NEFR South Arm 80-Meter NVIS Test

On Saturday, October 10, 2020 I (Tim Carter – W3ATB) met with four other dedicated radio operators in Bethel, Maine. Our goal was to solve a pesky communications issue that has plagued the New England Forest Rally (NEFR) for many years. CLICK or TAP HERE to read about the conundrum.

I’m the Chief of Communications for the NEFR and had the pleasure of working with four dedicated radio operators who’ve volunteered for the rally in past years. They understood the importance of coming up with a solution for this world-class racing event. Here are the following Extra-class radio operators who volunteered their precious time and their skills for this test:

  • Tim Foy – W1FOY
  • Justin Hughes – KJ1H
  • JT Isherwood – N1JTI
  • Wayne Reetz – KA1CPR

Wayne also brought along his wife Sharyn. It’s always wonderful to have an XYL (former young lady) to help brighten the atmosphere.

We met just before 9 AM at the Sunday River Brewing Company restaurant to get fueled up as we would be in the middle of nowhere once we were up at South Arm.

South Arm 80M NVIS

Here’s the gang! Going counter-clockwise around the table: Sharyn Reetz, Wayne Reetz, Tim Foy, Tim Carter, Justin Hughes, and JT Isherwood

Once we left the restaurant, we had to drive nearly forty miles to get to South Arm, Maine. It was a stunning autumn day and we were treated with plenty of ocular delights as we traveled up Route 5 and then South Arm Road.

South Arm 80M NVIS

We lucked out on the weather. The temperature by Noon was close to 70 F.

South Arm 80M NVIS

South Arm, Maine is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It’s a great place for peace and quiet.

We had decided to test two HF bands: 80 and 10 meters. Our plan was to use either a flat or low inverted-V NVIS antenna for 80 meters and vertical 10-meter dipole antennas for the test.

 

South Arm 80M NVIS

Here’s my 80-meter NVIS antenna setup. I have an extendable fiberglass painter’s pole supporting the center of the 80-meter dipole. The arrows point to yellow lines that indicate where the antenna wires stretched. I was able to set this up in just fifteen minutes.

South Arm 80M NVIS

This is one end of the 80-meter NVIS antenna. That’s a fiberglass electric-fence support that’s ideal to hold up the end of the wire. JT had suggested using these. This small post is about 60 feet from the painter’s pole.

I had asked Tim Foy if he’d be kind enough to be net control for the test. He was positioned at the Start position of South Arm stage of the NEFR. I decided to set up at the Finish position about nine and one-half miles down the course. Wayne, JT, and Justin were at critical locations where normal radio operators set up during this NEFR event.

South Arm 80M NVIS

Here’s the actual map of the South Arm racecourse (stage). Tim Foy was at position A, Wayne Reetz was at position D the first turn off up the Icicle Brook Loop Road, Justin was at the red arrow to the right of Wayne at the traditional relay position on Icicle Brook, JT was at position H the other end of the Icicle Brook Loop Road, and I was at position J, the Finish of the South Arm stage.

We all had 2-meter mobile radios as well so we could communicate via a relay system to ensure all were ready to begin the test.

Our plan was to start with 100 watts of power and work down to low power until one, or more, operators could not be heard clearly.

I was using my trusty ICOM-7000 mobile HF radio. The other four operators also were well equipped for the test. I had created some simple logsheets for each operator to use to record the signal strength of each other operator as Tim Foy called for them in the round-robin net.

South Arm 80M NVIS

Here’s my ICOM 7000 with my LDG Z-11Pro II tuner ready to transmit.

I was always the last to check-in and I was bouncing up and down during the first round of the net. Every operator’s signal was strong and clear. Justin had a minor over-modulation issue, but even with that I could clearly make out what he was saying.

As we continued to reduce power levels from 100, to 50, to 25, to 10, and finishing with 5 watts, I was able to hear everyone and everyone heard all others. This had never before been done on this stage of the South Arm course. Our test was a success! We had finally solved the South Arm comms conundrum.

Listen to the entire test:

Justin had suggested weeks before that we try 10 meters. It’s a little-used HF band and it very close to the older citizen’s band of 11 meters that was popular in the 1970s. I was able to hear all the other operators on the course with extreme clarity, but I couldn’t hear Tim Foy at the Start. Ten meters turned out to be a dismal failure.

I had hoped it would work because those with Technician privileges are allowed to use a small part of the voice segment of the 10-meter band. This would open up the candidate pool to all who volunteer so long as they own a radio that can transmit on 10 meters.

We are going to continue to test other HF bands and try to get the 10-meter dipole antennas higher in the air to see if that will make a difference. But for now, we know 80 meters NVIS works and we can provide the quality of communications this spectacular race event deserves.

 

Hersey Mountain Hike SOTA

Hersey Mountain

Hersey Mountain Vista | This is the payoff for hiking up 1000 feet in elevation in just 1.4 miles. You’re looking to the southeast from the summit of Hersey Mountain.

On Friday, October 9, 2020 I joined my very good friend Jim Cluett, W1PID, on our first outing of the year. Our goal was to get to the top of Hersey Mountain which straddles both Sanbornton and New Hampton, New Hampshire.

It was a stunning autumn day with the temperature in the mid-50s. The sun was warm and the air was cool and crisp. Our goal was to get out in the fresh air and hopefully achieve a SOTA activation. Hersey Mountain is in the SOTA database: W1/HA-029.

The Hersey Mountain trailhead is very easy to find. Travel to Carter Mountain Road in New Hampton and follow it just over one mile until you come to a small parking area on the right for three cars. This is where the Class VI Mountain Road begins.

Hersey Mountain

I’m standing on Carter Mountain Road looking at the start of the Class VI road. The parking area is to my right.

If you have a vehicle with enough ground clearance, you can drive the 6/10ths of a mile east on Mountain Road to the actual trailhead. There’s a wide parking area that can handle at least four or five cars.

Hersey Mountain

This is the actual trailhead. I’m standing on the Class VI Mountain Road. The red arrow points to the northeast corner blue boundary marker of the George Duncan State Forest. There were also blue-painted blazes in the tree just to the right of the blue metal stake. Had we known about this large parking area, I would have parked my truck next to the car.

