Amateur Radio WB3GCK WB3GCK/QRP/MM -
QRP to the Field 2000

Craig LaBarge, WB3GCK

I love operating QRP/portable. The several QRP field events held each year -- QRP to the Field, QRP Afield, FYBO, BUBBA, etc. -- give me a good excuse to pack up some little rigs and head out for some operating. For the past few years, NorCal's QRP to the Field event has introduced some interesting themes. QRPers might recall the year we all operating from unusual or spooky locations. Some folks operated from places like UFO mecca, Area 51. I operated from Phoenixville, Home of the Blob, for that one. [1] Then there was the Run to the Borders theme. You get the idea. For the 2000 event, the them for QTTF is Water World with an extra multiplier value for operating marine mobile. This was an idea that really intriqued me. I had thought about doing this in other contests, but now I really had the motivation to do it. I had some planning to do first, however.

The Vessel
The vessel which would carry WB3GCK/QRP/MM was the easy part. Hanging on the wall of my garage is my 10-foot, olive drab, aluminum jon boat, affectionately dubbed "The Mean Green Fishing Machine." The MGFM, outfitted with an electric trolling motor, has served me well as a platform for fishing some of the smaller lakes here in southeastern Pennsylvania. The MGFM would now be pressed into service as the platform for my QRP/MM operation during QTTF. For this outing, however, I planned to forego the trolling motor and use the oars to propel the MGFM.

The Station
While the little jon boat was outfitted with everything I needed for an afternoon of fishing, it was lacking a key item for ham radio -- an antenna. I planned to keep things as simple as possible and stick to a single band during the contest. So, my initial plan was to buy a single-band mobile antenna for 20 meters and mount it somehow on the MGFM.

Before I had a chance to break out the credit card to order an antenna, I came across a timely article in the April 2000 edition of QST. KM4IE had an article which desribes a "Bug Catcher" -style mobile antenna which could be built from commonly-available parts for under 20 bucks. [2] Being a cheapskate and a sucker for a good homebrew antenna project, this was right up my alley. So, I proceeded to build a slightly-modified (and decidedly uglier) version of KM4IE's antenna. Drilling a single 1/2-inch hole (not in the bottom of the boat, course!) allowed me to install a standard 3/8-24 threaded mobile antenna mount. The antenna sways a bit, so a couple pieces of twine would be used to guy the antenna.

For the rig, my NorCal 20 would be pressed into service. A 38 A-H gel cell battery would provide more than enough power for the event.

The Location
One last decision to make: Where to launch the MGFM, outfitted for its new mission? That also was pretty easy. Phoenixville is situated near the historic Schuylkill Canal. The Canal, lovingly restored and maintained by the dedicated volunteers of the Schuylkill Canal Association, would provide a a quiet and secluded body of water from which to operate. Plus, the significance of the Canal itself would give me an excuse to create some special QSL cards to give a plug to this unique and historic place.

There was one problem with this location, though. About a month before the event, the Canal suffered some structural problem which caused it to drain out into the Schuylkill River. An empty canal would be a tough place for a maritime mobile operation! However, the problem was quickly addressed and the water level began to rise over the following weeks. A week before the event, I drove down to the Canal to check it out. Although the water level was slightly lower than normal, it appeared that conditions would be a "go" for QTTF.

The Contest
On the morning of the contest, I arrived at the Schuylkill Canal in Oaks, Pennsylvania at 11:00 AM EDT. Before launching the MGFM, I installed and adjusted the antenna. I hadn't had an opportunity to thoroughly test the new antenna, so I wasn't sure just what to expect. I was only able to get the SWR down to about 2.1:1. Close enough, I guessed. After I launched the boat, I checked the SWR again and found that it had gone up with the boat in the water. So, I pulled the boat close in to the shore, got out, and adjusted it again.

I was ready to operate by 11:15 AM EDT and made my first QSO at 11:18 AM. 20 meters was jam-packed the whole day. I found that I could work just about any station I could hear. I was a bit surprised by how good some of the signal reports were. In fact, a few stations said "Wow" when they heard I was /MM.

I built the NorCal 20 last year but hadn't really used it too much. It turned out to be a great portable contesting rig, especially with the TiCK keyer's memories. In fact, since I had painted the NorCal 20 green, I now call it the mean green contest machine!

