Tag Archives: QRP

POTA Field Report: Activating Lake James State Park (K-2739) with the Yaesu FT-817ND

One question that often faces newcomers to the hobby is: “Should I buy a QRP or a 100W transceiver as my first rig?

That is a very deep topic, actually, and one to explore in a future post. A 100 watt transceiver will certainly give you more options as they can often pump out 100W or be turned down to 1 watt. If you’re a phone operator only, that’s got some serious appeal. Then again, if you’re operating POTA or SOTA where you are the DX, power–while still important–is much less so than, say, if you were at home trying to work DX.

Again, a deep topic for another post because there is no right or wrong answer.

One of our readers (Phillip) reached out to me a couple weeks ago and asked if the Yaesu FT-818 would make for a good first HF rig. He liked the portability factor, the build quality, the HF/VHF/UHF multi-mode coverage, and the overall flexibility of the rig as a field radio. His goal was to do POTA activations.

We had quite a few emails back and forth about the pros and cons and I decided it might make more sense to simply take my Yaesu FT-817ND (which is nearly identical to the FT-818) to the field and activate a park in both SSB and CW. Since I knew he would necessarily have an external antenna tuner from day one, I paired the FT-817 with my resonant 40/20/10 meter end-fed antenna.

Lake James State Park (K-2739)

On January 17, 2021, I pulled into my favorite part of Lake James State park and quickly set up my station. I only had about one hour to complete my activation, so knew this would be a very brief excursion. Since I actually had a minimal amount of gear, it was a quick setup.

Gear:

Since I deployed a resonant antenna, there was no tuning or matching involved which not only makes the most of your 5 watts (in that it’s more efficient), but also saves a bit of time in set up and tuning up.

You might note in the video below that my FT-817 has an accessory board attached to the top: G7UHN’s 817 Buddy Board prototype.

I’m testing this prototype at the moment, but didn’t need to employ it at Lake James since it’s really useful when the rig is on your lap or on on the ground. It essentially gives you top-mounted controls and a larger display to read front panel information from above–incredibly useful for SOTA and proper in-the-field activations. Andy’s v3 board will include a memory keyer–I can’t wait for that one!

Since I had Internet access at this park, I used my Microsoft Surface Go logging tablet to spot myself to the POTA network. I started calling CQ on 40 meters phone (SSB) and within six minutes logged eight stations. Not bad for 5 watts and a wire!

Next, I moved to CW on 40 meters and started calling CQ POTA. The POTA spots page auto-spotted me via the Reverse Beacon Network in short order. In eight minutes, I worked six more stations.

I then moved to twenty meters which was essentially dead, so I called it quits a bit early. I needed to pack up and head to my next destination.

Here’s a QSOMap of this short activation (red polylines are SSB and green CW):

I also made one of my real-time real-life no edit videos during this activation if you’re interested:

Truth is, each time I use the FT-817, I love it more. Sure it’s only 5 watts, has no ATU, has a small display, a clicky T/R relay, and questionable ergonomics, but it is a keeper for sure. Even after 20 years of being in production, it still holds its own and is an incredibly popular radio for good reason.

As I told Phillip, the 817/818 is the Toyota Corolla of the QRP radio world.

Mistakes and miscalculations might make us better field radio operators

I don’t know about you, but part of the fun of playing radio in the field are the inevitable frustrations.

It might not feel like it in the moment, but when I eventually overcome the challenges of a mistake, I feel like I’ve truly accomplished something.

That was my little epiphany this morning: making mistakes has perhaps made me a better radio operator. Less-than-efficient field deployments have honed my skills and had a major influence on the gear I pack.

If you’ve read some of my (rather rambling) field reports in the past, you’ll note that I rarely do field activations with the exact same gear combinations each time. I feel fortunate enough that I can pair different radios with different antennas and different accessories.  I get a small thrill out of not knowing exactly how well a combination will work, especially if I’m not activating a rare all-time new park or tough summit for that matter. In cases where getting to the site is a challenge in and of itself, I want to use a trusted combo of gear.

It’s that wee bit of mystery that attracts me to the field.

If I approached POTA more like a contest–where activation and contact numbers were my focus–I would have installed a mobile HF rig in my car a long time ago. I could rack up way more parks and contacts that way. It especially simplifies multi-site activation days since it effectively eliminates the time involved in setting up and later packing up gear.  Mobile operating is the most efficient way to hit number goals: drive up to a site, start calling CQ, work your stations, then move on.

