POTA Activation Flag Mountain, AL

I consider my home park to be Talladega National Forest. It’s the closest park time wise and because it is so large, it offers many opportunities for activation. One of the things I enjoy is the feeling of remoteness driving down those forest service roads. This past Friday (11/26), I decided to try a new spot. It was on Flag Mountain. There is nothing there except woods and the road.

For me, any park activation means about an hour drive each way which eats up a lot of my POTA time. For this activation, I wanted to try an in-truck cab solution to help reduce the set-up time. Since I would probably be along the side a one lane dirt road, it would be safer. As a bonus, I would stay warmer as the temps were in the 40’s throughout the day. This bushwhack style of operation turned out to be fun and gives me more flexibility to work different parts of the National Forest.

Equipment. To be able to bushwhack, I needed a space to operate from when sitting in my truck. I came up with a rather simple arrangement that I built in a couple of hours. It’s a flight deck that sits on top of my center console.

It’s a couple of 2×6’s and a piece of 3/8 plywood that I had laying around. It takes about 10 seconds to install and It is small enough to stay in the truck. In use it looks like this:

It was very stable. I even had my coffee cup on the free standing end and it didn’t tip over. It was very comfortable to use. On the flight deck you see my Rite-in-the-Rain notebook, Begali Traveler Light, and K1EL keyer. I will talk about the paddles and keyer in another post.

The radio was my trusted IC-7300. I normally like to bring one of my QRP radios, but next weekend we rented a cabin at Ft Mountain State Park and I want to try to make some CW 160 meter contacts. My thinking is I may need a little extra power. Next to the radio is a 20 amp/hr Bioenno Battery and next to it, is a LDG Z-11 Pro. On top of the radio is a windshield sunscreen to help keep the radio cool.

The antenna is my Frankentenna. It starts with a MePhoto camera tripod, a home made 3/8-16 to 3/8-24 thread adapter, Chameleon Micro Matching Unit, a Buddipole 7 section lightweight shock-corded whip antenna (12′), and a Chameleon CHA 60′ extra wire. It was fed with 18′ of RG-8x.

Operation. I operated CW with 35 watts. I set my code speed at 16 wpm. I can copy faster, but I find during an activation, slowing down makes it a little easier for me. My hearing is not that good, I do the best I can. How did it do? Very well I think. I was able to work stations from Alaska to France. All in all I made about 42 contacts in a couple of hours time. Here is a QSOMap (I need to get better at these).

Here is a short YouTube video of the activation.

It was a fun half a day. I learned a few thing like wear headphones/earbuds to help with my hearing. Overall, I enjoyed the bushwhack style of operating as it gives me more options for operating out in the wilds. I plan on doing more of this style of activating along with more traditional parks. 73

N3ZN ZN-Lite II

I like paddles — a lot. Sometimes I feel I am drawn to them like a moth to a flame. You can only use one at a time but isn’t variety the spice of life? To be sure, I’m no speed demon at the paddles nor am I 100% accurate, but I am passionate about CW, and surely, that counts for something. Pictured here is one of Tony’s, N3ZN’s creations. It is his ZN-Lite II and while it is not the lightest paddle on the market, it is near the top and it is a well built machine. By itself, it tips the scales at about 4.5 ounces with the attached cable. Add the plastic base and the weight is still less than 6 ounces.

The paddle itself is well built and the action is smooth. The adjustments are generous and precise. Once set up the way you like it, I found it is pretty easy to switch over from another paddle. In other words, going from your desk paddles to these is pretty easy.

On the bottom of the paddles, there is an 8-32 screw hole. This can be used to attach the paddles to the base of your choosing such as a flight deck.

The ZN-Lite II also comes with a plastic base. Here is how I like to attach it.

In use. While I am writing this I am using the paddles to make POTA contacts. Because the paddle is light, it takes two hands to use it. One to hold the paddle and one to operate it. For portable operation, I found the best way to use them is either attached to a flight deck or on a flat surface such as a picnic table. Trying to grab it fist style interferes with the paddle levers and while you can hold it by its sides, well, it just wasn’t for me. Here is a picture of how I use these paddles.

