Tag Archives: CW

POTA Field Report: The Elecraft AX1’s secret power? Speed of deployment.

I believe I mentioned in the past that when I first purchased my Elecraft AX1, I assumed it would be a bit if a toy or novelty item. I thought it was a fun concept–and that’s why I bought it–but I remember the first time I took it out to the field on an activation, I thought I’d be demonstrating that a compromised antenna delivers compromised performance.

In short? I was wrong.

The AX1 has instead become one of the most valuable tools in my antenna arsenal.

When you are the DX–activating a park or summit–the AX1 is more than capable as long as you live in an area with a reasonable amount of hunters/chasers within your normal propagation footprint.

Speed

The AX1’s secret power, as I mention in the title, is speed of deployment.

Although I can launch a line into a tree and deploy an end-fed half-wave pretty quickly–I’ve literally done this hundreds of times–I can deploy the AX1 even more quickly without breaking a sweat.

Case in Point: Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)

On Tuesday, January 17, 2023, I had a day full of errands and projects in town, but needed to pick up my daughters at a school function around 15:00 local. There were too many variables to accurately predict where I would be at what time, so I didn’t schedule an activation that morning.

As the day progressed, though, I realized I had a very short window and K-6856 was practically en route to the pickup point. After I finished my last errand in south Asheville, I made my way north and based on Google Maps, I had no more than a 25 minute window to fit in a full activation from deployment to pack up.

I stopped in a parking lot en route, pulled out my iPhone, and scheduled an activation at K-6856 on POTA.app.

Keep in mind that my activations are typically short, but 25 minutes for set-up, on-the-air time, and pack-up leaves very little margin for error.

The AX1 is perfect for this type of activation.

A little time math

It takes me two easy minutes to set up the AX1 and maybe one minute to pack it up.  If I wanted to, I could speed that up a bit (I take much longer on camera talking my way through the process). So that’s roughly three minutes to both deploy and pack-up the AX1.

My speaker wire antenna, on the other hand, is also very quick to deploy. With my arborist throw line, I can easily prepare that antenna in four minutes and pack it up in three minutes. Thus, I need to allow roughly 7 minutes to both deploy and pack-up the speaker wire antenna (we have to assume it might take 2 launches of the throw line to snag a branch).

Since it has a built-in ATU and battery the Elecraft KX2 takes maybe 20 seconds to set up. Seriously: pull it out of the pack, connect a key, turn it on. Continue reading POTA Field Report: The Elecraft AX1’s secret power? Speed of deployment.

Jonathan takes the Yaesu FT-818ND on an inaugural POTA activation!

Many thanks to Jonathan (KM4CFT) who shares the following guest field report and video:


Chatfield State Park (K-1212)

January 20, 2022

by Jonathan Kayne (KM4CFT)

The honorable Yaesu FT-817/818. You all know it and love it. I had been wanting to get myself one for a while but after just buying myself a shiny new ICOM IC-705, I had been planning on getting myself an 818 in the spring to play around with. December came and I find out that Yaesu was going to discontinue the 818, so I went and bit the bullet and bought one from Ham Radio Outlet.

I had been getting into CW for portable operations lately after wanting to learn CW for a while and my friend Zach Thompson (KM4BLG) had pushed me to learn it. I learned it over the course of two months through an app called “Morse Machine” and listening to Thomas’s YouTube videos while working so as to get used to the exchanges and pick up words. Then I activated and all the rest is history! (If you want to see my 3rd time activating see this video here.)

Why is this important? Because the FT-818ND does not have a narrow 500 Hz filter for CW operation by default, and since I consider myself to be still a newbie I wanted to install a Collins Filter before I take my new 818 into the field. Since these filters are hard to obtain, I went with the build your own route. The method I used has been outlined in this blog and I have made a video of it here.

Now that I had my radio all ready to go with a filter, side rails, and Windcamp Battery, I wanted to get it in the field as soon as possible. Unfortunately due to a snow storm, the temperature in the Denver area was quite cold.

