Operating the Maine QSO Party from Romania – A Travel Log

Finally, by mid-September, our family trip to Romania, which was originally scheduled to take place in April 2020, was about to become a reality. Our tickets were purchased months prior, and everything was looking good, but just days before we were about to leave, the COVID-19 risk assessment level of the United States was moved from “High” to “Very High,” casting doubt once again on whether or not we’d be able to travel. The difference between these categories may not seem like much, but the way different countries react to these classifications are very drastic.

For us, being able to enter Romania wouldn’t change, but making a layover (for less than an hour), in Amsterdam, would become almost impossible. The Netherlands, in order to discourage travel from the United States, placed all kinds of requirements on American travelers, including paperwork to fill out, and testing within such a short window, it wouldn’t allow for the time it took to get there! My wife, Stefania, however, was determined to take the trip, and after researching every possible way to make it happen, she discovered that, because of her Romanian citizenship, we would all be able to get an electronic document called the “European COVID-19 Vaccine Passport.” This made all the difference, because, despite the fact that we were travelling on U.S. passports, we were treated like Europeans from a COVID perspective.

Despite these early challenges, the trip would go very well. The plane between Boston and Amsterdam was nearly empty (in both directions), which allowed room for our 3-year-old son, Elliot, to lay down and sleep. We arrived fresh and ready to settle in at Stefania’s childhood home, which is located along the famous “wine road,” in Valea Calugareasca, Prahova.

Elliot helps to pick corn.

The most heart-warming part was seeing Elliot meet his grandmother for the first time. They talk almost every day via Skype, but its not the same as having a real hug. Elliot loved playing in the big driveway and in the fields behind the house, and enjoyed helping out with the chores, including picking corn and putting them in bags to be stored for winter.

The family all together! Tim, Elliot, Stefania, and Gabi

The area is rural farmland, but its not far from Romania’s second most populated city, Ploiesti. Its also grown up a bit since the last time I was there, in 2015. The village center has more businesses, and the road was being reconfigured to support more traffic. The biggest difference I noticed was the fact that more people were driving, and the road infrastructure wasn’t quite up to the task. This was especially noticeable in Ploiesti, where we went to do some shopping and to renew Stefania’s Romanian passport.

What I didn’t expect, but probably should have, due to the time of year, was that late September is harvest season. My second day there, I helped cut down the vegetable plants and pick corn, that would be packed into large sacks to be stored during the winter – to feed the chickens. After this was done, I was asked to “cut down the field.” I expected to be shown a tractor or brush hog, but was instead handed a hoe with a curved blade on it. So, considering the field was close to two acres, this took nearly three days to finish.

Cutting down the corn field.

By the fourth day there, I was finally able to play some radio, using a borrowed Yaesu FT-857D and Stefania’s father’s old ham shack, complete with power supply and antennas, which included a delta loop for the low bands, and a yagi that covered 10-20 meters. The yagi tuned up pretty well on all its bands, but the loop had some sporadic SWR issues, which probably meant it had a bad feedline or some corrosion somewhere. None of this was unexpected, considering the station hadn’t been used in over six years! After a little work, we had the station running pretty well, and that first evening I was making QSOs in the middle east, and much later on, the U.S. The first station I heard from the States was the familiar voice of Rick, K1OT! It was good to hear someone from back home.

Yeasu FT-857d setup at Stefania’s family home.

It took a while to get used to the propagation in that part of the world, and also the IARU Region 1 band plan, which is much different than our own, and for the first time, I really got a feel for what it was like to be on the other side of the European DX wall. If you’ve ever chased a DXPedition from your QTH in Maine, you’ve probably experienced long hours when it seemed like the DX station would only hear Europe, despite the propagation being favorable to us. Southeastern Europe is on the other side of that “wall’, with a seemingly clear “view” of the east, so working DX in Asia and the Pacific was a lot easier.

Because of the time difference with the East Coast of the U.S. (which is seven hours), we would have to stay up quite late to talk to the U.S. Besides Rick, I was able to work quite a few others, including Eric N1RXR, via D-STAR!

After resting up from “cutting down the field” for a few days, Stefania and I helped to harvest the grapes. More than half of her mom’s back yard is a vineyard, featuring a variety of grapes that are unique to Romania, such as Feteasca Alba and Feteasca Neagra, (which are wine grapes), and some table grapes called “Hamburgs” by the locals.