A giant berm has been bulldozed here to prevent cars and trucks from traversing up the logging road that makes up the first 30 percent of the hike.

Hersey Mountain Trail

Hike Hersey Mountain during peak color and this is some of the ocular delights you’ll enjoy.

Jim and I both brought our cell phones and each of us was running an active GPS app to help us make sure we were headed the right way. Jim had talked with a friend of ours, Hanz Busch, a few days before. Hanz had hiked the trail and said it was marked with surveyors tape in many places, but the trail itself is not as clear as one might like it to be.

Hersey Mountain

I parked my F-250 4×4 at a large clearing on the north side of Mountain Road. I knew we were close to the trailhead and had no idea we could park at it. You’re looking east on Mountain Road and you just have to go a short distance to get to the trailhead.

We started the hike at 1:30 PM and I had estimated it would take us about 1 hour and 15 minutes to summit. By driving to within 500 feet of the trailhead, we saved a mile overall on the hike.

Hersey Mountain

Here’s Jim nearly at the top of the logging road. It was a fairly steep climb up the road.

The first half-mile of the hike is up a very wide logging road. There were quite a few large water bars put in by the landowner to prevent the road from washing out. Water bars act like gutters on the bottom of a roof. They capture the water and re-direct it to the side of the road.

“Look, there’s a cairn. This is no doubt the way to go.” Jim had spotted it. You could clearly see the trail take off into the forest.

Hersey Mountain

This is the cairn marking the end of the logging road and the beginning of the trail into the forest.

Every now and then we’d stop to catch our breath. It’s not like we’re both 28 years old and can run up the hill! Once when we stopped, Jim noticed how some of the tree branches had strange shapes.

Hersey Mountain

This is the one branch Jim spied. It is most unusual. How do you think it happened?

“I think the story title might be, “The Mystery of the Twisted Twigs.” It was pretty lame, but I was starting to get a little winded. We still had a ways to go. Everytime we stopped, Jim would check his GPS to get an idea of our progress.

Hersey Mountain

We still have quite a ways to go! The summit elevation is close to 1990 feet. If the GPS reading is correct, and I’m sure it’s darn close, we still have to go up about 630 feet in elevation.

For me when hiking a new trail, it always seems like it’s three times longer than it really is. I like hiking, but I don’t love it. We talked about how radio operators who live to do SOTA activations must love hiking 10 times more than doing radio. You can invest hours of hiking just to sit on a summit for 30 minutes or so doing radio.

Hersey Mountain

We’re clawing our way to the top. Slow and steady!

It was a beautiful hike through the forest and not overly steep. Every now and then you’d come to a short part where you’d take your time, but there were also some quite flat spots as you’d go back and forth on the trail. If you go, be sure to take a roll of orange surveyor’s tape to help create a few markers to help others. The wind really does a number on the tape and it doesn’t last as long as you might think.

The minutes were clicking by, but we were having a good time. The closer we got to the top, we noticed there were fewer pieces of tape around the trees. We could see the trail only because there were no green ferns or saplings growing in the trail. You’d be in a world of hurt in the winter with snow on the ground. You’d just have to keep climbing UP. You’ll never go wrong doing that!

Hersey Mountain

We made it! This is what you see as you’re just ten feet below the summit. A delightful hikers shelter constructed around 1990.

“We’re close!” Jim had just checked his GPS and the blue arrow was basically on the summit. I could see some blue sky in front of us and knew that was our goal.

Hersey Mountain

This is the map of the trail. The start of the trail is where the tracing touches the gray bar to the left of the compass. You can see the dashed lines indicating the Class VI Mountain Road. I don’t know why the tracing shows going up Mountain Road and going the other direction. I think that was from a past hike a year ago. I captured this from my phone app immediately upon walking out to the vista point in front of the hiking shelter. Note the time – 2:49 PM.

It’s such a rewarding feeling getting to the top on a hike like this. I looked at my watch and by gosh, it had only taken us the hour and nineteen minutes I budgeted. I know that I can normally do 1,000 feet of elevation gain in an hour, but since I hadn’t hiked a hill like this in a while, I wanted to add 25% to my estimate. “Well, I was way off. I thought we could do it in 40 minutes,” Jim exclaimed.

It was time to do radio. While I was setting up my Elecraft KX2 and the 29-foot wire attached to a 9:1 unun, Jim decided to break out his Baofungus tiny transceiver with a stubby antenna. He called out and lo and behold a man from 40 miles away in Concord, NH answered back. Altitude sure helps when you’re doing radio.

Here are some photos of the radio part of our adventure:

Hersey Mountain

This is my Elecraft KX2 and the logbook of our contacts.

Hersey Mountain

Jim can’t keep his hands off an HF radio! He wanted to get some contacts too.

Hersey Mountain

I had on an autumn-themed shirt! I’m busy chatting with a Canadian radio operator.

Hersey Mountain

We had a successful SOTA activation. You need four contacts and we got five.

My antenna sloped to the east which was perfect. Soon we had three European stations in the logbook. There’s nothing like long-distance (DX) contacts in the log on a SOTA adventure. Here are the five contacts:

STATION FREQ RST Sent RST Rcvd TIME
NS1O 146.520 5/9 S  5/9 R  1912
LZ3XT 20 M 599 599 1917
HA5JI 20 M 599 599 1920
IU0LJD 20 M 599 599 1924
VE1EX 40 M 579 569 1927
Hersey Mountain QSO Map

Here are my five contacts. Map courtesy of: qsomap.org

We decided to head back down the mountain after getting the five radio contacts. But first, I wanted to see the inside of the shelter and to sign in the logbook. You could easily spend the night here! Look at everything that you can use for free.

Hersey Mountain

Anyone can use the shelter and all that’s in it. You just keep it clean and pay it forward.

Hersey Mountain

Look at the dandy cast-iron woodstove! That will take the chill off if you come up on a blustery cold day. Look at all the supplies!

