Flight of the Bumblebees 2015

Yesterday was the 2015 Flight of the Bumblebees. It’s a fun short contest put on by the Adventure Radio Society. Richard Fisher, KI6SN does most / all of the heavy lifting to make it happen. For that, I and many other hams who participate, are grateful.

“So you’re going out to be a bumblebee? What’s that all about?”

My wife Kathy was snickering as she said it. She loves poking fun at me, all of it in good spirit. That’s how it is after nearly 41 years of marriage.

“Well, just as bumblebees go away from their nests to gather pollen, so we radio bumblebees travel outdoors to gather QSOs.”

It was the best analogy I could come up with on the fly.

I was late leaving my house as the contest was already underway for 50 minutes.

No doubt my CW and outdoor radio mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID, had already scored twenty or more QSOs. He’s so very good at outdoor radio and can hear Morse at up to speeds of 35 words per minute (WPM) or so. I’m a pathetic 10 WPM on my best day.

But I’m having fun and getting better all the time. I just need to spend more time doing it. Jim has a 57-year head start on me. But I digress.

To be a bumblebee you need to be outdoors. The weather here in central New Hampshire was dismal. It was cloudy and rain felt like it could fall at any time. The cloud ceiling was well below 1,000 feet.

I had decided to drive to a 90-acre parcel I own and operate from the top of a grand hill. There I could erect a sloper antenna pointing to the west and southwest where most of the other bees would be.

My plan was to get up there, set up, get a Q or two and then call Jim to come up and work with me. He lives just twenty minutes away. That’s a short drive in central NH!

But Jim must have ESP. He foiled my scheme!

(Imagine Morse code ring tone now of: W1PID)

“What’s up?” I was in shock he was calling me and I was only on the road for about ten minutes.

“What are you doing? I’ve been operating for nearly 40 minutes and having virtually no luck.”

“I’m on my way to my land to set up.”

“WHAT? And you didn’t call me?”

“I was going to call you once I was up there and set up with a couple of Q’s under my belt. You can’t be a bumblebee operating at home you know! Why don’t you come up and join me?”

“I’ll be there in 30 minutes.”

I was both happy and disappointed at the same time – disappointed that my plan had been spoiled.

It turns out that happiness ruled the rest of the day.

Once up at my land, it took virtually no time to set up my par EndFedz multi-band 10/20/40-meter antenna as a sloper. The top end of the antenna was a good 30 feet in the air and the matchbox end with my RG-174 coax cable was about 8 feet off the ground.

I had it sloping to the SSW.

Jim arrived just as I was about to move my truck so I could extend the coax cable into the cab. The mosquitos were thick and hungry and it seemed it could pour at any moment.

“Are you just putting your stuff away?” Jim knew better.

“No, I’m just getting set up. I only had a 15-minute head start to get here once you called me.”

Within a few moments we were on the air with my trusty HB-1B.

We tried my little portable speaker so we both could listen, but the internal battery was low and it was causing all sorts of RF with the radio. Out came the earbuds and we each shared one.

20 meters was alive.

“Wow, I couldn’t hear ANYTHING at my house. This setup on the hill is making a big difference.”

Within two minutes I had worked K4BAI.

Hah, I say “I” but it was “us”.

Jim was logging and using his SUPERIOR listening skills to capture call signs and all else the first time.

It normally would take me a few minutes to *hear* a fellow ham’s call sign as I often can only get one letter or two in a string at a time.

Jim has often scolded me about me sending kelp to someone who’s in distress needing *help*.

We were both in the truck cab laughing and having a great time.

Within ten minutes we had another Q. N9A

It was then time for a break. Often during breaks we shoot guns.

When we had our fill of lead and smoke, we operated again.

I switched to 40 meters and BOOM there was N3AO.

“That’s Carter!” Jim was talking about Carter Craige, the husband of the president of the ARRL, Kay Craige. Jim and Carter are old friends and I got to meet him last summer at the ARRL Centennial Convention.

I sent him my call, but he didn’t recognize it.

Jim took my micro Pico paddles after I signed off with Carter and all of a sudden they stopped sending dah.

The cable had gone bad.

How experienced is Jim? He immediately put the paddle on it’s side and used the dit side as a straight key to complete the QSO with Carter.

I was in awe.

I dug into my plastic box and pulled out a spare cable to make the Pico paddles work again.

We then worked N4HAY – I say we, but it was all Jim as he heard him first time.

By then it was time to pack up and leave.

I have to say that yesterday was in the top three of all my outdoor outings with Jim. I had a blast and felt good about hearing lots of what was sent by the other hams.

I’ll never be as good as Jim, well maybe I will, but it doesn’t matter.

What matters at the end of the day is just friendship and having fun – no matter what the speed.

Author’s Note: I do have a goal to get to 18-20 WPM. When I’m really proficient at that speed, I’ll be ordering an Elecraft KX3 as a present for myself.

Who knows, by then it may be the KX4!

:-)

 

QRP from Screw Auger Falls Newry, ME

Today I found myself in western Maine helping to get communications set up for a world-class racing event – the New England Forest Rally.

I was with two fellow hams, Mark Kerrigan – K1MLK, and Ryan Freise – KB1VLC. We had to drive from the Sunday River ski resort in Newry, ME up past Errol, NH to a narrow gravel road the racers would zoom down on Saturday July 18, 2015.

We were there to pinpoint the start and finish lines and the places where radio operators would observe the race. The day was drop-dead gorgeous.

Blue sky, low humidity and temperatures in the mid 70’s F.

By noon our mission was complete and I had the rest of the day free.

On the way from Sunday River, we passed through Grafton Notch State Park. I saw a sign for Screw Auger Falls and decided that’s where I was going to eat lunch and operate. The falls are in the Bear River that starts at the head of the notch.

screwaugerfalls

It turned out to be a wise decision.

This natural wonder was created by the retreating continental glacier about 12,000 years ago.

geologyscrewauger

On this day I shared this magical place with families with small children who splashed and played in the crystal-clear water flowing down Bear River towards the falls.

familyscrewauger

I’d say at least thirty or forty people were at or around the falls, but I found a place on the bare bedrock just above the falls where I could eat lunch listening to the water bounce off the majestic rock.

The solid granite resembled carved wood with the smooth grooves cut by the moving water those thousands of years ago.

