QRP to the Field 2000
Craig LaBarge, WB3GCK
I love operating QRP/portable. The several QRP field events held each year -- QRP to the Field, QRP Afield, FYBO, BUBBA, etc. -- give me a good excuse to pack up some little rigs and head out for some operating. For the past few years, NorCal's QRP to the Field event has introduced some interesting themes. QRPers might recall the year we all operating from unusual or spooky locations. Some folks operated from places like UFO mecca, Area 51. I operated from Phoenixville, Home of the Blob, for that one.  Then there was the Run to the Borders theme. You get the idea. For the 2000 event, the them for QTTF is Water World with an extra multiplier value for operating marine mobile. This was an idea that really intriqued me. I had thought about doing this in other contests, but now I really had the motivation to do it. I had some planning to do first, however.
The vessel which would carry WB3GCK/QRP/MM was the easy part. Hanging on the wall of my garage is my 10-foot, olive drab, aluminum jon boat, affectionately dubbed "The Mean Green Fishing Machine." The MGFM, outfitted with an electric trolling motor, has served me well as a platform for fishing some of the smaller lakes here in southeastern Pennsylvania. The MGFM would now be pressed into service as the platform for my QRP/MM operation during QTTF. For this outing, however, I planned to forego the trolling motor and use the oars to propel the MGFM.
While the little jon boat was outfitted with everything I needed for an afternoon of fishing, it was lacking a key item for ham radio -- an antenna. I planned to keep things as simple as possible and stick to a single band during the contest. So, my initial plan was to buy a single-band mobile antenna for 20 meters and mount it somehow on the MGFM.
Before I had a chance to break out the credit card to order an antenna, I came across a timely article in the April 2000 edition of QST. KM4IE had an article which desribes a "Bug Catcher" -style mobile antenna which could be built from commonly-available parts for under 20 bucks.  Being a cheapskate and a sucker for a good homebrew antenna project, this was right up my alley. So, I proceeded to build a slightly-modified (and decidedly uglier) version of KM4IE's antenna. Drilling a single 1/2-inch hole (not in the bottom of the boat, course!) allowed me to install a standard 3/8-24 threaded mobile antenna mount. The antenna sways a bit, so a couple pieces of twine would be used to guy the antenna.
For the rig, my NorCal 20 would be pressed into service. A 38 A-H gel cell battery would provide more than enough power for the event.
One last decision to make: Where to launch the MGFM, outfitted for its new mission? That also was pretty easy. Phoenixville is situated near the historic Schuylkill Canal. The Canal, lovingly restored and maintained by the dedicated volunteers of the Schuylkill Canal Association, would provide a a quiet and secluded body of water from which to operate. Plus, the significance of the Canal itself would give me an excuse to create some special QSL cards to give a plug to this unique and historic place.
There was one problem with this location, though. About a month before the event, the Canal suffered some structural problem which caused it to drain out into the Schuylkill River. An empty canal would be a tough place for a maritime mobile operation! However, the problem was quickly addressed and the water level began to rise over the following weeks. A week before the event, I drove down to the Canal to check it out. Although the water level was slightly lower than normal, it appeared that conditions would be a "go" for QTTF.
On the morning of the contest, I arrived at the Schuylkill Canal in Oaks, Pennsylvania at 11:00 AM EDT. Before launching the MGFM, I installed and adjusted the antenna. I hadn't had an opportunity to thoroughly test the new antenna, so I wasn't sure just what to expect. I was only able to get the SWR down to about 2.1:1. Close enough, I guessed. After I launched the boat, I checked the SWR again and found that it had gone up with the boat in the water. So, I pulled the boat close in to the shore, got out, and adjusted it again.
I was ready to operate by 11:15 AM EDT and made my first QSO at 11:18 AM. 20 meters was jam-packed the whole day. I found that I could work just about any station I could hear. I was a bit surprised by how good some of the signal reports were. In fact, a few stations said "Wow" when they heard I was /MM.
I built the NorCal 20 last year but hadn't really used it too much. It turned out to be a great portable contesting rig, especially with the TiCK keyer's memories. In fact, since I had painted the NorCal 20 green, I now call it the mean green contest machine!
