POTA Field Report: Bonneau Ferry Wildlife Management Area (K-3888)

Tuesday last week (December 8, 2020), I was still on a much-needed weeklong vacation near Charleston, South Carolina with my family. We had the day wide-open to enjoy the outdoors and my wife suggested we find a nice park where I could play radio and we could enjoy a picnic.

I looked on the POTA map and chose the Bonneau Ferry Wildlife Management Area (K-3888) primarily because I thought it would be fun to spend some time near a lake.

The drive there was over an hour from where we were staying on John’s Island, but well worth it!

Turns out, it was pretty chilly and windy that day due to a front that had moved through the area during the night. After exploring the area a bit, my wife and daughters decided to enjoy their picnic in the car while I did the activation!

On the air

The spot we found near one of the lakes was ideal for a POTA activation. Although there were numerous large trees that were perfect for wire antennas, I deployed my CHA Emcomm Lite vertical knowing it would also perform well (and it did!)

My entire station!

Gear:

On The Air

Because the CHA MPAS Lite is so easy to deploy, I was on the air in a matter of minutes. I decided to stake it in the ground next to the water about 50 feet from my operating position under a tree. You can see it in the photo above (it’s rather stealthy!).

I’m not at all bothered by cold weather, but it was windy enough that my hands did get cold.

I started calling CQ around 17:55 UTC and by 18:34 I had logged a total of 21 stations on both 40 and 30 meters.

POTA hunters will often thank me for activating a park. I always tell them “it’s my pleasure.” Because it is! Just check out the view from my shack!

This is why I love POTA and SOTA so much. I’m a firm believer that radios and their operators are meant to be outdoors!


When I operate outdoors, I tune out everything else in the world and just enjoy the radio time and the outdoors. It’s bliss.

I kept my total time on site less than one hour so my family and I could continue  exploring the area and even get a long walk on the beach before sunset.

Here’s a map of the stations I worked with 5-10 watts. Since I discovered this park had never been activated in CW, I made it a CW-only activation:

If you find yourself in the Charleston, SC area, I highly recommend a trip to Bonneau Ferry WMA for some Parks On The Air fun!

New G-QRP Club YouTube Channel

(Source: Southgate ARC)

New YouTube channel dedicated to low power ham radio

The G-QRP club have launched a YouTube channel for those interested in low power amateur radio operation

An initial batch of 18 videos have been uploaded featuring presentations delivered to the 2020 Virtual G-QRP Convention.

See the new G-QRP YouTube channel at
https://youtube.com/channel/UClhe-ybLZzpnJh80VmFuS-A/videos

New mAT-705Plus ATU now in stock and shipping

I’ve just learned from Vibroplex that they are now shipping a new, upgraded version of the mAT-Tuner designed specifically to pair with the Icom IC-705 transceiver.

This model is called the mAT-705Plus.

You might recall from previous posts that I found the original mAT-705 to be an excellent ATU for finding matches, but later discovered it had a number of design shortcomings that prevented me from recommending it. The main issues with the original mAT-705 had to do with how quickly it consumed 9V batteries if the power switch was left in the “on” position, and then how complicated it was replacing batteries.

The mAT-705Plus seems to address these concerns by now employing 1000 mAh internal lithium cells that can be charged via a USB power source. It appears they’ve done away with the mechanical power switch altogether and the unit now manages power automatically which, to me, is a much better design approach.

Mat-Tuner reached out last week and are sending me an mAT-705Plus to evaluate. I look forward to putting it through the paces and see if this upgraded ATU is worth considering.

Click here to check out the mAT-705 Plus at Vibroplex.

POTA Field Report: Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge (K-0520)

One of the great things about Parks On The Air (POTA) is it provides a brilliant excuse to discover public lands that might otherwise go unnoticed while on vacation.

Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge is a case in point.

I’m currently taking a little vacation time with the family on the coast of South Carolina and Saturday, December 5, 2020, we decided to explore a nearby park and activate it. I happened upon the ACE Basin Project on the POTA website and thought it sounded intriguing. Our plan was to go to the park, perform a quick activation, perhaps hike a bit, then go to the coast for a beach walk.

I’ve been to wildlife management areas and game lands that have been very basic perhaps only featuring a parking area and a trail or two– which is fine, frankly.

But sometimes you happen upon gems like the Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge that are so much more!

Let’s activate!

Our walk to the main house and visitor center.

The visitor’s center and the main gates to the house were closed, but the grounds were still open to the public. We parked in the area just outside the main gates.

Gear:

Since I had no idea what to expect on site, I grabbed my Red Oxx Micro Manager field kit that had the Elecraft KX2 and AX1 antenna packed inside.

