|Lightship Chesapeake (LV-116)
August 2-3, 2003
OK, so this wasn't exactly a QRP adventure. It was a fun time anyway.
Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a weekend aboard the Lightship Chesapeake (LV-116) in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, Maryland. Ron, WB3AAL, was heading down there to activate the ship for the Pan-American Lighthouse/Lightship Week event sponsored by the Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society (ARLHS). Ron was looking for volunteers and, since it had been a long time since my days at sea with the Navy, I jumped at the chance. In addition to giving out lighthouse contacts for the Lightship Chesapeake (USA-167), we were also close enough to give out contacts for the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse (USA-750) located just a few piers over from us.
The Chesapeake is part of the Baltimore Maritime Museum. The ship was commissioned in 1930 and served as a beacon for the approaches to the Chesapeake Bay. During WWII, the Chesapeake was temporarily pressed into service as Harbor Patrol and Security vessel near the entrance to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. After the war, the Chesapeake returned to its former lightship duties, finishing out its active life on the Delaware Bay. The Chesapeake was retired as a lightship in 1971 and became part of the Balitimore Maritime Museum in 1988. Today, the Chesapeake is a museum ship in the Inner Harbor and is a National Historic Landmark.
The Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse, built in 1856, was located at the entrance to the Baltimore Harbor for 133 years. After it was retired, it was moved 15 miles to a pier in the Inner Harbor where it became part of the Maritime Museum. The Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse is the oldest of the "screwpile" lighthouses in Maryland.
Using Ron's callsign, WB3AAL, we operated in the space that was formerly the ship's radio room. We ran 100 Watts into the ship's beacon antenna, which we loaded up like a random wire. The antenna, which stretches horizontally between the two masts, resembles a caged dipole. It uses a single wire feeder, however. So, for us, the antenna was probably acting more like a top-loaded vertical. When the bands were open, we were getting great signal reports with that antenna.
Initially, things started off slowly due to lousy band conditions. The bands were particularly noisey due to a large band of approaching storms. During the evening hours, activity picked up on 40 meter phone. After spending the night down below in the 1st Engineer's quarters, I went back up to join Ron in the radio room where the 20 meter band was starting to come to life. We had a few nice pile-ups going there for a while. The highlight for me was working a station activating the Lightship Huron (LV-103) in Michigan. Unfortunately, the Huron wasn't open at the time, so they weren't actually aboard. An actual lightship to lightship contact would have been great.
Although it wasn't a record-setting weekend in terms of the number of contacts, it was great fun to spend a weekend aboard a ship, even if it never left the pier. One thing I noticed, though, is that I can't go up and down ladders as easily as I could 30 years ago! The Maritime Museum folks are a great bunch of folks and I would highly recommend a visit Baltimore's Inner Harbor to tour the various museum ships and the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse.
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