Hersey Mountain

Here’s the logbook you can sign. What fun reading what others write!

The trip back down only took forty minutes, but that’s to be expected. We did stop twice to rest as it’s hard on my knees, and Jim’s too, coming down.

I’d hike this mountain again anytime in great weather. I have to say we lucked out on such a beautiful day with the forest ablaze with fall color. It’s my favorite time of year and a true prize to be able to enjoy it.

Hersey Mountain

Here’s another odd-shaped tree we saw on the way back down.

Hersey Mountain

This is the top of the logging road. The rock cairn is behind me and over my right shoulder as I shot this photo. You need to head towards the orange and red trees to get back down to the trailhead. If you hike this mountain soon, I suspect you’ll be able to see the gray wood slash pile unless some kids set it ablaze one night! You can see the sun was getting lower in the sky as it smooched the trees with some golden-hour light.

 

QRP Afield 2020 Sleepy Tale

QRP Afield 2020 Food

It’s often said that outdoor radio resembles a food club that dabbles in radio. I first heard that from Lee Hillsgrove, Sr. KB1GNI at a sled dog public service event.

Yesterday I participated in the QRP Club of New England‘s annual QRP Afield contest. This low-intensity end-of-summer low-powered radio contest is always scheduled for the third Saturday in September. It turns out it coincided with several other contests. Here are a few that came through my Elecraft KX2 speaker:

  • Scandinavian Activity Contest
  • Iowa QSO Party
  • NH QSO Party
  • NJ QSO Party
  • WA Salmon Run

My 90 Acres In the Sun

I decided to operate in the field on a stunning 90-acre tract of land I own in central NH. There’s a small clearing that faces south and west with no nearby hills or mountains that might block radio signals. The WX served up brilliant sunny skies with the temperature kissing up against 60 F. It felt much warmer in the sun and every now and then a puff of light wind would rustle the tree leaves that are just starting to change color.

QRP Afield 2020

You should be able to see my vertical 29-foot wire antenna about to go up. It’s the yellow wire to the left. The lime-green string dropping to my truck is the halyard I use to get the antenna wire up into the tree. I was able to catch the exact branch in the tree with my first water-bottle throw. Watch the video below to see how I do it.

My Outdoor Radio Setup

Everything I need to operate outdoors fits into a wonderful OGIO daypack. My Elecraft KX2 with its set of Elecraft paddles has become my trusty friend. Just about all I need fits into my dandy Pelican 1200 box. This adds extra weight when walking, but I’m willing to put up with that to protect all my fragile gear in case I slip and fall.

I use a 29-foot wire for my antenna connected to a 9:1 unun. I’ve also started using a 17-foot counterpoise wire that attaches to the ground post on the unun. The counterpoise produces a 1:1 SWR match on all bands from 40 meters and up.

I’ve mastered the art of setting up. In great weather, I can be on the air in a relaxed five minutes or less. Just after powering up my radio just after 11:45 AM using the BioEnnoPower 4.5 Ahr battery, I heard my first contact – W0ITT. I didn’t even have my logbook open so I wrote his callsign on a scrap of paper.

Eating and Logging

I wake up each day around 5:30 AM. That means I’m ready for lunch at noon. I had packed a variety of food and decided to have a W3ATB buffet on the tailgate of my Ford F-250 Super Duty 4X4. The salsa was delicious!

Rite in the Rain

I’m starting to fill my logbook. Luckily there are no salsa stains on it. I could have wiped them off easily as my Rite-in-the-Rain logbook has waterproof paper.

The 20-meter band was alive and well. I immediately started roaming around 14.060 – the accepted QRP watering hole. My third contact, K1RID was another member of the club and almost next door in Kittery, Maine. It was hard to believe 20 meters was so short, and yet I felt it was impossible my puny 5 watts of power was generating a ground wave that would reach the ocean. I felt this was a good omen for how the day would turn out.

Napping Surrounded By Signals

It’s important to realize I made my first contact about 13 minutes before noon. My next twelve contacts tumbled into my logbook over the next hour and twenty minutes. Just after I logged K0AJW, a tsunami of fatigue washed over me. I think it was a combination of the delicious lunch, the glorious warm sunshine, and the fact I had some poor sleep a few days ago.

I decided to crawl into the bed of my truck and catch a quick nap. What could it hurt, right? Within minutes I was fast asleep. At least three times my catnap was interrupted by my 9:1 unun. A light breeze would move the antenna wire and allow the unun to clunk against the right-rear taillight of my truck. That innocent breeze was tousling my antenna wire much like someone might do to your hair in a spriteful way. I remember it only took seconds to drift back into slumber awash in the toasty southern sunlight.

Once I woke back up, I operated for another thirty minutes or so. My neighbor Bob and his wife Teri had walked up the hill with their two dogs. We spent the next hour catching up. It was a great way to end the adventure.

Here’s my list of contacts for the fun afternoon of QRP radio:

Skeeter Hunt 2020

I participated in the Skeeter Hunt low-powered amateur radio contest today set up on a 90-acre tract of land I own in central New Hampshire. Well over two hundred radio operators spread across North America, and possibly other countries, had signed up to see how many contacts they could make in just four hours.

I love doing low-stress contests like this. I’ll never forget doing my first Zombie Shuffle and when you read that story, you’ll understand why. Part of the challenge is all the other operators in the contest, including me, must use low power when transmitting. In the hobby, we call it QRP. That’s a Q code for lower your power or should I lower my power? We all use 5 watts or less. This tiny amount of power is all that’s used to produce that soft glow in the incandescent bulb that’s inside the night light in your bathroom or hallway.

The WX

The day started out cloudy and cool and it remained so all the time I was out. The temperature made it to 70 F with a dew point of 58 F. It was delightful weather as the previous two weeks had been quite hot and humid for New Hampshire.

Every now and then a grumpy dark-gray cloud would float over and one decided to spit on me about twenty minutes into the adventure. I had decided to just operate standing up by the opened tailgate of my Ford F-250 Super Duty 4X4.

skeeter hunt 2020 w3atb

Here’s everything I need to get on the air to make contacts. CLICK or TAP HERE to see how I transformed that Pelican 1200 case into a perfect kit box to safely store my Elecraft KX2 and all the other gear.

