Category Archives: CW

Fighting mozzies and logging POTA hunters at Cap Touremente

One of our favorite national parks in the Côte-de-Beaupré region of Québec, Canada is Cap Tourenemente National Wildlife Area.

When my family spends the summer in Québec we typically visit it several times, especially since it’s never far from where we stay.

Thing is, each entry into Cap Touremente costs about $20 or so (unless we purchase an annual pass), but it’s worth it for the hikes, and the scenery. We also like supporting parks with our entry fee.

For a POTA activation–? I don’t need access to the main park, especially if the family isn’t with me. I did a little research and found a spot within the NWA on the “free” side of the park gates.

The spot is a basically a wildlife viewing area with a small grass road that is flanked by marsh land near the town of Saint-Joachim.

Of course…

Marsh Land = Mozzies

Before heading to Cap Touremente on Monday, June 27, 2022, I sprayed a “healthy” dose of insect repellent on my clothing. Having been to this spot several times in the past, I knew what awaited me: mosquitos. Lots of them.

We have mosquitos back home in the mountains of North Carolina, of course, but not in the quantities you find in marshy areas along the north shore of the St-Lawrence.

That Monday, though, it was very gusty. In the morning we had heavy rains, then a front pushed that through in the early afternoon opening up clear skies and very gusty winds. Mosquitos don’t do well in the wind, so my hope was the wind would offer an extra layer of protection.

Spoiler alert: The winds did help to some degree, but Canadian mosquitoes are heartier than our Carolina varieties.

Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area (VE-0012)

I had been on the air earlier in the day and conditions were truly in the dumps–at least, at my latitude. I knew it wouldn’t be a quick activation, so I allowed myself extra time to complete the activation.

On the 10 minute drive to the site, I decided to pair the Elecraft KX2 with the TufetIn 9:1 random wire antenna that I configured with a 31′ radiator and a 17′ counterpoise. I found this combo very effective in the past and I love the frequency agility of random wire antennas especially when the bands are rough and it becomes a game of band hopping to see what portions might be open. Continue reading Fighting mozzies and logging POTA hunters at Cap Touremente

En Route to Canada: An impromptu POTA activation at Swatara State Park

If you’ve been following my field reports and activation videos, you’ll note that I’m almost two months behind posting them at present.

Much of this is due to the fact that I made numerous activations during a camping trip at New River State Park with my family in April and many more activations during a camping trip with WD8RIF and KD8KNC in West Virginia in May.

May was an extremely busy month for me family-wise and I was fitting in Canadian Basic Exam prep during any free time I had because my goal was to write the Canadian Basic exam within the first few days of arriving in Canada.

(Read this previous post for more detail.)

Looking at my field report back log, I’ve got a few more reports from both the NC and WV camping trips, but I’ve decided to put them on hold for a bit so that I can post more recent ones. Plus, it might be fun posting late spring field reports this fall!

One of the things I love about writing these field reports is re-living the activation.

Objectif Québec

We began our road trip to Canada on the morning of June 15, 2022.

Our first stop would be Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, the second stop Ottawa, Ontario (for three nights), and then our final destination of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Québec. All in all, we’d log 1,306 miles/2,102 km not including side trips.

Although I sort of fantasize about all of the amazing parks I could activate during our travels north, in reality this road trip was all about reaching the destination in fairly short order to save on hotel expenses en route.

The first leg of the trip equated to a good 10 hours on the road including stops to refuel, stretch our legs, and grab a bite to eat.

That first day, I’d completely written off the idea of performing a POTA activation assuming we’d arrive in Pine Grove, PA too late and too tired.

Turns out, though, we got an earlier start than we had anticipated, so arrived in Pine Grove around 16:00 local.  That afternoon, everyone was eager to take a stroll or hike to shake off all of those hours of sitting in the car.

I checked my POTA Map and then cross-referenced it with  my All Trails app to find the closest park with proper hiking trails. Turns out Swatara State Park met both criteria and was a mere 8 minutes from our hotel. Woo hoo!

Honestly: Swatara couldn’t have been more convenient for us.