The backyard vineyard.

It took 4 people, including Stefania and myself, plus her cousin and a friend of hers, to cut enough grapes to fill three different orders. The first two buyers needed 500 kilograms each, plus another wanted a lesser amount. After cutting and bagging up all those grapes, there were still some on the vines, which would be picked after we left. One of those orders was packed into a taxi cab and hauled off in several trips.

Feteasca Alba wine grapes.

During the last week of our stay, we went on a picnic with Stefania’s childhood friends, to a place called Valea Doftanei, which was about 45 minutes North of Valea Calugareasca. The picnic spot was on a sloping valley hill, surrounded by mountains and alongside a lake. It was a very picturesque fall day, and friendly cows roamed about the hillside as well, which made the experience a unique one.

Valea Doftanei

The highlight of the trip, at least as far as radio goes, was being able to participate in the Maine QSO Party from a very nicely equipped contest station in Baicoi, which is located just outside of Ploiesti.

A look at some of the antennas, including the Optibeam, at Baicoi.

The station is on the property of a business called MAZAROM, which is the Romanian distributer of Mazak CNC machines. The proprietor, and owner of the station, is Stefania’s former boss, Adrian Tutu, YO3HOT, a former president of the Federaţia Română de Radioamatorism (FRR). He’s a huge promoter of ham radio in the country, and also an accomplished DXer and Contester. While there, we were hosted by Mihai Malanca YO9BPX, who is active with youth groups, that encourage the study of CW. His teams have competed successfully in national and European CW competitions, and he’s also involved with the World Wide Floral and Fauna program, which encourages operating ham radio portable, while outside.

Stefania K1GJY (and YO9GJY), operating from Baicoi during the MEQP.

The primary HF station at Baicoi features a Kenwood TS-990, Expert 2K-FA amplifier, and a variety of antennas, including a multiband Optibeam on a 100+ ft tower, and a 4-square for 160m. The entire station can be controlled through a single PC, with software tied to the N1MM logging program, including rig, rotor, amp, and tuning control. Once you figure it out, it’s quite a pleasure to operate. The station is designed to host contesters, equipped with a bedroom, kitchen and cafeteria, as well.

Tim KB1HNZ, operating as YO/KB1HNZ, from Baicoi.

Stefania and I entered as a Multi-Op team, using call sign YO/KB1HNZ. Being only a day before we had to travel back home, we had to end a few hours early to get COVID tests, so it probably wasn’t a winning effort, but it was a lot of fun, and we’re grateful to have had the opportunity to work the contest from such an incredible station.

12th Annual Maine 2 Meter FM Simplex Challenge is Saturday, April 2nd

The 12th Annual Maine 2 Meter FM Simplex Challenge takes place Saturday, April 2nd, from 12PM – 4PM!

The Maine 2 meter FM Simplex Challenge is a ham radio contest primarily designed to give 2 meter operators a chance to compete on an even basis, and have fun doing it.

Saturday, April 2, 2022, and runs for 4 hours, beginning at 12:00 PM local time.

Contacts are limited to FM Simplex on the 2 meter band.

Participants may be entered as either fixed or mobile, (but not as both).

Exchange – Exchange items include your call sign, the name of the city, village, town, or township you are operating from, and your power level. Rovers and mobiles must be within the city limits of whatever city they claim to be operating from. If you are operating from a served agency station, you should also include this with your exchange. Specify which agency you serve, for example, “SKYWARN,” “EOC,” or “Red Cross.” On the log sheets, however, there will only be a place to notate whether or not the station is operating from a served agency.

City or Town – This is simply the name of the city or town you are operating from. If you do not live within the city limits, use the name of the town or municipality to which mail or a package would be addressed.

For mobile entries, use the name of the city or town you are in, or the closest city or town.

Power levels are defined as follows:
• QRP – 5 watts or less
• Medium Power – greater than 5 watts, but less than 100
• High Power – 100 watts or more

Enter as either Fixed (either at home or portable) or Mobile (roving).

Click here for complete rules and details, including Entry Forms and Log Sheets, for the 2022 Maine 2 Meter FM Simplex Challenge.

The Overall winner of the 2021 Maine 2 Meter FM Simplex Challenge was Dick Bean K1HC, from Westwood, Massachusetts, who made a total of 95 QSOs, in 41 different towns, for a total of 3,895 points. Congratulations on a job well done! K1HC operated as Fixed Medium from his vacation home in Haprswell, Maine, using an Icom IC-9700 into a Diamond X50 at 295′ above sea level, during the contest. Click here to see all the 2021 category winners.

