Tag Archives: Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)

Poor propagation but impressive QRP DX with the CHA MPAS 2.0 vertical antenna

One of the funny things about doing field activations is you never know what to expect when you arrive on site, setup, and hop on the air. It’s part of the fun, really. There are certain things you can control, and then there’s propagation.

On Sunday, February 14, 2021 (yes, Valentine’s Day), we had a modest break in the weather and my wife and daughters encouraged me to hit the field to do a quick activation before an afternoon movie marathon. Sunday was the first day I had seen the sun at our house since the previous Wednesday when the cloud ceiling descended to the altitude of our house (3,300′ ASL) and stayed there. It also wasn’t raining incessantly on Sunday, which was a welcome change.

I checked with my go-to propagation friend Mike (K8RAT) before heading out the door and he informed me that things were dismal. I wasn’t surprised: earlier that morning I worked a couple CW stations calling CQ POTA on 40 meters who had very few takers.

Still…I wasn’t going to let propagation stop me.

“Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead.”

I chose the Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856) as my POTA site because it’s the closest park to me that has a covered shelter. I fully expected rain to move in within an hour and really didn’t want that to cut my radio play short.

Once I arrived on site, I decided to deploy my  Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical antenna. Why would I use a multi-band vertical instead of a more efficient wire antenna on a day with dodgy prop?

Aren’t you a handsome antenna!

For one thing, I had a limited amount of time and the MPAS 2.0 can be deployed and packed up within a few minutes. Also, I could position the MPAS 2.0 close to the shelter so if heavy rain moved in, I could even keep the base of the antenna protected and pack it up under cover. That and I really didn’t want to fiddle with a wire antenna in the rain if I didn’t have to.

Gear:

On The Air

In short: I only made 12 contacts during this brief activation.

But what I lacked in quantity, I made up for in quality!

Let’s skip straight to the QSOmap of the activation. Keep in mind these are contacts made with a vertical antenna and only 5 watts of power (green poly lines are CW, red is SSB):

Click to enlarge.

Days like Sunday we can’t expect large pileups with five watts, but we can expect normal–albeit brief–openings that allow for some serious low-power DX.

My five watts and a vertical caught Raffaelle’s (IK4IDF) attention in Italy. Sure…he has good ears with a nine element HF Yagi, but I worked him with 5 watts over a distance of 7653 km / 4755.36 mi.

951 miles per watt? Yes, please! I’ll take that!

Parks On The Air isn’t really about working DX, but it’s so much fun when it does happen.

Video

I made a video of the full activation which includes setting up the Chameleon CHA MPAS 2.0. As I mention each time, this is a real-time, real-life video so keep expectations low. 🙂 It includes a number of mistakes on my part.

Click here to view on YouTube.

I’m hoping this odd pattern of bad weather will break soon. I shouldn’t complain: I feel pretty fortunate that we haven’t gotten hit hard with some of the heavy winter conditions affecting much of North America right now.

As soon as it dries up a bit, I’m ready to hike to a local summit for a little SOTA (Summits On The Air) fun! I can’t wait…

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.