Wellington State Park | Wind and Chilly

wellington state park newfound lake

We wanted to set up at this picnic table but the wind was blasting us from across the water. We decided to find a place farther from the beach that had protection from the cutting breeze that was one step below a gale. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Yesterday I set up at Wellington State Park on a gorgeous mid-October day in central New Hampshire. Wellington State Park is on the west shore of Newfound Lake. Local lore has it that this body of water has the cleanest and purest water of any lake in the state.

Joining me on the adventure was Dave Benson, K1SWL and my friend JT better known as Jim.

k1swl w1pid

Jim is on the left and Dave has his eyes closed to prevent sand from getting in his eyes. They’re both facing the stunning Newfound Lake. Note hands in pockets and Dave’s winter jacket, yet it’s the middle of October. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

The sun was brilliant but it was offset by a stiff wind and temperatures that tried to claw their way to 50 F but never quite made it. New Hampshire had a hot and humid summer and the transition from heat to cold has been very rapid. All three of us complained about the wind that cut like a knife.

As we hunted for a spot to set up, I spied this giant carved woodpecker. I’m glad it’s not been vandalized. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Dave and I retreated to a picnic table nestled in some giant pine trees about 200 feet back from the beach. It had quite a bit of protection from the wind and had a splash of sunlight on it.

Here I am hard at work trying to find a strong signal from an operator calling CQ. Hunt and pounce is the only way to score contacts. Copyright 2018 Dave Benson

Jim decided to saunter back to the parking lot to soak up the generous solar radiation that was in full force. His location had even more protection from the biting chill.

Within minutes I was on the air with my Elecraft KX-2. I had put up my standard 29-foot vertical wire. The end of it was attached to a 9:1 unun. A 19-foot counterpoise wire extended from the unun across the carpet of pine needles. The counterpoise really helps get a perfect SWR match with the internal tuner inside the KX-2.

It took at least ten or fifteen minutes before Dave and I found Stefan, DK1HL in Germany on 20 meters at 14.021 Mhz. Both Dave and I successfully made contact.

Next up was Jamie, M0SDV in England. I was thrilled to have two contacts in the log because the propagation was not the greatest. We heard some stations, but they were weak or didn’t answer us back.

Finally, I heard our dear friend Bert Banlier, F6HKA. I answered his call and then handed the iambic micro pico paddles to Dave. Watch the video below to hear part of the conversation between Bert and Dave.

The chilly wind won the battle and we packed up to go find some hot coffee. It was great to get out but we left knowing we need to toughen up. Soon it will be below freezing and a foot of snow will be on the ground.

I was reminded of an old Swedish saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.”

We need good clothes.

 

Potter Place Sans W1PID

potter place nh

This is the epic historic Potter Place Railroad Station. The grave of Richard Potter is just this side of the front of the caboose. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Potter Place NH – A Railroad Museum

Today I set up at Potter Place just west of Andover, New Hampshire. I’ve always come here in the past with my good friend Jim Cluett, W1PID, but today he was not feeling well.

Before arriving I had driven northwest to Gardner Memorial Wayside Park. I was on a mission to try to locate Dave Benson’s micro Pico Paddles that he misplaced a week earlier.

This is the picnic table where Dave set up. You can see I’ve blown all the leaves away. Nothing was on the ground but two .44 Magnum shell casings. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

I had taken my battery-powered leaf blower with me. I was sure the tiny paddles were hiding beneath some leaves, but I had no luck locating them.

This is a magical little park with a mesmerizing stream next to the two picnic tables. Just downstream is an old mill foundation.

The sun was just starting to peek out as I was leaving the park. I’d love to go back in time to see this mill in operation. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

It was blustery and overcast while I was at the Gardner Memorial Wayside State Park, so I left to head back towards Andover, NH.

Potter Place has a rich history. Richard Potter, a famous magician, lived here and the Boston & Main Railroad’s main line was here. If you close your eyes, you can often hear in the distance a chugging steam engine and a train whistle. Those that can’t are non-believers when it comes to all things railroad.

richard potter nh facts

This is all you need to know about Richard Potter. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

I ate lunch and walked around taking some photos enjoying the sunshine before I set up my radio. I think I was just trying to stay busy since Jim was not there.

Richard Potter’s grave is just next to the railroad tracks and I’m hoping that somehow his headstone is restored because in another 200 years you’ll no longer be able to read his name.

RIP Richard – I wish I could have seen your magic show! Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

It only took me a few minutes to set up. One throw got my water bottle over the tree and within a few minutes, my 29-foot wire was attached to my 9:1 unun. I decided to also connect a 19-foot counterpoise from the unun and it’s really helped me get a perfect SWR with my Elecraft KX-2.

tim carter w3atb potter place

Jim takes better photos of me. I hope he gets better soon so we can go out again. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Within a few minutes of turning on my radio, I heard activity on 20 meters. I first heard a German station with a prefix of DK8, but I couldn’t make out the rest of his callsign.

Minutes later I heard Gerald, PA3GEG calling CQ. I responded and he heard me. What’s more, he recorded our QSO! You can listen to it by CLICKING HERE.

