Thursday, September 22, 2022

My Very First Dx-Pedition (2017)

 Every summer my family took a sailing trip to the Gulf Islands in British Columbia, Canada. The Gulf Islands seem less crowded than the San Juan Islands of Washington state. The islands are beautiful, and the anchorages are peaceful. Also, my daughter really loves Thetis Island, and every year we made it a point to spend at least 3 -5 days at Telegraph Harbor Marina

I was first licensed in 2016 and jumped into the hobby headfirst. By early 2017 I made my first portable Parks On The Air (POTA) activation from Blake Island (K-3161), and now I was heading up to Canada for summer vacation with the family. It would be the perfect opportunity to put my newly acquired CW skills to the test, give my portable kit another trial staging my portable setup from the sailboat, and most importantly operate a DX station instead of chasing DX from the home shack!

Our route to Telegraph harbor always had us sailing past the Sandstone Rocks islets just off the southern tip of Tent Island. These 2 islets are very small sandstone rocks (hence the name) that rise about 3 meters above the high-water line. The larger of the 2 islets has a small beach to land a dinghy, some scrub brush, and a very small Cyprus tree that is barely clinging to life. This I thought would be a perfect location to once again test deploying my kit from the sailboat into a dinghy, and landing on a beach and setting up a portable station in some remote spot. This was all a precursor for my planned 2019 departure to sail across the Pacific Ocean and activate various islands. 

So, in August of 2017 we arrived in Telegraph Harbor and got settled in for the evening. The next morning, I loaded my complete kit into my Northface XL Base Camp Duffle bag, put the bag into the dinghy and headed out of the harbor towards the islets. About 30 minutes later I arrived at the islets and slowly approached the beach on the southeastern side of the larger islet. Landing was a bit delayed because I didn't want to startle the seals which had taken up slumber positions on the rocky ledges. Some slipped back into the water and raised their heads in curiosity, others just lifted their heads momentarily and laid back down and closed their eyes. 

Once on the beach, I secured the dinghy and strapped the duffle bag on my back to begin the short climb to the top of the rock. Fortunately, the top of the islet was reasonably flat. How grass and trees grew there was beyond me as the soil was not more than 2-3 cm deep. I erected my Buddipole dipole antenna and secured the guy lines to the small Cyprus tree, a rock, and a piece of driftwood that I recovered from the beach area. Next, I setup my Helinox Table One Hard Top Camping Table  and Helinox One chair (which I love because they pack up small and are extremely light weight), then setup my Elecraft K2 and KAT 100 tuner, got out my Vibroplex Vibrokeyer and RadioSport headset and settled back in the chair and began calling "CQ de WA7WJR/VE7/P."

I made 20 QSOs from those islets during 3 hours of operation. I took a break to walk around the islet a bit, stare back at the seals, and watch a myriad of boats pass by on their way to Telegraph Harbor or points further north. I operated a few more times but this was certainly a high point.

For Americans operating in Canada is very easy since the US and Canada have automatic reciprocal license privileges. This means a US citizen only needs his/her FCC license, passport (or government issued ID), and append the Canadian call area to his/her call sign. However, the band plan in Canada is slightly different than the US band plan. See Radio Amateurs of Canada Band Plan for details.

POTA REPORT - Fort Worden State Park, WA (K-3194)

Late September is really a beautiful time here in the Pacific Northwest. Days tend to be in the 70's, mostly sunny, and the leaves on the tree are just starting to turn to welcome the autumn season to western Washington. So, to celebrate my 23rd anniversary the wife and I drove over to Port Townsend for a few days. And because my wife understands my passion for ham radio and has infinite patience, she agreed to let me play radio at nearby Fort Worden State Park

So, on our second day we drove out to the park and found a nice shady spot at Point Wilson near the lighthouse where I setup my Buddipole, a table, 2 chairs, and my POTA kit. I almost always work 20M and this outing would be no different. I started with FT8 and made 16 QSOs, then switched to phone and made 5 QSOs, tried CW for about 5 minutes with no takers, then back to FT8 for 2 more contacts. The band conditions weren't the best on this day, and I didn't want to press my luck, so after an hour I called it a day and packed things up so we could spend some time exploring the park. 

WA7WJR working a phone near Fort Warden's Point Wilson Lighthouse (K-3194)

After an hour playing radio, it was time to explore the park to enjoy the beautiful day, the natural surroundings, and...
Caution signs are synonymous with FUN!!! 

Let's go in here!
Fort Worden is a HUGE park. Lots of open space, lots of trails, lots of sandy beaches (don't go swimming...the water is damn cold), lots of historic buildings (some of which you can rent), campgrounds, a lighthouse at Point Wilson, and of course the old gun batteries that protected the US from crazed hordes of marauding Canadians. 😂

There aren't a lot of picnic tables (other than at the campgrounds), but there are plenty of places to setup a portable rig and start POTA'ing.  Also, if you stay at the campground or in one of the available residences for rent, you can operate throughout the night. This being an old Army base the park is massive. I was quite impressed with the beauty of looking out over the Strait of Juan De Fuca and Admiralty Inlet of Puget Sound, the historic significance of the park and its well-preserved buildings, and the natural beauty. And exploring the battery magazines was fun!

                         I've got this...                              Honey, we have a problem!

Oh...if you're planning on exploring the battery magazines you should take a headlamp or a flashlight. There are some interesting passageways in the main battery to explore! 