K-6937 & K-4510

(Photo credit: K4TLI)

Yesterday, I did a last minute “two-fer” activation of Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah Game Land. I had not planned to do an activation that day–temps never rose above 29F (-2C) at the QTH day and it also snowed and flurried all day long. Winds were very gusty as well, so it effectively felt much colder on the skin.

I wanted to hike up to the ridge line behind my QTH and do the activation but I knew up there temps would be lower and (worse) winds much stronger. Cold doesn’t really bother me, but strong winds do. This was also the first weekend my ankle felt almost normal after twisting it badly last month. It’s healing and I hope will be in shape for a long hike from my QTH to a six point SOTA summit next weekend with my daughter (K4TLI).

All of those factors combined pointed toward simply staying at home, drinking coffee, and reading a book.

Hazel was ready for some field radio fun, though. (Photo credit: K4TLI)

But I really wanted some outdoor time. And I really wanted to make an activation with my Elecraft KX1, so I decided that instead of hiking up in elevation 800 feet, I’d drive down about 900-1,000 feet to a forest trailhead. That would get me on the air in a protected valley with less wind,  less snow, possibly warmer temps, and much less hiking which would be easier on my ankle.

The Last-Minute Antenna

When I use the KX1 in the field, I typically pack a very simple antenna: one length of radiator wire and one length of counterpoise wire–connected to a BNC binding post adapter, I let the built-in ATU sort out the match.

When I owned my first KX1, I had a magic length of radiator wire (the length of which I can no longer remember) that seemed to work amazingly well  on 40, 30, and 20 meters.

My new-to-me KX1 came with two lengths of wire: one 23′ and one about 20′. Although I made a fun and successful activation with this setup, the radiator was simply too short for the KX1 to find a decent match on 40M.

On the way out the door, I decided to cut a new radiator and counterpoise out of scrap wire I use for antenna experiments.

Being a bit stubborn and also in a hurry to beat sunset, I did no Internet research to sort out the ideal lengths for 40 meters.  I simply cut a 17′ length for the counterpoise and about 27.5′ for the radiator.

In the Field

After arriving on site, I deployed the antenna and tried finding a match on 40 meters with the KX1’s internal ATU.

No go.

I tried a few times hoping maybe the ATU would find something even semi-reasonable in terms of a match, but there simply wasn’t enough radiator to make it work. That was a shame because forty meters would have been the ideal band for yielding quick contacts this time of the afternoon.

I had options, but I wanted to make what I had work.

The activation took time and patience. The 30 meter band was now my best bet and it’s where I logged all ten contacts for a valid activation. I tried 20 meters where I had a 1:1 match, but the band was dead.

At one point, I switched out the KX1 with my KX2 that I also packed. I tried to find a 40 meter match with the superior KX2 ATU, but physics got in the way again. 🙂

40 meters was an option

Let’s be clear here: I could have easily cut 4′ off of the counterpoise and attached it to the radiator and I bet I would have gotten a match on 40M. Since the counterpoise was lying on the ground, its length was less crucial.

The EFT Trail-Friendly end fed antenna was also in my pack.

I also had a perfectly capable 40/20/10 en-fed antenna in my pack. Switching out the antenna would have only taken four minutes.

I bet I could have easily yielded 20 additional contacts on 40 meters because the band was in great shape. Almost without fail, 40 meters is my most productive band.

Working with limitations

Thing is, I’m starting to understand that I like working with self-imposed limitations.

Perhaps this is why I love QRP and low-power radio so much: I get a little thrill out of doing more with less.

Yesterday, even after I realized it would be a struggle to log my final three contacts on 30 meters, I persisted. One motivation was I’ve never completed a full activation using only 30 meters. With a little patience, I knew I could snag my ten contacts.

The only things making it a challenge were the facts that temps were dropping rapidly, winds were picking up, and the sun was setting. Hazel (the POTA dog) who so eagerly jumped in the car when she saw me put on my hiking boots earlier, was also starting to shiver.

Fortunately, after trying another short stint on 20 meters, I returned to 30 and worked two more stations in quick succession giving me a total of nine contacts.

It started to get darker, so I hunted and found an operator calling CQ  on 30 and simply made contact with him. He wasn’t a POTA station, just a general CQ call. He kindly gave me his details for the logs.