On this vacation, space in the family car was extremely limited, so I only packed the AX1 and the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite vertical antennas to pair with the KX2. I left the CHA MPAS Lite vertical in the car assuming I might actually perform the activation back at the parking area once we walked around the main house.

The KX2/AX1 travel kit is incredibly portable and lightweight. That’s the whole kit in the bag in the photo above.

On the air

Turns out, we pretty much had the entire campus to ourselves that day and, as a bonus, there was even an excellent picnic area where I could easily set up the KX2 and AX1 antenna.

I hopped on the air around noon and started calling CQ. I had no internet access on site, but could tell the Reverse Beacon Network and POTA spots page had auto-spotted me because I worked about three stations on CW within the first few minutes.

I started on 40 meters CW, but quickly moved over to phone before converting the AX1 antenna for 20 and 17 meters.

A friend spotted me on the POTA site and I worked a couple more stations on SSB.

After only 15 or 20 minutes on the air, my wife suggested we stay put for a couple of hours. We were all loving the gorgeous weather, wildlife, and beautiful scenery by the pond. She asked our daughters to hike back to the car and grab our picnic lunch. I decided to accompany them and grab the CHA MPAS Lite vertical knowing it would be a much more effective antenna for a longer activation.

The hike was about 30 minutes round-trip (that’s a long plantation driveway!).

After I got back to the site, I installed the MPAS Lite which took all of four minutes.  A friend, once again, spotted me on the POTA network and I started calling CQ on 20 meters phone.

I quickly worked stations from Texas, Missouri, Indiana, Massachusetts,  New Hampshire, and Ontario.

I wanted to hop back to CW mode though, because I discovered K-0520 (this park) had never been activated in CW before and wanted to give CW hunters a chance to put it in the logs.

I worked stations across the US on 20 meters CW from Tennessee to Kansas, from Arizona, to Alaska, and from Iowa to Ontario. Major fun!

I also decided to head further up the band and work AD1C in Colorado on 15 meters (there were no takers on 12 and 10 meters, but I tried–!).

I started around 17:00 UTC and wrapped things up around 19:15 UTC with 34 logged.  That may seem like a low QSO count for over two hours, but a good 45-50 minutes of that time I was off air while hiking back to the car and grabbing the MPAS Lite, setting it up, and enjoying a quick picnic with the family.

All in all it was a very memorable day at the ACE Basic WMA. If you’re ever in the low country of South Carolina, I highly recommend a visit. It’s a stunning site with lots of flora, fauna, hikes, and, of course, a great spot for a little field radio fun!

Note: If I worked you during this activation, it may not show up on the POTA website until I’m home from vacation and can create an ADIF file to submit the logs!

The new Mountain Topper MTR-4B V2 by LnR Precision

The venerable Mountain Topper MTR-3B

I’ve just noticed that LnR Precision has announced their new Mountain Topper MTR-4B V2.

They’ve released a few details with the promise of photos soon. Looks like the MTR-4B will of course sport four bands (80, 40, 30, and 20 meters) but adds two valuable tools its predecessors lacked: an SWR and RF power meter.

A full 5 watts output power is attained with a 12V supply, but the voltage operating range is 5.5 to 13volts.  The MTR-3B’s (photo above) has an upper operating range of 12V.

I look forward to checking out the MTR-4B and we’ll post photos as soon as they are available.

Here are the details from the LnR Precision Website:


MTR-4B V2

Photos COMING SOON

“The Mountain Topper”

The LnR Precision MTR transceivers are designed to be efficient portable CW rigs. Whether climbing a mountain and operating SOTA or just out for an afternoon in the park, the MTR’s small size, light weight and meager battery requirements makes it a great choice for these activities.

Features:

  • Four bands – 80M, 40M, 30M and 20M
  • Very low receiver noise floor
  • Low current for maximum battery life
  • Wide operating voltage range – 5.5V to 13V
  • Full 5W “QRP” gallon with 12.0 Volt supply
  • 2 line, back lighted LCD display
  • SWR – RF Power display
  • Built in Real Time Clock
  • Internal Iambic B mode keyer, 5 to 31 WPM in 1 WMP increments.
  • Three Morse message memories with beacon mode.
  • Specifications: coming soon

POTA Field Report: Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)

On Sunday, November 29, 2020, I decided to return to one of my family’s favorite local POTA sites: the Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace.

On Field Day 2020, I activated this park and learned later that it was an ATNO (All-Time New One). It was very hard to believe because the site is nearly ideal for a POTA activation.

The Vance Birthplace is my go-to site when I want to do some field radio work without travelling too far and when the weather is marginal. The site has a wonderful large covered picnic area we typically have all to ourselves, and I can set up knowing that if it rains it won’t stop the activation.

When we arrived at the Vance Birthplace on Sunday, November 29, we were the only guests at the park. Even though the visitor’s center is closed on Sundays, the park is still open to the public.