Next up I contacted Björn, DH3LLB. It was exhilarating as I was able to fully copy everything he sent. That’s a first for me. I only wish Jim had been there to watch me do it.

I could have made more contacts, but I decided to pack up and head home. Next week I hope to get out with Jim and maybe Dave Benson. Soon the weather will be frigid, so now’s the time to get as many QSOs as possible in the stunning New Hampshire fall weather.

radio gear at potter place

This is my gear for today’s Potter Place adventure. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Bald Ledge NH QRP Afield 2018

W3ATB and W1PID

Here I am in the green t-shirt with Jim in the background holding my Palm Micro-Pico iambic Morse code paddles. He’s almost in a zen state because it was a perfect day at a perfect place. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Bald Ledge NH – Outdoor Radio Adventure

Today Jim Cluett, W1PID, and I hiked to the scenic Bald Ledge overlook about one mile east of Sky Pond in central NH. It was a perfect late-summer day with the temperature just above 80 F and a crystal-blue sky.

We intended to participate in the QRP-Afield event hoping to contact other radio operators who were using low power as were we.

To get to the scenic overlook, you hike up a rugged Class VI road that’s not maintained by the town. Soon you have to turn left at a crude roadway blocked by an orange metal gate.

Then you have to walk about a half mile to where the trail through the woods begins. If you pass the small sign, you could be in trouble. I decided to get the GPS coordinates this time in case you want to find the small trail.

Related Links

Bald Ledge Adventure 2016

Elecraft KX2 Case

GPS for Bald Ledge Trail NH

Here are the coordinates that will get you to the trail through the woods to the Bald Ledge scenic overlook. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

We passed a few hikers who were coming back from the overlook. When we arrived, we were the only ones there. Jim got absorbed in the view and I did all the work to get us on the air.

antenna tree at Bald Ledge NH

This is the tree that supported my 29-foot wire. Attached at the bottom was a 9:1 unun. Copyright 2108 Tim Carter

KX2 W3ATB Bald Ledge NH

We used my KX2 and all other gear to get on the air. It did a superb job today and the sun rewarded us with fair propagation. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Here is Jim walking back up from looking at the view. I had just finished setting up and he was anxious to make the first contact. One must respect one’s elders so I didn’t complain and handed him the Pico paddles. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Here’s the view of the Sandwich Mountain Range that captivated Jim.

Sandwich Mountain NH

This is the view to the Sandwich Mountain Range from Bald Ledge. Look at the cool screenshot from the PeakFinder app below that tells you what you’re looking at. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

PeakFinder App – Very cool. Download it. Well worth the purchase price. Copyright 2018 PeakFinder

We heard stations right away and here’s our log:

Here’s our log. Copyright 2018 Jim Cluett

We had lots of fun and decided to leave.

w3atb tim carter

You can see that low-powered outdoor radio (QRP) can be scads of fun. I’m lucky to have a friend like Jim who tolerates my tall tales. We have so much fun on certain outings it should be illegal. Copyright 2018 Jim Cluett

Our timing was perfect because just as we started back into the woods, a large group of twelve people and three dogs showed up. That would have been mayhem with all of my equipment out and questions coming at us faster than flies showing up at a picnic.

Jim wanted to set up his APRS HT radio to track our journey home. It worked well.

Ellacoya State Park POTA Activation K-2651

ellacoya state park

This is the Ellacoya State Park beach where we set up. You’re looking to the north at the Ossipee Mountains. Millions of years ago this massive rock complex was the basement of a giant volcano. Look closely to the left of the distant lifeguard chair and you can see the MS Mt. Washington plying the clear waters of Lake Winnipesaukee. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

This afternoon I was fortunate to activate Ellacoya State Park in central New Hampshire. I had all sorts of help from Jim Cluett, W1PID and Norman Jackson, K1NAJ. Norman had reached out to me itching to participate with an activation and I was determined to introduce him to the outdoor aspect of Parks on the Air.

Jim had helped me a week before attempt to activate Ahern State Park, but we fell a few contacts short of a valid activation. You need to have ten contacts the same day to qualify for an activation.

ellacoya state park

I’m ready to pluck contacts from thin air. The view out across Lake Winnipesaukee was remarkable. Copyright 2018 Jim Cluett

We set up on a picnic table just 30 feet from the lapping waters of Lake Winnipesaukee, the largest lake in New Hampshire. A few other people were there enjoying the delicious sunshine and low humidity. Had we been here just four days prior on Labor Day, we would have had to fight for a table and the beach would have been wall-to-wall people.

The Goal for Ellacoya State Park – Ten Contacts or QSOs

The goal was to have fun, enjoy the jaw-dropping weather, and make ten contacts with other radio operators in that order I might add.

We decided to use my radio gear and I didn’t waste any time throwing my water bottle about 50 feet up in the air over a pine tree branch. The placement worked well as it allowed my 29-foot antenna wire to hang vertically without touching any of the other branches or needles. I was able to get the top of the antenna wire 40 feet up in the air.

