QRP POTA Activation During the CQ World Wide Contest
by Joshua (KO4AWH)
I had an opportunity to activate Fort Yargo State Park (K-2177) during the CQ WW DX contest.
Fort Yargo is my local park, about 30 minutes away. The park features a great playground for the kids to play on and many tall trees which are perfect for deploying a wire antenna. There really is not much more I could ask for in a POTA location. Even the noise floor is very low, about S0, so I typically turn on the pre-amp which brings it up to S2-S3 on my Discovery TX-500.
This was very much a last minute plan. I knew the contest was going on which may present some difficulty activating QRP. I knew I would not be calling CQ on 20m where I normally activate and hunting stations could be difficult but likely doable.
There was a bit of rain at the house in the morning, then a promise of drizzle the rest of the day. Not too sure what I would find at the park, but hopefully the rain would hold off and I could get the activation in using the TX-500 without too much worry about it getting wet. I threw in a picnic blanket with a water barrier that promised a bit of protection from the rain if needed it.
I have a go-box setup with my TX-500 and IC-705, as well as several antennas, an ATU, and all cabling and power needed to run FT8 either on my Raspberry PI4 with the TX-500, or on my iPad through the IC-705.
I was taking my wife’s vehicle as she had the car seats needed for the 3 kiddos that were coming along. So, I had to be sure I had everything I needed. There are quite a few additional radio items I keep in the back of my car that I would not have available. But everything should be in the go-box, right?
After a bit of mist and some rain on the drive over, I planned to setup the TX-500 knowing it would get a bit wet. I tossed the throw line in the tree and pulled up my Tufteln EFHW QRP cut for 20m. In retrospect I probably should have pulled up the EFRW for a bit more band agility.
I tuned around for a few minutes.
Yup, there was not a single free place across 20 meters where I could start calling CQ in the clear. In fact, the stations I listened to for more than a few seconds had someone else start calling right on top of them. 20 meters was indeed crazy.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I feel pretty lucky to live in an area that is flush with POTA sites. It’s not that we have numerous individual parks, but the parks we do have encompass massive portions of the area.
One park, in particular, that literally runs around and through Asheville, NC, is the Blue Ridge Parkway. When I’m in town and have a few free minutes, it’s quite easy to hit the BRP; it’s never far away. I can set up along the parkway pretty much anywhere, or go to the Visitor’s Center or Folk Art Center if I want to operate from a picnic table. In addition, the Mountains To Sea Trail runs along large portions of the parkway, so it’s very easy to hit it as well.
On Wednesday, September 28, 2022, I took my daughters to a class and had the better part of an hour to play radio. The BRP’s Folk Art Center was only a 10 minute drive from their class, so I made a beeline for the site as soon as I dropped them off.
I had the amazing Penntek TR-45L packed in my car, and decided to pair it with my Tufteln End-Fed Random Wire antenna.
Many thanks to Rich (KQ9L) for sharing the following field report:
Field Report: Testing a horizontally-polarized antenna at a high QRM POTA site
by Rich (KQ9L)
I wanted to give a quick follow up report from Santa Fe Prairie State Park (K-7839).
As you may recall I wrote up my POTA activation from this park on Oct 23, 2022. I made 15 Q’s that day but deep down felt I could do better. The setting of the park is quite industrial and consequently the man made noise is bad. Reflecting back on this activation, I feel that the limited the number of QSO’s I made that day was due to this QRM.
I resolved to try again but this time my objective was to figure out a solution to mitigate the effects of the QRM on my QSO count. Thinking about the problem, I recalled than manmade noise typically is vertically polarized and therefore for my second attempt, I decided to test this and use a horizontal antenna.
As luck may have it, here in Chicago we continue to experiencing unseasonably warm weather and my work schedule wasn’t too busy on Thursday, November 3, 2022, so it seemed like a great chance to put my theory to the test.