The paper cup is for scale. There were many other areas where the granite was shaped by the moving water containing sand and gravel. Photo credit: Tim Carter

The paper cup is for scale. There were many other areas where the granite was shaped by the moving water containing sand and gravel. Photo credit: Tim Carter

While eating lunch I pondered what the sound must have been like when the giant glacier was melting and cutting away at the dense rock. How much water was flowing down over the bedrock? Was it like Niagara Falls of today? Was it even bigger? Who knows.

I also thought about my very good friend and mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID. Here I was on my first real solo outdoor radio adventure. There’s no doubt he would have loved this place and I said a prayer that I would not get skunked. That’s my goal now when I go out.

No skunks. I had plenty of time on this brilliant afternoon, so I was feeling good about keeping any skunks in the adjacent woods.

I was anxious to operate and wanted to get away from all the people. I walked up a trail into the woods and there were private eating areas along the Bear River with very nice picnic tables right at the edge of the small river’s banks.

The trees around each table created delightful privacy. Photo credit: Tim Carter

The trees around each table created delightful privacy. Photo credit: Tim Carter

Each table was perhaps 60 feet from the other with plenty of trees to provide privacy.

I found an empty one with a perfect tall birch tree to accept my par EndFedz 10/20/40M antenna.

My first throw was perfect but my microcord line came undone from my special backpack retention hook and dangled in the air 9 feet above me. Drat!

I pulled down the line and three minutes later had my halyard up in the tree at the perfect distance for my 20-meter antenna height. The wire hung perfectly vertical next to the table.

Within minutes I had my HB-1B radio out with the micro Pico iambic paddles and my mini speaker attached. All of this fits into a tiny water-resistant plastic box.

Once I was set up and turned on the radio, I thought something was wrong. I heard absolutely no signals across the entire portion of the 20-meter band my license privileges allow me to work.

I decided to go down to the low part of the band just above 14.025 Mhz. That’s where the pros are and maybe, just maybe, one might work me if he heard me.

I started to call CQ. I did it for ten minutes and there was nothing. No answer – nothing.

I rotated the tuning dial and went higher up.

Once again, I called CQ for probably eight minutes.

I got nowhere fast.

I then decided to go back down to 14.025.20.

All of a sudden someone answered back!

K1DW

His signal to me was very strong. The only issue was he was sending Morse code a little bit faster than my brain could process it.

I had his call sign correct. Of that there was no doubt.

I gave him a 589 signal report and he gave me a 389.

Alone there at the picnic table I savored not getting skunked.

When you operate outdoors as I do, so many things are against you.

But on this day, I walked back to my truck pleased. I had newfound confidence that I can just about get a contact from anywhere at anytime.

As Kenny Chesney says in his famous hit song, “Only time will tell, but it ain’t talkin’.”

 

Lobstercon 2015

On Friday, July 10, 2015 I was loading up a few last-minute things into my Super Duty Ford F-250 4×4 truck. At 8:00 a.m. I was supposed to pick up my good friend Jim Cluett, W1PID, at his home.

We were then off to Lobstercon! This event has been happening for nearly twenty years and it’s a cozy gathering of ham radio operators that prefer to use 5 watts or less of power when transmitting. Sometimes some operators nuzzle up to 10 watts.

In ham radio, low-powered operation is referred to as QRP. That’s a Q-sign meaning reduce power when transmitting.

I arrived at Jim’s house a little early. That’s always a good idea because his watches and clocks run about 15 minutes fast for some reason.

He was ready to go and his sweet wife Judy was helping us load up his gear and food. Little did I know at this point how much delicious food and fresh fruit she had packed for our little-man-self-discovery trip.

As we made the turn to get on I-93 south, I said, “We’re going the scenic way. I don’t feel it’s a good idea to drive south to Miami only to then turn around to drive north to Maine.”

“It’s not Miami. It’s Concord,” Jim said.

Going to Concord would allow us to use roads that are rated for higher speeds, but Google Maps told me that the route I picked would get us there at the same time with less mileage.

Chatter filled the truck and the time passed faster than a bat swoops through the air.

By 10:45 a.m. we had arrived at the Thomas Point Beach Campground, the center of the vortex of Lobstercon. It was a handsome campground with fine manicured large lawns and many lofty trees that provided lots of shade and some pine pitch.

Screen shot 2015-07-13 at 4.10.39 PM

“Turn left here and drive past those trees. We want to camp over there as far away as we can from the others.”

Jim was instructing me based on his past experiences at this festive event. This was my first time at Lobstecon and I was worried if there was some crazy initiation for first-time attendees.

Within a few minutes I had my tent up, but I had it pointed the wrong direction. It had been 40 years since I had really camped and slept in a small tent, so it was going to be a re-learning experience for sure.

Here's the tent. It set up in just minutes. Much faster than Jim set up his. CLICK the photo to order one!

Here’s the tent. It set up in just minutes. Much faster than Jim set up his. CLICK the photo to order one!

I had a swell Eureka two-man tent with a wonderful rain fly. I bought it nearly twenty years ago for a father / daughter Girl Scout camping trip. For some reason the trip never happened and the tent had been stored safely for all that time.

Once we had our tents up, we went exploring to see who was there.

The first person I met was Carl Achin, WA1ZCQ. He has a forty-three-year-old orange tent he sleeps in and it was set up right in the middle of a large grassy area.

He’s a very sociable person and told me all about his thin antenna up in the air and the *white reflector* on the ground. Most other people would have called the white wire laying on the ground a counterpoise. But I digress.

I got to meet Seab, AA1MY and his lovely wife Sharon. They were camping for a week and had a very cute small teardrop trailer that was ultra-compact. It have a delightful screened vestibule that would easily accommodate four chairs and a small table.

Soon it was time for lunch and Jim and I went back to our camp site.

“Judy made you a sandwich.”

Oh my was I hungry and it was delicious. It was a vegetarian medley inside a pita bread. Boy did it hit the spot. I really loved the wonderful brown waxed paper it was wrapped in.

We then ate a few delicious cookies made by Judy.

The afternoon was spent visiting with many of Jim’s radio buddies and I got to meet all sorts of radio icons and titans in the QRP.

The plan was to go to Cook’s famous restaurant at the end of Route 24 on Bailey Island just the other side of the world-famous crib bridge between Bailey and Orr’s Islands.