Talking to France From the Lifeguard Chair

While I was getting ready to get on the air, Jim decided to set his radio up about 150 feet away. He spied a lifeguard chair and was determined to operate from this perch above the warm sand.

ellacoya state park

Jim is a clever operator. He’s attracted to anything that’s unique or different. He might be the first person in the world to have made an amateur radio contact while sitting in a lifeguard chair. No doubt he’s the first in New Hampshire. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

As soon as he turned on his radio, he was able to hear and communicate with his good friend Bert in France, F6HKA.

ellacoya state park

What a view Jim had from his perch! He’s busy setting up getting ready to do Morse code with Bert in France. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Patience Pays Off

Once Jim finished his conversation with Bert, I jumped in so I could log my first contact. I needed ten QSOs to qualify as a valid activation. I thought it wouldn’t be a problem and we’d be done in short order. Bert heard me and we had a brief conversation at 12:50 pm.

The other nine contacts were clawed from the ether with lots of patience. Here’s my log:

CALL SIGN                   TIME                    FREQUENCY         SIGNAL REPORT

F6HKA 1650 UTC 14.051 339
K3RTV 1750 UTC  7.057 559
KB3WAV 1800 UTC 7.049 599
W2QE 1810 UTC 7.027 569
N2AK 1822 UTC 7.026 549
W3JRR 1826 UTC 7.049 579
KN4ZQ 1832 UTC 7.034 579
W1PID 1847 UTC 7.030 599
K1NAJ 1849 UTC 7.030 599
N4CQD 1915 UTC 14.030 559

Look at the times and you’ll see it took quite a while to get the ten contacts.

Here I am trying to get ten contacts as fast as possible. It took over two hours! Norman is sitting to my left. Copyright 2018 Jim Cluett

Rare Signal Report Opportunity

About halfway through the activation we heard a conversation happening between two operators and one of them had an issue with his equipment. His signal sounded like a buzzing bee. Listen for yourself:

We tried to contact him, but he didn’t hear us. It would have been a rare opportunity to send back a signal report like 593 as there’s no way he deserves a 9 for the tone part of the RST.

Ducks and Gulls at Ellacoya State Park

A few other people were enjoying the late summer day, but we were all outnumbered by tame ducks and aggressive seagulls that had been spoiled all summer long getting food handouts from many people who visited this wonderful state park.

Seagulls are brave and fierce. They’ll steal your food or other things. Don’t turn your back on these creatures. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

The gulls would steal food from the ducks and squawk raising quite the racket. My guess is there were just under 100 gulls resting on the beach and perhaps ten ducks.

Jim, Norman and I had a marvelous time and this beach is a great place to spend a warm late spring, summer, or fall day. I don’t recommend coming here to do radio in July unless you want a beach ball bouncing on your radio or knocking your antenna out of a tree!

 

Cheap HF Antenna

cheap hf antenna

This cheap HF antenna is 29-feet long. The antenna works on all HF bands from 80 to 6 meters. It cost me less than $2 US. What more can you ask for? Oh, you want to know how I got it up in the air with the kite? That’s another post on another day. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Cheap HF Antenna – Just Use A Simple Wire

A cheap HF antenna can be made using a simple piece of wire. You can’t get much cheaper than that. Yes, a giant yagi antenna on a tower would be ideal, but you said you wanted cheap.

The key is the wire can only be one of a few lengths if you want it to work on just about all the high-frequency (HF) amateur radio bands here in the USA and the rest of the world.

Related Link

29-Foot Wire Antenna Winder

Stay Away From 1/4 and Half-Wave Lengths

For a single length of wire to work, you need two things:

  • a tuner
  • the wire length that’s not too close to a quarter or half-wave of the frequencies you want to ply

It’s important to realize that an antenna that is a half or quarter-wavelength of the band you’re working on will create a very high impedance and your tuner will not be able to give you a nice low SWR.

The second point can be quite a challenge. Fortunately, Jack, VE3EED got out his trusty calculator and did all the work for you.

What are Ideal Lengths for a Cheap HF Antenna?

Here are the lengths, in feet, your cheap HF antenna should be to work on multiple bands:

  • 29
  • 35.5
  • 41
  • 58
  • 71
  • 84
  • 107
  • 119
  • 148
  • 203
  • 347
  • 407
  • 423

Jack’s a silent key and I know I’m thankful for the work he did to come up with the lengths you can find in this column.

Do You Need A Counterpoise Wire?

I find a counterpoise about 17 feet long works well if I want to get on 40 meters. You can experiment with different lengths. Steve Galchutt, WG0AT, uses a 58-foot wire length with a 25-foot counterpoise.

Do You Need a Balun or Unun?

I connect my 29-foot cheap HF antenna to a 9:1 unun to lower the impedance. This makes less work for the tuner and I can almost always count on a very low SWR using the internal tuner in my Elecraft KX3 or KX2.

Ahern State Park POTA Activation K-2641

ahern state park

We were sitting on a small rock outcrop just above and to the left of this photo. You’d think we were along the ocean up in Downeast Maine! Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Ahern State Park – Beauty Beyond the Beach

Yesterday my good buddy Jim Cluett, W1PID, and I decided to try to activate Ahern State Park along the eastern shore of Lake Winnisquam in central New Hampshire. I’d been there at least three other times, but it was a first for Jim even though this magical place is less than six miles from his house as the eagle flies.

