POTA Activation Ft Mountain State Park and the Begali Traveler Light

This past weekend I activated Fort Mountain State park in North Georgia. The park is on top of the mountain and I was at just over 2,500 ASL. One of the things I wanted to accomplish was make a few contacts on 160 meters. This can be a difficult band because one wavelength is about 540 feet. Which means most portable antennas will not work. I dug into my Frankentenna bag and came up with my Chameleon Micro Matching Unit and two 65 foot Chameleon Wires.

I strung this as an inverted vee dipole and fed it with RG-8x into the cabin. Yes, I was was in comfort and luxury for this activation. The apex of the vee was about 15 foot above the ground. I put the antenna analyzer on it and at 160 meters my SWR was abour 6:1, close enough for my antenna tuner to match.

Inside the cabin, the setup was pretty simple. I had my trusty IC-7300 with an LDG Z-11 Pro. I used a K1EL winkeyer and a Begali Traveler Light Key. Logging and digital modes were handled by my Microsoft Surface Go2.

How did it play, most of my contacts were CW and the keyer and key worked as advertised. I used FT-8 for some bands and especially 160 meters as there was a CW contest going on. A nice thing about the newer ICOM radios is to work digital modes, all you need is a USB cable between your computer and the radio. I was running about 35 watts and made at least 10 contacts on 7 bands and 5 on one (11 on 160). I was satisfied that everything worked as advertised and made about 130 contacts.

The paddles I used were the Begali Traveler Light. The weigh in at about 15 oz and are a delight to use. When portable operations allow, this is the key I bring. They may not work lugging a backpack, but for activations like this, they are great. Begali fit and finish is excellent and the design is reminiscent of Italian Sports cars.

Looking at the side, the paddles are not that big. Near the bottom-center is a place to attach a thigh strap. You can also get these in black.

Open up, there is plenty of move for even my big hands.

Even the bottom of the paddles are wonderfully executed. The Traveler Light is magnetically dampened and I am becoming a fan. The action is smooth and consistent, and a joy to use. This is my second Begali Key, my first a Begali Simplex Basic. I believe there will be a third under the tree this year.

Everything worked well. the keyer takes some of the load off of the opertator and AC Log helps mind the frequency and the Date/Time. I tried to use the AC Log Winkeyer interface, but I don’t think the Surface Go2 wasn’t quite up to the task. It seemed to lag more than I wanted it to. Plus, it was nice to have the Winkeyer buttons close at hand. All in all I had a lot of fun, even though on the first day I was a little more fumble fingered than usual. Thanks to all the Hunters/Activators who worked me. Here is a short video of the activation.

K1EL Keyers

K1EL keyers are well known and are pretty much universally accepted interfaces for most amateur radio software programs. If you are keyboading CW or running CW scripts from your computer, you need to use this interface. The reason is how the computer allocates processing time. From the K1EL website Windows is a multi-tasking operating system which means that the CPU is shared between many different tasks. This makes it very difficult to accurately time CW due to constant task switching. This results in unevenly timed dits and dahs. For example, in the middle of a word you might have an R with a really long dah in the middle or an A that sounds more like an M. By off loading CW generation to a separate dedicated microcontroller, all the timing problems disappear. Logging programs running on the PC send ASCII letters to Winkeyer for conversion to Morse, this allows the PC to focus on more important things.

I have both the WK Mini and the WinKeyer USB. The biggest difference is the Mini has to have a computer connected to it and the WinKeyer USB can operate stand-alone because it has buttons. Both are USB powered. The WinKeyer USB can run on batteries. I have a USB power port that I hook-up to the radio battery. It can also charge my phone.

How does it play? When hooked up to your computer, both can be controlled by software. ACLog by N3FJP has an excellent interface. Here is a screenshot of my setup on my Surface Go2.

As you can see, you can create CW scripts right in ACLog that will play through the WinKeyer. The scripts correspond with the F-buttons at the top of your keyboard. Or you can have a mini F button window within ACLog which you can click with a mouse or if you have a touch screen a touch of your finger. The latter is my preferred method. One of the benefits of controlling your WinKeyer with ACLog is you can pull data out of ACLog to use in the script. Notice in the F2 script, there is a $ and an *. The $ sign pulls the call sign in the Call window of ACLog and the * pulls the RST from the Sent window. Theoretically, you can make exchanges without even touching a paddle as long as everyone is using the same format.

The WinKeyer USB also works well in stand a lone mode (not hooked up to a computer). It can store up to 12 messages in two banks. There are plenty of ways to customize the messages. I will give a few hints but the instructions that come with the keyer are extensive. With the WinKeyer USB you can use the messages in ACLog and Winkeyer USB interchangeably. However, you must use the F buttons to trigger an ACLog message and the WinKeyer USB buttons to trigger a Winkeyer message

The first thing you do is plug the keyer into your radio and set the radio keyer to STRAIGHT key. The keyer will handle the rest. You plug your paddle into the keyer. Besides sending CW with your paddles, you can edit and change the messages and parameters of the keyer. There is also an app for your computer to interface with the keyer. It looks like this.

What is nice about Winkeyer USB is you can type in the message and not have to send CW via the paddle to create the message. It gives you more control over how the message is set up. Looking at message 1, it is a standard CQ message. However, I want it to repeat until I stop it (send a dit or dah with the paddles to stop it). Winkeyer was a beacon mode however it beacons at a set period of time. For example at 20 wpm I set my CQ to repeat every 13 seconds giving about a 3 second space between call. During my activation I slowed my wpm down to 16 and now I had no gap between CQ’s. The solution was to use the wait command and then the go to message 1 command. The wait command is the /W03 it means wait 3 seconds before continuing. the /1 means play message one. So now no matter what speed I set the keyer, I will always have a 3 second gap.

Next is the /R command. What this does is it treats the next 2 letters as a prosign like SK, KN, or BT. For POTA, I like to send BK as a prosign so the command is /R BK.

The last command you see is /Z3. What this does is slow the rest of the message down 3 wpm (you can change the amount). When doing a Park to Park (P2P) sometimes the park number catches you off guard. Your brain is thinking something else. So by slowing down the park number is gives an operator a chance to catch up and get the number.

When using radios like the Xeigu G90 which does not have CW memories or the Lab599 TX-500 which only has two. The Winkeyer gives you options to help make operating more comfortable. Let the keyer call CQ while you take a sip of coffee or let it say thank you while you are finishing up logging the contact. With the WinKeyer USB, you can keep the message buttons close at hand. The WK mini weighs in at 1.5 oz and the WinKeyer USB weighs 7 oz. Both are small and easy to toss into a pack. For more information: https://hamcrafters2.com/index.html

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


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/


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.