Gear:

On this particular activation, I decided to give my Elecraft KX3 some field time. I think this was its first field outing in several months. I decided to pair it with the Chameleon Emcomm III Portable antenna to make the most of multi-band operation. I knew in advance that this activation would also coincide with the CQ Worldwide CW contest and I wanted some frequency agility–the Emcomm III Portable covers 160-6 with a good ATU.

On the Air

After deploying the CHA Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna in a similar configuration as I have in the past (see image above), I tuned to 17M CW to avoid the contest crowd.


I worked a few stations but, frankly, it was slow going. For POTA, I’ve found that 18 meters isn’t the most productive band at this point in the solar cycle, but a number of other POTA ops were there too as they didn’t want to compete with blowtorch contest stations on 40 and 20 meters.

I eventually moved down to 30 meters and worked a few station as well.

I knew in advance I’d want to log some stations in SSB, so I brought the Heil Proset-K2 Boom Headset along for the ride. I can’t recommend this boom headset enough if you own an Elecraft KX3 or KX2. I believe great audio is the best way to maximize your QRP SSB signal and this headset is custom made for Elecraft gear and certainly delivers. It’s a major upgrade over the KX3 hand mic and, I believe, must add two S units to your signal.

Pileups!

Holy cow! I had no idea what would be awaiting me on 40 meters phone.

I spotted myself on the POTA network and my daughter, Geneva (K4TLI), moved in to log for me on my Microsoft Surface Go tablet.

In all of my field activations, I’ve never had the pileups I had that day. It sounded like proper DXpedition pileups. In order to make the most of it, I had to note three or four calls at a time and work them in succession.

Had this not been POTA, I think I would have moved to split operation to break apart the pileup and work it more efficiently. But in truth, POTA hunters/chasers are not used to thinking in terms of split.  With only a handful of exceptions (for example, when I activated rare parks during the 2016 NPOTA program) I’ve never had a pileup so large I considered operating split at a park.

I did work stations about as quickly as I could but didn’t go into full “contest” mode where I give a quick signal report then move on to the next person.

Frankly, POTA and SOTA are not contests and part of the fun of it for me is the community and bonds that are formed between activators and hunters. It’s like meeting people at an on-air family reunion.

My SSB exchanges are never long-winded. I do maintain a certain cadence and keep POTA exchanges relatively brief because that’s just my operating style. I see this as a courtesy to the hunters who may have a limited opening to work my park and I want them to have ample opportunity to put me in the logs. I only spend a bit of time rag-chewing if the bands are a bit dead.

At the same time, I endeavor to make my exchanges friendly. I always try to take a few seconds to thank the operator at the other end of the ether and and wish them a good day.

Because, at the end of the day? POTA is not a contest.

But I digress…

It was amazing fun getting a bit of that pileup “rush”–!

Geneva was logging about as quickly as she could as she heard me reply to stations with their callsigns.  I would like to have used the speaker on my KX3 so she could follow the pileup but one of the weak points of the KX3 is the mediocre audio from the internal speaker.

You might see me logging in the photos above because I was also keeping a paper log to cross-reference with the N3FJP generated logs later.

Tally

I worked a total of 90 stations in about one hour and five minutes on the air.

I made 10 CW contacts on 17 and 30 meters, and 80 SSB contacts on 40 meters.

Of course, it was SSB where I really racked up the contacts in short order: 80 stations in 47 minutes. Whew!

I’m certain I could have logged 150-200 stations if I had more than about an hour or so of on-air time. By the time I left the air, I did eliminate the pileup.

Here’s the QSO Map from my logs (click to enlarge):

By the way: Geneva (K4TLI) is close to taking her General exam so you’ll soon be seeing her call on the POTA and SOTA spots page! I’m already piecing together components for her field pack! Of course, she’ll start by building her own resonant antennas! She can’t wait.

Keith is impressed with the Elecraft K1’s selectivity

Many thanks to Keith (GW4OKT) who recently contacted me, noting that his took his Elecraft K1 to Llyn Brenig (Lake Brenig) in North Wales last weekend, and was impressed with its performance.

His outing coincided with the CQ Worldwide CW contest–a true test of any radio as this is one of the most RF-dense environments you’ll encounter on the CW portions of the HF bands.

Many lesser radios simply fall apart in contest environments like the CQWW.

Not the Elecraft K1, though! Keith noted that he was operating on 20 meters with his GWhip antenna on the roof of his car.

He made the following video:

Wow! I owned the K1 for a number of years and was incredibly impressed with its receiver although I can’t remember if I ever used it in a contest. It’s a brilliant field radio and sports a bullet-proof front end.