The two previous days were blistering hot with temperatures above 90 F and a dewpoint kissing up against 70 F. That translates to sticky and steamy. Overnight a cool front was bulldozing in a lobe of cooler dry air so it was a perfect day to get out to do some outdoor radio.

ahern state park

This is the beach that draws people to Ahern State Park. It’s in a nice small sheltered cove. Jim and I set up on that rocky point just across the water in the photo. It was only a 100-yard walk from where we parked. Copyright 2018 State of NH

Ahern State Park is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets in central New Hampshire. You enter the park off a driveway that leads to the old state prison and reform school. Thousands of people, I’m sure, drive by and fail to see the old brown state park sign that’s about 200 feet off State Route 106.

As you make the turn into the park, you start to bump across a dusty well-worn gravel road that seems to lead to nowhere. For the most part, Ahern is a nothing park. It’s undeveloped in the sense that the only improvement is the gravel road. The reward for absorbing the pothole punishment is a sandy beach in a sheltered cove that soaks up the warm afternoon sun.

Once you exit your car in the turnaround circle at the beach, you’ll discover there are no picnic tables, no shelter, no nothing other than a dramatic view across, up and down Lake Winnisquam. This crystal-clear body of water is the third largest lake fully within the boundaries of the great state of New Hampshire. It boasts 7.2 square miles of surface area.

The Jaw-Dropping View at Ahern State Park

“Let’s go set up at that rocky point over there,” Jim suggested after gazing at the beach and the stunning view across the water. “There’s surely a trail leading to it.”

Jim loves the outdoors and I doubt I’ll ever get him hooked on Parks on the Air (POTA) activations. Just five days earlier we had activated Fay State Forest here in New Hampshire using my call sign. He just enjoys being outdoors and if he can collect a few Qs, or contacts, as we call them, it’s all the better.

I must say Jim makes a great teammate as his radio skills are far beyond mine. He’s been a radio operator for 50+ more years than me.  It was just six years ago I got serious about the hobby.

Within two minutes this is the view Jim and I saw after we walked from the beach to the rocky point. This is looking northwest right at my house just two miles diagonally across Lake Winnisquam. Ladd Mountain is that center bump across the lake. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Sure enough, there was a small trail just behind the beach. There were no signs telling you anything, you just had to be brave and believe.

As we walked up a slight grade next to a rotting pine tree, I could tell the view was going to be spectacular. I could see three miles down the lake and another three up the lake. Just across from us was the fabled Steele Hill and Ladd Mountain that’s not much more than a hill rising up behind my home.

ahern state park

Jim’s in the zone. He’s outdoors, he’s got a radio on and it’s spectacular weather. I’m looking northwest in this photo. The panoramic view from this rocky spot was one of the best views we’ve ever had on one of our outings. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

“Watch out for the dog doo,” Jim announced as I was soaking up the stunning view. The cool front had picked up speed and the wind was whipping up whitecaps on the lake. Some previous visitor must have had a large dog and it relieved itself right where we decided to set up. There was lots of doo to deal with.

“These two trees are just far enough apart that we can set up the 44-foot dipole,” Jim exclaimed. We used all my equipment including the dipole I modeled after one that Jim has. You can make one using thin 26-gauge twisted-pair wire. It connects to my Elecraft KX3 with a standard banana plug. The internal tuner in the KX3 has no trouble at all delivering a satisfactory SWR.

The flat dipole was about 40 feet above the water and the axis of the wire was roughly on a north-south line. This means the signal should radiate pretty well to the east and west.

ahern state park

This is the rocky point just north of the beach at Ahern State Park. It’s in the shade and bring a cushion if you intend to have a picnic lunch here. Without the cushion, you’ll have a sore derrière, for sure. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

40 Meters Was The Place to Be

As soon as we powered up the radio, I went to 20 meters. It was quiet and there was not much activity. I did hear one faint signal and Jim was able to copy Norm Jackson, K1NAJ, on a ground wave as he’s a fellow NH operator. My guess is Norm was probably just ten miles, or less, from us.

Jim was sitting on a rounded piece of the Meredith Porphyritic Granite in a trance looking out across the water. I could tell he was really enjoying this magical place so close to his home.

“Switch to 40 meters and see what’s happening,” Jim suggested. I often wonder if he’s not a soothsayer as that band had lots of strong signals.

Soon we started to make contacts, one of them a park-to-park contact with KD8DEU.

Here’s who we captured in my logbook:

CALL SIGN                 TIME                     FREQUENCY            SIGNAL REPORT

K1NAJ 1715 UTC 14.056 559
AB8EL 1724 UTC 7.059 559
KD8DEU 1730 UTC 7.036 559 (P2P)
VE3ZN 1735 UTC 7.036 559
WB3GCK 1744 UTC 7.029 449

Five Contacts Short – But Well Worth It

You need ten contacts within 24 hours on the same day to activate the park. We came up five short because the cranky sun is asleep. We’re at the bottom of solar activity in the eleven-year cycle and this can make low-powered outdoor radio quite a challenge.

ahern state park

The wind was really howling as Jim shot this photo. You can see it flipped up my log book cover onto the Elecraft KX3. My hair is quite unruly too. Believe me, you want to bring a cushion as the Meredith Porphyritic Granite pokes your bones! Copyright 2018 Jim Cluett

I had a great time but the wind made it hard for me to hear some of the stations. I’ve got some occupational hearing loss that I sometimes struggle with. That’s why it’s a great idea to have a teammate like Jim along who’s hearing is so much better than mine.