I can handle myself pretty well in the cold if I put on enough layers, but my fingers are another story. I have found that I cannot write properly unless my fingertips are exposed. The solution: do the activation in the car! Continue reading Jonathan takes the Yaesu FT-818ND on an inaugural POTA activation!

Guest Post: Dan’s first straight key POTA activation

Many thanks to Dan (W9SAU) who shares the following field report:


My first Straight Key POTA Activation

Dan (W9SAU)

1/22/2023

After 3 weeks of working Straight Key for SKCC, SST, and POTA QSOs, and a lot of practice, I wanted to try a Straight Key POTA Activation, using a Cootie paddle.

My Cootie/Sideswiper is a modified Vibroplex Single paddle, with a switch installed. Converting a paddle to a Cootie is done by jumpering the dot and dash wire connections. Then turn the Electronic Keyer off. The switch allows for Cootie or Keyer operation.

Pullman National Monument (K-7917) is only 10 minutes from my QTH. Pullman is unique, with the National Park borders surrounding a portion of the Pullman factory and neighborhood. You can operate from anywhere within these borders. I operated from the parking lot of the Pullman National Monument Exhibit Hall.

In this busy area in the City of Chicago, the noise floor was near S-Zero. There is occasional interference from a passing Illinois Central Electric Train, with QRN that obliterates everything. Not many trains on a Sunday morning.

With snow falling, my operating position was inside the vehicle, using a Yaesu FT-891 set to 5W for QRP, with a Shark 20 meter Hamstick on the roof.

Some anxiety, starting at 13wpm, but I quickly became  comfortable with 15wpm. My goal was to complete the Activation with 13 or 14 contacts.

I finished with 22 in the log in 35 minutes. I appreciate the patience of all who slowed down for me.

I had plenty of protection from Chicago’s Finest!  Across the street are the Pullman Horse Stables. All employee and visitor horses were housed and cared for here, in the late 1800’s.

Working the Cootie is a lot of fun! I find it easier than the traditional up/down key. But each character still has to be formed manually. I will be doing more of this type of POTA Activation.

A bonus is Ops who sometimes initiate a SKCC QSO when I work them for POTA. I was happy to accommodate them, but using a Keyer, I could not take SKCC credit. With the Cootie, I can use the credit to work towards the next SKCC achievement level. All while working Parks On The Air!

Hike & Talk Session: Conquering the CW Doldrums

A couple years ago, I started making Hike & Talk video sessions covering in-depth topics that are challenging to answer via email or even long-format blog posts.

When I receive a question from a reader and think to myself, “I’d rather answer that in-person than write a reply,” I make a note to do a Hike & Talk session.

These sessions are not scripted, outlined, or formatted in any way shape or form. When I make a Hike and Talk video, I imagine that I’m chatting away with you informally as you join me on a hike or walk.

All this to say that these long-format videos aren’t for everyone, so if it doesn’t sound like your cuppa’ tea, it’s okay to skip it! I promise, I won’t be offended.

Conquering the CW Doldrums

On January 11, 2023, I was driving back from Raleigh and decided that a quick POTA break was in order. That morning, I read an email from a reader and it was on my mind as I drove to Tuttle Educational State Forest. It was a long email, but here are the relevant bits:

Hi Thomas […]I’ve been studying CW on my own for about four months now. I know you advise joining a group like the Long Island CW Club to learn CW but my work schedule simply doesn’t allow for this. I travel frequently and have team members across the globe so my schedule is a mess. I have so little free time.

[…]I’ve been using various CW apps, CW recordings like W1AW and your videos to practice CW. I can’t stress how much your videos have encouraged me along the way because you make this all seem so achievable. I download your videos from Patreon and listen to them when driving, flying, during layovers, and in the evenings in my hotel room. Many times I just listen to your video audio as I would a podcast.

I am not at a point where I can understand all of the contacts you receive, but I do get maybe 1 out of 3. It’s a real thrill to know I decoded a callsign on my own. I see a day when I will do CW activations.

[…]I’m writing though because I feel like I’ve reached a barrier. I know all of my characters and numbers and I continue to do regular CW practice, but I feel like I’m not learning. Like my brain has stopped soaking up the code. It’s discouraging. Do you have any advice for getting through this?