I should add, Keith, that I’m not the least bit envious of your Caterham Seven 310 SV. Not a bit. Not me.  🙂

Anyone else love the Elecraft K1 (or the Caterham Seven 310?) Please comment!

Video: QRP Labs QCX-mini 5W CW transceiver–now available to order

Hans at QRP Labs has just posted a video of the new QCX-Mini 5 watt transceiver kit. It looks like another thoughtful design:

Even though I’ve yet to build my QCX+ (!!!), I just ordered the QCX-Mini. This little kit will be a challenge for me–even though all of the SMD components are pre-populated, it’s still a tight board and requires some fancy toroid work!

Still, I’m buying it to support QRP Labs’ work and because I love the challenge of building kits. This one is awfully cute and I’m pretty sure I’ll use it to claim a summit!

My entire QCX-Mini kit with enclosure set me back $86.99 US with shipping and tax included. How could I resist? (Don’t answer that, please.)

Click here to check out the QCX-Mini product page. 

Initial review of the Xiegu GSOC controller

In early November, I took delivery of the new Xiegu GSOC Touch Screen Controller which has kindly been sent to me by Radioddity on loan for a frank evaluation. [Thank you, Radioddity!]

To be clear: the GSOC is not a transceiver, it’s a control head for the Xiegu G90 and (to a limited degree) X5105. Note I recently  reviewed the Xiegu G90.

GSOC development has been closely watched by Xiegu owners since its announcement in the summer of 2020.

Frankly, I didn’t completely see the appeal myself because the price of the GSOC was projected to be around $550–at least $100 more than the retail price of the G90 transceiver it controls.

The G90, in my opinion, is a good value field radio. Not a stellar performer, but it gets the job done and the built-in ATU does a brilliant job finding matches. It’s become a very popular radio for portable field operators because of the price, the versatility, and the power output (up to 20W). It’s not a KX2, KX3, or IC-705, but it certainly provides much more than one would expect from $450.

When you combine the price of the G90 and GSOC, however, you’re pushing $1000 and that’s getting in the range of radios like the Icom IC-7300.

Not feeling the GSOC love

In short, I’ve been quite disappointed with the GSOC. It feels like a product that was rushed to market way too soon. The specs and features don’t match up to what’s been advertised yet.

Yesterday, I posted an updated evaluation of the GSOC on the SWLing Post after performing the first public firmware upgrade. If you’ve been considering the GSOC, I would strongly encourage you to read that full post.

Check out the number of images that temporarily appeared in the spectrum and waterfall.

In a nutshell, there are some major issues with the GSOC at present (December 2, 2020):

  • No documentation or owner’s manual at time of posting other than an incredibly basic quick start guide
  • CW mode is essentially unusable due to latency in the CW sidetone audio
  • Combined current drain of the G90/GSOC pair is about 1 amp. For QRP field ops, that’s a substantial number and one you’d expect from a 100W field radio
  • The spectrum display is inundated with noise and images that are not present in the G90 received audio
  • On my unit, the large encoder sticks a bit and rubs the front panel when in use. I plan to see if I can reseat the encoder knob to help.
  • A keyboard and mouse or capacitive stylus are almost required for accurate operation of the touch screen due to the size of some of the buttons.
  • Click here to view a more comprehensive list

In summary? I can’t recommend the GSOC yet and that’s why I’m posting this summary here on QRPer–I’d like to dissuade readers from grabbing one of these as a Christmas gift.

The package looks tempting, but there are too many issues that must be addressed just to achieve proper control of the G90.  I can tell that, personally, I won’t purchase the GSOC even when everything is fixed. The price point is just too high, in my opinion, for the functionality it provides. The G90 is a fun, functional little radio, but doesn’t sport the performance and receiver characteristics that I feel warrant a touch screen controller. The controller will only ever be as good as the transceiver to which it’s attached.

Do you own or have you considered purchasing the GSOC? I’d love your comments/thoughts.

A simple 3D-printed foot for the Icom IC-705

A number of readers have asked about the small foot under my IC-705 in recent POTA field reports.

One of my biggest criticisms of the IC-705 is that it has no built-in foot to tilt the radio for an optimal operating position. On the other hand, it does have a number of attachment points on the bottom including a standard tripod mounting point and several 4mm points.

Shortly after I received my IC-705, I checked Thingiverse knowing a clever ham would have designed some sort of leg or tilt stand.

One of the first designs I found was the most simple: this foot by “Viktor39” that attaches to the bottom of the IC-705.

It prints quickly and uses very little material (no support structure). Mine is made of orange PLA (because that’s what my daughters had been using), but I’m sure ABS would be a better choice.

You’ll need two 4mm x 10 screws to attach the foot to the bottom of the IC-705.

I’ve found that the foot is small enough that I never need to detach it even in transport.

Click here to view on Thingiverse.