I guarantee you we’ll be back with cushions next time on a brilliant autumn day. I’m hoping to get the required ten contacts so we get credit as well as the wonderful POTA operators who try to contact us.

Fay State Forest NH – K-4900 POTA

fay state forest nh

Here I am on the loop trail at Fay State Forest in New Hampshire. I didn’t expect it to be as gorgeous as it was. I’ll be back for sure in the fall. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Fay State Forest – An Enchanted Tiny Woodland

Today I activated Fay State Forest in New Hampshire as part of the Parks on the Air (POTA) program. I did it with loads of help from my outdoor radio and CW mentor, Jim Cluett – W1PID.

Kay State Forest is a small 200-acre piece of pristine forest just west of both Route 3 and Lincoln, NH.  The southern boundary of the forest shares the Woodstock, NH  northern town line.

You can see Fay State Forest. Copyright 2018 OpenStreetMap.org

It’s an undeveloped piece of land with no roads or improvements on it whatsoever. We discovered a small gravel turnout on Route 3 just 100 feet north of the sign welcoming you into Woodstock.

fay state forest nh

Here’s Jim getting ready to wander up into Fay State Forest. We were lucky to find this turnout on the west side of Route 3 just north of the Woodstock town line. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Much to our surprise, there was a well-worn footpath leading you into the magic forestland. We were glad to not have to bushwack up into the trees to find a place to set up my Elecraft KX2 radio.

The Fay State Forest Loop Trail

Jim and I saw what appeared to be a loop trail and we made a left turn to proceed clockwise around the trail. The path was covered with a carpet of soft brown pine needles. It was like walking on a pillow.

Giant boulders plucked from the bedrock by the last period of Continental Glaciation were strewn about the forest. We even contemplated setting up on top of one that must have been 15 feet tall and 60, or more, feet in circumference.

fay state forest glacial boulder

This boulder may not look that big, but it was huge. Six people could easily sit on top and not be crowded. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

After walking just ten minutes we could tell we were on our way back to my truck so we decided to use a massive 200-foot-tall pine tree as our antenna support.

Jim used my water bottle and made a remarkable throw at least 50 feet up into the air snagging the perfect branch so we’d have a vertical antenna. He wanted me to make the throw at first to a higher branch, but I thought the challenge was too great.

This is just part of the giant pine tree! I cut off at least 12 feet at the bottom and the top of the tree must be 100 feet, or more, higher than the top of the photo. That yellow line is the halyard ready to pull up my 29-foot 26-gauge antenna wire. A 9:1 unun is attached to the bottom of the wire and a 25-foot coax cable stretches back to the radio. The top of the antenna was about 42 feet off the ground. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Little did I know he’d carry the day in more ways than just this throw.

Switch From Plan A to Plan B

Earlier in the day, I had posted on the POTA Scheduled Activations page that I’d be on the air by 1730 UTC, or 1:30 PM Eastern Time. Jim and I were set up and on the air seven minutes early.

While I had posted the frequencies I’d be on, 20, 30, and 40 meters, I didn’t post a specific frequency. That’s hard to do because you never know if that frequency is already in use when you power up your radio.

I called CQ POTA W3ATB W3ATB K4900 K several times hoping the skimmers would hear me and/or a POTA chaser operator. No one answered my call.

My signal was heard by two skimmers, but it wasn’t enough to alert POTA chaser operators who might answer my call all at the same time. When that happens, you get a mini pile-up. I was hoping for that to happen as we drove to the forest.

You can see my call sign and the 1730 UTC time stamp for today. The Reverse Beacon Network is an amazing tool that helps you see who’s hearing your signal and how strong it is.

After five minutes of growing frustration, Jim said, “Spin the dial and go find someone and make a QSO.”

Thank the Contesters!

We were fortunate that we did this activation on a weekend. Long ago Jim taught me that low-powered outdoor radio is very likely the toughest thing to do.

The conditions can be challenging, the antenna might be marginal, and you’re lucky to be transmitting at, or above, 5 watts. If you don’t know much about amateur radio, that’s the amount of power you use to illuminate an incandescent night light.

It didn’t take long for us to find activity. Fortunately, there were quite a few signals on 20 meters. The Kansas QSO party was in full swing and my log book started to fill up with contacts. We needed ten to activate this rare POTA entity. I was the first person in the USA to attempt an activation here, so I wanted to get the required ten contacts.

My fourth contact was a DX one, OZ2TF, in Denmark. I was quite happy to see my signal was bouncing well off the waters of the Atlantic Ocean! Jim and I are lucky to live in New Hampshire and we regularly log European stations because the nearby ocean helps reflect our weak signals eastward.