The Canal turned out to be a great place to operate. A few passers-by inquired about my unusual activities but, for the most part, people gave the antenna a curious look and kept on walking. I rowed the boat to shore every hour and a half or so to take a break and stretch my legs. There was a port-o-potty in the parking lot which was convenient.
Late in the afternoon, I was really getting baked by the sun, so I called it quits at 4:00 PM. After 4 and a half hours of operating, I made 40 QSOs with 19 multipliers. Not bad for the little jon boat and a homebrew antenna. Twenty meters was jam packed most of the afternoon.
As I was loading the boat back into the truck, a Pennsylvania Fish Commission Officer came by to make sure I had a personal floatation device (PFD) onboard. (I was legal!) By 4:15 PM, I was on my way home. I love it when a plan comes together!
CALL: WB3GCK BAND: 20M MODE: CW SPC: PA CAT: MM POWER: 4 Watts BAND MODE DATE UTC STATION RST-S RST-R STATE CAT* ------ ------ -------- ------ ------- ----- ----- ----- --- 20 CW 04-29-00 1518 N0EA 559 559 MO MM 20 CW 04-29-00 1521 W5TB 549 339 TX WT 20 CW 04-29-00 1526 AA9NF 579 559 IL HO 20 CW 04-29-00 1531 N9VV 599 569 IL HO 20 CW 04-29-00 1532 AF4PP 579 559 GA FD 20 CW 04-29-00 1541 W4GGM 599 599 TN FD 20 CW 04-29-00 1544 AA5B 569 579 NM WT 20 CW 04-29-00 1546 N0TK 349 339 CO HO 20 CW 04-29-00 1555 W0UFO 569 559 MN OC 20 CW 04-29-00 1557 WA7LNW 549 339 UT WT 20 CW 04-29-00 1607 W5ABQ 569 559 NM WT 20 CW 04-29-00 1611 AA0B 559 559 MO MM 20 CW 04-29-00 1615 W0CH 569 559 MO MM 20 CW 04-29-00 1630 N4DD 589 559 TN WT 20 CW 04-29-00 1632 K5KW 579 579 OK HO 20 CW 04-29-00 1646 WA9TZE 599 599 WI OC 20 CW 04-29-00 1653 N9MZP 589 559 IL HO 20 CW 04-29-00 1655 KG9PQ 599 559 IL FD 20 CW 04-29-00 1658 AE4GX 589 589 GA OC 20 CW 04-29-00 1704 N0CO 449 559 FL FD 20 CW 04-29-00 1707 AE9K 599 559 WI OC 20 CW 04-29-00 1712 NQ4RP 559 559 GA MM 20 CW 04-29-00 1733 K0EVZ 579 579 ND WT 20 CW 04-29-00 1740 K5HQV 569 559 MS WT 20 CW 04-29-00 1743 KE0WW 559 559 MN HO 20 CW 04-29-00 1746 W0DC 589 559 MN HO 20 CW 04-29-00 1756 N0UR 599 599 MN OC 20 CW 04-29-00 1807 N9AW 599 559 WI OC 20 CW 04-29-00 1811 WT9S 569 559 IL WT 20 CW 04-29-00 1840 NF0R 549 559 MO FD 20 CW 04-29-00 1848 AB5XQ 589 559 AR FD 20 CW 04-29-00 1850 KG8YT 579 569 MI HO 20 CW 04-29-00 1918 W9XU 599 559 WI OC 20 CW 04-29-00 1929 WB4TGB 559 569 TN WT 20 CW 04-29-00 1931 W0WAB 589 559 MN HO 20 CW 04-29-00 1935 W0LK 579 559 AR HO 20 CW 04-29-00 1941 W5KID 549 559 LA MM 20 CW 04-29-00 1942 N4XDW 569 559 AL FD 20 CW 04-29-00 1944 N3AO 559 559 PA FD 20 CW 04-29-00 1954 NX9Z 569 559 WI WT * Categories: MM = Marine Mobile, OC = near ocean/Gulf/Great Lakes, WT = near other body of water, FD = field stations, HO = home stations
 See: http://www.qsl.net/wb3gck/qttf-97.htm
 King, Frank W., "A $20 HF Mobile Antenna," QST, April 2000, pp. 33-35.