About twelve people went to dinner here from the campground and Jim and I sat at a table with Dave Benson, K1SWL and his wonderful wife Katie.

As we ate dinner the sun was getting low in the sky. This is when the color temperature is very warm and the crib bridge looked simple stunning.

cribbridge

After we ate, we raced down to Land’s End where Route 24 stops at the sea.

It’s a very popular spot and some other locals or tourists were there too.

Here's Land's End at Route 24 on Bailey Island. Photo credit: Tim Carter

Here’s Land’s End at Route 24 on Bailey Island. Photo credit: Tim Carter

Jim decided to set up his radio to see what would happen.

The options for an antenna were bleak. He decided to attach his 27-foot wire to the open window of my rear cap. It was just 6 feet off the ground at that point.

The antenna then stretched across some small trees and who-knows-what down to the rocks just by the salt water. I’d say the average height of the antenna above the ground was maybe 4 feet.

There's Jim working DX to Europe on a wretched antenna! Photo credit: Tim Carter

There’s Jim working DX to Europe on a wretched antenna! Photo credit: Tim Carter

I was down helping but had to leave because the mosquitos were thick as thieves and hungry.

Within a few minutes, Jim had worked three DX contacts all in Europe. I was astonished that horrible antenna would work. It must have had something to do with the proximity to the salt water.

After getting back to the campground we helped Seab get his sloper antenna soldered and working. We had started the project before dinner.

Just after getting it hooked up, I went back and went to bed. I was beat.

I was restless all night sleeping and although I had a nice inflatable pad, I was not comfortable. It could have been much worse had I just slept on the ground.

At 5 a.m. it was light but a nearby camper decided to fire up his Honda 2000-watt generator. They are renowned for being quiet, but believe me it woke me up and kept me awake.

By 7 a.m. Jim was up and we had a delicious granola and strawberry breakfast courtesy of none other – Judy!

The morning was spent with more visiting and introductions.

The event organizers had a wonderful lunch spread with burgers, hot dogs brats and all sorts of great dressings.

By 3:30 p.m. it was time to head home.

Jim had seen all his friends and I had my fill of the event too.

We didn’t stay for the trademark dinner of lobster – the dish the event is named for.

Perhaps next year!

I recommend you attend Lobstercon 2016 if you want to meet some great people.

Hopefully you’ll run into Arn, K0ZK. Ask him why he doesn’t apply for the vanity call sign K0TNT. It’s a great story.

 

 

 

Mt. Washington 2015 Foot Race

“Put me on the spare board for this one, Cliff.”

That’s what I said to Cliff Dickinson, N1RCQ, back a month or so ago about the first public-service ham radio event of the year on the flanks of Mt. Washington. It was time for over 1,200 people to run, run/walk or walk to the top of Mt. Washington with the race set to start at 9:00 a.m.

I knew I’d be busy with re-roofing my home and I also felt there would be other new hams who would want to experience the epic nature of providing emergency communications on the infamous Mt. Washington Auto Road.

But as things turned out, Cliff needed me and I was driving towards the iconic mountain at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday June 20, 2015. It’s a good thing I left a little early because once I was on the north side of Crawford Notch, I got stuck in a quarter-mile backup of runners and other volunteers who were trying to pull into the event.

The day was cool and sunny. It was a rare bluebird day at the rock pile as Mt. Washington is affectionately known by those that work there and visit on a regular basis.

The term comes from the random large rocks that litter the top 1,000 feet or so of the mountain. The continental glaciers weren’t thick enough to completely cover Mt. Washington and carry them away. Normal weathering has left behind the millions of rocks of all shapes and sizes you see towards the top of this magnificent mountain.

I'm at the hairpin turn landmark just below the cow pasture. This turn is about at the 5,550-foot elevation. Photo credit: Tim Carter

I’m at the hairpin turn landmark just below the cow pasture. This turn is about at the 5,550-foot elevation. Photo credit: Tim Carter

The base area of Mt. Washington was a hive of activity. Runners, friends or spouses of runners, volunteers, auto road employees were all bustling about. It’s controlled bedlam.

Hundreds of runners have a friend or family member take a car up to the summit so the runner can have a ride back down after the race. This traffic clogs the auto road from 7:15 a.m. until about 8:30 a.m. After that, the race organizers close down the road to all but authorized support vehicles.

I was stationed at the Hairpin Turn that’s just below the cow pasture near the summit. It’s about 700 feet in elevation below the summit. It’s a little over six miles from the base area to the Hairpin Turn.

This location has a great view out to the northeast and across to a few of the other peaks of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains. You’re at the top of what they call the Great Gorge.

I'm reasonably sure this it Mt. Jefferson with Mt. Clay off to it's left. Yes, that's a patch of snow still hanging around. Photo credit: Tim Carter

I’m reasonably sure this it Mt. Jefferson with Mt. Clay off to it’s left. Yes, that’s a patch of snow still hanging around. Photo credit: Tim Carter

My favorite part of an event on Mt. Washington is what I call the lull.

After the auto road closes but before the race begins, it’s just you and the mountain. On this particular bright and clear day, it was truly food for the soul.

The lull lasts longer the higher you are on the mountain. In my case it took the lead runner about 45 minutes to make it up to my location.

I usually ask to be higher up on the mountain for this reason, plus I enjoy the views when the weather cooperates.

Not only was it cloud-free – a rarity at this weird weather location – but it was unusually calm. There was not much wind. That’s even more rare.

This particular day it was peaceful, serene and quiet. It was just me and a black spider that must have had some roadrunner DNA in it because he could scatter over the blacktop like a quarter horse.

Before the race begins, it’s a normal practice for the net control operator to perform a roll call to make sure all the other radio operators are ready and the radio signals are strong. Each operator chimed in when called and some talked about food. I was fixated on pulled pork for some reason.

The race began and within an hour runners of all ages were huffing and puffing their way past me.

Here's a group of runners clawing their way to the top. The photo really doesn't show well the steepness of the inside part of the hairpin turn. Photo credit: Tim Carter

Here’s a group of runners clawing their way to the top. The photo really doesn’t show well the steepness of the inside part of the hairpin turn. Photo credit: Tim Carter

The Hairpin Turn location is a mentally tough part of the course for many runners. The grade at the inside part of the turn, the line most runners take, approaches 25 percent or more. By the time most runners get to this point, they’re exhausted and each step is an effort.