We milked 20 meters for all we could and switched to 40 meters. The Ohio QSO party stations were booming into us and in short order, we hit the required ten contacts. I was elated and Jim was happy to help log contacts.

I’m pretty happy about my log book filling up with contacts. Victory! First to activate Fay State Forest K-4900. Copyright 2018 Jim Cluett

Here’s my log:

Call Sign                  Time                        Frequency             Signal Report

W0K 1738 UTC 14.044 599
N0C 1745 UTC 14.049 599
NS8G 1750 UTC 14.045 599
OZ2TF 1755 UTC 14.050 599
K0N 1759 UTC 14.031 599
W0S 1800 UTC 14.030 599
K8AJS 1808 UTC 7.045 599
N8BJG 1810 UTC 7.047 599
KE8G 1811 UTC 7.041 599
KI8R 1813 UTC 7.046 599
W8ERD 1824 UTC 14.046 599

A Learning Experience at Fay State Forest K-4900 POTA

I have to admit the day turned out far different than what I envisioned. While driving to Kay State Forest I said to Jim, “Today you’re going to see what a well-oiled machine can do during a POTA activation.” Jim wisely didn’t respond. He’s more an actions-speak-louder-than-words type of guy.

Here are my main takeaways from today’s adventure at Fay State Forest:

  • If operating QRP, low power, then, by all means, favor contesting days
  • Don’t underestimate your ability to sling a water bottle 60 feet into the air
  • Respect solar minimums
  • Always invite a seasoned outdoor operator on a POTA activation

I’m very satisfied with the results of this activation, but as I drove back down I-93 I thought about how much I still have to learn. Just a few weeks ago I pronounced to Jim during the QRP Bumblebee contest I was a flippin’ operator. After today I wonder if I shouldn’t dial that assessment back a notch or two.

2018 NJ Skeeter Hunt

nj skeeter hunt

That’s me in the green t-shirt. N1LT, Dick Christopher, is in the plaid shirt and W1PID, Jim Cluett, is in the blue polo shirt. Dick forced me to upgrade to General six years ago and Jim has been patiently teaching me outdoor radio and CW. What a thrill to be out with both of these QRP radio giants. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

The 2018 NJQRP Skeeter Hunt radio contest was a huge success here in central New Hampshire. It was one of the best times I’ve had outdoors in a few years because I was able to operate with the two men, Dick Christopher and Jim Cluett, who have offered me the most amateur radio guidance in the past seven years.

Dick Christopher, N1LT. He was the founder of the Central New Hampshire Amateur Radio Club. He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse to upgrade to my General privileges. I only had a little less than three weeks to prepare. Copyright 2018 Jim Cluett

In a meager attempt to pay them back for all they’ve given me, I decided they could sit on the picnic table bench while I set up all the equipment. They howled with laughter when the first under-handed throw of my water bottle soared so high I was unable to grab the end of the halyard cord. It literally slipped through my fingers only to dangle 15 feet up in the air out of my reach.

I had to climb down over the river bank to retrieve my water bottle and pull the halyard cord through the tree to start over.

I tied the end of the cord to a special clip on my backpack and threw again. The second throw was perfect as the water bottle came straight down through the branches just ten feet from the edge of the picnic table.

In all the confusion I slipped the BNC cable onto my Elecaft KX3, but failed to twist it to lock the cable onto the female connector. Even still we worked contacts like I used to make cheese coneys at Skyline Chili all those years ago.

What was the Weather Like for the NJ Skeeter Hunt?

The weather was perfect. The temperature was probably 76 F, it was brilliant sunshine and the all-important dew point was about 57 F. The bonus was there were no bugs bothering us until the last ten minutes. That’s when a swarm of biting flies discovered my legs!

Where Did You Operate?

The three of us were just 50 feet from the edge of the Pemigewasset River in Bristol, NH. We were in the US Corps of Engineers flood control area behind the Franklin Falls Dam. There’s a group of three picnic tables under a majestic pine tree that offered up her branches to support my 29-foot wire antenna that had a 9:1 unun at the bottom.

nj skeeter hunt

This is my wire antenna and halyard holding it up. The top of the antenna was 39 feet up in the tree.  The halyard line continues up another 20 feet before it starts to come down. The wire did not touch any branches or pine needles. That’s super important! Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Did you Operate as a Team or as Individuals?

We decided that we’d operate as individuals but use the same radio, antenna and iambic micro Pico paddles. We each had our own log books and used my Elecraft KX3, my 4.5 Ah BioennoPower LiFePh battery, and my 9:1 unun attached to 25-feet of coax cable.

nj skeeter hunt

Jim and Dick look like they’re attending class taking notes. As you might suspect, they’re busy copying CW being sent by another Skeeter! I sat at Jim’s left when I wasn’t taking photos or looking at horses. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

How Many Contacts Did You Get in the 2018 NJ Skeeter Hunt?

We had a grand total of only fourteen contacts, but it was far more than I ever thought we’d get. Propagation has been horrible this summer. I would have been thrilled with three contacts today.