The Canal turned out to be a great place to operate. A few passers-by inquired about my unusual activities but, for the most part, people gave the antenna a curious look and kept on walking. I rowed the boat to shore every hour and a half or so to take a break and stretch my legs. There was a port-o-potty in the parking lot which was convenient.

Late in the afternoon, I was really getting baked by the sun, so I called it quits at 4:00 PM. After 4 and a half hours of operating, I made 40 QSOs with 19 multipliers. Not bad for the little jon boat and a homebrew antenna. Twenty meters was jam packed most of the afternoon.

As I was loading the boat back into the truck, a Pennsylvania Fish Commission Officer came by to make sure I had a personal floatation device (PFD) onboard. (I was legal!) By 4:15 PM, I was on my way home. I love it when a plan comes together!

The Log

BAND: 20M     MODE: CW		
SPC: PA       CAT: MM
POWER: 4 Watts					

------  ------  --------    ------  -------   -----   -----  -----  ---
20      CW      04-29-00    1518    N0EA      559     559    MO     MM
20      CW      04-29-00    1521    W5TB      549     339    TX     WT
20      CW      04-29-00    1526    AA9NF     579     559    IL     HO
20      CW      04-29-00    1531    N9VV      599     569    IL     HO
20      CW      04-29-00    1532    AF4PP     579     559    GA     FD
20      CW      04-29-00    1541    W4GGM     599     599    TN     FD
20      CW      04-29-00    1544    AA5B      569     579    NM     WT
20      CW      04-29-00    1546    N0TK      349     339    CO     HO
20      CW      04-29-00    1555    W0UFO     569     559    MN     OC
20      CW      04-29-00    1557    WA7LNW    549     339    UT     WT
20      CW      04-29-00    1607    W5ABQ     569     559    NM     WT
20      CW      04-29-00    1611    AA0B      559     559    MO     MM
20      CW      04-29-00    1615    W0CH      569     559    MO     MM
20      CW      04-29-00    1630    N4DD      589     559    TN     WT
20      CW      04-29-00    1632    K5KW      579     579    OK     HO
20      CW      04-29-00    1646    WA9TZE    599     599    WI     OC
20      CW      04-29-00    1653    N9MZP     589     559    IL     HO
20      CW      04-29-00    1655    KG9PQ     599     559    IL     FD
20      CW      04-29-00    1658    AE4GX     589     589    GA     OC
20      CW      04-29-00    1704    N0CO      449     559    FL     FD
20      CW      04-29-00    1707    AE9K      599     559    WI     OC
20      CW      04-29-00    1712    NQ4RP     559     559    GA     MM
20      CW      04-29-00    1733    K0EVZ     579     579    ND     WT
20      CW      04-29-00    1740    K5HQV     569     559    MS     WT
20      CW      04-29-00    1743    KE0WW     559     559    MN     HO
20      CW      04-29-00    1746    W0DC      589     559    MN     HO
20      CW      04-29-00    1756    N0UR      599     599    MN     OC
20      CW      04-29-00    1807    N9AW      599     559    WI     OC
20      CW      04-29-00    1811    WT9S      569     559    IL     WT
20      CW      04-29-00    1840    NF0R      549     559    MO     FD
20      CW      04-29-00    1848    AB5XQ     589     559    AR     FD
20      CW      04-29-00    1850    KG8YT     579     569    MI     HO
20      CW      04-29-00    1918    W9XU      599     559    WI     OC
20      CW      04-29-00    1929    WB4TGB    559     569    TN     WT
20      CW      04-29-00    1931    W0WAB     589     559    MN     HO
20      CW      04-29-00    1935    W0LK      579     559    AR     HO
20      CW      04-29-00    1941    W5KID     549     559    LA     MM
20      CW      04-29-00    1942    N4XDW     569     559    AL     FD
20      CW      04-29-00    1944    N3AO      559     559    PA     FD
20      CW      04-29-00    1954    NX9Z      569     559    WI     WT

* Categories: MM = Marine Mobile, OC = near ocean/Gulf/Great Lakes,
WT = near other body of water, FD = field stations, HO = home stations		


[1] See:
[2] King, Frank W., "A $20 HF Mobile Antenna," QST, April 2000, pp. 33-35.

© 2000 Craig A. LaBarge

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