Friday, September 16, 2022

POTA REPORT - Blake island, WA (K-3161)

It was February 2017, I just finished building my Elecraft K2 and KAT-100 kits, the Buddipole antenna arrived via UPS, and the weather was looking unusually good for February in Seattle. I did a dry run of setting up my first portable kit in the back yard. Made a checklist, then carefully repacked my kit. Everything was a go! 

My portable kit at the time was rather simple. An Elecraft K2 & KAT-100 combination, the Buddipole antenna, a 12 VDC 12Ah SLA battery, and a small Heliox table and chair which all fit nicely in a North Face duffle. Friday morning, I departed Elliott Bay Marina for the roughly 10-mile trip to the "back side" (western side) of Blake Island to grab a mooring ball. I have sailed over to Blake Island many times with my family. I knew the island very well, but once secured on the mooring, I took the dinghy ashore to do a bit of reconnaissance to find a spot to setup on Saturday. After locating an ideal spot on the "spit" on the northwest part of the island I went back to the boat to relax for the evening.

Saturday morning was beautiful but pretty darn cold. I really didn't want to leave the warmth of the Dickenson diesel heater warming the cabin of the sailboat. But, after a couple cups of hot black coffee and a hearty breakfast I layered up and ventured out into the cockpit, carefully loaded my kit into the dinghy, and made my way to the island. This time of year, I pretty much had the island to myself except for the ranger who lived on the other side of the island, a gaze of racoons, and the occasional sighting of a deer. There was no wind, and the sun was warming things up rather nicely...well, as nice as you can expect for February in Seattle. At least it wasn't raining!

I found my spot, setup my Buddipole antenna, setup the table and chair, sat down and went to work. In the span of 2 hours, I had made 10 QSOs. It was my first time to operate portable. It was my first time to operate QRP. And, although I didn't realize it until later, it was my very first Parks On The Air (POTA) activation! (In all honesty I didn't know I was activating a POTA site at the time, and later found out that past activities could be logged with POTA.)  I was pretty darn excited, but despite the sunshine the cold got the better part of me, so I called it a day. But a very good day indeed!

Getting to Blake Island is not easy. because the island is only accessible by private boat. (Pre-pandemic Argosy Cruises in Seattle would take visitors out to the island to visit Tillicum Village, but Argosy has opted out of that agreement in 2022.) On the east side of the island is a small marina (which fills quickly in the summer), a ranger station, Tillicum Village (which is closed), 2 pavilions, lots of picnic tables, plenty of open space and a campground nearby. On the west and southwest side of the island are mooring balls, campgrounds, sandy beaches (not for swimming unless you like bathing in 52 F water year-round), and a few picnic tables. It is possible to anchor boats, but the bottom profile has a steep drop off, and the currents and winds can sometimes cause poorly set anchors to drag. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

POTA REPORT - Rooster Rock State Park (a 5-fer)


This past month (August 2022) I travelled to Oregon for a few days to help my daughter get moved into her apartment for her junior year at Reed College. Most of my time was spent putting together IKEA furniture, but I did manage to squeeze out a 4-hour chunk of time to go play POTA. So, after studying the POTA map page I decided that I'd drive out to activate Rooster Rock State Park (K-2850) along the Columbia River. 

The Columbia River area is an activator's "dream spot." In Washington I have activated a "2-fer" (a state park within the boundaries of a national forest) a few times. But this was my first "5-fer" primarily due to the confluence of 3 national historic trails. The park references are: 

  • K-2850 - Rooster Rock State Park
  • K-0731 - Columbia River Gorge National Forest
  • K-4576 - Oregon National Historic Trail
  • K-4572 - Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
  • K-3424 - Ice Age Floods National Scenic Trail 

After a brief 2-hour activation I had 42 QSOs in the log, but since it's a 5-fer it counted as 210! It was a nice break in the day. I wish I could have spent longer, but I wanted to get back to Reed before Rush hour.

Rooster Rock State Park is about 20 miles east of Portland on Interstate 84 at Exit 25. It is a day use only park, so you have to check the website for times. The parking area is massive, and numerous picnic tables that line the bank of the Columbia River. It's very easy to simply park, setup your kit on one of the many picnic tables and get on the air while watching eagles soar, large white herons stalk for prey in the tidelands, an occasional river barge pass by as the mighty Columbia River flows towards the Pacific Ocean. 

The trees along the bank are not tall, so a wire antenna is probably not the best choice here. I almost always use a Buddipole dipole antenna for my POTA activations, and there is ample space for a dipole or vertical antenna. There are also picnic tables and pavilions (available to rent) in areas away from the river with trees of sufficient height if you need a tree to raise your wire antenna.

Visitors will need a day pass ($5 USD) or an annual Oregon Park Day Use Parking Permit. There are numerous (flush) toilet facilities in the park, a ranger station, lots of trails, and for anyone who feels the need to operate a ham radio and activate a park in the nude there is a special section of the park where clothes are optional. 

I was there on a weekday, and the park was relatively empty. I suspect with the park's close proximity to Portland, the beautiful setting, a popular place for windsurfing/kite boarding, boating, fishing, hiking, etc., this place is probably pretty busy on weekends. 

My Very First Dx-Pedition (2017)

  Every summer my family took a sailing trip to the Gulf Islands in British Columbia, Canada. The Gulf Islands seem less crowded than the Sa...