For the antenna, I decided to use one which I have owned for awhile, but have never used. I had purchased a RadioWaves Double bazooka from an online retailer some time back when they were on sale and planned to set up it a flattop dipole.
If you recall from my description of the Santa Fe Prairie State Park, there is a scenic overlook which has a tree mounted pulley system perfectly spaced to mount a 20m dipole. Although this would be the first time I used the system, it turned out to be a well designed and intuitive hoisting solution to use.
The “pulley” is actually an eyelet with paracord running through the eyelet. The paracord is in a continuous loop just like rope on a flag pole. By employing a simple overhand knot I secured the end of the antenna to the paracord and hoisted the antenna up into the tree about 20ft. It literally took a few minutes and I was ready to go.
John (AE5X) had suggested a while back finding a larger tuning knob for the Penntek TR-35.
I was striking out in finding one that fit but had to put in a Mouser order and thought I’d give this knob a shot (Mouser # 706-11K5013-KFNB) and I really like it!
I accidentally bought the gray version and had to paint it black. It’s shiny because of the clear coat and rough because of sanding and because I’m apparently awful at painting, but I find that it fits with the plastic bezel of the radio.
Many thanks to Jay (W1ASP) who, last week, sent me a note about his first POTA CW activation. I asked if he’d consider writing up a short field report about his experience to share with others and he was happy to do so. Thank you, Jay.
by Jay (W1ASP)
Halloween doesn’t have to be scary.
I set out to Bear Brook State Park (K-2643) for my first CW POTA activation.
Bear Brook is relatively close by, its the largest state park in New Hampshire with over 10,000 acres. There’s camping, hiking and biking trails along with an archery course and plenty of swimming and fishing areas.
I didn’t give it much thought about what day it was, just that I had the time to do an activation and it was nice out, what a perfect opportunity to break in the newly assembled kit.
I decided on a spot next to the water and as luck would have it there was a picnic table right there. I took out my gear, set up and proceeded to tune around and listen. The band seemed pretty quiet. I wasn’t sure if I’d get enough QSO’s in to make it an official activation. I decided on 14.038 MHz, I sent QRL? I then held down the memory button, took a deep breath and hit it again to transmit: CQ POTA DE W1ASP
I waited a second or two and used the memory keyer once more, again nothing. I went to the POTA website on my phone and added my activation.
The memory keyer was used for a third time, I noticed a message pop up on my logging app, the Reverse Beacon Network spotted me. It wasn’t too long after, the first call came back to me!
I was nervous and fumbled a bit here and there but once I took my time I was fine, sending their call back and TU UR 599 599 NH BK. I cheated a little and left the CW decoder enabled. I wanted to be sure I had the call correct as I logged my 13 QSO’s. (I swear the 13 wasn’t intentional.) for my first CW park activation! I only realized that it was Halloween while walking back to my truck.
I thought to myself, “that wasn’t scary at all.”
Once I decided that, as an activator I’m in charge of the QSO, I relaxed and it was a lot of fun. I may have made a few mistakes but everyone was patient with me. I later received an email from another Ham in Delaware. He was using the same radio, and referred to them as the perfect “picnic portable radio” we emailed back and forth a few times and I look forward to hearing him on the air again soon.
The week before, I finished building my second QCX Mini. The first kit I built was for the 30 meter band around this time last year, this second one is a 20 meter version. I love these little radios, there’s something about these little transceivers that I just can’t seem to put them down.
I took my time making sure it was working properly, I hooked it up in my shack and I had my first QSO with another POTO activator in Maryland just over 400 miles away. To say I was excited is an understatement!
I planned on putting together a kit about a month ago for POTA and eventually SOTA with the QCX Mini as the radio. I decided on using a small pack, I wanted it to be a self contained kit that had everything I needed to do an activation and nothing extra.