One woman was eternally grateful I took a crushed empty paper cup she got from the last water stop.

“Oh, thank you so much. Each gram of weight I can get rid of helps me make it to the top.”

A silly paper cup. How much does an empty paper cup weigh? Maybe a half an ounce? But after six grueling miles, to the average runner, it may seem like 50 pounds.

Many of the runners groaned or lamented out loud when they saw they had to grind their way up and past this short and steep part of the course.

As I watched each runner looking for signs of distress, my biggest takeaway was determination and goal setting.

I got to see George Etzweiler again. George is 95 years old and this year his running or walking companion was his 65-year-old son. Two years ago it was his grand daughter Katie.

Here's George Etzweiler and his son. If George can walk or climb to the top of Mt. Washington at age 95, you know you can do things you thought impossible. Photo credit: Tim Carter

Here’s George Etzweiler in the beige shirt on the right. His son has his hands on his hips. If George can walk or climb to the top of Mt. Washington at age 95, you know you can do things you thought impossible. Photo credit: Tim Carter

George made it to the top grunting with each exhaled breath. How bad did he want to finish? What was his level of determination?

Not too far behind George was the last competitor. I don’t know her name. But she did finish the race and she was all alone doing it.

Here she is, number 174. She's all alone in her thoughts trudging up the last mile. Photo credit: Cliff Dickinson  GoPro camera

Here she is, number 174. She’s all alone in her thoughts trudging up the last mile. That’s me and my truck to the right. I was getting ready to snap the next photo you’ll see. Photo credit: Cliff Dickinson GoPro camera

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to use this race as inspiration to finish all sorts of projects, many of which have nothing to do with physical exercise. I believe it’s all about mental toughness at the end of the day.

Now you get an idea of how steep the inside part of the Hairpin turn is. Can you imagine how your mind would be screaming at you to STOP? Photo credit: Tim Carter

Here’s my photo of number 174. Now you get an idea of how steep the inside part of the Hairpin turn is. Can you imagine how your mind would be screaming at you to STOP? Photo credit: Tim Carter

The last runner, and just about every runner that day on Mt. Washington, decided she wasn’t going to give up and her legs obeyed willingly.

Good for her, George and all others who displayed such strong mental fortitude!

What are you going to finish now? Tell me in the comment section below.

 

 

 

Livermore Falls Campton, NH QRP Adventure

The hot temperatures today gave me a chance to do a much-needed outdoor radio adventure with Jim, W1PID at the stunning Livermore Falls located in a deep gorge of metamorphic rock sliced in two by the Pemigewasset River.

I’m re-roofing my house and it’s so hot on the roof after 10 a.m. when the sun’s out, I’ve decided for my own safety and sanity to work early morning and late afternoon unless it’s cloudy. Today was a therapeutic day of outdoor radio for the soul.

Here's an old bridge that used to have cars go across the top. The span to the left in the photo has already collapsed from age.

Here’s an old bridge that used to have cars go across the top. The span to the left in the photo has already collapsed from age.

Livermore Falls is a great spot for young people who come to swim and swing from a long rope tied to an old rusty bridge splashing into the cool deep water of the Pemi as locals call it.

You know if this bridge could talk it would have scores of great stories. Imagine what it could say about some of the times the river was raging below trying to sweep the iron away.

You know if this bridge could talk it would have scores of great stories. Imagine what it could say about some of the times the river was raging below trying to sweep the iron away.

Today I was fishing for some DX above the frothy water and barely avoided a skunk even though the 20-meter band was pulsating from dead to alive much like blobs float around in a lava lamp.

Jim set up in the sun about 100 feet away in the hot sun under his new dipole antenna. With his multi-band Elecraft KX3 he worked Russia, Israel, and Italy. I was restricted to 20 meters because I couldn’t get my par EndFedz antenna up as high as I would have liked to take advantage of its 40-meter extra length.

The KX3 gives you so many possibilities with its built-in tuner.

The KX3 gives you so many possibilities with its built-in tuner.

When I first powered up my trusty HB-1B the band was dead. I mean no breath, no signals, no nothing dead-on-arrival DEAD. My radio, on it’s best day, puts out a meager five watts. This is the upper threshold of low-powered radio, better known as QRP.

If you decide to do outdoor QRP radio, you discover in short order that to be successful you need some luck and patience. Today I was looking for a little help from the sun since it wasn’t scalding me on my roof. I needed it to energize the atmosphere just right to help me make a contact or two or three.

But that’s the fun of outdoor radio. You don’t know what you’ll get and so much depends on things you can’t control. This is what makes a completed QSO that much more fulfilling.

I tuned up and down 20 meters and all of a sudden while at 14.060 I heard the faintest CQ being called.

It was Roger, K3RNC from Maryland. He answered me back. After exchanging RST reports, I gave him a generous 359 and he have me a 559, I told him I was QRP.

His response, “QRP ALSO.”

How cool was that?

Here I am moments after my QSO with Roger in Maryland. TNX Roger!

Here I am moments after my QSO with Roger in Maryland. TNX Roger!

After my QSO I walked up to tell Jim and he was busy working a station. He then got up and came down and put his arm around me.

“What’s that for?” I asked because it’s rare for us men to show affection.

“I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you made a contact. It’s a fantastic day here,” he replied with a huge grin on his face.

It’s has been an odd spring this year with me gone to Antigua and then coming back working on my roof. What I thought would be lots of outdoor radio days this season has turned into just an outing here and there for me.

I enjoy Jim’s company and I know he does mine even if I still have pitiful slow CW skills. It’s no matter. I’m getting better and I’m having fun. He’s always told me to focus on fun, but keeps saying I’ll have more fun if I’m faster.

Only time will tell, but it ain’t talkin’. Who knows better than Kenny Chesney.

I love everything about Livermore Falls. My college degree is geology and seeing very hard rock resist the cutting action of running water for thousands of years is almost as exciting as making a contact pulling faint radio waves from the ether.

This kind of beauty surrounds Jim and I in NH. We're so lucky to live here.

This kind of beauty surrounds Jim and I in NH. We’re so lucky to live here. You can see how high the water can get looking at the dead tree impaling the fence and the driftwood above it.

Before I set up, I decided to take a walk to the base of the bridge where it connects to the earth. I wonder how many drivers would go over the bridge again year ago if they saw how one of the primary piers was supported on stacked slabs of granite!

