Winter Field Day is a wrap. We had a great turnout, the site was fantastic, the weather was milder than we had any reason to expect in January, and there were smiles all around at the end.
We set up two stations in tents under a lakeside pavilion near Seneca Creek in Germantown. Many thanks to the Izaak Walton League Rockville Chapter for making the site available and being such gracious hosts. The tents were heated using electric radiators powered from two small generators. All lighting was powered by 12V DC batteries. Contacts were logged on laptop computers running N1MM software. The laptops were connected by a wireless LAN so that operators at each station had access to the combined log from all stations in real time.
One station was kept on the air throughout the 24-hour period of the event. The second station was on the air for all but a few hours before dawn Sunday. We made contacts on the five traditional HF bands (80 through 10 meters). Information was exchanged with stations in 42 U.S. states and 7 Canadian provinces. Analyzing the log after the fact, I found 10 dupes, or duplicate contacts. (The ground rules allow only one contact with a given station on the same band and mode.) One other contact was disqualified because the other station gave out an invalid exchange. That left us with 590 valid contacts, yielding a final score of 5588 points.
Operators whose call signs appeared in the log include K3MRI, K3ORG, K3XIT, KC3JFN, KC3MIX, KC3MJV, KN3U, W3CID, WA2WDT, and WA3UHZ. Several other MCACS members joined us to observe, coach, or help with setup and teardown. We were also visited by a number of Izaak Walton League members as well and several local teens, who earned SSL hours by helping with setup and teardown. Finally, a number of Scouts who were participating in an unrelated activity nearby stopped by the see what we were doing. A few of the more courageous visitors got on the air to make a contact. We neglected to set out a signup sheet for visitors, but I conservatively estimate that we had at least 30 folks participate or visit.
We were blessed with two very nice portable HF stations: a Yaesu FTdx10 loaned by WA3LTJ, and an Elecraft K3 made available by KN3U. Both stations came equipped with plug-and-play DC power systems consisting of 100 Ah deep-cycle batteries and compatible battery chargers. A third station, a Kenwood TS-2000 provided by K3XIT, was set up for 6 meters, but the “magic band” was sadly dormant throughout the context period. (Our location in a stream valley surrounded by higher terrain didn’t help.)
Antennas included crossed dipoles for 40 and 80 m and a terminated folded dipole covering 3-30 MHz, shown below. (Note the tent in the background of one of the photos. At least four members stayed overnight on Friday, Saturday, or both.)
Several of our MCACS members got their first experience operating in the HF environment and were ably coached by the more experienced operators. It’s harder than it might seem to make contacts on HF, and those who have been doing it for a while tend to forget how steep the learning curve is. However, for a new ham, there is nothing quite like hearing your call sign come back from a distant station, especially when you are competing with other hams in a pileup. That instant feedback makes operating in Winter (and summer) Field Day a great way to hone your operating skills in a brief period of time.
While speaking with a non-ham visitor at the event, I was reminded that our Amateur Radio equipment and skills can be considered as tools to use for emergency and disaster communications. A craftsperson can accomplish wonderful things with a modest collection of basic hand and power tools. The key is selecting the right tool for the job at hand and developing skill in using it effectively. 100-watt HF rigs, as well as VHF/UHF mobile rigs and HTs, are the basic tools of our trade.
On the other hand, any craftsperson builds a collection of specialized tools for jobs that would be difficult or impossible with more basic tools. For example, a wire stripper is a lot more effective than using simple pliers, a knife, or your teeth to strip insulation from a wire. We hams have our specialized tools for communications, including digital modes and messaging systems. In MCACS, we try to develop resources and skills relating to both basic and special-purpose tools for communications.
The trick is not to go overboard with specialized tools. Stores and catalogs are full of fancy tools that seem like clever ideas. In practice, many of these are unnecessary or even counterproductive. At Winter Field Day, we kept things simple, to good effect.
One other thing was remarked upon by several participants and visitors. That was the spirit of friendliness, generosity, humility, and cooperation exhibited by the entire team. That was true in every aspect, from sharing donuts and other edibles ( including traditional Indonesian food!) to setting up the equipment and taking turns operating.
MCACS members can add your observations and lessons learned in the Comments section below.