First CW contact!

It’s finally happened. My first CW contact! After nearly a year and a half of practice, trying 3 or 4 different methods of learning code, and countless hours of listening to other people’s QSOs on the air, I finally have successfully made a real, on the air CW contact.

It did not go at all as planned.

I was told early on by several experienced CW ops from the club that the best way to learn was at a reasonably useful conversational speed – 18-20 wpm. So, as I jumped into my CW education, I made very sure to practice each character until I had it cold. No counting, no thinking, no delay – just hear the sound, and think the letter. Later on after a lot of practice, words and pro signs started to come to me the same way. Now it’s not too difficult for me to sit and head copy simple exchanges, call signs, locations, signal reports etc. So all that practice was worthwhile.

I applied the same logic to learning how to send. Once I felt comfortable with copying all the letters and numbers, I started to practice sending the characters over and over until I didn’t have to stop and think about what I wanted to send. I could just think “a” and didah came out. So far so good.

I finally decided last weekend that it was time to just jump in and try an on air QSO. I mean, I had practiced, I felt pretty comfortable with it. What was there left to do but get on the air? So Sunday afternoon I turned on 20m and started listening around. I heard a few NPOTA stations, a special event WA1WCC, and then W0DB calling “cq NE qp.” I thought, well, this might be a good first try. The exchange would be simple enough, just “KK4FEM 599 FL.” What could go wrong?

So I wrote down what I wanted to send, practiced it (flawlessly) about 15 times just listening to the sidetone on my rig, then I flipped the break-in switch…took a deep breath, sent a perfect “KK4” – and my mind blanked. I don’t even know what I sent after that, but it definitely wasn’t “FEM.” Joe, W0DB came back with “KK4?” Ok, ok, calm down. One letter at a time…K..K..4..F..E..M. Phew!! Did it! Joe came back with my call, signal report, and his county. Ok, so now my signal report “5NN 5NN.” Wow, that was amazing! First try! Alright, so now all I have to do is send “FL.” Here goes…LF. Dang…LU. No, no…FR. Joe sends “FL?” Aw, man! I sent the signal report so good! One more try, slowly this time – “ FL FL FL.” He send back “FL K” or “TU” or something…I don’t even know. I was just trying to breathe again.

Yay! I did it! Well, at least I hoped I had. A few minutes later I typed out an email to W0DB telling him this was my first time, and to asking if he had actually managed to get anything useful out of all my mangled gibberish. A few hours later he replied with this:

w0db-log

I did it! Woohoo! He congratulated me on my first contact, and very kindly said that we all make mistakes when we’re first starting out. He suggested trying some other contests to get my speed and consistency up, which I plan on doing. Too bad I just missed the NAQCC sprint, but there’s a few other events coming up this weekend (the SKCC sprint and 2 QSO parties).

I thought that after having several SSB contests under my belt, I was over the whole nerves thing. I guess anything new can be hard at first, no matter how prepared you think you are. I’m really thankful for all the patient, experienced ops out there that are willing to slow down and work beginners like me. A whole new ham radio experience awaits me now…and just in time for the sunspot decline! I have a feeling knowing CW is going to keep me on the air as conditions worsen. Now for some more practice…

Wekiva River (WR37) NPOTA Activation

Well, the last remaining Florida NPS unit has now been officially activated! April 1st I made the drive up to northern Seminole county to the Wekiva National Wild and Scenic River. This “park” is a little different than most others, as there are only about 41 miles of waterway that have been designated as a Scenic River. I had to do a little digging ahead of time to figure out exactly what portions of the river would count for my activation. Through the NPS web page for the river I found the Wekiva River System site, where they have a nice aerial map showing the “park” area. Not much detail, but enough to figure out where I was on Google Earth and find a few likely looking locations. As you can see from the map, most of the river runs through swamps. You have to be within 100 feet of the water for the ARRL to consider your activation to have been within the “park,” so that narrowed my choices down considerably.

Wekiva River Map
Dark blue areas are within the Wekiva Scenic River System, including Blackwater Creek, Wekiva River, and Rock Springs Run

I settled on Katie’s Landing, which is a Florida state park on the upper portion of the Wekiva. It turned out to be a great choice. It’s a small park, and on a Friday afternoon wasn’t busy at all. There were three or four picnic tables right near the water, and plenty of cypress trees to hang antennas from.

I got to the park about 1:30 in the afternoon, and spent twenty or so minutes getting my station set up on on of the picnic tables, about 25 feet from the water (taking no chances with a DQ on my activations lol)

Wekiva Station

I used the same EARCHI end fed antenna that I used in my previous activations in Utah, and it didn’t disappoint. With one end tossed 30 feet up in the cypress tree behind me, and the counterpoise laid out on the ground, I tuned up on 40m and got ready to go.

End fed all packed in it's box
End fed all packed in its box
The whole antenna system unpacked
The whole antenna system

I was very hopeful that 40m would net me a bunch of in state contacts. I was pretty disappointed… Propagation was actually pretty good, but the noise levels were terrible. I did get 5 Florida contacts, and 5 from Georgia, along with a couple other nearby states. After about 45 minutes with not a lot of contacts (wound up with a total of 19 on 40m), then I switched to 20m. WOW! What a difference. K5RK was my first contact, and it was full speed from there. 86 contacts in 58 minutes before propagation finally seemed to quit on me… it was a blast! It always amazes me how much fun you can have with only 5w,  that little ft-817 does a great job. Propagation was supposed to be marginal at best on 20m that day, but it was definitely wide open. I had enough stations calling that I started running by numbers, with a call for QRP stations at the end of each round. What surprised me was the number of stations that had already worked me called again, after turning their power down to 5 watts – and they were still coming in just as strong as they had been before…and some had been running KW stations!

Moral of the story: even when the forecast says band conditions are bad, throw your call out there. The models might just be wrong 🙂

QRP: Lower your power and raise your expectations!