There's no substitute for gravity and friction.

There’s no substitute for gravity and friction.

It’s easy to forget how blessed I am being able to drive just 30 or 45 minutes from my house to countless gorgeous scenic outdoor locations here in New Hampshire.

My guess is tens of thousands of other operators across the world would jump at the chance to do what Jim and I do. I remind myself after each outing to never ever take this beauty for granted.

I’ll do my best to chronicle and share each scenic outdoor adventure with you as they happen. If you have a chance to get outdoors, do it. It’s a completely different amateur radio experience.

 

Antigua QRP Adventure

On May 14, 2015 I whisked through immigration and customs at the John Bird International Airport in St. John’s, Antigua for the second time in three years.

Business as an expert witness in a trial concerning construction defects in the home of the Brazilian Ambassador drew me to this island that’s part of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea.

I was to spend a week on this tropical island with lots of time to get on the air with my QRP radio, the trusty HB-1B.

Never before had I had the real chance to operate relaxed on the air for hours. It was my chance to hone my beginner skills at CW. It was to be my first time operating next to a giant puddle of salt water which helps radio signals. Believe me, I’d need help!

I was filled with excitement about what might happen in the next seven days, the trial notwithstanding!

The WX

I live in New Hampshire and the winter of 2014-2015 was bitter cold. Spring came late to the great Northeast Kingdom. The morning I flew out of JFK airport, the air temperature in New York City was below 50 F.

Suffice it to say that the hot and humid weather in Antigua was a shock to my system.

Being so close to the equator, the sun’s infrared and ultraviolet rays are intense from 10 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. It was hard to be in the sun in the middle of the day without great discomfort. On the third day there I got sunburned and my new name was Lobster Man.

Need I say more? Wait TEN MINUTES before jumping in pool.

Need I say more? Wait TEN MINUTES before jumping in pool.

My QTH

I stayed in an older small two-bedroom house that’s just 30 feet from the sea. The owners call this quaint and romantic hut the Love Shack as they have guests stay in it frequently.

This is the Love Shack as it's called by the owners.

This is the Love Shack as it’s called by the owners.

It had a glorious screened-in porch that faces the deep blue and turquoise water, but there was no nearby tree at this end of the abode to put up an antenna.

This is a simple map of the shack in relation to the sea and the tree.

This is a simple map of the shack in relation to the sea and the tree.

As a result, I operated most of the time on a patio at the other end of the shack.

Most of my contacts happened sitting on this bench. One day a lizard tried to take a bite out of one of my toes here. Bad lizard.

Most of my contacts happened sitting on this bench. One day a lizard tried to take a bite out of one of my toes here. Bad lizard.

Right next to the patio was a wondrous tree that accepted my micro-cord halyard with no complaints. Once the cord is up in the tree, it’s not an issue to haul up the antenna.

The tree did its job.

The tree did its job.

Five of the nights I stayed there, I slept on a couch on the porch. It was glorious listening to the waves crash on the rocks.

This is inside the screened porch looking out. You can see there on the left my unmade bed. Life is hard in Antigua.

This is inside the screened porch looking out. You can see there on the left my unmade bed. Life is hard in Antigua.

As you might imagine, it’s pitch black at night down there. The humid air makes it difficult to see lots of stars, but in the middle of the night on May 18th, I saw a brilliant shooting star. It was so vivid and the light so bright I was in awe. It streaked across Boone’s Bay and was the brightest shooting star I’ve ever seen.

I don’t know why I was awake to see it, but I felt it was a sign that my radio fortunes would increase the remainder of the trip.

This is the shore just below the screened porch. I can still hear the gentle waves washing up on the limestone. The tide level each 6 hours rose or fell only about 30 inches is my guess.

This is the shore just below the screened porch. I can still hear the gentle waves washing up on the limestone. The tide level each 6 hours rose or fell only about 30 inches is my guess.

Antennas

I brought with me my tested and reliable par EndFedz 10, 20 and 40-meter antenna. It was the workhorse most of the days. This is a marvelous antenna for outdoor radio. The wire is as thin as an uncooked piece of angel-hair spaghetti.

All of my gear that I needed to operate fit into a water-resistant plastic box that’s only 3.5 inches tall, 7 inches wide and 6 inches deep. Isn’t that amazing?

Everything is in this box. The HB-1B is buried down under everything else. The only thing I need to operate is a rock to help get the green microcord halyard up into a tree. I partially filled water bottle is my weapon of choice.

Everything is in this box. The HB-1B is buried down under everything else. The only thing I need to operate is a rock to help get the green micro cord halyard up into a tree. A partially filled water bottle is my weapon of choice.

Less than two weeks before arriving, I also made a resonant center-fed 30-M dipole antenna as the HB-1B is set up for that band.

The first day there I set up my par EndFedz antenna as a sloper in the giant tree. It sloped to the north and it appears that was my best setup during the trip.

On the second day I threw the halyard higher in the tree and achieved a nearly vertical set up with the par. I was able to make contacts, but not as many as with it as a sloper. Propagation could have also been an issue.

On the last day I finally set up my resonant 30-M dipole and it worked quite well. It was a gentle sloper starting high up in the great tree and the other end was close to the screened-in porch. It also sloped to the north.

My License

To operate legally in Antigua, you need to obtain a license from the government. You can read all about that process and how I got my Antiguan call sign V25TB.

The Bands

What’s the old saying? Timing is everything.

The band conditions during the period of May 14 – 20, 2015 were not the best. Add to that the difficulty of operating at a power level of 5 watts or less. Yes, CW can travel quite far with minimal power, but it really helps if propagation is favorable.

I was able to complete a QSO with UT5URW – Andrei in Kiev, Ukraine, so I was thrilled with that. He got the long-distance award!

My outdoor QRP and CW mentor Jim Cluett – W1PID was able to work me several times. I was very excited that I was able to hear him and him me. He’s been eternally patient with my slow and steady, but sometimes backwards, progress in HF and CW. Jim is one of the giants in outdoor radio and has established quite a reputation in the QRP community.

A new friend, Dave Benson – K1SWL who lives in New Hampshire and is an expert at low-power operation, was in my log two times. What a delight that was to work one of the icons of QRP radio!