2021 SKYWARN Recognition Day Review

On Saturday, December 4th, members of the NWS Gray SKYWARN Amateur Radio Team activated WX1GYX for SKYWARN Recognition Day, an annual event that celebrates the contributions that SKYWARN volunteers across the country make to their communities.

Radio operations began at 0000 UTC on December 4th and continued for 24 hours, with either a weather report or SRD number being exchanged. SRD isn’t a contest, but a fun on-air activity with many different participants, including SKYWARN Net Control operators, SKYWARN spotters, regular hams, ARES volunteers, and even DX stations, taking part.

SRD isn’t just for radio operators, either! SKYWARN is a national network of volunteer severe weather spotters, many of whom are not hams. Over 4,500 spotters took part in the SRD National Spotter Check-In, which mapped their locations across the country.

Similar to last year, the NWS Gray SKYWARN Amateur Radio Team could not activate from the National Weather Service Forecast Office, due to COVID-19 restrictions, so they created a shared Google Sheet and encouraged radio volunteers to choose a time and band slot to operate as WX1GYX, either from a portable location, or their own homes. The effort was successful in giving NWS Gray an on-air presence during the event.

Special thanks to: Eric N1RXR (D-STAR, Echolink, and FM), Tom N1KTA (Echolink), Tim KB1HNZ (HF SSB, HF Digital, and DMR), Stefania K1GJY (HF SSB), Susan WB2UQP (HF SSB), and Jason W1SFS (HF SSB)., for contributing logs! WX1GYX logged 45 different states, 7 different NWS Offices, and 59 SKYWARN Spotters, for a total of 195 QSOs during the event. Great job, everyone!

Click here to view the SRD Check-in map and learn more about SKYWARN Recognition Day.

VE Exam in Scarborough this Evening

For anyone interested in testing for an initial Amateur Radio license, or upgrade, we will be hosting a VE Exam this evening, at 7:00 PM at the Scarborough Public Safety building, located at 275 U.S. Rt. 1, Room 105, Scarborough, ME. The room will be the first on the left after entering the building through the public entrance.

Click here to learn what you need to bring to the exam.

Where: Scarborough Public Safety, 275 U.S. Rt. 1, Room 105, Scarborough, ME 04074.

When: 7:00 PM

FMI: Tim Watson KB1HNZ, (207) 831-8132

2021 SKYWARN Recognition Day Nationwide Check-In

A new feature for 2021 SKYWARN Recognition Day is the Nationwide Check-in.

SRD organizers and the NWS want to see where all of our SKYWARN Spotters are across the country! Check in using this simple form and represent your community.

All SKYWARN spotters are encouraged to participate! This is a fun way that SKYWARN Spotters who aren’t ham radio operators can also take part in the SRD activities.

73′

Tim Watson
KB1HNZ

2021 SKYWARN Recognition Day is December 4th!

2021 SKYWARN Recognition Day is December 4, from 0000Z – 2359Z

For 22 years, SKYWARN™ Recognition Day, developed jointly by the National Weather Service and the American Radio Relay League, celebrates the contributions that volunteer SKYWARN™ radio operators make to the National Weather Service.

Similar to last year, because of COVID-19 restrictions, ham operators will not have access to the NWS Gray facility, but we encourage you to take turns activating the WX1GYX call sign, either from your home stations, portable, or mobile, during the event.

If you’d like to use the WX1GYX call sign during SRD, please click here to sign up for a time/band slot. We hope to have at least one operator from each of the counties in the NWS Gray Weather Forecast area, so spread the word!

Participants are asked to log contacts in an electronic logging program, such as N1MM, and submit to kb1hnz@yahoo.com in an ADIF format.

During the periods that you’re not using the WX1GYX call sign, operators may also use their personal call signs to exchange their name, SRD number (which can be obtained here) and current weather conditions with other participating stations.

The event website provides complete operating guidelines, including the suggested exchange. SRD is a fun on-air activity that feels very much like a contest, but its informal. There’s no rules or band limitations. You can even use repeaters!