In general, I found the paddles fun to use. When your doing something for fun, fun counts. I appreciate the precision and quality that went into these paddles. They are durable enough to be knocked a around bit in a pack (don’t run them over with your car). Where do they fit? I think these paddles are great for portable operations. In my way of thinking they would work for POTA activations or even Field Day. They would excel for those who wish to travel light and fast. An Example might be POTA RADAR (Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio). I think for SOTA there are better options out there as operators are often holding their paddles fist style in their hands. However, these may work well if someone devised a leg strap for them. Here is a YouTube video I did for these paddles.

Overall, I like the paddles, they are currently sitting on my desk and I am making contacts with them. They have a good feel, and enough of a fun factor to keep them in the rotation (I never thought I would say that). I have exchanged a few emails with Tony and he has always been responsive and helpful. If you want to find out more about Tony’s paddles, here’s a link: https://www.n3znkeys.com/

SOTA PADDLE

Larry Naumann N0SA builds keys and paddles as a hobby. He recently released a new design in a small quantity and I was lucky enough to get one. Larry is a CW guy and also likes to build paddles and keys. His new one is called the SOTA paddle and is designed for POTA/SOTA.

As you can see, it is a rather small paddle weighing 2 oz. including the cable. This is an amazing paddle with exceptional fit and finish. All corners are rounded and all edges deburred. The metal appears to be passivated which should provide a long lasting, corrosion resistant finish. Paddle tension is magnetic and Larry uses good sized magnets. You can tell they are there. The action is on par with other more expensive paddles. The action can be adjusted with the included hex key which is held in place by one of the tension magnets. I recently did an activation with this paddle along with my Lab599 TX-500. It was a cold dreary, drizzly day and both the radio and paddle did just fine. When I got home, all I did was blow dry the paddles with some canned air. You can see the YouTube video here:

The paddles can be attached to something using 4, 4-40 tapped holes (two on the top and two on the bottom) or it can be held in the hand. Because of my somewhat large, meaty hands, when I use the paddles as held in my left hand, I sent the occasional stray dah.

After my last activation, I removed the paddle from the flight deck and then had to do something with the knurled 4-40 screw I used to secure the paddle to the flight deck. I moved the screw from the bottom of the paddle to one of the holes in the top and put the paddles back in the bag.

A couple of days later, I pulled the paddles out to play with them. Yeah , I know, they do kind of grow on you. I made a few contacts from home, and I noticed that there were not any stay dahs! I looked at the paddle in my hands; the screw changed the geometry of how I held the paddle. The screw was pushing my fat index finger away from the dah paddle. Problem solved.

These are great paddles and fun to use. I enjoy using them both at home and in the field. Will they replace my Begali Simplex on the desk? Probably not, but if Larry decides to make a desk set of paddles… I don’t know when or if Larry is going to make another batch, but if he does, don’t hesitate, because they go fast.

Field Operations

Is it important to operate in the field?  I believe the answer is yes.  Field Day is okay, but I believe most field day events do not represent what actually might happen in the field during an emergency.

How does your equipment work in a field environment?  Can you hear other stations?  Can they hear you?  How long do your batteries last until the radio quits?  How long does the generator, generate?  Can you operate in the cold, in the hot, in the wet as well as the dry?  You will never know unless you go out and do it. 

Operating in the field can be very different than operating from your home QTH.  There are often a lot of distractions while you are attempting to operate.  I had a dog try to help me send CW with his nose while at a national forest.  People, trees, birds, the weather, all try to distract you from what you are doing.  To work through this, you need to practice, just like playing the piano, you need to practice.

Fortunately, for us, practice doesn’t have to be boring.  We do not have to practice scales over and over again.  We can go out, set up and then try to contact other amateur radio operators.  We can try to contact operators who we have never met before, or reestablish contact with old friends.  We can target different areas of the country we live in such as try for a worked all states award or we can reach out to different countries for a DX award.  We have the choice of using voice, CW, or other digital modes.  So much to do.

So grab your gear get out and do it!  If you forgot something or something broke, count it up to experience and hope to do better next time.  I do not always get out as much as I like, but when I do, I find I have a lot of fun.  When I go out I typically only run 5-10 watts.  It can be amazing who can hear you.  I also like trying new antennas, to see which ones work better than others.  And this need not be expensive.  Take what you have and see how it does.  You may be surprised.