I’ve been making a lot of QSO’s hunting POTA activations, which is hella good fun.
One of my goals was to do an activation before the end of November. I have been furiously thinking about antennas, radios, QRP or not, CW or SSB or FT4/8 and so on. Today I decided to just chuck a radio in the car, along with the Little Tarheel II antenna, go to Lake Sammamish State Park, and just give it a whirl instead of being all ineffectually intellectual about it. If it all went sideways and I didn’t get an official activation, I’d at least learn a lot about how to do it next time.
My “not a plan” plan:
Radio: Icom IC-7300. I was planning on running roughly 50W SSB despite the fact that I hate working SSB because my hearing is lousy. Audio: Heil Pro 7 headset. Did I mention my hearing is lousy? This is my cheat. Antenna: Tarheel Little Tarheel II with a bizarre assemblage of Buddipole extensions and long whip on top, AKA the FrankenTarheel. Power: Bioenno 30AH battery Park: Lake Sammamish State Park K-3216
Basically, I was planning on operating from inside the car. More on this later.
Results: 36 QSO’s in 36 minutes, including 2 park to park contacts. Considerable time was spent on digging out several stations that were down in the noise, making me really glad for the headset.
The first problem I encountered was that the first site I picked to park the car I had effectively no cell service. Having no cell service meant no internet connectivity, which in turn meant I had no way to self-spot. And that in turn meant that no ‘hunters’ would know I was active and so no one would be watching for my CQ calls.
So there was some last minute driving around the park, lookin for a spot with adequate internet connectivity.
All this driving about took up time, and I was concerned about having enough time to make the required 10 contacts to make the activation valid before 0000Z. It turns out I needn’t have been concerned, but I didn’t know that and it increased my anxiety.
I was also concerned that operating at 50 watts, I’d run my LiFePO4 battery down. At the end of the activation I checked the battery monitor and in roughly 40 minutes, I’d used a little than 2 amp-hours of the 30 amp-hour battery. Not an issue!
First off, logging. I have HamRS on my phone as well as on my laptop. I had my laptop with me, as well as my phone. But in the end I decided to log on paper. I’m terrible at logging on paper. I didn’t record the time for a lot of QSOs. In some cases my handwriting is nearly illegible and I was forced to consult QRZ.com and do callsign searches to disentangle what I’d written. So I either need to get better about logging on paper, or I need just use HamRS to do logging, either on my phone or on a laptop.
Using a headset worked well but left me anxious about being unaware of my surroundings as I operated. This could probably be relieved by working, not from inside the car, but from a table outdoors. Since my long term goal is to do activations Witherspoon style, operating from a kneeboard or a picnic table, this problem will go away naturally.
Before the activation I had concerns that 50W and the FrankenTarheel antenna would not give me enough reach to get the required 10 contacts. I ended up with 35 contacts in under 40 minutes, so that wasn’t a problem. And while the FrankenTarheel is flexible in terms of bands covered, it’s something of a PITA to set up and take down, and it’s needlessly complicated if all I want is to operate on a single band (or even just a couple of bands, say 20m and 10m). So maybe I’ll work out a much simpler car solution for future activations when I want to operate from the car.
The overwhelming politeness and friendliness of the hunters did a lot to make it fun for me. I need to work much harder when I’m the hunter to make my voice friendly, to make the QSO light and enjoyable instead of just formulaic and mechanical.
Touching on the transmit power issue again, I had contacts in Alaska and the east coast of North America, clearly power was not the overwhelming issue I thought it was. Operating at 10W instead of 50W would result in a signal that was down a smidgen over 6db, or just about one S unit. Looking over the log there are one or two QSOs that probably wouldn’t have worked but the vast majority would have been just find. So next time, I’ll bring the much more portable Elecraft KX3 and run 10W instead of 50W, which will further reduce the power consumption concerns.