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Antenna Problems = Failed POTA Activation
Second Curse, Same As The First, A Little Bit Louder And A Little Bit Worse
Oh, how I was cursing this morning when my antenna system let me down. (My spouse was present and shushed me because people were walking by!) Did I check it at home before I went to the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site? I sure did. I could get the Comet HFJ-350M to a 1.4 SWR at 14.074 MHz and the Yaesu FT-450D’s ATU easily tuned it. I was excited to see how this little antenna would work in the field.
I got the antenna set up, checked it with my MFJ analyzer, tuned it with the radio’s ATU, and started transmitting CQ. I did have three QSOs on FT8 before the transceiver unexpectedly stopped transmitting. I tried to tune the antenna with the ATU but it wouldn’t tune. I spent about 30 minutes manipulating and testing with my MFJ vector analyzer but I never got the antenna back to an SWR ratio that was acceptable to the radio.
Disappointed, I packed it in for the morning. And then I thought about it all day as we took care of various household tasks. It’s a future research project in which I’ll examine every piece of that antenna system to see what caused the SWR to go sky high. Something isn’t making good contact in the system so I’ll do a lot of testing of each link in the chain.
One key takeaway from the morning’s experience is to always bring a backup antenna. I didn’t do that because the little Comet antenna had worked well when I was testing my POTA box for the Fort Vancouver activation. That left me with no option once the single antenna I brought no longer worked.
Fast forward to this evening after we left the Portland QTH and arrived at our Washington landing zone. On a lark, I loaded up the DX Engineering 25-foot fiberglass telescoping mast, the Chameleon EFHW LEFS antenna, the LiFePO4 battery, the laptop, and the radio to try an evening activation of Potlatch State Park on Hood Canal. It took about 15 minutes to get everything set up at the park.
When I turned on the radio and started WSJT-X on the laptop, I was blown away by the signals on 20 meters. The waterfall looked like a massive alien invasion of Earth with wall-to-wall strong signals. It took about 90 minutes to get 14 QSOs on FT8 and FT4, and while I had hoped for more, that is enough to activate the park. Getting that activation did help soften my disappointment over the morning attempt.
A young ranger stopped by and started a conversation by saying that my mast was the longest fishing pole she’d ever seen. I explained about Parks on the Air while I was having an FT8 QSO with a station in Texas. She was really surprised to hear about POTA. Later, I found myself wishing that I had a small stack of one-pagers or brochures I could use to help inform people when they stop by my POTA station.
I lost that Texas station as band conditions deteriorated. I also lost a station in Kansas, one I really wanted to get in the log. But most of the folks who responded to my CQs were able to complete the QSO, for which I am grateful.
One teachable moment for me occurred when the wind picked up and started flexing my 25-foot fiberglass mast. It was secured at the base with a drive-on mast mount but it turns out the mount is surprisingly flexible. I tied off the mast to the roof rack of my car and that took care of my worry about the mast. A more permanent solution is probably a wood brace that attaches to both rails of the roof rack, with a padded V-shaped notch on the end and a strap to secure the mast. That would give the bottom of the mast two points of contact and I think that would be a more secure system with only a few extra moments of setup and take down time involved.
I’m glad I didn’t give up today. While I wish the morning had gone better, it did feel good to successfully “POTA on” in the evening and get a park activated.