Sunday, May 26, 2013

QRP in the WMA

That title sounds a lot like WKRP in Cincinnati...

But this is Florida, and I'm not Doctor Johnny Fever!  In fact, I would say that I most closely resemble Arthur Carlson, and act more like Les Nessman.  But I digress.

Now then, my son Richard (we call him Tank) and I went to the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area today for a bit of QRP fun.  This all started out with him coming to me last night and saying those words that destroy every Father, and that probably every father has heard at one point or another in life.  "Dad, we don't spend enough time together!  Can we go fishing or something....".   I used to love fishing and hunting, but since getting married 16 years ago to someone that isn't a big fan of either, I am kind of out of practice.  So my response was: "Well, son, I don't have a fishing license, but I do have an Amateur Radio License!  How about we go out and play radio in the woods?"  He was skeptical, but willing...

Now then, I don't do this often outside of Field Day, so I didn't have a lot of options with regards to hardware and antennas.  Thankfully you don't need a lot to have fun!  My equipment list consisted of:

  • Radio Gear:
    • Yaesu FT-840 (given to me by the son of an SK)
    • MFJ-969 Tuner (given to me by the son of an SK)
  • Antenna and Misc:
    • Two 75' spools of nylon rope
    • One 1000' spool of #24awg twisted pair "cross-connect wire"
    • Two dog-bone insulators
    • Two tent stakes (left overs from a failed attempted at a portable tower project)
    • Five 3' lengths of 3/8 aluminum rod (leftovers from antenna projects)
    • About 10' of #10awg wire
The day started late, around 10:30am with us heading to Rat Shack to get some alligator clamps for the radio power cable.  Didn't take too long, and after being robbed of $3.47 we were on our way!  Below is a snip from showing our little trek to and from.  The WMA is about 20mi from our home, so we got there around 11:30am and started looking for a place to set up shop!  

That part took a while.  The WMA is pretty big and the trails are a bit rough, especially when you are in your daily driver 2011 Ford F-150, not a dedicated off-road machine, which means that speed is second to keeping the alignment correct.  So getting from place to place inside took a while.  Although I have to say, at least this time of year, you could get around in a two-wheel-drive car in there for the most part.  Below is a snip from showing us bouncing around out in the WMA.

If you click on the APRS link at the top of the page you will be able to see the actual map from with details about our speed and direction each time my Kenwood TM-D710 beaconed out to APRS-RF.

We found what we thought was a great spot and started to get everything set up.  Tank and I paced off distances to various trees and planned on how to rig the antenna up into them.  We got the radio out and connected to the tuner and powered off of the truck battery and tuned up into a dummy load.  Then, just as we were getting ready to start rigging the antenna, VVRRROOOOOOOOOMMMMM!!  It turns out that we were just over some palmettos from Lake Jackson, and there were a ton of folks with airboats out to see if they could single-handedly break the world's record for the most decibels of noise created at one time!  We did get one picture before the world erupted with the rumble of V8s driving airplane props.  As you can see, it is like this spot was made to order for stringing dipoles and random wires!

Back the gear went into the truck and off we went for another little while.  It didn't take too long before we found another spot, and this new spot had something that we realized we have neglected for bring with us.  A table!  We were planning on operating from the hood of the truck before, so this was a godsend!  Of course, my son's reaction was "Cool!  There's a creek!", so off we went, chasing frogs and scaring waterstriders.

We managed to get the truck right next to the table after some maneuvering to get around the trees, so we now had power in addition to a place to sit:

This is my son making sure the radio is working (I made sure it was pointing to the dummy load before leaving the table).  You can see the thin blue wire coming from the tuner leading up into the trees.  This was the radio end of about 300' of wire strung up in the trees.  I had thought that I had taken pictures of the insulators and grounds, but I guess I forgot to.  But here is a pic showing how we held the support rope for the random wire down:

As you can see, we used a tent stake to hold the support rope up in the tree.  The rope was attached to a dog-bone insulator that was in-turn connected to the far end of the random wire.  I used about five aluminum rods driving into the ground a few feet apart as a grounding system near the radio, which was connected to the tuner and the radio itself.  Next time, I think that I might also add a wire running the length of the antenna on the ground under it and also tied into the ground system to help out the RF grounding in dry sandy soil.  Of course, in the wet season, I might not.  Time and experience will tell.

We were running between 5W and 10W on the FT-840 to avoid draining the truck battery too much and stranding us.  If we keep this up I'm going to go pick up a deep-cycle gel battery and spare the truck battery.  At any rate, the result was that we managed about one contact an hour.  Between my son calling CQ for me, and talking third party to a few folks, we had a great time!  Here is a final shot of my son and I in front of the radios:

As a side note, one of the stations that we contacted on 15m was the radio room of the RMS Queen Mary! What a joy getting to talk to someone on an ocean liner docked on the Pacific Ocean, from the woods on Central Florida, about 30mi from the Atlantic Ocean!  The OM on the other side was kind enough to give us a QSO code that will enable me to get a special QSL card from the ship!  What a great cap to the day and neat way to remember this little jaunt.

I'm starting to get into this whole QRP from the woods thing, so I guess I should start looking for a good QRP rig and tuner so that I don't have to lug the 840 and 969 around.  It would be nice to get something smaller that could run off of a 7Ah gel battery.  Then we could really get portable and hike in instead of driving in!

Thanks for stopping by the blog and I hope you enjoyed the personal story.  It wasn't a project, per se, but it was a lot of fun and I hope to do it again soon!  


Richard, KK4JDO (and son!)

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