What I Learned

My biggest takeaway from the experience was it pays to have a longer coaxial cable from the antenna to where you think the best place is to operate. Just before the trip I purchased a 25-foot RG-174 cable. It was fantastic, but a 50-foot one would have had me operating on the screened porch. However, that long cable may have introduced too much loss with my QRP setup.

There are always compromises.

I also came away knowing that I truly love doing CW and am more determined than ever to get better and better. There’s something magical to me about CW. It’s such a basic language when you think about it, but it confounds many.

My attraction to CW is you have to work your brain to understand what you’re hearing and you get to use your hands on the micro Palm Pico paddles to send the dihs and dahs thousands of miles through the ether. As Jim often says, “It’s magic.”

Yes it is. Powerful magic for the soul.

I was also happy for all I was able to work so they would have Antigua as another foreign country in their log books. Antigua is a small country and it’s a third-world country. There can’t be but a handful of amateur operators on the island.

My Log

Here are the four pages of contacts I made while in Antigua. It’s a week I’ll never forget, that’s for sure!

log1

log2

log3

log4

Winslow State Park Mt. Kearsarge Outing

Yesterday I had a chance to test my determination to avoid a QSO skunk and to eat at least one third of two bags of potato chips I purchased for a special outing with an icon and a titan in QRP (low power) outdoor radio. I was headed to the trailhead of the paths that lead to the top Mt. Kearsarge in Winslow State Park in central New Hampshire.

Joining me on the outing were Jim Cluett – W1PID and Dave Benson – K1SWL. Jim is regarded by many on the East Coast as one of the titans of outdoor low-powered radio. Dave is an icon in QRP radio as he’s the founder of Small Wonders Lab from which the infamous Rockmite QRP radio was borne.

Here's Dave Benson - K1SWL. I caught him with his eyes closed, he's not sleeping though. He's busy adding another entry to his massive log. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s Dave Benson – K1SWL. I caught him with his eyes closed, he’s not sleeping though. He’s busy adding another entry to his massive log. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

With abnormal high temperatures over the past week, the devil black flies were swarming like Christmas shoppers on Thanksgiving afternoon. We were about to find out who would win the battle as a less-determined operator would skitter from the stunning overlook skunked with no contacts or QSOs.

The other problem I faced was making sure all the sour cream and onion and barbecue potato chips didn’t disappear down the gullet of W1PID. He eats those flavored wafers faster than a tree chipper gobbles up limbs from cut trees. He almost always reciprocates with copious amounts of ice cream, so it’s a very fair exchange.

The day started cool with the temperatures in the upper 50’s F, but soon the sun peppered us with a strong combination of ultraviolet and infrared rays. That solar heating of the ground generated a much-needed breeze at the overlook providing a natural fan helping to blow many, but not all, of the biting black flies away.

Just north of the parking lot at the end of the road in Winslow State Park is a flat area with a new covered post and beam shelter. In the grass there were fire pits created by giant slabs of native granite honed by the continental glaciers that cut their way from the North Pole down to Cape Cod just 15,000 years ago.

Here's the stunning shelter with Jim and Dave discussing Jim's L-shaped antenna. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s the stunning shelter with Jim and Dave discussing Jim’s L-shaped antenna. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Seven or so nice picnic tables in the grass provided excellent places to set up our equipment. Thirty and forty-foot trees were on the edges of the grassy area whose many branches would provide ample support for our thin wire antennas.

I was dying to test a new resonant 30-meter dipole antenna I had made the previous weekend. With a little effort I was able to get it up about 30 feet in the air with the RG-174 coax cable dropping straight down onto a picnic table. Jim used his Elecraft KX3 to determine the SWR. He said it was nearly perfect.

Midday 30 meters can be a pretty dead band. I did hear one or two very strong stations, but they were involved in extended conversations and I couldn’t break in.

Dave and Jim set up at different tables with Jim taking the best spot under the handsome post and beam shelter with a commanding view to the west. Just a few miles away, Mt. Sunapee had a few dangling white ribbons of snow left on her many ski runs.

jimkearsarge

Jim Cluett – W1PID is busy grabbing one of his many QSOs with Mt. Sunapee off in the haze. The photo makes it look much more hazy than it was. Note the bottle of black fly spray on the table and the potato chip flakes on the ground. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Soon the air was filled with dits and dahs from their matching KX3 radios. I intend to buy one as a reward for myself once I master Morse code at 18 or more words per minute.

I was using my trusty HB-1B quad-band radio. It’s a workhorse of an outdoor portable radio and it makes for a great beginner radio for anyone wanting to do QRP radio. If you’re thinking of buying one, I suggest you wait. The manufacturer is introducing a new model with five HF bands that tend to be more active in daylight hours.

Here I am with my trusty HB-1B working 20 meters. Photo credit: Dave Benson - K1SWL

Here I am with my trusty HB-1B working 20 meters. Photo credit: Dave Benson – K1SWL

Jim and Dave are highly skilled Morse operators. They both have been hearing code for no less than 50 years apiece. I’ve only been a serious student of CW for a little over one year and have finally achieved a moderate level of skill. I can hear Morse sent with correct character spacing at about 12 WPM.

It was a Saturday and multiple contests were in progress. This made it as easy for Dave and Jim to make fast contacts as it was for the black flies to bite me on my legs, arms and the bald spots of my head.

I believe Jim got about a dozen contacts in less than 30 minutes and Dave had to have about ten. I spent half my time trying to work the desolate 30 meters, and was fast approaching a skunk.

“Take down that dipole and put up your par EndFedz antenna as a horizontal using the same halyards,” said Jim.

“But you’ve always told me a vertical orientation was the best,” I replied more than slightly confused.

Dave was hovering taking in the back and forth banter.

“Listen. Your multi-band dipole back home works great, right? Didn’t you just do your first Australian contact with a horizontal antenna earlier this week?”

(GRINDING NOISE)

The gears in my head were meshing. DUH!

Of course the par EndFedz would work as a horizontal. I was lucky that in just minutes I could get it up about 30 feet off the ground employing the same multicord halyards that were stretching the 30-meter dipole taut.

The par EndFedz is a pre-tuned antenna good for 10, 20 and 40 meters supporting up to 25 watts of transmit power.

As soon as I connected it to my HB-1B I was in the center of the jungle. There were strong signals and QSOs happening everywhere on the 20-meter band.

Within twenty minutes I had three Qs!

NEVER before had I gotten three QSOs on an outing. It was a new first for me. Most of that was due to it being a contesting day as there were just more operators to choose from. I don’t attribute much to my poor skills.