Lessons learned

I made a video of most of this activation and will upload it when I have a little bandwidth to do so. I’ll embed it in a shorter field report here on QRPer since I’ve described so much already.

Even though it was a challenge making ten contacts to accomplish a valid field activation with my time constraints, I’ll admit that I really enjoyed the challenge.

Next time I head to the field with the KX1, I’ll actually test the antenna prior to leaving the QTH.

In fact, I’m planning to make two radiators: one at an ideal length for 40 meters and above, and another–much longer–for 80 meters and above. Any advice and personal experience from KX1 owners would be much appreciated.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s only now dawned on me how much I enjoy making the most with self-imposed limitations or “trying to make lemonade with lemons.”

Do you feel the same? I’d love to hear your comments.

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Mission RGO One with the Chameleon Emcomm III Portable Antenna

While I tend to use small, field-portable transceivers on many of my Parks On The Air (POTA) activations, I also love using  tabletop transceivers when I have a picnic table available or decide to use my portable table. Tabletop radios often provide more power output when needed and better audio from their built-in speakers.

Although I have an Icom IC-756 Pro transceiver, and an Elecraft KXPA100 amplifier that I can pair with my KX2 and KX3 (or any QRP transceiver for that matter), my favorite tabletop fiel;d radio at present is the Mission RGO One 50 watt transceiver.

If you’re not familiar with the Mission RGO One, I’d encourage you to read my comprehensive review over on the SWLing Post.

In short: it’s a brilliant, simple, tabletop transceiver that’s very happy in the field and a pleasure to operate. My RGO One has the optional built-in antenna tuner (ATU). The rig designer is allowing me to keep this unit on extended loan as I help him evaluate and test updates and upgrades.

While I’ve used the RGO One on numerous POTA activations, I don’t believe I’ve ever made a video of it in use, so I decided to change that last week with another one of my real-time, real-life, unedited (lengthy!) videos of this activation (see video below).

Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)

As I’ve mentioned before, I love activating Lake Norman State Park because it has numerous spots for setting up my gear. While I actually prefer activations that require a bit of hiking, it’s nice from time-to-time to activate a state park that has so many widely-spaced picnic tables under tall trees.  That, and my right ankle is still healing after I twisted it in December, so I’m avoiding any proper trail hiking until it is better.

I made this activation of K-2740 on January 4, 2021.

Gear:

On the Air

This was my first activation of 2021!

Since I have Internet access at Lake Norman, I can check out the  POTA spots page on my phone or tablet and self-spot as well as see spots of other activators.

When I have Internet coverage like this–and I’m not pressed for time–I try to work as many Park-To-Park contacts as I can before I start calling CQ POTA myself.

As I mention in the video, one of my 2021 goals is to obtain a valid activation of each park with only five watts or less. This means that each time I start an activation, at least my first ten stations logged will be with a max of five watts of power. I would actually make the goal for all of my 2021 activations to be 100% QRP, but I evaluate gear regularly and part of that process is to push wattage limits so it’s simply not realistic.

This isn’t actually a crazy goal because a number of my transceivers max out at five watts or less, and I know it won’t be an impediment as I activate parks in CW.

In SSB, though? It makes it a bit more challenging, but certainly not impossible and I’m always up for a challenge!

So I started this activation by trying to work a few Park-To-Park contacts but first cranked the RGO One power down to five watts. Trying to be heard over other hunters in SSB was difficult, but CW was much easier.

After working a few P2P stations, I started calling CQ on the 40 meter band in SSB. I worked about four stations, then switched to CW and worked seven more on 40 meters.

Since I’d snagged my ten contacts for a valid activation, I moved up to 20 meters phone (SSB), cranked up the power to over 40 watts, and started calling CQ POTA and racked up an additional 11 contacts for a total of 26 contacts logged at this activation.

Here’s my QSOmap:

Click to enlarge

Note that I left the callsign labels off the map this time to make it a little easier to see the geo location of the stations I worked.

Real-Time Video

I made a video of the entire activation and posted it on my YouTube channel. As with my other videos, there are no edits and no ads. It’s all real-time and includes my many goof-ups! But hey–mistakes are all a part of a real activation!

Again, if you’d like to know more about the Mission RGO One, you might check out my review on the SWLing Post.

Feel free to comment with your thoughts or questions and thank you for reading QRPer.com!