I’ve received similar emails and comments in the past which is proof that you’re not alone if you can relate to this reader.

I’ve certainly been there, too!

Hike & Talk

In this video I will talk about the CW Doldrums, how I related to them, and how I work through them myself.

I include (against my better judgement!) a very long side story about my path to learning French. It relates, but perhaps not how you might think.

Instead of editing my videos, I always try to include chapter markings in the YouTube timeline so you can skip over any sections that aren’t of interest to you.

You’re going to need a few cups of coffee or tea for this one. You’ve been warned!

Click here to view on YouTube.

Thank you

Thank you for joining me on this Hike & Talk session!

If you’re experiencing or have experienced the CW Doldrums yourself, let us know how you work through them in the comments section.

The important part is to know that you’re not alone and that, in fact, the Doldrums are truly a healthy sign that you’re learning CW and your brain is doing it’s thing!

As always, a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me on the trail!

Cheers & 72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Pairing the Penntek TR-45L and Chelegance MC-750 on a swift POTA activation

Friday, January 6, 2023, was a beautiful day and my route took me within 10 minutes of South Mountains State Park (K-2753).

Of course, I had to activate it!

In truth, I had only a short window to do the activation, but I knew it would be seriously fun.

I’d packed my Penntek TR-45L and Chelegance MC-750 for the trip and was looking forward to pairing the two.

My TR-45L actually has the built-in Z-Match manual antenna tuner, but I wanted to, once again, configure the MC-750 as a resonant antenna (much like I did in my previous activation).

I also had my new VK3IL pressure paddle along for the ride and wanted to see how nicely it might work with the TR-45L.

If I’m being honest, it was a bit strange not to use a wire antenna at this particular park because South Mountains has some very large old-growth trees that are ideal for hanging antennas.

That said, I also had my choice of spots to deploy the MC-750 vertical. Continue reading Pairing the Penntek TR-45L and Chelegance MC-750 on a swift POTA activation

New Year’s Day POTA: New VK3IL Pressure Paddle, New FT-817/818 Narrow Filter, and New TPA-817 Pack Frame!

I try to start each year by doing a POTA or SOTA activation on New Year’s Day.

POTA actually issues a certificate for completing an activation on New Year’s Day so there are typically loads of activators and hunters working the bands. It’s an ideal time to play radio.

This year, we had a number of family activities on New Year’s Day, but I made a little time to fit in an activation during the late afternoon at my most accessible spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway: the Southern Highland Folk Art Center.

As with my last activation, I suspected I would be operating in the dark, so I brought my LED lantern along for the ride.

Although not intentional, this New Year activation had a lot of new-to-me stuff involved!

New VK3IL Pressure Paddle

The prior evening–on New Year’s Eve–while my wife and daughters were watching a classic movie movie marathon, I used the time to heat up the soldering iron and work through a few kits and projects that had been sitting on my desk.

One of those projects was a Pressure Paddle designed by David (VK3IL).

Michael (G0POT) sent me the Pressure Paddle circuit board and heat shrink via Andy (G7UHN) several months prior. [Thank you so much, fellas!]

To my knowledge, the VK3IL Pressure Paddle isn’t available in complete kit package, but it’s quite easy to source everything yourself.

On his website, David provides the Gerber files you’ll need in order to purchase the circuit boards from your favorite manufacturer (I’m a huge fan of OshPark here in the States).

Next, you simply need to order the components. Here’s the list assuming you’re using DigiKey:

  • Quantity of 2: 732-7579-1-ND (CAP CER 10000PF 10V C0G/NP0 0805)
  • Quantity of 2: BSS806NH6327XTSA1CT-ND (MOSFET N-CH 20V 2.3A SOT23-3)
  • Quantity of 2: 311-470KCRCT-ND (RES 470K OHM 1% 1/8W 0805)
  • Quantity of 2: 1738-SEN0294-ND (RP-C18.3-ST THIN FILM PRESSURE S)
  • Quanity of 1: Three conductor wire with a (typically) 3.5mm plug (note that I had one of these in my junk drawer)

Keep in mind: the components are surface-mount. If you’re not used to working with SMD components (ahem…that would be me) I suggest buying a few spares of each in case you lose or damage one or more during the build.