My Setup

I used my standard outdoor radio equipment for the contest. I’ve perfected the storage of the equipment using a Pelican 1200 case and the deployment of my antenna. Here’s what I used to make my 15 QSOs using traditional Morse code:

On the Air

Several years ago my mentor, Jim Cluett, W1PID, taught me how to get a wire antenna up in a tree in less than two minutes. Here’s the method I use to do it:

I was on the air just after the 1 PM start time and registered my first contact within a few minutes. The sun did a fantastic job today tickling the atmosphere because the moment I turned on my radio and tuned it, I was hearing lots of other operators around the common low-powered watering hole of 14.060 on twenty meters.

I had a great feeling about how the day was going to turn out. I was to discover later that the propagation was so good some operators made 30, or more, contacts. That’s a remarkable number using low power in such a short time.

skeeter hunt 2020 w3atb

I’m on the air and I’ve got one in the logbook. I then got serious and started to fill up three pages with more contacts.

A Visitor

About thirty minutes into the contest my phone rang. It was Jim! I hadn’t seen him for six months because of the wretched virus.

“Listen, how are you doing? I’ve only made about three or four contacts using a 44-foot dipole in my driveway. Who have you worked so far?”

“Well, I’ve got about six contacts at this point. The bands are pretty good.”

I read off my QSOs and Jim said, “I don’t have any of those! What the heck!”

“Why don’t you just come up here and operate instead of your house?”

Jim lives about six miles away and he decided to come up to the property. It took him about 30 minutes to break down his station and drive to my land. It was really great to see him.

Saved the Best For Last

Jim set up about 200 feet from me and tried to fil his logbook. He didn’t do too well today, but I think he just came up for a change of scenery. I’ve got lots of maple trees on my land and the sap from these trees is the first crop of the season for local farmers and other business people. Some use the nectar to flavor ice cream. But I digress.

Jim wandered down to my location about five minutes before 3 PM. Just then his phone rang and it was a dear friend of his, Carter Craige, N3AO. I had the good fortune to meet Carter back in 2014 at the ARRL Centennial in Hartford, CT. At the time, his bride, Kay Craige, was the president of the ARRL.

Carter had been participating for the first two hours like us and had made a remarkable 33 contacts using a giant loop antenna up 40 feet in a bunch of trees on his property in Blacksburg, Virginia. Some refer to that antenna as an NVIS cloud warmer. Well, it was warming up Carter’s logbook today that’s for sure!

Both Jim and I did a fast exchange with Carter and that was it for the day. It was so very exciting to have Carter in my logbook once more!

My Contacts

Here’s a summary of the stations I made contact with today:

  • W8EWH – Michigan
  • N0SS – Missouri
  • N4ARY – Georgia
  • NK9G – Wisconsin
  • N2FYE – New Jersey
  • W3BBO – Pennsylvania
  • K5KHK – New York
  • N8BB – Michigan
  • NI9M – Illinois
  • KM3D – Pennsylvania
  • VA2SG – Quebec / Canada
  • N2MO – New Jersey
  • W2JEK – New Jersey
  • NN9K – Illinois
  • N3AO – Virginia

QRP Aluminum Boat Dock Antenna

qrp antenna

Do you think this aluminum boat dock will work as an amateur radio antenna?

Today my good buddy and tormentor, Jim Cluett – W1PID, and I did a fun experiment.

We used my 40-foot aluminum crank-out boat dock as an antenna. Watch this video for the full story, then continue to read below.

We changed the feed point halfway through the experiment and had success. It’s important to realize the steel cable attached to the tree winch is also radiating and receiving radio signals. The steel cable from the winch has a metallic connection to another shorter loop cable that touches the aluminum frame of the dock.

If you’re an antenna expert, you can deduce or ponder how changing the feed point from the bottom of the dock rail to the steel cable at the tree would make a difference.

I was able to make two contacts in just ten minutes, HI3CC in the Dominican Republic and IO5O, a radio club in Italy. You can see here I was pretty pleased with the outcome.

w3atb

It wasn’t too cold, but there was a stiff breeze from the north coming across the water. It can send a chill through you if you’re not wearing a dandy Irish wool scarf. I’m so lucky to have one!

It was a fun experiment and I recommend you try wacky tests like this to see how you might be able to make a contact.

A QRP Test at New Hampton Meeting House

W1PID

Here’s Jim Cluett, W1PID, after he’s set up his small emergency kit. He’s listening with a small set of earphones as the LNR radio has no speaker.

“Listen, I’ve got this small Pelican 1120 case with an LNR Mountain Topper rig in it. I have everything in the case to make a fast emergency contact. Let’s test it today.”

This plan was hatched early in the morning as part of the secret message CW training Jim does for me to help improve my Morse code copy speed. Today was to be a wonderful sunny day as opposed to the gray cold rainy day yesterday. November in New Hampshire can be sullen so when the sun’s out, you take advantage of it.

New Hampton Meeting House

We decided to operate at picnic tables at the New Hampton Meeting House. They were in the sun and rarely do we see people here. That means we can operate in relative peace. It’s an old building, erected in 1798, as you can tell!

“It looks like I’ll get there before you by a few minutes. I’ll scout out a picnic table in the sun.” I mentioned this to Jim as we communicated on VHF 147.540. We routinely talk on simplex VHF on our mobile radios as we drive to meet each other on our adventures.

We arrived at the New Hampton Meeting House precisely at 2 pm. The sun was shining brightly but it was low in the sky. The temperature kissed up against 42 F and fortunately there was no wind to slice through our lighter-weight clothing. It was a blue-bird gorgeous November day.

LNR mountain topper

Here’s the 40-meter resonant antenna Jim decided to use with his tiny LNR Mountain Topper radio. There were two pieces of 26-gauge wire on this spool, each 33 feet long. The wires would connect to a banana plug adapter which attaches directly to the tiny radio.

Jim had his emergency kit unpacked in seconds.

