. I previously used the CW Morse SP4 paddle; however, even though it was recently updated to the new design, it is randomly sticking on me in the field. I wanted something still light but more reliable. Brian suggested this design. I agree with him though I am still adjusting to the movement needed to work it well. You HAVE to make good contact with the pressure sensors or you’ll send gobbledygook which I did on occasion in this activation. (My apologies to those who were on the receiving end.) The grip on the key is different as well as how close I need to keep my fingers to the key and the angle at which I need to hold my fingers. Overall, I did well only having used the key a few times prior to this activation.

how I hold CW Morse SP4 while sending
new key based on VK3IL design
different grip for holding new key

While I was setting up, Glenn called CQ on 40 meters for nearly 15 minutes and had no takers even though he could hear stations elsewhere on the band. However, as soon as I began calling CQ on 20 meters, he heard my signal. This did not happen during our last activation when he ran 75 watts with the dipole and I ran QRP with the EFRW. I have 20-meter and 40-meter bandpass filters but didn’t bother bringing them because, during the last activation, neither of us needed them.

credit: Glenn W4YES

Glenn moved to 17 meters and still could hear my signal.  He then had the same results on 30 meters. While he tried to find a band to avoid my signal, I worked several stations on 20 meters. When I discovered the situation, I called QRT and gave him 20 meters. However, when I switched to 30 meters and began calling CQ, he heard my signal on 20 meters. In one final attempt to find a place to operate without interference, he tried 40 meters again, but heard the same interference.  I never had interference from Glenn’s station because he was not transmitting due to the interference from my station.  Given that I was making progress toward a valid activation and he had yet to get a QSO, he decided to stop.

Daisy chilling

Thirty meters became quiet so I moved to 17 meters with no takers. Well, back to 20 meters I went and it was as if someone switched off the band. No one was responding to my CQ. I began hopping from band to band as you can see in my log photos. I’d call CQ for 5 minutes  on a band and then move to a new one. Gary W5DGW texted me around 10:46 AM EDT that he was not hearing anyone on the bands and sent me the picture below which didn’t bode well.

source: solarham.com

I moved back to 20 meters and a friend in Wisconsin worked me sending me the message “stay on this band” as that seemed to be the only band open at that point. His QSO gave me 10 contacts; however, I’ve learned to never stop at ten because you may have a busted call sign. I continued to call CQ and unbelievably had two more QSOs on 20 meters – one with Frank N2IGW and the other with Robert KC5TGT. (Thank you guys!) At that point Glenn received a phone call that the flux numbers were off the chart and we might as well call it a day.

QSO Map Sansavilla WMA 5-15-2024 source: http://tools.adventureradio.de/analyzer/

I didn’t have a chance to hunt any park-to-park QSOs for this activation. Thankfully, both John AC9OT at US-9857 and Frank KB4VU at US-6291 hunted me before the bands took a nosedive.

Despite the poor band conditions, the trip to the WMA turned out to be a good time. I enjoyed driving on the dirt roads and, with Glenn looking at the map, finding our way around. We got a good dose of nature with a grasshopper I spied and gorgeous ferns covering the forest floor near the entrance. The grasshopper is an Eastern lubber, also known as the “Georgia Thumper.” Its coloring is indicative of the nymph stage of this insect.

Eastern lubber grasshopper – nymph stage
gorgeous ferns

Since we plan more joint POTA activations, we must mitigate the cross-coupling issue.  Next time we operate together, we will use the bandpass filters.  Besides bandpass filters, I’d love to hear comments as to how we can further avoid this situation in future joint activations.

Sansavilla WMA is a really nice park. In fact, I am enamoured with it and Penholoway so much that I am excited to visit another neighboring WMA with hopefully better band conditions. Which will I or we visit next? Stay tuned…

Equipment Used

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19 thoughts on “A Glancing Blow for the POTA Babe”

  1. I use ICE or Morgan bandpass filters and even bandpass stubs

    John ve3ips

    Sadly they costs as much as a 7300 once you buy them. I started with the 40 and 20 then added the triplexor then a few more bands then the switched multiband box

    Buy once cry once

    1. John:

      Glenn and I are going to try the 20 and 40 bandpass filters I have from Array Solutions. If they work well, I’ll consider other bandpass filter options. We just don’t understand why interference wasn’t an issue with the first activation we did when we were closer proximity-wise and Glenn was operating at 75 watts. The ONLY time I heard him during that activation was on the same band. Other than that, neither of us heard the other. Glenn will also look at the filters on the rig he was using as I had several filters activated on my Yaesu FT-891 that he used during the first activation. I am already itching to get back out there with him to check out our options! That is a POTA Babe for you – always excited to try something new and learn.

      The POTA Babe

  2. There are a couple of things you can do in addition to the bandpass filters: Use resonant mono band antennas and use cross polarization: one antenna vertically polarized and the second one horizontally. If that still does not work, add coax stubs.

  3. Good that you made as many QSOs before that day’s blackout.

    In case you run into more of those lubbers and become enchanted by their adult coloring, BEWARE. Don’t handle them, nor let your dog near them. They have toxic secretions, and their bites string for a good long while. We see them by the hundreds here in Central Florida and they are very good at ravaging any sort of vegetation.

    Better luck for the next activation.

    1. Bob:

      Whew! Thanks for telling me about the lubbers. The University of Georgia site said to stomp on them or cut them in half with scissors when they are adults. I thought that a bit harsh when I read it but now I know why! I appreciate the heads up and will avoid (or possibly stomp on) them in the future.