It also helps to cover the finished board in heat shrink not only to protect the board and make it easier to grip, but most importantly (if you’re me) hide your electrically-sound yet unsightly surface mount soldering job.

The build might have taken me 20 minutes.

New FT-817ND Narrow CW Filter

Some time ago, I purchased a second FT-817ND with the idea of doing full-duplex satellite work. I later realized I could be taking the second FT-817ND out to the field more often if I simply had another narrow CW filter installed, so I built one.

This New Year’s Day activation was actually the first time I’d taken this particular FT-817ND and its new narrow filter out to the field!

New Armoloq TPA-817 Pack Frame

Earlier this year, I also decided that I wanted to outfit my 2nd Yaesu FT-817ND with an Armoloq TPA-817 pack frame. The idea was to experiment with building a rapid-deployment field kit around it.

This is actually one of the big projects I’m working on in 2023. I’ve yet to sort out the antenna mount I’d like to use with this frame based on how I plan to deploy it. Continue reading New Year’s Day POTA: New VK3IL Pressure Paddle, New FT-817/818 Narrow Filter, and New TPA-817 Pack Frame!

QRP by Lantern Light: A CW/SSB sunset POTA activation at Lake James State Park

The one thing about doing POTA activations in the winter is being aware of just how short the days are. It seems like, lately, I’ve had a number of activations that have spilled over well beyond sunset.

With POTA, running out of sunlight really isn’t a big deal. As long as I have a headlamp (I always do) and/or a lantern, I can continue operating as long as the park is still open to guests.

With SOTA, running out of sunlight can develop into a serious situation, especially if you’ve bushwhacked to a summit in unfamiliar territory. Even with a headlamp, it can be difficult finding your way back to an established trail.  I’ve never scheduled a SOTA activation that pushed sunset unless I’m comfortable with the path to the summit.

If I’m being honest, I think a part of me actually enjoys doing POTA activations after sunset. It feels a lot like camping.

On Sunday, December 4, 2022, I was on the road once again and could not help but squeeze in a POTA activation at Lake James State Park.

It was late afternoon and I knew I’d be pushing sunset, but I had my little LED lantern just in case I ran out of sunlight (hint: I did!) and I was ready to play some radio: both CW and SSB!

Lake James State Park (K-2739)

It was a grey, chilly day and there were no other cars in the parking lot at the Catawba River Access. I had the whole park to myself until closing time at 7:00PM.

I chose a picnic table by the lake, putting some distance between me and the visitor’s center which has been known to spew radio interference (QRM) in the past.

I brought along my Elecraft KX3 for this activation.

The KX3 is one of my top field portable radios, but I rarely take it to the field these days for a couple reasons:

  1. It’s my main shack radio and is hooked up to my KXPA100 amplifier 100% of the time (although I rarely run enough power that the amplifier engages). I do much of my park/summit hunting from home with the KX3.
  2. Since I purchased my KX2 in 2016, I tend to take it to the field instead since it’s *that* much more portable. It’s like a smaller version of the KX3 with nearly the performance and only lacking 160 and 6 meters.

But I do love my KX3. It’s a benchmark radio–and one of the best field transceivers on the market.  You will see a few field reports with it each year since I try to give all of my radios a regular dose of fresh air!

Setting up

After recording the intro to my activation video (which I tried to do before the sun actually set), I decided to film the antenna deployment as well.

I debated which antenna to use at the site. I decided upon the super easy-to-deploy 28.5′ “no transformer” random wire antenna by Tufteln (see link in the Gear section below). I first demoed this super simple antenna on Mount Mitchell during a SOTA activation. It’s basically two lengths of 28.5 foot 26 AWG wire connected to a BNC connector on a small 3D printed mount which provides strain relief.