POTA 2020: Taking a look at my stats

A few days ago, I checked out the leaderboard statistics on the POTA website to see exactly how many parks I activated and hunted in 2020.

This was one of the first times I’d checked my numbers in weeks. At the end of the day, I’m not a competitive guy, and perhaps one of the reasons I like POTA is it’s more an activity, less a contest.

National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) in 2016 was not a contest either, per the ARRL, but it felt more like one since it was a one year event. I definitely caught the NPOTA bug that year and mostly within the space of 5 months activated over 90 parks. It helped that my girls’ school bordered a national park.

One of my first NPOTA activations in 2016 with buddy Eric (WD8RIF).

Don’t get me wrong, NPOTA was AMAZING fun, but I had some serious withdrawal by the end of the event and even felt a touch of burn-out.

Turns out, so many NPOTA participants had withdrawal, that they formed POTA and even turned it into a non-profit organization.

POTA is a multi-year activity and is also international unlike NPOTA.

I do believe POTA has injected some much-needed life into amateur radio and has given operators a reason to take their radios to the field.

Back to the numbers

With all of that said, I was eager to see what my numbers looked like for 2020, so I checked out my entry on the leaderboard:

Activations

Here’s a breakdown of my activation numbers:

  • 86 Activations
  • 37 Unique Parks
  • 1721 total contacts:
    • 999 CW
    • 0 Data
    • 722 Phone

I found these numbers very interesting.

First of all, had I worked one more CW station, I would have made 1,000 contacts! Still: I like the ring of 999.

These numbers show me that CW has, indeed, become my favorite mode. I’ve only been activating in CW since July 2020 and it still overtook my total number of phone contacts.

The venerable Mountain Topper MTR-3B

To be clear, though: I love SSB and CW equally.

Thing is, I have come to appreciate how effective CW is when operating at QRP levels. Also, it’s much easier to find a clear spot on the dial to call CQ in CW–SSB, some weekends, it can be a real challenge

In addition, as long as I schedule my activation in advance, the POTA spots page will auto-spot me by pulling my details from the reverse beacon network (RBN). This is HUGE for me since a good 60% of the parks I activate have no mobile internet connectivity.

SSB, however, has much greater numbers in terms of operators. I’d be willing to bet there are seven SSB-only operators to every one operator who uses CW.

Phone activators sometimes amass DXpedition-like pile-ups. It’s pretty amazing.

No doubt, if you want to really pump up your POTA numbers, the best plan is to use both phone and CW.

Hunter Stats

I’m a very casual POTA hunter, still the numbers were less modest than I had assumed:

  • 281 Unique Parks
  • 337 Total Contacts
    • 203 CW
    • 1 Data
    • 133 Phone

POTA 2021

As with 2020, I won’t pay a lot of attention to my numbers. I do have a few goals, though:

  • Achieve all of my activations with five watts or less
  • Get my daughter K4TLI in on the POTA action (she’s close to taking her General test)
  • Make at least one data mode activation
  • Go to at least 20 new parks
  • Continue to have fun!
K4TLI logging for me like a champ

To be clear about my five watt challenge: I will use more than 5 watts in the field (indeed, I did yesterday). I often test transceivers and antennas during POTA activations, so need to push the power settings from time to time.

My goal is to work my first 10 contacts (thus achieving the required amount for a valid activation) of each activation with 5 watts or less.

How about you?

If you’re a POTA activator or hunter, have you looked at your numbers recently? What are your goals for 2020? If you’re new to POTA, do you plan to join in on the fun this year? If so, what equipment do you plan to use?

Please comment!

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Elecraft KX3 with the AX1 antenna and seeking distant stations

Although I’m a huge fan of wire antennas in the field, since I started using CW during my Parks On The Air (POTA) activations, I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with compromised portable antennas.

Typically, there’s a trade off with field antennas:

High-performance antennas tend to take more time to install. Some of my highest performance antennas are dipoles, doublets, delta loops, and end fed wire antennas. All of them require support from a tree if I want maximum height off the ground. Some (like the dipole) require multiple supports. While I actually enjoy installing wire antennas in trees, it typically takes me at least 10 minutes to install a wire antenna if it only needs one support and one counterpoise.

Compromised or low-profile antennas may lack performance and efficiency, but are often much quicker and easier to deploy.

