Getting back to normal after Field Day

I’ve already shared my lessons learned at Field Day and the PSK31 macros I used to work digital modes on 15 meters, but I haven’t really commented on how the day went.

Long story short, it went about as perfectly as I could have hoped.

For the last several months, my goal has been to do “something” at Field Day besides help setup and log. That was my secondary reason for wanting a portable rig like the FT-817 (the first being SOTA) … I wanted to be able to operate my own station at Field Day.

It wasn’t until earlier this month at the CARC meeting that I was approached by Steve, who wanted to learn more about digital modes and was interested in seeing the 817 in action. We agreed to man the 15 meter digital modes station. My experience with digital at that point was mostly JT65 and about two PSK31 contacts. So for several weeks, I practiced PSK31 and tried to learn as much as I could about that mode and the 15 meter band.

Steve volunteered to build a ladder-line dipole and bring the battery, chairs, table and our pop-up tent. I arrived with my laptop, the radio, tuner, Buddipole (just in case), coax, wattmeter and other odds and ends in my rucksack.

I think our efforts paid off. Using the club call W4CAE, and operating from a farm in Kershaw County, Steve and I scored 23 QSOs on PSK31 on 15 meters on Saturday from 2 p.m. until the band shut down that evening. We didn’t return Sunday morning because we both had family commitments. Assuming all those contacts check out, we could be looking at contributing 40+ points to the club’s effort of Field Day (digital contacts count for two points each).

Now, I don’t know how “good” 23 contacts is. I do know, that we were VERY lucky to get that many. When the contest started at 2 p.m. Saturday, I sat down and started calling CQ, surrounded by on-lookers and club members who were wondering what a newbie ham with a 5 watt radio and a laptop was capable of.  The crowds died off of boredom over the next three hours. In the 90-degree heat, we ran our CQ macro hundreds of times and only had a partial QSO (a Canadian station if I recall). I pounced on a few stations and we took a break with only four contacts in the log.

While we waited for the laptop to charge back up a bit, Steve and I walked around the camp and discovered that others weren’t having much luck either. A young ham boasted he’d made two contacts.  I told him we had exactly twice as many, and I wasn’t trying to brag. I walked into a trailer where a veteran ham was working 20M PSK. He had a single contact in the log.

Meanwhile, the CW guys were killing it with more than 100 QSOs. Desperate for more action, I returned to our canopy and nabbed two more contacts. The band was just so random all day! I’d lock onto a powerful signal, then it would trickle away to noise.

We broke for dinner, where I inhaled about three pulled-pork sandwiches and a stack of brownies. While the guys were decompressing, I went back to our station alone and drew the canopy down low around me. I was hiding, but 15 meters wasn’t.

Somehow in 45 minutes time the band really took shape. There were QSOs up and down 21.070. Most of my CQs were met with responses. I actually had a RUN going at one point. I was jacked up on about 80 oz. of Coke Zero and sweet tea by this point, I was tired, dehydrated, hot and needed a shower. I don’t know if it was the pulled pork, the brownies or the caffeine, but I started yelling insane utterances at my laptop and the radio. I wish I could remember them, but I seem to recall telling one signal to “get in my waterfall!” People were gathered around and talking about movies and flying and other random BS. I had tunnel vision. The QSOs kept coming. I kept calling out the locations of stations as I received their exchanges: “We’ve got Argentina! Washington State! Kansas! Canada again!”

I recall scanning the waterfall and realizing I’d worked every station on there. It seemed like a good place to stop, as the laptop was dying again and both Steve and I were ready to pack it in. Next thing I knew I was exchanging high-fives and handshakes with folks. Steve said he’d never had this much success at Field Day, and that meant a hell of a lot to me.

I drove home knowing that I’d done as much as I could have done given our equipment, power level and experience. I haven’t heard a tally of the final projected score, but I do know Steve and I exceeded the number of QSOs recorded by the 75M, 15M, and 6M phone operators, and possibly some others. The code guys are the real champs, which gives me yet another reason to continue my code practice. We ran 11 stations total, (11A), making our club one of the larger operations out there on Field Day, so I look forward to seeing how we performed.

Tonight I got back to chasing DX at 100 watts with the FT-847. After working QRP for a month straight, it almost seems too easy. Three calls resulted in contacts with three countries on 20 meters tonight, including a new country for me, Lebanon. I even managed to catch part of the Ham Nation 20 meter net with Bob Heil, and over on 75 meters, heard Ham Nation’s Cheryl, in a casual QSO.

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