Many thanks to Bob Conder (K4RLC) who shares the following guest post:
North Carolina Parks On The Air Activation weekend
The first North Carolina Parks On The Air Activation weekend occurred September 9 & 10. Between a limited amount of time available and weather, I only was able to activate three parks, including an over-night camp out. The primary goal was to return to the Dismal Swamp State Park (K-2727) in Camden County. While the Dismal Swamp in Camden County is a rare and sought after County on CW for those wanting to work all 100 North Carolina counties and all 3000+ US counties, it also is a place comforting to my tortured soul.
As there is no camping at Dismal Swamp State Park, one camps at the nearby Merchant Mill Pond State Park (K-2745) in Gates County. This is a pleasant small State Park with canoeing and fishing in a 190 year old millpond, with old-growth Cypress trees. It is near the lower extension of the larger Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, which begins in Virginia.
As an older park, Merchants Mill Pond SP does not have any hook-ups for water or electricity. Fortunately, I was camping in our Solis campervan, which is self-contained by solar power and good for boondocking.
The oppressive heat gave way to rain, so I set up inside the van at my campsite. This gave me an opportunity to use my new favorite portable radio, the Penntek TR – 45 Lite, a QRP CW only radio. An outstanding feature of this rig is that it has no menus, only knobs and toggle switches, and reminds me very much of my radios from the early 1960s, but with modern specs.
The internal keyer performed well with the Putikeeg magnetic paddle from Amazon. Even though there was distant thunder, I felt it was safe to set up an inverted V on a fiberglass mast, bungee-corded to a trailer mount hitch on the camper van. I ran the RG-174 coax through a rear window by sliding the window screen open a bit.
Not wanting to invite an onslaught of mosquitoes, I only used red lights inside the Solis, reminiscent of military operations. The TR -45 Lite did well on 40 CW with 5 W and the inverted V in the rain, and no mosquitoes invaded the van.
The overall goal was to return to the Dismal Swamp. I started early in the morning, setting up on a picnic table in the park between the Canal and the walkway, along the canal. Even though it was midmorning, the weather became interesting, at 90° F and 90% humidity.
For this activation, I used the old IC 706 MKIIG and a modified Wolf River coil set up. I used the Chameleon 17 foot telescopic whip. This whip is Mil-Spec and has a great feel and quality of workmanship. However it is 11 inches too short for the Wolf River “Sporty 40” coil. To address this, I made an 11 inch jumper from solid copper wire left over from my Dad’s days with Southern Bell telephone, and fitted it on an alligator clip, clipped to the top of the whip. The other modification was not to use the three 31 foot radials. For this activation, I tried the KB9VBR “Magic Carpet” ground plane.
This is a 32 x 84 piece of aluminum window screen, laid on the ground, under the antenna tripod. It may be a dB or so less than the radials, but it sure takes up a lot less space, especially in a crowded parking lot. The key is the Whiterook MK-49 made by ElectronicsUSA. It is my favorite backpacking key, lightweight and withstands being thrown into a backpack with no protection. This set-up worked well both on 20 and 40 CW, juggling CW keying with eating leftovers for breakfast until the rain came.
I then decided to wander on some back roads in Eastern North Carolina and wound up in historic Edenton, originally built in the early 1700s and the first capital of the Colony of North Carolina. Their diverse history is reflected in the town square, where there is a 13 Colony US flag, a monument to the Confederate War dead, and the British Union Jack!
The radio setup was very pleasant at the Historic Site (K-6842) near the Albemarle Sound, which begins at the Eastern North Carolina coast, and runs to the leeward side of the North Carolina Outer Banks on the Atlantic Ocean.
I decided to try the TR-45 Lite again, but this time with a Buddipole on 20 meter CW. Propagation was variable with early contacts in Utah and Idaho, but the band became difficult. It was very pleasant operating with the ocean breeze and looking at the 1886 Roanoke River lighthouse, until the rain started again.
So it was time to pack up, but a return trip to spend a weekend in Edenton would be a very pleasant activity. On the way out of town, I passed a puzzling POTA site, the National Fish Hatchery (K-8007), established in 1898, and home of an Annual Fishing Rodeo. Activating there was tempting, but the rain was prohibitive.
All in all, it was a very pleasant activation for the first NC POTA weekend. I got to test different radio and antenna configurations. I would say for the TR -45 Lite, the inverted-V worked best. For the ICOM IC-706 , the “Magic Carpet” aluminum screen worked very well and was very easy to set up.
I did not have time to do a head to head comparison of the antennas; that is a Fall project. Please note I originally got a stainless steel screen from Amazon, but testing with the Rig Expert showed that it really did not conduct as well as aluminum and had higher SWR, so make sure to purchase the aluminum screen.
For a first NC POTA Weekend, the results were modest and certainly can be improved upon next year. Down east on the Outer Banks, Jockey’s Ridge and the Wright Brother Memorial is on my future list, but an annual pilgrimage to the Dismal Swamp (especially in non-summer months) is a must.