In my opinion, field operators should keep both types of antennas in their arsenal because sometimes the site itself will dictate which antenna they use. I’ve activated many sites where wire antennas simply aren’t an option.

That was not the case last Tuesday, however.

Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)

On Tuesday, December 29, 2020, I stopped by Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)–one of my favorite local state parks–for a quick, impromptu activation.

I had no less than four antennas in my car that day and Tuttle is the type of site where I can install pretty much anything: they’ve a spacious picnic area with large tables, tall trees, and parking is close by. Tuttle is the perfect place to deploy not only a large wire antenna, but a large radio if you wish since you don’t have to lug it far from the car.

But en route to Tuttle I decided to take a completely different approach. One of the four antennas I had in the car that day was the Elecraft AX1 antenna.

Without a doubt, the AX1 is the most portable antenna I own. It’s so compact, I can carry it in my pocket if I wish.

When I first purchased the AX1, I was very skeptical and assumed it would only work when “the stars aligned”–days with better-than-average propagation and lots of POTA hunters/chasers looking for me.

The first time I used the AX1 in the field, it impressed me (understatement alert).

The second time, same thing.

In all of my AX1 activations, however, I had only operated on the 40 meter band where the antenna’s footprint looked more like a NVIS antenna than a vertical. Meaning, most of my contacts were in neighboring states like Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia (typically, those states are in my 40 meter skip zone).

The reason I hadn’t tried 20 or 17 meters with the AX1 is because I would start an activation on the 40 meter band and accumulate enough contacts to achieve a valid activation. Since I’m often pressed for time, I simply didn’t bother configuring the antenna for the higher bands.

Time for that to change!

The question I wanted answered at Tuttle: could the AX1 antenna work “DX” stations? By DX, I mean POTA DX, so distant states and provinces primarily–not necessarily other countries.

Gear:

On the air

I paired the Elecraft KX3 with the AX1 at Tuttle. This was the first time I’d ever tried this particular transceiver/antenna combo.

After setting up, I started on the 20 meter band and called CQ for a few minutes.

The first two stations I worked were in Texas (KF9RX and K5RX).

The third station (W6LEN) was in California.

California!?!

Honestly, it was/is hard for me to fathom how in the world 10 watts into a tabletop telescoping whip antenna could work a station exactly 2,083 miles (3,352 km)–and three time zones away–from my picnic table. I’m sure W6LEN has a great antenna on the other end, but I bet he would be surprised to learn that my 10 watt signal was being radiated by such a wee antenna.

 

 

I then worked stations in Florida (K2WO), Minnesota (N0UR), and New Hampshire (W2NR) and decided to move to 17 meters.

On 17 meters I worked W2NR in New Hampshire once again.

I should note here that each time you work a station on a different band or with a different mode, it counts as a separate contact in POTA. In other words, my contacts with W2NR on 20 meters and 17 meters counts as two logged contacts toward my overall QSO count. I’m very appreciative of hunters who go out of their way to work me on different bands and modes: those extra contacts help me achieve a valid activation in short order.

I then moved to 40 meters and worked stations from Tennessee, West Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan.

Video

Here’s a video of the entire activation. It’s a long video as it starts at set-up and continues until my last contact. There are no edits in this video–it’s a real-time, real-life deal and contains all of my bloopers:

Note that in the video I had the KX3’s volume maxed out so that it could be picked up by my iPhone microphone. The KX3’s wee internal speaker was vibrating the chassis ever so slightly. On the 40 meter band, it resonated enough that it moved the encoder slightly. Next time, I’ll plan to bring a portable external speaker (if you have any suggestions of good ones, let me know).

And here’s a QSOmap of the activation:

Click to enlarge.

Bioenno 3aH LiFePo battery

I should also add that I’m very pleased with my new Bioenno 3aH LiFePo 12V battery. You can see it in the photo above–it’s slim, lightweight, and very compact.

I purchased it during Bioenno’s Black Friday sale. I was a little concerned it might not have enough capacity to carry me through multiple activations–my other LiFePo batteries re 4.5 and 15 aH–but that does not seem to be the case at all! Not only did it provide nearly an hour of intense use on this activation, but it also powered three activations the previous day–all four activations on one charge! Brilliant!

Radio magic

As I mentioned in a previous post, this was one of those activations that reminded me of the magic of low-power radio. It was incredibly fun!