“Boy, it sure is easy to unravel the antenna wires with two people!” Jim obviously has had trouble in the past deploying this thin wire by himself. This very thin wire which can get intertwined faster than you can open a prize from your best friend!

While he connected the ends of the thin wire to his banana plug adapter, I suspended the two strands of wire in a straight line just about four feet off the ground in the limbs of nearby bushes and scrub trees.

It only took us about five minutes to set up.

“Already the experiment failed.” Jim pronounced with a tone of disgust. His small home-brewed iambic paddle was malfunctioning. A very important part of this emergency test was that everything needed to work so you could get help or transmit a message for someone needing help.

“That’s what happens when you don’t test your equipment before going out.” I don’t have a strong sense of empathy when it comes to my buddy Jim because he’s quick at the draw to point out my shortcomings. A crisp example is the day he swore I was sending Morse in reverse. But I digress.

I opened my backpack and pulled out my coveted micro Pico iambic paddles so Jim could continue on with his experiment. He was quite appreciative.

W1PID

Here’s Jim impatiently waiting for other operators to end their extended conversations.

The goals of the experiment were:

  • to set up quickly
  • to make a fast contact

Jim hunted for other operators and found four, but they were all in long extended conversations we hams call rag chews.

Then Jim found an operator who must have had his radio set up to send CQ automatically not allowing another operator to answer him easily.

“He wants to call CQ for twenty minutes!” Jim was exasperated. He wanted a fast contact!

It’s important to realize this exercise was to do a simulated emergency as if you were out in the wilderness and someone needed help right away. In that situation, you don’t want to be lollygagging around chit-chatting with your soulmate about what movie you’re going to watch on Netflix tonight.

Jim has an overabundance of positive qualities too many to name but patience is not one of them.

W1PID

We were set up surrounded by evergreen trees that exceeded 110 feet tall. That’s pretty normal for trees in New Hampshire. They’re spectacular.

Jim was locating strong signals but each one was an operator engaged in a long conversation.

“The guys are having Thanksgiving dinner here!” I couldn’t help but laugh at Jim’s quandary of locating some operator not engaged in an extended rag chew who would just call CQ and allow Jim to answer back. CQ is the universal acronym in Morse code operators send inviting any listening station to answer back. Sometimes the CQ is sent with another acronym to filter out some operators.

After about fifteen, maybe twenty minutes, Jim finally made contact with K8AI in Michigan. It’s important to realize the radio Jim was using transmits a very low-powered signal and we had an antenna just four feet off the ground. It was remarkable that it worked if you have a grasp of antenna theory!

I had decided to take advantage of the glorious day and quickly set up my Elecraft KX2. I got out my trusty water bottle and had my 29-foot vertical-wire antenna up in less than two minutes. I connect this wire to a 9:1 unun. This lowers the impedance in the wire antenna to a respectable amount so the internal tuner in my KX3 can maximize my output signal.

The first throw of my water bottle launched my halyard over a dead branch about 50 feet in the air.

It didn’t take me but a few minutes to locate a tasty long-distance contact in the Caribbean, FM5KC. It was the Ducos Radio Club on the tiny island of Martinique. I was on 20 meters and used skills taught to me by Jim to quickly get the Ducos operator to hear me before hearing some other more-powerful station.

To think one can do this with a radio that sips power from a small 3 Ah BioEnnoPower LFP battery and transmits out a signal using just five watts of energy still astounds me.

W3ATB

Here I am happy as a clam after making two DX contacts in less than ten minutes in not-so-favorable conditions! Outdoor radio can be very challenging. No, I’m not bald, but I do have a growing bald spot on the back of my noggin!

After entering the data in my logbook I went hunting for another contact. Within minutes I had a fast exchange with ZF2MJ, another Caribbean station. It was Dan who was either vacationing in the Cayman Islands, or he might have a winter residence there as he possesses a Cayman Islands callsign.

We decided to pack up after I logged Dan. We had been at the Meeting House for nearly an hour and a cup of hot coffee sounded great.

Jim decided to help assemble my gear and focused on getting the wire antenna out of the tree.

“You wind the string onto the reel first, don’t you?”

Always the quintessential jokester Jim tries at every chance to get a rise out me. He knows to wind the wire on first and if you ever see him, ask him about the time he decided to load my shorter 17-foot counterpoise wire onto my Trident finger reel instead of my antenna!

It was a wonderful afternoon and believe me the days like this left in the year might be able to be counted on one hand. Soon the cover snow will happen and you won’t see the carpet of leaves or grass until April.

El Yunque National Forest Puerto Rico Adventure

kelly carter

When it’s time to go on an adventure to discover hidden prizes, you better have an adventure hat on! Left to right: Jessie, Sarah, Kelly

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a story about doing outdoor radio at the El Yunque National Rain Forest in Puerto Rico, but the radio operation was a tiny part of the overall experience. It’s my hope you savor the story and are lucky enough to walk away with prizes like I did.

“Where are your adventure hats? I see your Dad is prepared with his sporty wide-brimmed blue adventure hat. How can you expect to have fun on an adventure without a hat? I had trouble myself selecting which hat to wear.”

Sarah was letting my daughter Kelly, and her good friend Jessie, know that they weren’t prepared for our imminent departure to the El Yunque National Forest just east southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“We didn’t get the memo!” replied my daughter Kelly in a slightly sassy but happy voice. Howls of laughter filled the lobby of the hotel as we made last-moment preparations to leave. We had to walk a quarter mile up Calle Del Cristo street to get to our parked rental car. Mila, another young woman who rounded out Kelly’s friends was to meet us at the parked car.

mila

The mysterious Mila. Don’t underestimate her wit and spunk!

Because on-street parking is harder to find in Old San Juan than a sober person, the plan was for Mila to take over our parking space with her rough-and-tumble pickup truck the second we pulled out of it. We executed the plan perfectly, Mila jumped in the car and the happiness volume knob in the car was turned on full.

old san juan

This is typical on-street parking in Old San Juan. Yes, believe it or not, there is a street on the OTHER side of the cars. You bet it’s narrow!