I keep the wire and radios together, and depending what band I choose to operate on is the one I pack. I’m considering a third kit; maybe a 10m version? I threw the EFHW matching transformer in the bag along with a notebook, mechanical pencil and a battery pack I put together using four 3.2v LifePo batteries. The paddle I’m currently using is a stainless paddle I found on online with a mini CW paddle for backup and set of folding headphones.
I’m looking forward to my next park, this was a great experience. I wanted to learn CW since I became a Ham in 2016, that’s another story of what got me into Ham Radio in the first place.
As I mentioned in the previous post, the IC-703 has not gotten a lot of outdoor time this year because I’ve had issues with the electronic keyer locking up when using the radio with end-fed antennas.
Of course, there are a number of ways to mitigate or radiate the RF that could be coming back to the radio, so at Fort Dobbs, the previous day, I used a simple common mode choke. It seemed to do the trick.
I was curious if using a common mode choke might be the only solution needed to solve this problem, or if I’d need to perform a mod to my IC-703.
I was ready to test the IC-703 again.
I had a fair amount of antenna options in the trunk of my car, so on the way to Tuttle Educational State Forest (on Friday, October 7, 2022), I considered a few options to shake things up a bit.
Since I was feeling comfortable that the common mode choke was taking care of things, I decided to push the limit a bit and deploy an end-fed random wire antenna. I didn’t have any of my mini portable 9:1 random wire antennas in the car (PackTenna, Tufteln, etc.), but I did have another solution: the Chameleon MPAS Lite.
The cool thing about the CHA MPAS Lite is that while it’s primarily designed to be a vertical antenna with counterpoise, it can be reconfigured and deployed a number of ways including as a simple end-fed random wire antenna.
After giving it some thought, I decided it might be fun to deploy it as an inverted V random wire. In fact, here’s a diagram from the MPAS Lite manual of exactly what I planned to do.
I’d be using the MPAS Lite counterpoise as the radiator, so I wouldn’t have the optional second counterpoise as seen in the illustration above. That’s okay, though, because I was feeding the antenna with Chameleon’s 50′ RG-58C/U cable with in-line choke; the shield of the coax would act as the antenna counterpoise.
I’ve recently discovered QRP FT8, which I’ve been working with my Icom IC-705. I run with an end-fed sloper that runs out of my 2nd floor shack window using a 49:1 unun and a length of RG-58. I’m also using an Emtech ZM-2 tuner between the antenna and the radio when needed.
The set up works really nicely, except for the way FT8 heats up and overtaxes the radio after a while. Searching around a bit, I’ve found just the right solution for that issue. The AC Infinity MULTIFAN S1 USB-powered table fan.
It’s basically just a 3-inch square fan like you’d find in a computer or some other electronic devices, with rubber “feet” attached. It can stand upright or lay flat depending on your need. it’s stated purpose is to cool or ventilate routers, game consoles, audio equipment, etc.
The AC Infinity MULTIFAN S1 includes a speed control switch and an inline USB socket to daisy-chain other devices. One caveat with the inline socket: because it’s placed in the line between the fan and the speed control switch, the switch must be set to high speed else the socket won’t have adequate power for the attached device.
All I do is plug the fan into a USB socket and place it at the rear of the radio, sans battery, to keep it cool. I have it set up to blow onto the radio. Obviously I need to power the radio with an external source when the battery isn’t attached. I’ve not tried to use the fan with the battery attached, but I don’t think it would help much. The ventilation slots next to the battery compartment don’t seem wide enough to let much air in. Continue reading How Joe keeps his Icom IC-705 cool during long FT8 sessions→
Many thanks to Rich (KQ9L) for sharing the following field report:
Triple Activation Day
by Rich (KQ9L)
I decided to build on the momentum and lessons learned from my last two POTA outings and yesterday [October 29, 2022] completed x3 Activations in one day— a first for me. I wrote a brief description of the day and I hope you enjoy reading about the activations.