For all of those phone/SSB operators out there, I will eventually see how successful I can be doing a phone-only activation with the AX1 antenna. I’ll plan to make a video of it as well. I’ll need to plan this for a day when I have more time to spend on the air and at a site where I know I’ll have internet access to spot myself to the POTA network.  SSB isn’t quite as effective as CW when operating with a setup this modest. Still–it can be done! It just requires a little more patience. Please let me know if this sort of thing would interest you.

Until then, Happy New Year and 73s to everyone!

Cheers,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Upgrading my Yaesu FT-817 with G7UHN’s rev2 Buddy board

This article was originally published on the  SWLing Post.
Last August, SWLing Post contributor, Andy (G7UHN), shared his homebrew project with us: a genius companion control display for the venerable Yaesu FT-817 general coverage QRP transceiver.

Andy’s article caused me (yes, I blame him) to wax nostalgic about the popular FT-817 transceiver. You see, I owned one of the first production models of the FT-817 in 2001 when I lived in the UK.

At the time, there was nothing like it on the market: a very portable and efficient HF, VHF, UHF, multi-mode general coverage QRP transceiver…all for $670 US.

In 2001? Yeah, Yaesu knocked it out of the ballpark!

In fact, they knocked it out of the ballpark so hard, the radio is still in production two decades later and in demand under the model FT-818.

I sold my FT-817 in 2008 to raise funds for the purchase of an Elecraft KX1, if memory serves. My reasoning? The one thing I disliked about my FT-817 was its tiny front-facing display. When combined with the embedded menus and lack of controls, it could get frustrating at home and in the field.

I mentioned in a previous post that I purchased a used FT-817ND from my buddy, Don, in October, 2020. I do blame Andy for this purchase. Indeed, I hereby declare him an FT-817 enabler!

FT-817 Buddy board

When I told Andy about my ‘817ND purchase, he asked if I’d like to help him test the FT-817 Buddy board versions. How could I refuse?

Andy sent me a prototype of his Version 2 Buddy board which arrived in late November. I had to source out a few bits (an Arduino board, Nokia display, and multi-conductor CAT cable). Andy kindly pre-populated all of the SMD components so I only needed to solder the Arduino board and configure/solder the cable. I did take a lot of care preparing and soldering the cable, making sure there was no unintentional short between the voltage and ground conductors.

Overall, I found the construction and programming pretty straight-forward. It helped that Andy did a remote session with me during the programming process (thanks, OM!). Andy is doing an amazing job with the documentation.

I do love how the board makes it easier to read the frequency and have direct access to important functions without digging through embedded menus. While there’s nothing stopping you from changing the program to suit you, Andy’s done a brilliant job with this since he’s an experienced FT-817 user.

The Nokia display is very well backlit, high contrast, and easy very to read.

“Resistance is futile”

I mentioned on Twitter that, with the backlight on, the FT-817 Buddy makes my ‘817ND look like it was recently assimilated by The Borg.

Don’t tell any Star Trek captains, but I’m good with that.

Andy has a rev3 board in the works and it sports something that will be a game-changer for me in the field: K1EL’s keyer chip!

For more information about the FT-817 Buddy, check out Andy’s website.

Of course, we’ll keep you updated here as well. Many thanks to Andy for taking this project to the next level. No doubt a lot of FT-817 users will benefit from this brilliant project!

The magic of low-power amateur radio never dies

I’ll keep this post short and sweet because I plan to write up a full field report with video sometime next week.

Tuesday (December 29, 2020), I fit in an impromptu Parks On The Air (POTA) activation in the afternoon. The station was very modest: basically, my Elecraft KX3 paired with the super compact Elecraft AX1 antenna.

Here’s what I did with 10 watts and a wee telescoping whip during mediocre propagation:

I got a huge thrill out of this.

Honestly, this hobby never gets old and I honestly believe there’s magic in QRP!

Here’s wishing everyone a safe, healthy and happy New Year!

 

POTA Field Report: Two quick activations with the IC-705, mAT-705Plus, and CHA MPAS Lite

Back in the days of the National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) program in 2016, I made it a habit of doing multiple park activations in a morning, afternoon, or evening. I’ve done less of this in Parks On The Air (POTA) this year only because my time is more limited. Still, I love doing multiples because it gives me an opportunity to set up, play radio, achieve a valid activation, pack up, move on and repeat. Makes me feel like the only member of a pit stop crew. I love it!