Four Young Chicks & One Old Goat

This was my last full day visiting my daughter Kelly who’s worked in Old San Juan for the past twenty months. She was conscripted to the island paradise with Jessie by Sarah who needed help running a boutique hotel after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in September of 2017.

kelly and dad

Here’s my Kelly. It’s hard for her to be so far away, but she’s got to chase her dreams. I get it!

Mila was working at the hotel and it didn’t take long for the four young women to become thick as Caribbean pirates. Their love for each other was as infectious as Yellow Fever as we made our way out of the fortress walls of Old San Juan to the closest gas station to get multiple six-packs of cute small cans of Medalla Light beer to quench the unending thirst the rain forest creates.

old san juan fort

Walls taller than this surround most of Old San Juan. Think of the insane amount of labor it took to build them. No power tools or engines! Manpower and animals only.

Within minutes the day was dubbed Dad’s Day as Sarah had made it crystal clear four days earlier upon my arrival that I was to be her surrogate dad during the stay. “You’re the first parent to come visit any of us!” Thus this old goat now had four vivacious young daughters for the day.

el yunque

Look at the prizes at the end of the rainbow! How lucky was I to be with my daughter Kelly and my three surrogate daughters for the day. Left to right: Kelly, Mila, Jessie, Sarah

You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to see right away that lots of lifetime memories were in store as we drove towards the El Yunque rain forest.

Puerto Rican Cuisine & Spirits

It’s important to realize my daughter and Mila are bartenders in Old San Juan. My daughter happens to work at El Batey, the oldest bar on the island. It has a rich history. I was surrounded by four young women who not only knew about drinks, they were experts at drinking. In the previous 72 hours I had consumed more liquid courage than I had in the previous ten years!

el batey old san juan

Here’s the center of the vortex of El Batey – the oldest bar in Old San Juan.

About forty minutes into the drive we pulled to the side of the road to grab some lunch at a typical roadside food stand. This one also served up drinks and it’s a good thing they did. Their supply of spirits prevented the stash of Medalla Light from dwindling down dangerously low.

food stand puerto rico

Here are the four young lasses ordering lunch. Dad picked up the tab. Mila speaks fluent Puerto Rican Spanish being a native and made sure everything was perfect.

Outdoor seating is common and most roadside foot stands have both covered and uncovered seating. After all, you’re in a lush warm tropical climate. We all sat at a nice round table, drank, ate and talked about the upcoming visit to the rain forest. I stuck with water since I was the designated driver.

El Yunque Rain Forest

Soon we were back on the road and the rain forest was but 10 or 15 miles away. El Yunque is only about a one-hour drive from San Juan. As we started up the two-lane road into the mountains, I became aware of the dense jungle vegetation and the wet roads.

el yunque

This is the typical vegetation you’re going to see at El Yunque. Beware of creatures of all types behind that green curtain. That’s not the type of prize to go after on an adventure like this.

“Dad, you need to toot the horn as you approach these blind turns,” Mila recommended from the backseat. Each of my surrogate daughters decided to call me Dad for the day.

Mila is a Puerto Rican native and shared with me that the traffic laws in Puerto Rico are for the most part recommendations. Tooting the horn no doubt helps prevent crashes from other drivers cutting the turn too short. I got pretty good at tooting quite fast!

I also became acutely aware of any number of late-model Jeep 4×4 rental vehicles. Each time I saw one, I looked to see if it had a Jurassic Park logo on the side doors. The rain forest was so dense I thought a velociraptor could pop out of the brush at any moment.

Listen closely enough and you could hear the frightful purring that velociraptors make. We captured it in this video:

Our first stop was a steep rock-wall waterfall. We parked in a small lot just above the waterfalls. A pop-up shelter was just 100 feet away and a young park ranger was sitting at a table under the shelter as we walked to the falls.

el yunque waterfall

Here’s Sarah quite happy about being at El Yunque with her best buds and surrogate Dad I might add!

“Good afternoon! Are you going to drive up past the falls? I just wanted to let you know that I have to close and lock this gate at 6 pm. You have plenty of time to go farther up the road and swim at the waterfalls in Juan Diego Creek.” She said to just be sure to head back from the swimming hole no later than 5:45 PM.

Once at the waterfall just past the ranger, I noticed warning signs that flash floods could create a significant safety hazard as a downpour of rain just a half-mile away could transform the magical placid waterfall into a raging torrent in seconds.

el yunque waterfall

This placid waterfall can kill you in seconds if there’s a downpour just 1/4-mile from you. Don’t underestimate the danger here.

All of us made sure we climbed to the falls to touch the rock wall being washed by the water.

Low-Powered Amateur Radio

Just about one-half mile from the waterfalls was the Yokahu Tower. This ancient-looking 60+-foot-tall round turret tower was built in 1963. It’s just an observation tower that allows you to get a more panoramic view of the north and east. On a clear day, you absolutely can see the deep blue sea.

yokahu tower

Here’s Yokahu Tower. Looking at it you might think it’s 200 years old. Wrong!

I decided to set up my Elecraft KX2 radio on a handy bench just below a magnificent tree that would support my 29-foot vertical wire antenna.

I employed the same technique to get my string up over a branch as I’ve always used. You can see how it’s done in this video that I recorded a month earlier in New Mexico.

While setting up my equipment, a small crowd was attracted to my string halyard and the antenna that dropped about 35 feet from the tree. As always, people want to know how in the world I lofted that string way up in the tree. I told them about the video I had just recorded.

W3ATB El Yunque

Here I am getting ready to deploy my 29-foot wire antenna.

Two of the tourists were Americans who are in the US Army. They were simply amazed at my tiny radio and the ability to communicate great distances using Morse code and a tiny BioennoPower 3 Ahr battery.

Sarah was kind enough to log for me and it didn’t take long to hear a few signals. I knew I didn’t have much time because it was now 4:00 PM and we still had to get to the Juan Diego Creek and hike a short distance to the falls. I had a feeling I was going to be conscripted to do a photoshoot of the four young women that were making my last full day in Puerto Rico extra special

W3ATB El Yunque

If you’re lucky enough to have a companion log for you, outdoor radio and adventures can be so much more fun. Sarah did a great job for her first time. Thanks, Sarah!

