From 1985-89, I found myself living and working on a small, nuclear powered, small, fast attack, small submarine home-ported out of San Diego. And did I mention that it was a small submarine? During my first six months onboard, I slept next to a green MK-48 in the torpedo room with the other non-quals. Life onboard eventually got better, but the boat never got bigger. I think I gravitated toward camping and the great outdoors in response to this “forced togetherness”. During weekends in port, Russ, Britt and me would hop on our Honda Magnas and ride south to the adventure and empty roads of Baja California where we would put our speedometer needles to parts of the dial they never would have seen if we’d had any sense. Or Andy and I would head out for a camping trip in the Anza-Borrego Desert east of San Diego. My ham radio interests were dormant in those days but we used photography as our excuse to go camping, as if we needed an excuse. At least Andy was serious about it. In addition to camping gear, the back of his car contained 35mm, 6×7 and large format 4×5 camera systems. My photography inventory was more QRP. But we had fun and I learned to love camping.
My first time to combine radio with camping came shortly after completion of my Wilderness NC40A. Something about that word wilderness. I took it literally! I didn’t know it at the time, but every subsequent kit would have the same effect – no sooner would the kit be built and tested than I would be thinking C-cells or double A’s? How much weight difference between a dipole/RG58 and a ZM-2/random wire? Where to stow the rig for backpacking – side pocket or main compartment? In the meantime, the logbook at home was being filled with DX snagged by this little blue box.
In May 1998, I threw some camping gear and my NC40A, 12V lantern battery et al into the car and decided to see if this portable QRP stuff I’d been reading and hearing about was all it was cracked up to be. An hour and a half later, I was setting up my tent at Stokes State Forest near the NJ/NY/PA border under a beautiful blue sky and a shiny copper dipole. A great day was ahead!
But wonderful days do not always beget wonderful nights and after a dinner of grilled chicken, mashed potatoes and wind-blown dirt, the static crashes in the headphones confirmed the approach of a storm front. The talking head on channel 7 had mentioned the front, saying that the rain would pass to our north and that we would get high winds. He was right. The tent held up well, as did the dipole, but the noise inside the tent from the flapping nylon walls and rain fly was incredible. Several times the wind would catch the nylon just right and it would sound like a gunshot. Sleeping was out of the question but if I kept the headphones completely covering both ears, and really, really concentrated, I could still copy code. I was only able to have one QSO during this period and that was with NA1XX, Mike, in Weymouth, Mass as the wind was beating the hell out of the tent. I could increase the RF gain to the point that I could hear Mike fairly well, but the NC40A’s sidetone was already at its loudest and increasing the RF gain had little affect on it. I could hear Mike better than I could hear myself! My logbook reminds me that Mike was also QRP, using his FT101E turned down to 5 watts and a loop antenna. We exchanged 569/559 reports and chatted until the QSB ended our QSO for us. Actually, I think the wind started blowing my RF in the other direction.
After an hour or so, the wind left as suddenly as it came. The woods were now completely dark and quiet – no crickets, frogs or critters. But forty meters was hopping and the headphones were filled with both Stateside and DX stations. Before pulling the plug for the night, I managed to work QRPers Sam WB5ZJN/8, Lou WB3AAI and several other stations.
My very first introduction to QRP had been about three years earlier when I put together an HW-9 while doing shore duty in Groton, Connecticut. As I write this, I’ve been trying to think of the words or paragraphs that would allow me to articulate why it’s’ fun to be camping out in the woods, far from commercial power, and be able to communicate via low-power radio with people on the other side of the country. I can’t do it. If you’ve never done it, you should try it – the Fun Factor is QRO.