As we packed up to leave, I noticed that 95% of the potato chips were gone. I don’t think that Dave and I ate 66 percent of them, but it didn’t matter. I was basking in the glory of my three contacts and being in the company of two of the top QRP radio operators in New England.

Not even the devil black flies could ruin my day, even though they gave it their best shot.

I hope I’m blessed to do more outings with Dave and Jim. It’s humbling to be in their company. Next time I’ll get three bags of chips.

Antigua Call Sign – How to Get One

In early April of 2015 I discovered I needed to go back to Antigua to testify in a court case as an expert witness. I’ve done expert witness work for years in residential construction cases, but this was my first international foray.

I had visited the gorgeous island three years earlier to do the required inspection of the defective workmanship, but I was not skilled at that time in QRP HF radio and I had zero Morse Code skills.

Fast forward to this year and all that had changed. I’m now in love with outdoor QRP (less than 5 watts power) radio and my Morse code – CW is the parlance used by operators – skills are greatly improved. I’m by no means an expert, but I can hear code sent accurately with the proper spacing at about 13 words per minute (WPM).

My trip this time required that I’d be on the island for a full week with lots of time to kill. I had read stories about how having an antenna next to salt water enhances its capabilities so I was dying to try it.

The small hut where I’d be staying is only 30 feet from the ocean so it would be a rare lifetime experience to help a weak QRP signal get a boost from a body of salt water.

I had operated a small handheld radio five years earlier in western Canada on a road trip trying to get into a repeater with no success. My research showed at that time that there was no need for me to get a Canadian radio license. I could just use my USA-issued license followed by a few letters indicating I was a USA ham operating in Canada.

I thought this was all I had to do in Antigua.

I was wrong as my QRP mentor and outdoor radio mentor, Jim Cluett – W1PID, informed me.

Getting the Antiguan Radio License

My first stop in the process was a visit to the ARRL website. There they have an entire section on International License requirements and agreements. There’s a gold mine of information there, including facts about frequencies in other nations you’re allowed to operate on!

This is the section at the ARRL website that deals with International Operating. It's rich in facts and information. Image credit: ARRL.org

This is the section at the ARRL website that deals with International Operating. It’s rich in facts and information. Image credit: ARRL.org

After reading much of that material, I discovered I needed a new separate license from Antigua. A quick search turned up their webpage that dealt with Antiguan radio licenses, but for some reason the link to Amateur was broken and still is at the time I wrote this.

After a little more searching I located an email address to an Antiguan government official, Mr. William Henry, and he proceeded to help me. He was very professional and one of his last emails to me said, “We have a saying in the Caribbean that goes like, ‘good friends better than money in the pocket.’ I think that it might just apply to Teresia.”

The Teresia he was referring to is my host in Antigua. She and her husband hired me to come to Antigua and she went to Mr. Henry’s office to complete the transaction and get the hard copy of my license. This cut weeks off the normal process of me sending money to them in the mail and them mailing me my license.

The first step was to fill out a simple application form.

I had to make a copy of my first two pages of my US passport and one of my FCC amateur license to show that I’m in good standing with the USA. The officials in Antigua also wanted to verify my USA license privileges.

I now notice, reading the new application, that they also want copies of the technical specifications of the radio equipment you intend to use.

The cost, in April 2015, for a one-year amateur license was $30 US Dollars.

It only took about a week to get the license once I submitted the application and all the items they asked for.

If you live outside of Antigua, you can do everything via normal postal mail, but my guess is that would add about a month to the process. How lucky I was to have my friend Teresia do the legwork for me down there to ensure I had my license before my visit.

You can request a vanity call sign, I did, but someone already had: V2ATB. The country prefix for Antigua call signs is V2.

Mr. Henry issued me V25TB instead.

With a simple request to the folks at QRZ.com, they allowed me to register it there and manage it out of my W3ATB account. I listed my US home address for the license since I don’t have a permanent Antiguan address.

The hut or house you see in the photo is where I’ll be staying. Let’s hope all they say about salt water and antennas is true!

Wish me luck. I’ll be on 20, 30 and 40 meters with my HB-1B.

V25TB

QRP in Milwaukee

Day One:

Yesterday I flew into Milwaukee, WI on business. The marketing folks at Briggs & Stratton invited me to their factory to see new products and to discuss ways to help each of our businesses to grow and thrive.

I was lucky to get flights that allowed me to land in the early afternoon so that I’d have about three hours to do some outdoor radio in the upper Midwest. But a 90-minute mechanical delay caused by a pesky pressure starting switch in the right engine of the my Southwest Boeing 737-700 engine cut into my plan to visit a local park.

Fortunately there were some trees at the front of the Radisson Milwaukee West hotel where I was to call home for the next 38 hours.

Here's the front of the hotel and the tree just ahead supported my miserable sloper antenna.

Here’s the front of the hotel and the tree just ahead supported my miserable sloper antenna.

I was worried that the traffic and all the nearby buildings would cause too much noise and RF interference to be able to score a QSO. I was wrong.

My first attempt at throwing my water bottle into the tree to get my micro-cord halyard up almost ended up in a disaster. I was in such a rush because I was running out of time, that I threw the bottle up not thinking about WHERE it would land.

As it climbed into the sky over the tree, I suddenly realized, “Oh my gosh, it’s going to land in some car’s WINDSHIELD!” Quickly I grabbed the streaming micro-cord line to stop the bottle’s descent into the heavy traffic just 12 feet to my right. What a rookie mistake!

I adjusted my throwing position so the bottle would now end up on the porte cochere roof of the hotel instead of the rush-hour traffic on the busy street next to me.

The red arrow points to where I was set up. It was a very steep small section of grass between the hotel parking lot and the busy street.

The red arrow points to where I was set up. It was a very steep small section of grass between the hotel parking lot and the busy street.

My next throw wasn’t bad, but it could have been better. I decided that it would have to do as in just 40 minutes my ride would be here to take me to dinner. My multi-band Par EndFedZ antenna was a drooping sloper who’s last five feet hung over a branch that came down directly on top of where I was set up. I was sure it wouldn’t work.

I was wrong.

As soon as I turned on my HB-1B 5-watt radio, there were signals everywhere on 20 meters. Several were so strong I thought they were around the corner.