Swatara State Park (K-1426)

Swatara had multiple access points along the highway, so we simply picked one and drove to the end to find a trailhead and picnic table under the trees. It was ideal. Continue reading En Route to Canada: An impromptu POTA activation at Swatara State Park

Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and TufteIn Random Wire at Gauley River National Recreation Area

During my West Virginia POTA expedition with Eric (WD8RIF), Miles (KD8KNC), and Theo (The “Great Warg”) dog, the last park we hit on Friday, May 20, 2022 was Gauley River National Recreation Area (the first park  was New River Gorge  and the second was Hawk’s Nest State Park).

Back in the days of National Parks On The Air (2016), I activated this site (the Gauley River, actually) but it was snowing, the winds were howling, and being on a tight schedule, I didn’t hang around to explore the site.

Gauley River National Recreation Area (K-0695)

Gauley River with the prominent Summersville Dam in the background.

On Friday, May 20, 2022, the weather was nearly ideal.

Eric, Miles, and I decided to venture down to the river for our activation.

We knew that it would compromise our signals to some degree setting up at the base of the Summersville Dam instead near the top, but how can you pass up scenery like this–?

The banks of the river were very rocky and there wasn’t a lot of space for Eric and I to separate our stations, so we knew our signals might interfere with each other.

Eric and Miles setting up.

Eric set up his trusty 31′ Jackite pole which supports a 28.5 vertical wire–the entire setup is attached to his folding chair. FYI: Eric tells me he’ll do a little write-up here on QRPer.com detailing his antenna setup in the near future.

You can barely see it in the photo above, but I deployed my TufteIn Random Wire antenna which I have configured with a 31′ radiator and one 17′ counterpoise. Continue reading Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and TufteIn Random Wire at Gauley River National Recreation Area

Why I send “72” instead of “73”

If you’ve been watching my field activation videos for long you’ve no doubt noticed that, at the end of an exchange, I’ll often send “72 de K4SWL” instead of “73 de K4SWL.”

“73” much like “CQ” has a very distinct sound and cadence in CW. Even during one’s earliest days of learning CW, the sound of “73” is sort of burned into the brain and instantly recognized.

I’m sure that’s why when I send “72” some believe I’m sending it by mistake–it’s very conspicuous even to new CW operators.

Perhaps this is why one of the most common questions I receive from new YouTube channel subscribers is:

“Thomas, why are you sending 72 instead of 73?”

The answer is actually very simple…

72 is the QRP version of 73

“72” isn’t a new ham radio abbreviation but according to my light research, it doesn’t date back to the earliest days of wireless either (please correct me if I’m wrong).

The late and great George Dobbs (G3RJV) notes in his book “QRP Basics” that 72 has been in use since the late 1980s as a way some operators identify that they’re running QRP or low power (generally 5 watts or less).

You’ll find it referenced in numerous abbreviation guides like the CW Ops CW guide and in QRP communities like QRP-L and the QRPARCI. In the past, I’ve heard 72 used in QRP contest exchanges too. I suppose it’s also a bit of a “handshake” among QRP operators.

That said, 72 isn’t as commonly used to convey “Best Regards” as the more standard 73. Not by a long shot. I’ve gotten messages from passionate radio purists who’ve told me to stop using it, in fact, since it’s not as standard as 73. I get where they’re coming from because keeping our abbreviations standard makes communication that much clearer.

I’ll admit that I’m a bit this way with the international phonetic alphabet: I like sticking to the script for reasons of clarity and simplicity.

I almost unconsciously go back to using “73” if I suspect the op on the other end is new to CW.

Then again…

72 is simple and clear

The main reason I choose to use 72 during many of my POTA/SOTA activations is because I believe it conveys a message in the most concise and clear way possible.

Sending “72” allows me to communicate my power level without having to send any extra elements/words like “3 WATTS” or “/QRP” after my callsign–especially since communicating power output isn’t typically a part of a SOTA/POTA exchange.

Sending “72” might also help to explain why my signal strength might be a bit lower, or surprise a DX contact if I’m being received 599.

While it’s true some on the other end might scratch their heads and have to look up the meaning of “72,” once they know it, they know it.

And if sending “72” isn’t your thing or you don’t agree with its use, that’s perfectly okay too! You’ll hear me using it most of the time I’m running QRP in the field, but I don’t expect anyone else to.

To each their own, I say!

When I do hear another op use 72? I know the contact was QRP on both ends and that’s kind of cool in my book!

72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Fitting in some QRP SOTA & POTA on Mount Jefferson!

