3 Days, 3 Activations, 2 Parks

It is getting near the end of camping season for 2022. We have one more trip planned for the beginning of October before we winterize the trailer and prepare to hunker down for the long, cold winter. It won’t be long before I’ll be switching to local park activations in the snow using my radio sled. But this past week the Sun was shining, temperatures were moderate and we headed out to an Ontario Provincial Park that we haven’t stayed at before.

Our destination was Sturgeon Bay Provincial Park (VE-0406) in the Pointe au Baril area, just off Highway 69. Sturgeon Bay might qualify as the smallest provincial park in Ontario. My wife and I were able to walk around the entire park in about 15 minutes. The park is popular with fishermen and frankly there isn’t much else to do there – except play radio.

Sturgeon Bay – part of Georgian Bay, Ontario

Unfortunately we chose the one campsite in the park with the least trees. There was no way I could hang my 80m End-Fed Half Wave antenna without having wires crossing other campers sites. But no problem, I had other options. I have done several activations recently using just my home made, coil-loaded vertical antenna. Improving band conditions have made this my go-to antenna for rapid POTA deployments.

MFJ-1979 17ft whip with 4 radials

I had loaded my truck up with just about every item of radio kit I had available for field operations. In that kit was an antenna I haven’t used in a while. It is a battered old MFJ-1979 17ft telescoping whip. I really have to replace this whip some day because it has been subjected to a lot of abuse. I thought I would start out by giving it a try. I mounted it on an aluminum spike with four 10ft ground radials. My Yaesu FT-891 showed I had an SWR of 1.2:1 on 14064KHz so I started calling CQ.

Fortunately, there is good cellular phone service at Sturgeon Bay and I was able to self-spot on the POTA website. The responses from hunters started coming in steadily. After 11 minutes I had the basic 10 QSOs needed for a valid park activation. I usually keep calling CQ until I don’t hear any more hunters then go QRT. But this time the hunters kept on coming. I logged 41 CW QSOs on 20m and then decided to give 40m a try.

I was disappointed that I didn’t have the appropriate gizmo to install my home made loading coil at the bottom of the MFJ-1979 whip so I could use it on 40m. No problem though, I switched to my regular loaded vertical with a 9ft Buddipole whip, the coil, and a 30-inch aluminum conductor at the bottom. Total antenna length – about 12 feet. The antenna was mounted on top of my home made lightweight hand cart with the same four 10ft radials I used earlier.

I started calling CQ on 7063KHz and logged another 12 QSOs. Unfortunately one of the QSOs on 40m turned out to be a dupe so the total for the 72 minute operating session was 52 QSOs – a rate of 0.7 QSOs per minute.

The end of the session brought an unpleasant surprise. I had been hunched over a picnic table for over an hour and when I stood up I had a terrible pain in my back. That pain kept me awake for much of the night but eased up the next day. The next day I chose a more comfortable chair for a second activation of the park.

Once again I put up my MFJ-1979 17ft whip for 20m and once again the hunters responded hungrily to my CQs. Parks On The Air hunters are the lifeblood of this aspect of the hobby. Without them there would be no activations!

This time the minimum 10 QSOs for a valid activation took 14 minutes and I went on to log another 20 for a total 30 QSOs over 76 minutes. Things got a bit slow towards the end of the activation and I wasn’t feeling at all well. For the last 20 minutes or so I felt so unwell I wondered whether I should just quit and go lie down. The problem turned out to be the friendly campers in the next campsite, beside ours, who were enjoying copious amounts (judging by the strong, sickly, sweet aroma in the air) of wacky-baccy!

Our three night stay at Sturgeon Bay Provincial Park yielded a total of 82 CW QSOs, 2 successful activations, one bad back and one secondhand high!

Sturgeon Bay had already been activated once before, by a phone operator, with just 12 QSOs. So I was pleased to (perhaps temporarily) take the position as park leader on both activations and QSO count. POTA’s park leadership tally adds a little competitive spirit to the exercise which adds to the fun.

Day 4 took us further up highway 69 to a point 85km south of Sudbury, Ontario. There we turned onto highway 522 and made a brief stop at the excellent Grundy Lake Supply Post for gas and supplies. Highway 522 runs east for 100km, south of the French River, to join Highway 11 a little south of North Bay. We followed Highway 11 south a few kilometers to South River where we made another scheduled stop.

My wife has a passion for beautiful rocks so our stop was at the incredible Crystal Cave store where we purchased a quartz geode for display in our living room. The store is well worth a visit; there is a rock museum and cafeteria there too.

Then it was on to Mikisew Provincial Park for a one-night stop. Why just one night? Well, it extended the trip a little and gave me a chance to add another POTA activation!

Mikisew Provincial Park near South River, Ontario

Mikisew Provincial Provincial Park is POTA entity VE-0300. I have activated Mikisew (twice) on a previous trip. Unlike Sturgeon Bay, the campsites at Mikisew are surrounded by plentiful tall trees. That meant I could use my 80m End-Fed Half Wave antenna. I launched my 4oz sand-filled balloon attached to thin twine and found a branch about 30ft high. After hauling up the antenna the smaller branches interfered so the antenna apex was only at around 25ft. But 25ft was high enough. The antenna deployed as an inverted-V oriented towards the south.

I spotted myself on the POTA website and started calling CQ on 20m. The hunters responded and 17 minutes later I had the minimum 10 QSOs for a valid activation, including one from Puerto Rico. QSO number 11 was a pleasant surprise. I received a strong signal from M0TTQ in Portsmouth, England. Even better, he was doing an activation himself so we both earned a P2P (Park-to-Park).

After a while the responses from hunters began to slow. I continued calling CQ but I noticed my battery voltage was beginning to drop so I called QRT and packed up. In all I logged only 19 QSOs at Mikisew. It was my third activation at the park and earned me the park leader position based on number of activations, but another activator had beaten my total QSO count.

Altogether it was a successful POTA trip with 101 QSOs from 3 activations in 2 parks over 4 days. The Parks On The Air (POTA) program has revitalized ham radio. I am so grateful to the wonderful POTA folks who have made operating outdoors in the big blue sky shack so much fun.

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