You can see how close I was to the road. Cars and trucks were zooming past.

You can see how close I was to the road. Cars and trucks were zooming past.

I found a couple of operators who I wanted to reach out to, but they were in extended QSOs. I was running out of time.

I called CQ CQ on 14.060, but no one heard me.

I texted my QRP outdoor radio mentor, Jim Cluett – W1PID, but he didn’t get back.

I was desperate. No way was I coming 1,100 miles to get skunked.

With just 16 minutes left, I went down to 14.035 and called CQ.

Nothing.

I called again.

Nothing.

I called a third time. BOOM!

There was Rob, KW4HR coming back to me. He was so strong I thought my ear buds would break.

I told him I was QRP in Milwaukee and his signal report to me told me everything I thought about my antenna. Somehow he magically pulled me out of the ether with a 229.

Thanks Rob for coming back and it was a pleasure to work you avoiding the skunk!

I quickly packed up, went back to my room and got down to the front door just 90 seconds before my ride showed up. It was very fulfilling to do radio on that tiny sliver of grass in such a busy place!

The wonders of QRP and what more and more to me is becoming true magic.

Here's the electronic QSL card Rob sent me after the QSO.

Here’s the electronic QSL card Rob sent me after the QSO.

Day Two:

My day at Briggs & Stratton was action packed. I tested all sorts of their new equipment and the innovation is astounding. The day started out sunny and the warm spring sun shot the temperature up to 75 F before lunch.

By 3:00 p.m. I was headed back to the hotel to get my radio.

I had a good two hours to operate from a local park, and I was anxious to get there.

Using Google Maps I located Dineen Park about four miles away.

Here's Dineen Park. I was operating under a large tree next to the locked restroom bu

Here’s Dineen Park. I was operating under a large tree next to the locked restroom building.

Once there I noticed that the few people there had strange large rear-oriented fanny packs. Lo and behold, this was a frisbee golf park.

Within a few minutes I had my antenna up and I was ready to get on the air. A few young men approached me very inquisitive as to why I was throwing a water bottle up into a tree.

“I’m getting ready to talk to people all around the world.”

“Really? How are you going to do that?”

I showed them the little HB-1B and their eyes got as big as silver dollars. One of them was a nice guy named Fred Pagel. He’s a brick tender. Back in Cincinnati, we called them hod carriers. Fred works on construction sites and makes sure that masons have all the brick, mortar, block, wall ties, etc. they need to keep working.

Here's Fred and I. He

Here’s Fred and I. He wasn’t bashful and jumped right into the photo. You can see my green microcord that’s holding up my par EndFedZ antenna.

The 20-meter band was as desolate as MayFair Avenue in Milwaukee at 4:00 a.m. in the morning. But I was determined NOT to get skunked.

I texted by good friend Jim again, and he tried to listen for me, but there was no pathway between us. He was booming out at 80 watts to me and I heard nothing.

It was time to call CQ. I tried on 14.060, but it was like being alone in the forest. No one came back.

I drifted lower on the band trying CQ again. Nothing.

Then I spun the VFO knob on the trusty HB-1B and shazam!

I heard a booming signal calling CQ and he was blazing fast.

I estimate he was at 25 WPM, but the code was clear to me.

W0W.

Screen shot 2015-04-18 at 8.41.50 AM

Immediately I sent back my call sign and he came right back with a fast 599 RST.

I gave him the same and rejoiced.

No skunk! But being the rookie I am, I didn’t realize who I had worked. The 1X1 call sign had not sunk in.

It was a special event station that was honoring all Native American Code Talkers that have served in all USA conflicts.

I texted Jim and moment later he called me.

“Do you realize who you worked?”

“No. Tell me.”

“It’s a special event station down south. You’ve reached a new plateau today. I’m so proud of you!”

“Well, Jim, it’s all you. Your patience, help and guidance is what made it happen. Without your support I would have floundered long ago.”

Here’s what Jim’s taught me about outdoor QRP radio.

It’s as hard as it gets. You’re using low power. Your antenna setup is rarely ideal. The WX can be your foe and it’s simply a hard hard way to score a QSO.

But by gosh I was determined NOT to leave that park until I got a QSO.

“That’s the mark of a true QRPr, Tim. The determination to stay out until you make a contact, any contact.”

Well, all I can say is that it’s immensely rewarding. I was beaming as I packed up my gear to head back to the hotel.

I now wonder what the next level of outdoor radio will be. No doubt something even more rewarding.

New Hampshire Old Man Collapse Special Event

Here is an illustration of the Old Man. It's fitting to use this image on the QSL card we'll be sending out because the postage amount matches the date of his demise and our event. Image credit: US Postal Service

Here is an illustration of the Old Man. It’s fitting to use this image on the QSL card we’ll be sending out because the postage amount matches the date of his demise and our event. Image credit: US Postal Service

The iconic granite face of the Old Man of the Mountains was created by the last continental glacier 15,000 years ago. He collapsed alone in the middle of the night to the base of Franconia Notch, NH on May 3, 2003.

The Old Man is the NH state symbol and his image is on road signs and countless other objects around the state.

The Central New Hampshire Amateur Radio Club is honoring the sad day of the Old Man’s demise by operating both phone and CW at a location very close to Franconia Notch.

Here are the facts you need to know about this one-day event:


When: May 3, 2015 14:00 UTC – 21:00 UTC

Where: White Mountains – New Hampshire

Event Call Sign: N1H

Frequencies: We’ll be on or around these frequencies.

CW
7.053
14.053
21.053

SSB:
7.253
14.253
21.353

QSL: We’ll be printing a special color glossy QSL card for the event featuring the postage stamp image of the Old Man.

This is a small version of the 4 x 6 glossy QSL postcard we'll be sending out.
This is a small version of the 4 x 6 glossy QSL postcard we’ll be sending out.

We encourage you to send your QSL card so we can put it in our club archives.

To receive the special Old Man QSL card, please send $1 to cover all costs. The special Old Man card will be sent to you in an envelope to protect it from damage.

Be sure to include your call sign, name, address.

Send your QSL card (or above information in lieu of a card) and your $1 to:

Tim Carter – W3ATB
Old Man Event
100 Swain Road
Meredith, NH 03253-4614

If you have questions about the event, contact me at:

tim the at sign and then my call sign followed by dot com. You have to do this to stop spambots from harvesting email addresses.