Some call this RaDAR (Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio).

Monday (December 21, 2020) I had a block of time in the early afternoon to fit in up to two activations, en route to the QTH if all went well. While it wasn’t three, four, or five activations in an afternoon, I knew it would be a challenge to fit both in my tight schedule. If an activation took much longer than 30-40 minutes, I wouldn’t be able to complete both.

Since my goal was a quick activation, I reached for the Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical antenna which is so easy to deploy. I paired it with the Icom IC-705 and new mAT-705Plus ATU.

Gear:

Johns River Game Land (K-6915)

My first stop was Johns River Game Land. During hunting season, I spend less time in game lands because parking areas are full and even though I wear a blaze orange vest, I’d rather not be shot if I venture into the forest to set up. 🙂

Johns River has a very accessible large parking area off of a highway near Morganton, NC and I’ve never seen more than two vehicles there at a time.

I arrived on site just before noon on Monday and set up at the edge of the parking area. Unfortunately, this parking area is less than bucolic. Those who use this game land access point leave trash everywhere. You can tell groups gather with pickup trucks, make fire pits, drink beer, break bottles and throw their trash in the woods. Being a firm believer in Leave No Trace, this really, really gripes me.

I found a spot with the least amount of trash and set up in the gravel portion of the parking area so I didn’t drive over sharp objects or step on broken glass.

This is where the Chameleon MPAS Lite came in handy: I plunged its spike in the ground, unrolled the counterpoise, extended the antenna, and I was on the air in perhaps three minutes. No need to walk into the weeds and trees to hang an antenna.

I made a real-time, no-edit video of the entire activation with my iPhone. Since the iPhone was in use, I didn’t take a single photo at Johns River. That’s okay, though, because–as I mentioned–there wasn’t a lot there in terms of scenery. 🙂

Here’s the full video:

All in all, I worked 11 stations in short order. The video above approaches 30 minutes, but much of that time is dialog before the activation started. Toward the end, I also have the Mat-Tuner mAT-705Plus tune from 160-6 meters with the CHA MPAS Lite. If you’d like to skip directly to that bit, here’s the link.

I quickly packed my gear and set my sites on the next activation.

Lake James State Park (K-2739)

I arrived at Lake James State Park around 19:00 UTC and was on the air ten minutes later with the same equipment I used at Johns River.

I love Lake James because there are so many picnic sites and all have tall trees (for wire antennas) and gorgeous views. It doesn’t get any better for a POTA activator. Also, it’s a very short walk to the picnic spots. Since I recently sprained my ankle and can’t hike at present, this is a major plus. Like Johns River, I also have mobile internet access at Lake James which was a huge plus since the POTA spotting page wasn’t pulling spots from the Reverse Beacon Network like it normally does.

The Chameleon MPAS Lite 17′ vertical (above) served me well once again.

I worked 11 stations in short order.

Even though a vertical antenna isn’t optimal in the foothills of western North Carolina (due to poor ground conductivity), it had no problem sending my 10 watts across the US into California and up to Alaska. I still get a major thrill out of MPW (mileage per watt) like this!

I also made a short video at Lake James where I primarily talk about the trade off between convenience and performance with regards to field antennas. I also work a few stations on 30 meters:

Here’s a QSOMap of all of my contact from both Johns River and Lake James on Monday December 21, 2020:

Happy Holidays!

Today is Christmas Eve and I’ve no plans to do an activation (torrential rain, if I’m being honest, is dissuading me).

Instead, I’ll spend quality time with my family here at home. Same for Christmas Day. This evening, we’ll watch some our favorite Christmas shows/episodes: The Good Life (a.k.a. Good Neighbors), The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and of course a Charlie Brown Christmas to cap off the evening.

I know 2020 has put a damper on gatherings with family and friends–our family has certainly felt it this year. With that said, I think the amazing thing about ham radio is the community we build over the air–it’s certainly been an important community for me, this year especially.

Thank you, radio family!

Here’s wishing you, your family, and your friends the very best of the season!

73,
Thomas

K4SWL/M0CYI

POTA Field Report: Lake Norman State Park (K-2740) December 14, 2020

Monday afternoon (December 14, 2020), after completing a long to-do list of errands, I found myself with a chunk of free time in the late afternoon. Of course, I like to fill free time with radio time, so I packed the car and headed to one of my favorite spots: Lake Norman State Park (K-2740).