Here’s our log:

19 Aug-18    1722  14.060    NK9G   CW 559 559 WI 6
19 Aug-18    1726  14.062    NN9K   CW 599 599 IL 64
19 Aug-18    1730  14.060    K4BAI  CW 559 559 GA 163
19 Aug-18    1736  14.059    WO9B   CW 559 559 WI 24
19 Aug-18    1740  7041      N3AQC  CW 559 559 PA 77
19 Aug-18    1752  14.064    AB9CA  CW 559 559 IN 22
19 Aug-18    1800  14.063    KE8EAS CW 599 599 OH 57
19 Aug-18    1805  14.059    N5GW   CW 449 559 MS 5W
19 Aug-18    1811  7031      WF4I   CW 559 559 NC 70
19 Aug-18    1818  7042      NK9G   CW 559 559 WI 6
19 Aug-18    1823  7038      N9MM   CW 559 559 POTA
19 Aug-18    1825  7033      K2BR   CW 559 599 NJ lighthouse Bob
19 Aug-18    1844  7042      K3RLL  CW 579 579 PA 15
19 Aug-18    1849  7038      N8GU   CW 559 579 MI lighthouse B

Because we each worked the same contacts, we were slower at capturing other contacts had we been able to hunt and pounce by ourselves. Jim would work a contact first, I’d follow and then hand the paddles to Dick.

It was a great way to operate. Had we set up individually, our signals would be crashing into one another and it would have been a frustrating ball of mayhem. Trust me, I’ve been in this situation before with Jim and another friend K1SWL. It’s no fun to be trying to work others when a nearby signal walks over a QSO.

Who Else Was With You Next to the River?

Why I’m glad you asked! Women and horses joined us. Lots of both.

It turns out there’s a cool group of NH women who ride together and they come to this amazing flood control area to exercise their steeds along the banks of the Pemigewasset River.

There were at least ten horses. They were pretty frisky and loving the fresh grass near the picnic tables. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Several were amazed we were doing Morse code. But all were flabbergasted about how I was able to get my halyard up 65 feet into the tree with just my arm.

My answer always when asked this question is, “Oh, it’s just one of my skills and magic.”

Why Was the 2018 NJ Skeeter Hunt So Much Fun?

I had a blast because I was with two of the hams that have played such an important part of my journey in this hobby. The weather was a bonus as were the horses!

KX2 Case

kx2 case

This is my KX2 case. It’s a Pelican 1200 case in vibrant orange so you can’t miss it out in the woods, unless it’s autumn in New England! Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

KX2 Case – For Durability Use a Pelican 1200 Case

My Elecraft KX2 is protected from damage because it fits snugly and securely inside a Pelican 1200 case. I don’t want my radio damaged if I slip and fall on a muddy or icy trail out in the wilderness.

kx2 case

This is an Elecraft KX2 inside a Pelican 1200 case. Just about everything you need to get on the air is in the case. Some of the gear I normally put in the case before I close it I left out for this photo. It would block what’s down in the foam cutouts. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

What Fits in the KX2 Case?

I’m able to get the following into my Pelican 1200 Case:

Yes, all this fits in the case plus the radio! You just have to use the space wisely. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

What Do the Cutouts Look Like?

kx2 case

The foam moves around when everything is out, but it goes back to the correct position when your stow the gear. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Will a KX3 Fit in a Pelican 1200 Case?

Yes, you can make an Elecraft KX3 fit into a Pelican 1200 case. It needs to be rotated 90 degrees so the long side of the radio is parallel with the case hinges.

You won’t be able to get into the case all the other goodies I’m able to stash with my KX2.

kx3 case

Here’s my KX3 sitting on top of the foam and other gear. You can’t see it from this angle, but there’s enough room on the sides for one row of the foam cubes. You might be able to stow the battery, unun, coax and power jumper cables, but that’s about it. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

kx3 case

Jerry, W4DSD, contacted me about my KX2 in a case because he’s trying to get his KX3 to work in the same Pelican 1200 case. You can see there won’t be much room left for other stuff. Copyright 2018 Jerry W4DSD

pelican 1200 case

I wanted the bright orange so that no one steps on the case when I’m outdoors. If it had come with a flashing LED light, I would have bought that too! Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

 

Flight of the Bumblebees QRP Contest 2018

Here’s part of my logbook for the 2018 Bumblebee contest. You need to flip over the page to see the other two contacts. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Flight of the Bumblebees 2018 Contest

“I’m a flippin’ operator.”

I was proclaiming this as I stood over Jim Cluett, W1PID. He was sitting in the warm grass on a knoll on the flanks of Mt. Kearsarge. Jim and I were here with our mutual friend Dave Benson, K1SWL. The three of us were bumblebees out in the field trying to gather radio pollen.

We were participating in the annual Flight of the Bumblebees QRP contest hosted by the Adventure Radio Society. Just as bees flit around flower blossoms to gather nectar, we would be spinning the frequency knobs on our radios trying to collect as many contacts with other radio operators as possible.

It’s best if you bump into other bees who are also participating in the contest if you want to get a high score. I tend to be more interested in meeting other people face-to-face when we’re out operating instead of talking with people I can’t see.

The Boastful Bumblebee

I made that bumptious remark to Jim, my outdoor radio and CW mentor, because 90 minutes before I found myself on yet another plateau in my ongoing HF radio quest. I knew Jim would be happy because he’s been patiently pushing me for the past five years to become a respectable HF radio operator.