Looking back at last year (2021), if I had to pick out one of the easiest SOTA activations I made, Mount Jefferson would be near the top of the list. It’s a very accessible summit although not technically a “drive-up” summit because you will need to walk a short distance up a service road to the activation zone (AZ).

Mount Jefferson (W4C/EM-021) is located on and protected by the Mount Jefferson State Natural Area (K-3846), so when you activate Mount Jefferson for Summits On The Air, you can also claim the activation for Parks On The Air and World-Wide Flora and Fauna as long as you work at least 10 contacts.

What I love about POTA and SOTA “2-fer” sites like this is that you can set things up to be spotted in both systems (and often the WWFF system, too!) which increases your audience of hunters and chasers, thus increasing your odds of achieving a valid activation in all programs. It’s especially desirable if you’re a CW op and know you may potentially be in a spot with no mobile phone service for self-spotting; if, for some reason, RBN auto-spotting functionality is down with one program, the other serves as a backup.

Mount Jefferson is at least a two hour drive from my QTH, but it was easy pickings on April 29, 2022 because it happened to be within spitting distance of New River State Park where I was camping with my family.

Mount Jefferson (W4C/EM-021)

The drive to Mount Jefferson took all of 20 minutes which was a good thing because our family had other activities in store that day including some extended hikes!

Hazel (above) was so excited to to check out the sights and smells at this new-to-her park! Continue reading Fitting in some QRP SOTA & POTA on Mount Jefferson!

Carl builds the ULTRA-PK “PicoKeyer” CW memory Keyer Kit

Many thanks to Carl who writes:

Hi Thomas,

I’ve grown to love the prerecorded CW memories on my KX2. I’d fallen out of love with my 817ND because it didn’t have them.

Then I saw your video where you used a PicoKeyer. So… I ordered one.

But I messed up and it came in kit format.

So, tonight I built my first Kit-anything in about 30 years.

And, it actually worked!

What a cool little device..

Thank you for sharing this, Carl! This little kit is a lot of fun to build and quite affordable. The end product is one you’ll use for years to come as well.

It’s an amazingly capable little keyer and a proper value!

I purchased mine from this Bay seller in Ft Collins, CO

Pairing my new Xiegu X6100 with a 31 foot speaker wire antenna (and avoiding RX overload)

Regular readers of QRPer.com might question the wording in my title since I’ve already posted several field reports and even a full review of the Xiegu X6100. So why would this X6100 be considered a “new” radio–?

Since I go over this in more detail in the activation video (linked and embedded below), I’ll give you the nutshell version here:

My activations with the X6100 early this year (2022) were all performed using a loaner unit sent to me by Radioddity. I kept that unit for a few weeks, shipped it on, and purchased one of my own.

In February, when I received the X6100 I purchased, I immediately noticed a small mechanical issue with the encoder.

This is the X6100 open. You can see the back of the encoder to the right of the ribbon cable.

I tried fixing it (with instructions received from Xiegu) but in the end had to return the transceiver for replacement.

The X6100 unit in this field report is my replacement–technically, the third X6100 I’ve had in my hands, and this was my first activation using it.

Many of you have asked why I haven’t taken the X6100 to the field more often this year and this is why. I basically didn’t have a functioning unit for most of February, March, and April. Radioddity was quite responsive to my issues with the X6100, but frankly I had a lot going on during that time frame so it took longer than normal to troubleshoot, modify, test, and send back the faulty unit.

Fortunately, the replacement X6100 has no encoder issues other than the brake is very tight. I’m not willing to break the warranty seal on this unit to adjust it, so I’ll just live with a much-tighter-than-I’d-like encoder.

[Update: Bob (W0BNC) points out that the tight brake is due to friction caused by a felt pad under the X6100 encoder knob. The remedy is to pull off the rubber ring around the encoder knob, loosen the set screw, lift the knob slightly off the body, and retighten. I’ll do this when I’m back with the X6100 after summer travels. Thanks, Bob!]

X6100 field kit test

This activation was also the perfect opportunity to test all of the components of a dedicated field kit I’m building around the X6100.

The kit consists of:

  • The Xiegu X6100 QRP transceiver,
  • a BNC binding post adapter,
  • paddles,
  • the X6100 battery charger,
  • a 31′ speaker wire antenna
  • 25 meters of 2mm throw line,
  • a weaver 8oz weight, and a
  • logging pad and pencil.