As I didn’t want to be trapped within the rain forest behind the sturdy iron gate, I decided to limit my time on the air to no more than 20 minutes. I had visions of becoming a tasty treat for one, or more, of the creatures that were undoubtedly lurking in the dense vegetation that surrounded us everywhere.

It’s important to realize that when I do outdoor radio it’s done with a small radio that has a quite weak signal compared to some home-based amateur radio stations that can transmit with hundreds of watts of power. My Elecraft KX2 is capable of 10 watts output, but normally I operate at 5 watts. That’s just about the amount of energy being output by a soft glowing nightlight.

Within a few minutes I heard a somewhat weak signal from Janusz, SP9JZT, who lives in Poland. We did a quick exchange and his signal report to me was 339 and I gave him the same report. We were on 30 meters as I couldn’t hear any activity on 20 meters.

Sarah must have gotten distracted because the next thing I knew my sweet daughter Kelly was logging for me. I decided to go back to 20 meters to see if anyone was there.

Lo and behold I heard PP7LP, Lucio down in Brazil! But alas, he couldn’t hear my low-powered signal. Such is the life of an outdoor radio operator!

Glancing at my analog wristwatch, it was time to pack up. Sarah, Jessie, Mila, and Kelly had been so patient and they helped me pack up so we could get to the swimming hole beneath the falls at San Diego Creek.

The Photo Shoot

The paved road into the rain forest that we traveled is a dead-end road. The trailhead to the waterfalls at Juan Diego Creek was just a few minutes away from the Yokahu Tower. I expected to have to hike ten minutes or so to get to the waterfall, but surprisingly it was only about a two-minute walk, if that.

juan diego creek el yunque

You’re at the trailhead of Juan Diego Creek.

It was very misty at the falls and the swimming hole was quite large. The water was only about 4 feet deep and it didn’t take long for the four young women to wander out into the water.

juan diego creek waterfalls

Here are the soothing Juan Diego Creek waterfalls.

“Dad, take my picture!” each one cried and soon I felt like a Sports Illustrated photographer as most of them struck goddess poses on the rocks adjacent to the falls. I was having as much fun as they were on this Dad’s day just capturing their happiness with electrons on my smartphone. They were enjoying the water and their day away from the hustle, bustle, and heat and humidity of Old San Juan.

juan diego creek waterfalls

What a great time the girls, I mean young women, had! It’s a day I’ll never forget.

Before we knew it, it was 5:30 PM and time to head out of the jungle. All of them were dripping wet and the humidity of the rain forest would not allow them to dry out anytime soon.

As I drove the rental car down the serpentine roads with the blind corners I tooted the horn as I was taught by Mila earlier in the adventure. Several times the toots produced laughs from the wonderful girls.

“Don’t forget to stop at the one store so we can take photos.” I can’t remember which of the girls blurted it out, but the car erupted in laughter once again. Laughter was the theme of the day.

el yunque

Happiness on steroids. Do you think these four young ladies are going to forget this day?

The tiny roadside store was closed by the time we arrived, but the painted plywood cutouts with the face holes were there for us to create more memories.

el yunque

Kelly and me. I had no idea I was in this particular cutout. Oh my!

We took turns being different characters before deciding it was time to get going. The sun was low in the sky and soon it would be dark.

Once back on the main road we were blessed with a stunning sunrise. Little did I know the happiness was just about to ratchet up as our next stop was a very unique mile-long strip of food joints and bars. Every imaginable Puerto Rican delicacy could be had here including the industrial-sized containers of liquid courage.

sunset puerto rico

Yes, this is exactly what the sunset looked like. And yet another prize!

Within minutes a mojito that appeared to be in a small garbage can was placed in front of me. I was thirsty and it didn’t take long for me to make it disappear as the sun had 30 minutes earlier. All of a sudden it felt like a high-speed freight train was barreling around a bend in my head. Whoosh! I was three, no four, sheets to the wind!

We ate, drank, and toasted our never-to-forgotten adventure to El Yunque. The day was filled with too many prizes for me to count. I was blessed to spend a day with Kelly and her closest friends. I avoided the dreaded outdoor radio skunk. I got to visit a rain forest for the first time. I got to drink a mojito that would douse a forest fire. I could list several more, but I feel you get the point.

mojito puerto rico

When you’ve not eaten in six hours, it’s probably not a good idea to drink a 32 oz mojito in 15 minutes.

I highly recommend going to this wonderful National Forest in Puerto Rico. Just don’t forget your adventure hat and take your soulmate if you can because El Yunque is a magical place indeed!

puerto rico

Look who got adventure hats at the end of the adventure! This is just before we ate dinner and I got wasted.

The Pemigewasset River Adventure

W1PID Jim Cluett

Here’s Jim praying for great band conditions so we don’t get skunked. Doing outdoor low-powered radio when sunspots are taking a nap makes it challenging to fill a logbook. Actually, Jim had just launched his water bottle into a tree adjacent to the picnic table we were using.

Jim Cluett, W1PID, and I took a walk down to the banks of the Pemigewasset River this afternoon. We were parked at Profile Falls, a recreation area under the supervision of the Corps of Engineers just south of Bristol, NH.

The day started off with a magnificent sunrise and when the adventure plan was hatched just after 8 AM we had both hoped that the day would remain sunny.

sunrise lake winnisquam

This is the dreamy sunrise I captured this morning sitting alone at the top of the stairs above my dock on Lake Winnisquam. It’s hard to enjoy these sunrises alone.

The weather was cool but not cold. There was nary a puff of wind which can cut like a knife this time of year. It definitely wasn’t scarf weather. That’s just a few weeks away as November in New Hampshire can come in like a happy baby goat, but leave like a honey badger that hasn’t eaten in a week.