I love amateur radio but I don’t give it as high a priority in my life as Jim might like. “Just practice 15 minutes a day,” has been his mantra. Sadly I don’t follow that advice each day as some other shiny object seems to garner my attention.

Getting on the Air

When the three of us walked from the parking lot to the picnic area I peeled off first after eyeing a tree that was about 65-feet tall. It was perfect for my 29-foot wire antenna.

Here I am happy as a clam. I had already made four or five contacts and was thinking about how just two years ago I would have been thrilled with two! Copyright 2018 Jim Cluett

The day before I had decided to get the antenna up as far as possible and connect a 25-foot coax cable to the 9:1 unun that was 15 feet in the air at the base of the 29-foot wire. I wanted the best possible chance for my signal to get out.

Not two minutes had passed and my antenna was up in the tree. Ninety seconds later I was on the air. I glanced over my right shoulder and noticed Jim and Dave were still in a discussion about where each of them was going to operate.

Go back four or five years ago and it would have taken me 15 minutes to get my antenna up into a tree and all my gear set up. Now it only takes me one underhanded throw to get my water bottle and the halyard line 60, or more, feet up and over tree branches.

Here’s Jim with his 44-foot twisted pair dipole antenna. It was nice and warm in the sun. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Radio Signals Galore!

I was stunned when I tuned my radio to the QRP (low-power) frequency on 20 meters. There were all sorts of stations calling! This past year propagation has been dismal and there have been times I’ve turned on the radio and heard just one, or two, signals.

Within a few minutes, I had already contacted two other bumblebee operators! After the third contact, I stopped and thought about how just three years ago I would have been thrilled with two contacts for an outing.

Can you Hear Morse Code?

But it gets better. I’m now at a level where I can hear a call sign the first time. Five months ago it would take me two or three times to capture the code and decipher it in my head. While I’m not able to copy at 20 words per minute (WPM), I’m comfortable at 15 WPM.

I feel within six months I’ll be head copying at 15 WPM with no trouble. Three years ago that milestone was not even on my radar. I never thought I could advance that far.

An Ironworker and the Family

About one hour after arriving, two motorcycles rumbled into the parking lot. The two couples made their way to the picnic area and sat at a table across from me. They were extremely curious as to why a wire was stretched up into the tree above me. It’s important to realize they were polite and didn’t bother me.

Jim called me on the radio and I answered him. The contact counted. But the rascal was only 150 feet away from me and gave me a miserable 449 signal report. One of Jim’s favorite pastimes is to yank my chain, some days harder than others.

“What’s the deal with the 449?” I yelled down to Jim who was sitting on the grass.

Here’s where Jim was set up. Why he didn’t ask for help to move a picnic table down here is a mystery. He had a stunning view to the north and east. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

“What’s 449 mean?” said one of the women motorcycle riders. I got up from my table and began a delightful 15-minute conversation.

I discovered her boyfriend was a retired ironworker from Massachusetts. He used to work the high steel and drive spud wrenches into the holes at the end of I-beams so the bolt holes would line up.

spud wrench

Here’s a spud wrench. Ironworkers have these in assorted sizes. I got this one back in the early 1970s at a construction site across from my home. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

The other motorcycle couple had just gotten back from a three-week cycle trip through many of the national parks in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

It’s fun talking to strangers. At least for me, it is.

As I walked back from visiting Jim, a middle-aged man was starting a fire in a granite-lined firepit. Moments later his wife walked by my table and said, “Hello! What have you got going on?”

Wires and strings dangling from trees are the best conversation starter I’ve ever discovered. Within minutes I was engaged in a delightful conversation about what I was doing.

It didn’t take me long to discover the husband was a financial advisor and he loved using the Peak Finder app on his smartphone to identify all the mountains we were looking at to the west, north, and east.

sandwich mountain nh

Here’s the profile of the view I have from my deck looking north. This is a very useful app if you like to hike where there are mountains! Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

“There’s Mt. Ascutney in Windsor, VT,” he exclaimed. He then pointed his phone to the north and east and I could see the names and horizon profile of lots of familiar peaks in central New Hampshire. I downloaded that app as soon as I got home. What a neat and useful tool to have on future radio outings!

Eyeball QSOs Don’t Count

I looked at my watch and it was time to pack up and leave. As I met up with Jim and Dave near the cars, they both made it quite clear that all the time I wasted talking to the motorcyclists and the family wouldn’t count towards my score.

“Those eyeball QSOs don’t count buddy,” Jim said with an impish grin.

“You could have had another 15 contacts if you hadn’t talked to all those people,” he added. Dave was backing him up 150 percent.

“Listen, I know you don’t like talking to people, but I do. I discovered all sorts of things about spud wrenches and I know where Mt. Ascutney is.”

“What? Where’s Mt. Ascutney?”

“Forget about it. I’m not telling you. Go ask that man if you’re so interested.”

We all laughed and Jim put his arm around me saying, “I still love you.”

He meant it and the feeling is mutual. Each time we all go out I have more and more fun and today was one of my best outings ever.