73′

Tim Watson
KB1HNZ

WSSM-ECT Training Net – Thursday, October 28, at 7:00 PM

Please join us this evening at 7:00 PM on the W1QUI 147.090 (+ / 100) repeater, for our monthly On-Air Drill!

This will be an on-air and in person hybrid meeting, with a limit of 5 people allowed at the CCEMA Bunker, which is located at 22 High Street, Windham, ME. For those who join us at the bunker, we’ll use the remaining time after the net to install and update software on the PCs.

Following our net on the repeater, we’ll test out the newly re-installed HF antenna at CCEMA. For those with HF capabilities, please join us on 3940 kHz LSB for an exchange of signal reports.

Catch you on the air!

73′

Tim
KB1HNZ

Local Ham Radio Group Participates in Statewide Exercise

On Saturday, October 9th, members of the Wireless Society of Southern Maine Emergency Communications Team (WSSM-ECT), which meets monthly in Scarborough, will participate in a statewide drill to test their communications capabilities between various different sites throughout Cumberland County and the state. The drill, known as the Simulated Emergency Test, or SET, is an annual exercise, sponsored by the American Radio Relay League, which encourages amateur radio operators from across the country to test their communications skills during a mock disaster.

During the SET, hams are required to quickly establish communications between various Emergency Operations Centers and exchange formal messages and traffic, which contain requests for supplies, medical information, or weather reports, or other information that may be of importance during a disaster. They do this via voice, Morse code, and digital two-way radio, on bands ranging from HF to UHF, as required.

“Similar to last year, there’s has been a lot of statewide coordination for the SET, and Maine ARES and others have developed an extensive plan that involves testing both amateur radio and EMA communications,” says Tim Watson, of Saco. Watson is a founder of the Wireless Society of Southern Maine, which provides communications support for Cumberland County EMA, as well as the National Weather Service. “The SET tests how we respond during large-scale disasters, where commercial infrastructure has failed. In these events, hams are often the only source of communications.”

“The hams in our club are a dedicated group,” adds club President, Brad Brown, of Waterboro. “Amateur radio has a long history of volunteerism. Sure, it’s a hobby and there’s some fun things that we do like lighthouse expeditions or competitive events like contesting, but so many like to stay sharp by providing support for community events, and drills like this, so they’ll be ready to offer their time and expertise when disaster strikes.”

The Wireless Society of Southern Maine’s Emergency Communications Team is participating in their seventh SET.

After the event, the participants will do an assessment to determine how well they performed and look for areas to improve upon. “There’s always new things to learn and ways to improve,” says Watson. “This year we’ll be testing some updates that have been made to the statewide digital packet network, which we use for sending messages. We hope to learn more about its capabilities and how to improve it for the future.”

For more information about amateur radio, or the Wireless Society of Southern Maine, please visit their website at:

http://www.mainehamradio.com

WSSM-ECT Pre-SET Training & Traffic Net Report

Thanks to everyone who joined us our special Pre-SET Training Net last evening. We began the net on the 147.090 repeater and after closing the net on the repeater, we moved over to 146.580 FM Simplex. Below is the complete Net Report:

Date: 10/07/2021
Start Time: 7:00 PM
Frequency: 147.090 (+ / 100 Hz) FM repeater, located on Blackstrap Mt., Falmouth, ME
Net Control: Tim Watson KB1HNZ, Battery Power, in Saco, ME

Check-ins: 4
Ben, KC1HBL, Commercial Power, in Buxton, ME
Dave, KB1FGF, Commercial Power, in Scarborough, ME
Brad, KC1JMH, Battery Power, in N. Waterboro, ME
Ed, W1XAW, Mobile, Battery Power, Portland, ME

Traffic Handled: 1
Brad brought one piece of through traffic to the net, for KX7YT, in Portland, OR. This will be held and forwarded via Winlink during the SET, on Saturday.

Secure at: 7:22 PM

Simplex Net Details:
Start Time: 7:23 PM
Frequency: 146.580 FM Simplex
Net Control: Tim KB1HNZ, Battery Power, in Saco, ME
Check-ins: 5
Ben, KC1HBL, Commercial Power, in Buxton, ME
Dave, KB1FGF, Commercial Power, in Scarborough, ME
Brad, KC1JMH, Battery Power, in N. Waterboro, ME
Steve, WZ1J, Commercial Power, Brunswick, ME
Steve, W1GR (Club Call Sign), Commercial Power, Brunswick, ME
Secure at: 7:38 PM