Parks On The Air (POTA) #13 San Jacinto Battleground Historic Park
There was nothing unlucky on our 13th JSCARC POTA activation this past Saturday at the San Jac park. In many ways, this was our luckiest outing because of the terrific meeting of visitors that showed up.
Because of a past stern reminder from the Park Ranger, we made sure to arrive no earlier 0900- which is typically an later than our usual earlybird arrival times (the park seems to allow early access in spite of it’s advertised OPEN time). This later start meant hotter weather but gave us plenty of time for an unrushed cup of java before heading out to the park.
David KB5PGY was the first to arrive with his Kenwood TS-2000 FT8 POTA portable station. He arrived alongside new JSCARC member Ron KD5JRR. Ron joined the club last month and fell right into the POTA allure by showing up and making a nice handful of SSB QSOs. Ron is an especially interesting guy since he works in the JSC B14 ElectroMagnetic Interference and Compatibility (EMI/EMC) Branch. He’ll be our go-to guy when we need consultation regarding RF Interference or filtering. Speaking of RF interference…later in the day, we experienced an extremely strong 40 KHz wide repetitive sweep-like interference around 14.310 MHz. It lasted about 20 minutes, but ultimately disappeared. Very weird- wish I recorded it…
I arrived just a few minutes past 0900, but first had to hide two 2m Fox milliwatt transmitters in nearby trees for the potential fox hunters. The hope was to encourage some of our interested members across JSCARC and CLARC to try handheld 2m HT tracking (e.g. using body fading techniques).
After installing the last Byonics MicroFox transmitter in a nearby tree, I decided to finish gulping down my beckoning McDonalds breakfast burrito that I left half eaten on the seat beside me. Hoping for a quiet 5 minutes to finish enjoying my bite in the car’s A/C, 3 cars converged and parked right next to me. Was this a police raid?
I grumbled to myself thinking, “why are you parking right next to me with the wide expanse of this park AND this early in the morning??!!- I’m just trying to eat my breakfast before driving to the POTA activation site…”.
OK… I’m thinking, “these guys must be part of a family tailgate part that had previously picked this spot to host their BBQ picnic gathering. … I must have happened coincidently parked next to their picnic site, and maybe they thought I was competing for the spot”.
Nope, turns out these were the sneaky ham radio visitors from Baytown/Cleveland who astutely spotted my ham mobile antenna and license plate and were looking to introduce themselves as visitors to our JSCARC/CLARC POTA activation. Turns out that George AD5CQ met them at the Texas City Hamfest and extended them and invitation to visit. Our visitors were: Dave KI5TGK, Robert N5BSBm and Ron AA5RX, each driving their own ham radio equipped cars.
After learning of their interest to visit, I led the car caravan down the road to our real activation site, where we further introduced ourselves amongst the JSCARC members, David KB5PGY, Ron KD5JRR, and George AD5CQ.
For this POTA, we initially had 3 active transmitters:
– KB5PGY’s FT8 station
– AD5CQ’s FT8 station
– W5OC’s SSB station
While setting up my 20m SSB station (FT 897+ Bioenno 20AH battery), Robert N5BSB offered to use their custom End Fed Halfwave adjustable antenna. This was a new product designed, developed, and marketed by them (selling at hamfests, ebay and facebook). My first reaction was that this was quite lightweight, used quality clips, but wondered how to properly deploy the proper length to tune it.
I gladly deferred to use their antenna, knowing this was a blessing for someone else to get hot and sweaty instead of me <grin>.
As I stepped back to let our visitors install the antenna, and sure learned a few new things! (isn’t this why we have ham radio and interact with others?). Their antenna was a very clever design (courtesy of AA5RX’s R&D efforts) utilizing a chalk line reel to deploy, adjust, and retrieve an EFHW antenna wire. It’s called a “REEL POTA-ble Antenna”. More on this later.
More impressively, Dave KI5TGK demonstrated an odd but effective technique to toss the antenna *HIGH* into the tree by swinging a plumb bob (attached to the antenna end) between his legs and tossing the weighted line upward- over and behind his back. It was similar to a basketball 2 handed-underhand free throw toss, but extended vertically over your head. Dang- it looked weird but it worked! Click Here: POTA 13 San Jac 073023 – 8
Robert N5BSB shot a better video of it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-qivuVQNOE
I normally would take a fishing line with a weighted large bolt and cast it into the trees, tie the line to a cord, run the cord up the tree with the antenna wire tied to the cord, and tied off the cord to a tree, etc…which takes a lot of time. Dave’s toss was **much** simpler and incredibly high up the tree- effectively as high as my fishing line cast. The weighted plumb bob used in Dave’s toss, was slim and pointy at the end, which allows it to slip effectively through and down the branches without getting snagged. Very cool.
As a skeptical Electrical Engineer, I seriously doubted their “REEL POTA-ble” antenna would work. It’s hard enough to get an endfed accurately adjusted for one band alone, so in full “I doubt-it”-mode, I placed my MFJ 259 meter onto the end of the deployed antenna through a coax line. It was amazingly flat no more than 1.5-2:1 SWR on 10m, 15m, 20m, and 40m ham band frequencies! Wow that was unbelievable.