Well the weather has been pretty good here in Chicago and Old Man Winter hasn’t made it around to these parts yet and being on a POTA kick lately, I decided see if I could complete several activations in one day. Previously I had completed x2 in one day, but felt that after all that I learned from my last couple activations, I should practice what I learned and go for three.
In my area, there are several POTA sites, but one area to the south of me seemed to be the best location to accomplish my goal. The area has a unique geographic feature and historically interesting landmark which added to the lure of the area. The region centers around the Illinois and Michigan Canal.
Here is a quick history lesson courtesy of Wikipedia:
The Illinois and Michigan canal was build in 1848 and served as a connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Running 96 miles, it connects Bridgeport in Chicago to LaSalle-Peru. Why was this important? This connect helped establish Chicago as the transportation hub of the US and linked by water the East coast to the Mississippi River and from there the Gulf of Mexico. Before the railroad era in the US, this water way dominated transportation.
Along the canal are numerous little hamlets and one in particular, Morris, Illinois had x3 State Parks all within about a 5 mile radius. Perfect!
First stop was Gebhard Woods State Part (K-0995). The park is only 30 acres, but affords activities for hikers, fisherman, campers and picnickers. There is even an eBike rental facility so the park has broad appeal to many people, including hams!
I arrived pretty much right after sunrise and was greeted by fog and a thin layer of frost on the grass and picnic tables. Though beautiful this frost and fog, did not make for a fun activation. Temps were in the upper 30’s F, but with the fog the air felt damp and overall much cooler.
I hurriedly set up my PackTenna 9:1 antenna on my collapsible mast and leaned it up against a nearby tree. I had a separate counterpoise and feed line with a choke built into it…more on this later.
Many thanks to John (VA3KOT) who shares the following guest post which was originally published on his Ham Radio Outside the Box blog:
Why I Quit QRP (and maybe shouldn’t have)
by John (VA3KOT)
For many years I was a dedicated QRP operator. I even took my “Portable QRP Operation” show-and-tell out on the road for presentation at ham clubs in my area. Then along came the dark, gloomy depths of the solar cycle minimum. My forays out into the Big Blue Sky Shack became a series of disappointments. Maybe the odd QSO here and there, but most often I came home with nothing but a few RBN spots after multiple CQ calls. Something had to change.
I began to ask myself “why QRP?”. It’s a valid enough question. Just what is so magical about an output power of 5 watts? Why not 1 watt, 3 watts, or 20 watts? It has often been said that 5 watts of CW is equivalent to 100 watts of SSB. There is a mathematical proof but I won’t repeat it here. So shouldn’t 100 watts of SSB be considered QRP?
QRP has a cult-like following. There are several online organizations dedicated to it. I am a member of some of them. QRP certainly has an appeal for those of us who like to operate in the great outdoors. Perhaps the greatest advantage is that an entire station can be stuffed into a couple of pockets – antenna and all. And a QRP rig sips battery power so slowly that some can be powered all day on a 9-volt alkaline battery.
I laid the blame for my lack of portable QRP QSOs on poor propagation. Maybe my signal just wasn’t making the trip. The propagation demons in the sky were swallowing my signals, burping and grinning down at me with a smug, malicious gleam in their eyes. QRP-’til-I-die operators shrug that off as “the fun of QRP”. Not getting any QSOs is fun?
In hindsight, there could have been another explanation. The Reverse Beacon Network was constantly reaffirming that my puny emissions were making it up to the ionosphere and being refracted back down to the Earth. So why were so very few people responding to my CQs? I have a theory about that. Maybe, back then, random CQs only appealed to a small number of people. I asked myself how often I responded to random CQs. Hmmm, not too often!
Anyway, images of QRO rigs were dancing around my head whispering sweet messages of temptation in my ear. “Yes” I said to myself; “that’s the answer. Maybe I just need to blow more watts into the air and I will fill up my logbook!” But first a roadblock. I had to persuade “senior management” that I should invest in a new radio. Continue reading Guest Post: “Why I Quit QRP (and maybe shouldn’t have)”→