“CQ CQ CQ Winter Field Day, Whiskey Sierra One Echo Charlie, QRZed? We are 2-Oscar Mike Echo Maine, QSL?”
If you were new to the hobby or a passing stranger, hearing these ramblings, emanations of weird radioesque noises like you’ve heard on the original Star Trek, and a blaring generator from a trailer with wires and poles hanging off it, you’d think you have walked into a science fiction movie set. This was us, all day and night for 24 hours.
Winter Field Day is a fun way to practice emergency preparedness. The Wireless Society of Southern Maine used it as an exercise to familiarize ourselves with the Cumberland County EMA’s equipment, and put it through its paces. As a new ham, it was invaluable. I learned how to operate complicated radios, with several visits to RTFM. We identified shortfalls in our plan and the limits of the equipment, and are both updating our plans and identifying resolutions for the equipment problems we had experienced.
We met Saturday morning at 0800, unloaded our vehicles of sleeping bags, food, and cold weather clothes. Some brought tools and spare parts. At about 9, we started setting up. We can’t use permanent installations as part of the exercise, so we pulled down our folded dipole used for the HF rig installed in the EMA Bunker to hang a temporary end-fed 160m ~240 foot wire antenna; to be draped over the fence, suspended by a makeshift pole on another nearby fence, and strung down into the field, the very end held up by one more guyed pole. From the antenna, a 200 foot coax cable was strung down back of the Bunker, over the hill to the trailer.
We learned a few things from the antenna deployments:
- Don’t leave the original antenna on the mast when hanging the new one, even if they’re running in different directions. It means that you’ll be taking it back down again to remove the installed antenna, and re-raising the temporary one to correct the 17:1 SWR.
- Purchase a cord reel for long cables, especially 240+ feet of wire. It can become a horrible tangled up mess.
- Learn to tie knots. Thankfully, Rory and CJ are veteran knot artists. My old mantra of “if you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot” is messy and slowww.
- Raising a temporary large assembled mast and rigid dipole to the trailer in an emergency is not feasible. In our post-op, we’ll be reviewing alternative options that can be deployed by 1 to 2 people of any ability quickly, effectively and safely.
After setting up the trailer and antennas, it was time for food and warm-up. EMA donated some funds for food and refreshments, in exchange for our testing of their equipment. A few of us brought in some pot luck, as well. Rory on the left brought in meatballs and sauce for meatball subs, and sausage, peppers and onions for sausage subs. Pete W brought in baked beans. I skipped out to the store for chicken and veggies and made a chicken stew. There were also some excellent Hannaford sandwich trays, bagels, english muffins and snacks for later that Pete Hatem KC1HBM and I picked up Friday afternoon with the County’s donation. We were well fueled for our operation.
Promptly at 1400 hours, 000Z, we get on the air. Several people take turns in the rotation throughout the evening and into the next day. A few people stopped by that we don’t get to see too often due to busy lives, and a few that were new to the hobby. At least one young man will be going home and studying for his license.
We encounter and overcome a handful of challenges, and learn how the equipment operates. It was mostly small stuff. We had to retrieve radio manuals from the Bunker or Google them, found an outlet that needs repair, the hotspot’s charger cord disappeared as all USB cords seem to, we needed to print off the band plan, and only one of us knew that the outlets wouldn’t operate without a flip of a lightswitch. Nothing some time with a label maker couldn’t fix.
The big notable issue of the night was that propane doesn’t seem to work well under the heavy draw of a generator in 9°F temperatures. The gas flow kept dropping down, choking the generator to its death, leaving us in the dark and cold. I thankfully wore thermals and brought a flashlight, not knowing what to expect, but after several bottle swaps and clearing of the connectors, we all took a long break just before daybreak to rest and let the bottles warm up in the sun. During which, we brainstormed some options to keep the bottles warm.
At breakfast, a fellow named Chris stopped by and made us bacon and eggs. I’ve never seen such perfect eggs over easy. While he cooked, we tried to assimilate him into the hobby. We had him ready to operate after breakfast, but by then the trailer and the bands were alive. Stefania K1GJY stopped in with Tim KB1HNZ and their baby Elliot, and she was pulling in contacts at a steady pace. Pete was in the back trying to rack up bonus multipliers on CW with morse code. While this was an Emcomm exercise, it was also an opportunity to contest and try to bring in a high score for contacts on multiple bands, using different operating modes: voice, digital and CW. I learned a lot about CW, and setting it up on a radio from Pete that morning.
Overall, we all learned a lot about our equipment, each other, and what to plan for in the case of an actual emergency.
I must share much praise and respect for CJ Carlsson, who headed up the coordination of WFD or Winter Field Day, this year. He did an admirable job herding the cats and documenting everything that we needed, did and must do in the future. He’ll be providing the club and the County with our After Action Report (AAR) shortly.