Not intended to oversell this antenna, I made the first QSO on 20m SSB using this antenna. 100W CQ POTA. The first contact was with KC4KK Park to Park. He said I was strongest signal on the band 5-10dB over S9. Yikes, this antenna works great.
Also, Charles, K5KXJ and his XYL Carolyn stopped by to visit.
Charles is a CW op who just recently helped us log W5RRR CW QSOs at CW village during last month’s Field Day. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a CW station setup this time, so Charles and Carolyn spent time rag chewing with us. Congrats to Charles, who recently got his Extra Class ticket a few months ago at Dave’s KB5PGY VE session held at the Gilruth. He calls it “finishing the cycle” after being a ham over 60 years.
Charles and I both live in the South Shore Harbor community and suffer the dreaded Community Association police – the evil villain of every ham radio operator. So, our common challenge is to erect antennas that stay off the radar from the community golf cart inspectors. Seeing the REEL POTA-able antenna’s ability to be a stealthy wire antenna and having the ability to retract it in a hurry caught Charles’ eye. Sold! Charles bought one from Robert to take home and setup.
Unfortunately, George AD5CQ was struggling with his Buddipole antenna setup while David KB5PGY was knocking out 17m FT8 contacts and new JSCARC member Ron KD5JRR was operating the 20m SSB radio.
Note: Ron KD5JRR is not a seasoned POTA nor HF operator, but boy he jumped right in and operated like a pro.
Jayant, KG5LJZ came by shortly. He kindly brought us some chilled H2O, (the Baytown/Liberty group did, too- thank you). Jayant, an avid POTA activator, jumped onto the 20m station and logged 10 QSOs to claim another activation under his callsign. These activation “credits” are used for scoring certificates and awards. I know Jayant has many POTA certificates already, but the fun of POTA is collecting more as you increase your activations and contacts with activators.
Jayant had to leave early but was also mesmerized by the REEL POTA-able antenna invention, and ended up buying one, too.
George still had no joy with his antenna issues and decided to retreat back home to troubleshoot the setup. Here’s his post mortem note about it:
I suffered antenna failure at the POTA #13. I could not get the antenna to load on any band. Where is my “PRACA Problem Report”??
I was starting to suspect an open circuit somewhere in the antenna system but I was too frustrated and hot to trouble shoot in the sun so I packed up very early and went home.
Sunday afternoon I began the troubleshooting (on a “DR” form). I found that one of the connections at the top of the antenna was very loose and falling out of it’s socket (it was a banana type plug). I also found a coax adapter connector that had rotated loose and may have been so loose as to lose connection so I may have been battling two failures at the same time (pass me another PRACA form). I fixed the banana connector and tightened the coax adapter then everything worked as it should have.
Looking forward to the next POTA event and praying that it will be somewhat cooler.
NOTE: At NASA, George was a Senior Safety Engineer. His world constantly revolved around failures and discrepancies… hence his reference “jokes” about DR (Discrepancy Reports), PRACA (Problem Reporting And Corrective Action- database) were a daily part of NASA’s safety engineering vernacular.
The Baytown/Liberty gang really rolled out the red carpet for us, by bringing their Go-boxes out for us to see. Both Ron and Robert kindly brought out their HF and VHF portable setups within portable Pelican containers. Unlike the heavier Gator boxes (e.g. 6U), these were super compact and much more portable. As you can see in the photos they are outfitted with digital as well using a Digirig, USB GPS, FT 857, 2x LiFePO4 10-12Ah batteries, and tiny ATU. Very nice indeed.
As we started to pack up, I had a chance to checkout Ron’s and Robert’s mobile setup.
Ron’s Suburban had recently been modified for his Icom IC-7100 HF radio. I was particularly interested in his use of the Yaesu ATAS mobile antenna (Ron and Robert both had one of these).
Ron mounted his onto a motorized luggage mount (Diamond K9000?) which folds up or down. Robert took the more conservative approach using a lip mount on the tailgate of his SUV.
Click here to see the antenna retract from a vertical position: POTA 13 San Jac 073023 – 67. Of great interest to me, was how Ron punched a hole in his roof and was able to snake through coax without removing the car interior headliner. I could be convinced to do the same. Getting an antenna above the roofline and enjoy the benefits of the car’s roof ground plane is an optimal configuration.
Robert’s ground strapping of the hatch to the car frame was masterful. Take note, mobile radio installers!
We all packed it in by 12:00. As usually many thanks to David Fanelli who made our W5RRR outing look respectable with his 41 FT8 17m QSOs, while we lazily made 11 QSOs on 20m SSB. The 20m band did seem to slow down as noon approached. David took the QSOs logged and entered them into the POTA database as well as the shack’s log. Photos below of David’s always successful FT8 setup with TS-2000 and Wolf River vertical antenna (and new fancy lime green sheathed coax!).
And also, many thanks to Dave KI5TGK, Robert N5BSB, Ron AA5RX, Charles K5KXJ and Carolyn for stopping by.
With POTA #13 now under our belt, I’d say it was lucky to have met new and old friends and having fun operating.
There were no takers for the hidden 2m fox transmitters, so we’ll try to promote this again at another time and with hopefully cooler weather.
73 all de W5OC