This antenna is basically my super simple speaker wire antenna, just in a more compact form factor.  Since there’s no transformer, the antenna relies on an ATU to do all of the heavy work of sorting out impedance matches. Continue reading QRP by Lantern Light: A CW/SSB sunset POTA activation at Lake James State Park

Long Island CW Club featured on BBC Radio 4 PM

Many thanks to a number of readers who noted that Howard (WB2UZE) with the amazing Long Island CW Club was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 program PM.

Although the show has already aired, you can listn to it for the next few weeks on BBC Sounds by clicking here.

Note that the segment with Howard starts at 51:42.

Keith’s Recording

Update: Many thanks to Keith (GW4OKT) who captured this live, off-air recording of this segment via his Icom IC-705:

Click here to listen on YouTube.

VE6LK’s #POTAThon1231: The RAC Portable Operating Challenge

Many thanks to Vince (VE6LK) who shares the following POTA field report:


Canmore Nordic Centre VE-1167, Alberta

#POTAThon1231 – The RAC Portable Operating Challenge

by Vince (VE6LK)

It’s the final day of December 2022 and I find myself, a non-hiking non-climbing city kid, trudging around in the snow on a nature preserve not far from my home. I’m in shape -round- and it’s not helping me much. I’m not really dressed for this but I’m not far from the warmth of my truck. My goal is to do an activation and move on, for I’m in the middle of the final day this month of a set of #POTAThons and I still have one more park to get to.

#POTAThon is what I call it when I plan on getting to more than one park in a day. Usually these things aren’t thought of for weeks in advance, they are more like a “tomorrow morning” kind of thing. Opportunistic, if you will. Please feel free to adopt the hashtag on social media as it is free from all royalties and encumbrances.

VE-3477, British Columbia

But, before I tell you the story of how I happened to be trudging through the snow, let me tell you that someone said something to me that set me off on the journey that had me trudging through snow on that day and hefting a wire into a tree.

Revelstoke National Park VE-0061, British Columbia

I do public service events throughout the year, and in December I travelled from my home in Alberta one province westwards to Kelowna B.C. to the Big White Winter Rally. RallySport is fun to get involved with as a ham radio operator, and is especially trying -for all the right reasons, as you’ll see in this clip from 2015– in Net Control where we run logistics for the event. You’ll be able to read that story in the March-April edition of The Canadian Amateur magazine.

In Net Control, set up and ready to run the race. 6 people will be in here. (Click to enlarge)

Anyway, I’m to the point in my life where a long one day drive is no longer enjoyable, thus along the way to BWWR, I planned to activate parks and take two days to make the trip each way. A week off to play radio sounds like a great vacation to me at any time! Thus, the plan was struck to do this and have fun. This means that multiple #POTAThons would be required! Continue reading VE6LK’s #POTAThon1231: The RAC Portable Operating Challenge

Pairing the Penntek TR-45L and PackTenna 20M EFHW for a Quickie POTA Activation

We need to do a little time-travel in this short field report…

In 2022, I accumulated so many activation videos that I have a small backlog and some that got lost in the shuffle. The following activation report is one that I meant to post in November, but it got lost in the shuffle.

So let’s time-travel…

On October 20, 2022, I pulled into Tuttle Educational State Forest to enjoy quick a POTA activation with my Penntek TR-45L.

I remember now that I wanted to hold off publishing this video until John (WA3RNC) at Penntek had time to ship the bulk of the radios from his first production run of fifty units. Demand has been very high for this sweet rig and for good reason: it performs brilliantly, is fun to use, sports amazing audio, and (with its Apolloesque design) strikes the right nostalgia chord for many of us.

Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)

I had a very short window to do this activation–a maximum of 45 minutes or so.  You see, I still had a good 1.5 hour drive back to the QTH and needed to pop by the post office to pick up parcels before they closed at 17:00 local.

I had planned to pair the TR-45L with my PackTenna random wire antenna and use the 45L’s Z-Match tuner, but I discovered I’d packed the PackTenna 20M EFHW instead.

No problem there as the PackTenna 20M EFHW is very efficient and (of course) resonant on 20 meters, so I needed to make sure the TR-45L’s ATU was bypassed before hopping on the air! Continue reading Pairing the Penntek TR-45L and PackTenna 20M EFHW for a Quickie POTA Activation