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Issue #2 – Trials and Errors – POTA Lessons Learned

By Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

Recently my ham buddy, Steve (W7DJ), and I were out on a Wednesday morning activating a POTA site that is halfway between his QTH and mine. One of the benefits of being semi-retired is that I can ditch the office whenever I feel like it, and I really needed some radio time and the outdoors.  (In Arizona, we seem to have fewer parks than some States and I hope this is corrected soon.)

 

Everyone has a different style when they hit the road with their radios; this is quite evident when Steve and I are out in the field. When we activate a park, he puts what seems like his entire shack into the car . . . complete with a monster battery pack, an IC7300 Transceiver, card table and more. And he is consistently more comfortable and more successful with his POTA contacts than I am.

 

That’s because I am a knapsack kind of ham. My gear either fits into the pack on my back or it’s not going. I activate with a Xiegu G-90, a paddle and about 20 feet of coax. We both use the same portable antenna system, however -- an offshore vertical whip antenna (styled after the BuddistickTM) that has been a joy in many cases but a real annoyance on other trips. The antenna comes from China with only a 10” long spike that you shove into the ground for support. If you’re at an Ohio park (somewhere with grassy, soft dirt) that might be fine. But we’re a couple of Arizona hams, and we must deal with harsh conditions now and again. You should have seen Steve trying to jam that antenna spike into rock hard dirt that hasn’t sprouted a weed in years!

 

The antenna mentioned is the PAC-12, available from AliExpress.US. I feel a bit ashamed for even mentioning it, as my friend Budd (W3FF) is the founder of Buddipole; this company clearly copied their product in a reverse engineering approach. The coil tunes up nicely on 40, 20 and 17, and is supposed to work with other frequencies as well, but these are the three I have experience with. It includes radials which are easy to deploy, and the tune is very adjustable with a sliding clip on the loading coil. I generally get a 1.6 to 1 or thereabouts when I am on the frequencies mentioned. The cons are significant, however. The material used in its construction is not beefy enough to withstand a lot of abuse – Steve’s broke right in half after a drop. I’d give this antenna a C minus overall, with a bit higher rating for its on-the-air performance. Also, we initially had a heck of a time putting it up, due to the aforementioned spike. This antenna costs $130 landed.                                                                                                                                                                                                        PAC-12

 

All of that ended when W7DJ, always on the lookout, found one of the handiest ham accessories we’ve ever locked onto . . . a large “bulldog clip” that will attach to just about anything, whether it be (ideally) a metal cattle fence, or (not so ideally) a pad from a Prickly Pear cactus. These clips changed our POTA activations from the moment we brought them along. The Workman QRCS3 is a simple and inexpensive connector, built like a Mac truck, that allows a mount from just about any angle – vertical or horizontal. It has a great big jaw that adjusts to 2.5 inches in full open, and which ensures an electrical connection due to the many ”teeth” built into the jaw. A smoothly rotating bracket can be adjusted with an Allen wrench to any position; it holds up our 10 ft. vertical (or one end of a dipole) with no problem. It’s produced by Workman Electronic Products out of Ohio and is available from several sellers on eBay and Amazon for $25-$35 shipped.

 

 

 

Another area where Steve consistently beats me in the POTA process is with logging. He’s got his computer set up on the card table, working his logging program and ensuring that each contact made is noted. While I have the same intent, of course, I’m scribbling into a note pad and the result is not pretty. It’s not all that complicated, is it? A call sign, a time of day, a signal report, frequency and perhaps a first name . . . but when things get hectic, paper and pencil fail miserably in comparison to logging software. My average rate of return on POTA logging, when I eventually transfer my scribbles into the computer, is about 85% due to legibility issues. Somewhere, some operator ends up unhappy because he didn’t get the park he thought he’d added to his POTA score. I’ll be adding an iPad to the field kit soon and if anyone has a suggestion on logging software for this purpose, please let me know in the forum.

 

Speaking of POTA activations (which are just so much fun), have you ever felt like you were getting beat up by the process, and you’d like to get up and stretch, perhaps to see some of the park you’ve activated? On one recent outing my fingers were blistered from hitting the push-to-talk button. I must have caught the propagation just right or maybe the park I was in was really in demand. Anyway, I felt like a DX station on some rare entity, and after an hour or two of that, a person needs a break. How about inserting a nice hike or a couple of hours under a shady tree while still “hamming it up?” My suggestion is to take all your gear back to the car, but leave that antenna up and attach one of Zachtek’s tiny little WSPR transmitters on your coax, along with a cell phone battery pack. It’s about the size of a cigarette pack, so you can hide it under a cactus and walk away securely. Harry Zachrisson builds these great little devices by hand over in Sweden, and they pack an unbelievable punch for the money ($140). (QST reviewed this in their Sept. 2022 edition.) 

 

I bought one and matched it up with that offshore vertical I mentioned for a couple hours of one-way beacon transmissions. I came back to my laptop after a hike and found out that my little transmitter of about a fifth of one watt had been heard on both coasts of the USA, in Australia, New Zealand, British Columbia, and get this . . . Antarctica! All of this on an inexpensive POTA vertical whip. It also showed me a giant gap to the Northeast that I will remember on my next field trip. Even if you’ve had a dismal POTA outing, you’ll feel good about the map the WSPR website builds for you showing your antenna’s performance. With the right gear, WSPR can be just another fun aspect of portable ham radio.

 

73 for now,

 

Dave

 

Click here to Discuss this Article in the Trials & Errors Forum

 


Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

Dave Jensen, W7DGJ, was first licensed in 1966. Originally WN7VDY (and later WA7VDY), Dave operated on 40 and 80 meter CW with a shack that consisted primarily of Heathkit equipment. Dave loved radio so much he went off to college to study broadcasting and came out with a BS in Communications from Ohio University (Athens, OH). He worked his way through a number of audio electronics companies after graduation, including the professional microphone business for Audio-Technica.  He was later licensed as W7DGJ out of Scottsdale, Arizona, where he ran an executive recruitment practice (CareerTrax Inc.) for several decades. Jensen has published articles in magazines dealing with science and engineering. His column “Tooling Up” ran for 20 years in the website of the leading science journal, SCIENCE, and his column called “Managing Your Career” continues to be a popular read each month for the Pharmaceutical and Household Products industries in two journals published by Rodman Publishing.


Articles Written by Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

This page was last updated December 9, 2022 18:16