As Jim started to unwind the string from his reel to get his antenna up in a tree, I wandered to the shore of the Pemi as locals call it to listen to the tumbling water and enjoy the glistening diamonds on the water as I faced southwest. The day had become a light overcast so there was enough sun to grace the fast water with countless glittering diamonds.

Pemigewasset River

It was a diamond day next to the Pemigewasset River. I’ve heard different translations for this Native American river name and don’t quite know which one to believe.

“Do you think the ragged bark on that branch is going to cause problems?” Jim has so much experience launching his nalgine water bottle to get a string up and over branches, so I didn’t understand why he was asking me.

Up his water bottle went, but it didn’t want to come back down to the ground without a fight. It took about three minutes of tugging back and forth before it dropped far enough where I could grab it with my hiking pole while standing on the picnic table. At least I didn’t have to put Jim on my shoulders as happened last winter at Potter Place!

We got the 29-foot wire attached to Jim’s 9:1 unun which he connected to his Elecraft KX3. A dandy BioennoPower 3 Ahr NFP battery provided the needed electrons into the miserly Elecraft radio allowing us to capture and send the invisible happiness waves.

W1PID Jim Cluett

Here’s Jim finding the SOTA operator. It’s like being at a church carnival when you spin the VFO knob on a radio. You never know what prize you might win!

Jim at first heard another operator who was on top of a mountain trying to activate a Summits on the Air (SOTA) mountain. He decided to send out a rare CQ call to attract other operators who were trying to contact the SOTA operator. After sending CQ for a painful 45 seconds, maybe more, Jim gave up. Patience is everything when it comes to low-powered radio operations I’ve come to discover.

Soon Jim found a really strong signal where one operator was talking with another. In these situations, you need to be polite and wait until the conversation is over before you call the operator.

“What good is a strong signal if he’s writing a novel!” Jim said exasperated after waiting about 30 seconds for the conversation to end. It was time to spin the VFO knob once more for a prize.

Not too long after this Jim found Paul, KW7D in New Mexico who lives somewhere out in the woods. Paul and Jim had a somewhat long conversation and that allowed Jim to avoid the wretched skunk. No one likes to go do outdoor radio and not make at least one contact.

W1PID Jim Cluett

This is what happens when Jim makes a QSO with another operator. Can you feel his happiness? I’ve been the recipient of this long-distance endorphin injection! It’s bliss I tell ya!

I decided to capture part of Jim’s conversation using the video software on my Moto G7 smartphone.

“I got some great video,” I told Jim.

“We’re not putting up any videos.” Jim hates video more than getting skunked.

“Oh, yes we are.” I retorted.

“No, we’re not.”

Too bad Jim doesn’t know the code to break into my phone. Here’s the video I shot of part of Jim talking with Paul:

After signing off, Jim handed me the tiny Pico iambic paddles so I could add Paul to my logbook. Paul must have been running automagic software as the instant I sent my callsign he came back, “Great to hear you, Tim.”

W3ATB Tim Carter

Here I am talking with Paul in New Mexico. Why yes, I did take a shower today and my hair was combed this morning, thank you. I happen to love tousled hair!

I did a fast exchange with Paul telling him I was with Jim and we were on a hike next to the Pemi River in New Hampshire.

Today I was in a really happy place and when that happens, the sarcasm between Jim and I ratchets up two or three levels.

W3ATB Tim Carter

I’m pretty happy but would have been happier if Jim had told me my hair was all tousled. I wonder how that happened?

After signing off with Paul, Jim tried to find a few other stations but gave up after two minutes or less. It was time to walk back the half-mile to our vehicles and head to Dunkin’ for a cup of coffee.

“It’s nice to walk on the ground.” Jim stopped and spoke looking down at the dirt road carpeted with brown leaves.

“Soon we won’t see it until April.” He finished. Jim’s right. Any week now the first full-cover snow can happen and you won’t see the ground or tread across it until the sun climbs high enough in the sky so Mother Nature can send the frozen water to the fish and lobsters in the Atlantic Ocean.

We had a really fun afternoon adventure and my only wish is that you could join me one day to hear the Pemi as it talks to you. It’s magical.

 

 

QRP from KP4 – Puerto Rico

qrp from KP4

Off in the distance is Castillo San Felipe del Morro. It’s a massive fort that’s just part of the several that guarded San Juan back in the 1700s from English invaders. The red arrows point to my horrible wire antenna held aloft by a nasty sticky palm tree.

 

QRP Radio from KP4 – Puerto Rico

On Thursday, October 17, 2019 I found myself gazing out across acres of green lawn washed by the early morning sunlight at Castillo San Felipe del Morro.

I had come to Old San Juan Puerto Rico to visit my youngest daughter and re-enact some of my youth when I used to be able to imbibe vast quantities of liquid courage.

Lesson Learned

I set up my Elecraft KX2 using a 3 Ah BioennoPower LFP battery, a 9:1 unun, a 17-foot counterpoise and a 29-foot wire that was drooping down from a nearby palm tree.

Palm trees are the worst possible choice when using a wire antenna held up by a string halyard. The palm leaves have little saw teeth edges and they want to grab onto the string not allowing the water bottle to fall to the ground. I almost lost my water bottle up in the tree.

qrp from KP4

This was my setup. I was ready to capture invisible waves from afar on this balmy morning.

My plan was to start out on 20 meters, even though it was not yet 7:30 am in the morning. That’s somewhat early for the band to be open, but I thought I’d see what might happen.

Spinning the VFO knob produces few results. With the assist from modern cellphone technology, I texted my mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID, back in New Hampshire to see if he could hear me. I could barely hear him calling me, but he couldn’t hear me.

We switched to 40 meters and got the same exact result.

Moments later Jim texted, “Go to 10.110.”

QRP from KP4

Here’s another view of the horrible sloping antenna.

Victory. Jim was a solid 559 into me and I got an identical signal report.

He told me about the rainy and windy weather back in NH where a bomb cyclone was pummeling the Northeast.

After signing off with Jim, I texted another radio buddy who lives in Massachusetts and he also heard me calling CQ on 18.079.

While I only logged Jim, I felt it was a victory to be able to make a contact with such a poor antenna.