      Yes, I hope for better conditions in the next activation. However, that is what makes POTA (and ham radio for that matter) exciting – you never know what conditions will be.

      The POTA Babe

  4. Thank you for sharing. What is the weight of the Tufteln knee board? I couldn’t find the weight with the link.

    1. Jared:

      I don’t have a weight for the kneeboard as I don’t have a scale. I’ll tell you, though, that it is super light being made out of plastic. I suggest you email Josh at Tufteln as to your question.

      The POTA Babe

  5. Greetings!
    Enjoyed reading your travels. Just an idea… try borrowing an ANC-4 Timewave unit with the small vertical screw on antenna, in line with coax to antenna, xmit and receive. For receive, really works great on local noise, 30 meters on down, could help with power line noise and even QRN to null them out, . Also a small portable 9vdc MFJ contest keyer with memory with a small remote box for the memory buttons external, might help make the CQ’s & messaging more fun while you drink your coffee and pet your dog hi.

  6. Rich:

    Thanks for the suggestion re: the ANC-4 Timewave unit. I’ll check it out.

    The KX2 has memory function and I could use it for my CQ; however, I enjoy sending my CQs myself as it is more practice for me which I need with this new key. I also find that the memory function has a tendancy to send the CQ fairly fast and I prefer to slow down with more space for newer ops since they tend to gravitate to POTA due to the easy exchange. Daisy would (and always does) enjoy the extra attention though – hi hi.

    The POTA Babe

    1. Follow-up note:
      The MFJ Contest keyer MFJ-492X sends characters at 18 wpm in the Farnsworth mode so this allows you to just adjust word spacing to your liking along with weight. Result of keyer, which cleans up sending dialects is easier and faster copy on a code reader for instance, and or more replies with weak signal conditions potentially. Just brainstorming hi. Have fun out there & remember the sun screen & wide brimmed hat.

  7. Hi Teri,
    I noticed the surface on the new key is quite smooth. And with that, tiresome getting a good grip for long activations.
    A method I use on mobile mics, is skate board tape or non skid tape by 3M.
    It can be cut into small sections to apply to where you hold the key. And the nice thing it is easily removed and cleaned with rubbing alcohol if needed. No residue. Hardware stores sell it by the foot.

    1. Steve:

      The key is actually pretty easy to grip; however, your idea is a good one. Thanks for the suggestion!

      The POTA Babe

  8. Most bandpass filters are designed to work at 50 ohms. Your KX2 internal tuner can match nearly anything but with a random wire antenna you’re going to have nearly anything but 50 ohms outside the KX2 where you would connect the bandpass filter. So my suggestions are: (1) use an antenna system with low SWR so that the bandpass filter stands a chance of doing its job; (2) run QRP with good separation between your antennas; (3) work on non-harmonically related bands; (4) use antennas 1/2 wave long or shorter so that their two patterns don’t have unexpected and possibly overlapping lobes, and try cross-polarization.

    David VE7EZM and AF7BZ

  9. I re-read your report and can add a few things. First Glenn experienced interference with various combinations of bands used by you and by him, some of them not harmonically related, so the problem is fundamental overload. Last time he used andFT-891 instead of the FT-991A he used this time. Perhaps the FT-891 is more resistant to overload. Last time he used a trap dipole which would have some signal rejection on bands on which it was not resonant; the Chelegance MC-750 may be another story. And your KX2 might well have not experienced interference from his transmitter had you listened while he was transmitting, since Elecraft rigs typically are pretty tolerant of strong out-of-band signals from other nearby transmitters.

  10. David:

    Thanks for your two comments. As I noted in an earlier response, I look forward to going on another activation with Glenn, experimenting and searching for a solution. When that happens, I definitely plan to write an article updating everyone with what we discovered. There is always something to learn in this hobby!

    That is an interesting note about the KX2. Purchasing that rig was one of the best equipment decisions I’ve made. I am thrilled with its performance.

    The POTA Babe

  11. Teri,

    Good job on the successful activation!

    I’ve had a similar experience with the SP4’s in the field. In my case, I think I’m sometimes tense/excited/anxious enough that I start hitting the paddles a little too hard and causing the opposite side to bounce, sending extra characters.

    On the other hand, I built a set of the VK3IL pressure paddles. They’re actually very easy to construct, and the only costly part is the pressure pads themselves ($20?). I was shocked at how well they worked and am seriously considering making them my default paddles on field activations.

    (One day a little rain got into the pressure paddles: they started sending continuously and I had to pull out the SP4 again. They’re fine now they’ve dried out.)

    Inexpensive, lightweight, small-packing, no moving parts, paddles that are pleasant to send on? What’s not to like?

    I’m still thinking about whether there’s a good way to mount the pressure paddles on my rig to leave one of my hands free while operating them. That’s one advantage of the SP4’s and their light touch.

    73 de Todd W2TEF

  12. Very good info on the overload issue (take note Field Day multi’s). This type of feedback turns into quite a learning experience for those following along. POTA is indeed a shot in the arm of the anemic newcomer issue that we are all aware of. Which a quick review of the livestream Hamvention vids confirms. So I think exercises like this may help. Learning, experimenting and comparing results. It isn’t all about the emergency comms drills.
    Keep up the great job and enjoy your excursions. We definately are.

    Mark W8VNZ

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