Everything, save the antenna, fits in my Red Oxx Hound EDC pack.

Eventually, I’ll replace the speaker wire with some thinner Wireman stuff and it should all fit in the Hound pack, albeit snuggly!

I’ve decided that the X6100 will live at my parents’ home in the NC foothills, so I’ll always have a field radio kit available while staying there overnight.

Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)

On May 9, 2002, an opportunity opened up in the afternoon to finally take my new X6100 to the field! Continue reading Pairing my new Xiegu X6100 with a 31 foot speaker wire antenna (and avoiding RX overload)

Yaesu FT-817ND: A morning QRP POTA activation at New River State Park

No better way to start a QRP day…

I took the family on a multi-day camping trip at New River State Park in April 2022.  During that trip, I made an activation of New River each day and also fit in a quick SOTA activation (click here to read an overview). I didn’t film all of my on-the-air because some of that radio time was spent sitting around chatting with my family and even some neighbors at the campground.

Since I’ve already posted a summary of that fine trip, and since I’m traveling today, I’ll keep this field report brief(er).

Morning POTA

One thing I love about POTA while camping is how effortless it is to do morning activations. You simply roll out of bed and get on the air. That easy.

The following field report was for an activation session on the morning of April 29, 2022.

I spent the early morning that day brewing a couple cups of coffee and catching up on my QRP Quarterly and QST, then I took Hazel on a short hike.

Back at the campsite, I served Hazel some breakfast and then she enjoyed her first of many morning naps. (I swear that dog is only awake a max of one hour per day–!). Continue reading Yaesu FT-817ND: A morning QRP POTA activation at New River State Park

Scott Builds a clever Icom IC-705 Paddle Mount

Many thanks to Scott (KK4Z) who shares the following project from his blog KK4Z.com:

Paddle Mount for the IC-705

I kinda like the idea of being able to mount your paddle to your radio when operating portable. You can use the weight of the radio to help prevent the paddles from moving around and it frees your off hand for other tasks. We see examples of this with the Elecraft KX series of radios and there are some adapters for radios such as the Yaesu Ft-817/818.

I really like my IC-705. It is probably my best radio for POTA/potable operation. I think the only time I would leave it home is if weight became a problem or I needed to exercise one of my other radios. Recently, Begali came out with a mount to attach their Adventure paddle to the IC-705. It is a sweet set-up; however, the approx. $400 USD price tag got me looking for other alternatives. I have nothing against Begali, I own three of their paddles, and they are superb instruments. I think I wanted to tinker, and this gave me a good excuse.

For paddles, I have a set of Larry’s (N0SA) SOTA paddles. I love these paddles. When I go on an activation/Portable Operation, I bring these and my Begali Travelers. If I was going to do a SOTA activation, I would just bring Larry’s Paddles. Next was a trip to Tractor Supply Company (TSC) for a sheet of 16 ga. Steel. That set me back $16. I cut it to 3″ by 3 1/2″ using a cutoff wheel on my grinder.

I already have a stand I made out of 1″ x 1″ angle aluminum so I cut this to fit behind it.

The blue on the metal is Dykem Blue which is a layout fluid. In creating this project, I am only using hand tools. Power tools consisted of a grinder with a cut-off wheel. a hand drill, and my trusty Dremel tool. Here is a picture of me giving the mount a rough finish with a file. Continue reading Scott Builds a clever Icom IC-705 Paddle Mount

Rough conditions but serious QRP POTA fun at New River State Park

The New River (Photo by K4TLI)

You might recall from my previous field report that I took the family on a camping trip at New River State Park in April 2022.  During that trip, I made an activation of New River each day and also fit in a very fun SOTA activation (click here to read an overview).

Note that anytime you’re performing an activation over multiple days at any one park, you can only have one activation per UTC day.

The following brief field report is essentially my “Part 2” from April 28, 2022. Since I’d already worked well over my ten contacts in the previous activation session that UTC day, all of these contacts were simply icing on the cake!

Keeping this one brief(er)

I’ve an insanely busy day today, what with exam study, errands, splitting firewood, and prep for our summer travels.

That said, I wanted to squeeze in an activation video and field report because the rest of the week is even crazier. Continue reading Rough conditions but serious QRP POTA fun at New River State Park