I love Lake Norman because it’s only a 35 minute drive from my parents’ house (where I was that Monday) and it’s nearly ideal for POTA because they’ve a number of picnic tables widely spaced, and lots of tall trees–a perfect spot for wire antennas. It’s also a quiet location and has good “POTA Mojo”–meaning, I’ve never had difficulty racking up contacts there.

Gear:

I was the only person at the picnic area of Lake Norman that afternoon. No surprise as it was after 3:00 PM local and temps were on a fast downward trend after a front moved through earlier in the day.

You may be able to see the Emcomm III hanging in the tree.

I used my arborist throw line and deployed the Emcomm III Portable antenna with ease.

On the Air

I hopped on the air around 21:30 UTC and started calling CQ POTA. The Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) spotted me and the POTA website auto-spotted me under a minute. Within ten minutes, I logged 8 contacts on 40M.

I then moved to 20 meters and worked an additional 5 contacts within 15 minutes.

Since I had worked a total of 13 stations, I had three more than needed for a valid POTA activation.

Since I was using the amazing Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna, I decided to move to 160M just to see if anyone work work me on the “top band.”

To be clear, 160 is one of the least active bands in POTA for obvious reasons: few ops care to deploy an antenna that can tune up on 160M, and few POTA hunters have an antenna at home to work the Top Band. Although it’s not as efficient as a resonant 160M antenna, the Elecraft T1 and mAT-705 easily tune it and get a great match.

I called CQ for a few minutes on 1810 kHz in CW and N4EX replied. Woo hoo! My first 160M POTA contact as an activator.

I then moved up to the phone QRP calling frequency of 1910 kHz and called CQ for about 10 minutes. No dice. Since I spotted myself, about two stations attempted to make contact, but unfortunately, my five watts just couldn’t be heard.

I checked the time at this point and it was 22:30 UTC. The sun was setting over Lake Norman, so I started packing up.

It was then received a text from my buddy Mike (K8RAT). The message read, “80M?”

I thought it might be fun to work Mike on 80M, so I re-connected the antenna and tuned up on 3538 kHz.

I think I called CQ once, and Mike replied with a strong signal. We had a nice exchange and when we sent our 73s, I heard a few stations calling me. Of course…the RBN picked up my CQ for Mike and the POTA site spotted me.

To be clear: it’s next to impossible for me to cut an activation short when I have hunters actively calling me, so I started replying.

Getting late…

Turns out, 80 meters was on fire. In 15 minutes, I logged 17 more stations–from Florida to Ontario–with 5 watts.

Next thing I know, it’s dark. Like, pitch dark…

My iPhone struggled to make this photo look brighter without the flash engaged.

Side note: someday, remind me to write a post about how one of my earliest National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) activations carried on until it was pitch dark outside and how that one activation forever changed how I pack my gear. In short: if you’re in the field and you aren’t intimately familiar with your gear and how its packed–even if you have a headlamp–there’s a good likelihood you’ll leave something behind.

It then hit me that Lake Norman State Park closes at sunset in the winter.  Doh!

Friendly park rangers

I finished my last exchange (with W3KC) and sent QRT despite a few others still calling me.

 

As I quickly powered down the IC-705, I noticed a truck pass by slowly on the road behind me. He drove to the end of the road then turned around and stopped behind me. I knew it was a park ranger doing final rounds.

He walked down to my table with flashlight in hand and I greeted him with an apology as I quickly packed up my gear. He was incredibly kind and encouraged me to take my time. He also saved me a trip to the car to grab my headlamp by illuminating the area with his Maglite flashlight/torch.

The park ranger asked a number of questions about ham radio, POTA, and the equipment I was using as I packed up. He told me he’s always found it fascinating and had met other radio amateurs at the park doing activations. I gave him my contact info and I hope he considers checking out the world of radio.

Because I’m meticulous about how I pack (again, lessons learned from the past) I had no issues in low light and left nothing behind.

I drove out of the park at exactly 6:00PM which is the park’s closing time. I was happy, at least, that I hadn’t delayed their closing!

All-in-all, it was a very fun activation–so much fun, I lost track of time. I logged 30 stations all over North America on four bands with 5 watts.

Have you ever found yourself operating and packing up in the dark? Any stories to share or advice? Please comment!

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!