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.

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

2021 Maine SET is This Saturday

When: Saturday, October 9, from 8:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Thanks to everyone who’s been joining us during our monthly WSSM-ECT Training Nets! Over the past several months, we’ve successfully tested communications on multiple bands and modes, including VHF repeaters, 2m FM Simplex, 40 and 80 meters SSB, and Winlink. Now its time to put these skills to use during the 2021 Simulated Emergency Test (SET)!

The scenario for this year’s SET is a solar storm that disrupts the electrical grid and communications, including landline telephone, internet and cellular services.

If you’re interested in participating, please click here to familiarize yourself with the “Final” SET plan for Saturday’s statewide test.

To begin with, we’ll meet at 8:00 AM on the Cumberland County primary repeater 147.090. We’ll use this to trouble shoot problems amongst ourselves and coordinate which simplex and HF frequencies to use during the SET, but we won’t be using the repeater to exchange any traffic.

Please help out with as many tasks as you’re able to:

Task #4 on the SET Plan will be our first task on Saturday – It asks that we perform radio checks with nearby counties. We’ll take this opportunity to try different VHF simplex channels as well as HF, and contact other ARES and EmComm groups and individuals as we can. Keep a log of your contacts and which county EMA they are associated with, if any. Also be prepared to receive or relay radiogram traffic, as some may have traffic already prepared. See the explanation in the SET plan for more info. This will be performed Saturday during the SET.

Task #5 is to check into the Statewide ARES net, which will take place on 3945 kHz LSB. The net will be active from 9:30 AM through 11:30 AM EST. Net Control will be run by W1AXS. Eric N1RXR will be checking in on our behalf, as WX1GYX, but we encourage anyone with HF capabilities to check in. Identify yourself with your personal call sign and “Cumberland County Emergency Communications Team.” This will be performed Saturday during the SET.

Tasks #6, #7, and #8 are all related to Winlink.

Broken down, task #6 requires us to send radiograms via Winlink. There will be three components to this, so everyone can participate, regardless of Winlink capability or experience.

This element will be organized by county and will take the form of an informal contest with points awarded to counties based on the activity level.

There will be three types of operators in each county:

The Message Originator. This person will compose a formal radiogram in text format. The radiogram will be addressed to an out of state party, either someone that the originator knows or to a traffic handler on the list of “willing” recipients. The originator will send the radiogram by voice over the radio (any band) to a relay station. The originator will also send a copy of their radiogram by email to kb1tce@belljar.net.

The Relay Station. This person will copy the radiogram and then relay it to the designated Winlink relay. Any mode may be used but the message must leave the relay station by RF. Modes could include NBEMS, voice, cw, etc. Depending on how each county group is structured, the person in this role could be the same as the person in #3. Tim KB1HNZ will act as the Relay Station, operating from the Bunker, during the SET, however, depending on coverage, we may ask others to help with this.

The Winlink Relay. This person will collect the radiograms from the various relays and forward the messages to KB1TCE. KB1TCE will inject the radiograms into the Digital Traffic Network. Brad KC1JMH will act as our Winlink Relay during the SET.

Most of our participants will fall under the Message Originator category, and their task will be to send a radiogram message by voice. You may operate from home, mobile or portable. We will have a net at 7:00 PM Thursday evening on the 147.090 repeater to begin this part of the task, but if you can’t make it then, we will also accept traffic Saturday morning during the SET as well.

Don’t worry if you’re unsure of who to address a message to, or even what the content should be. We’ll help you out with that part.

We encourage anyone who has the ability to connect to Winlink, to log on and send radiogram traffic during the SET, but if you don’t have that capability yet, that’s okay. We’ll ask that participants without Winlink share their traffic via voice, with Net Control, either Thursday evening, or Saturday morning. The Net Control Relay Station will collect those messages and forward them to Brad KC1JMH, who will be acting as our Winlink Relay Station, to forward messages via Winlink.

Task #7 is to retrieve a file via Winlink, which anyone with Winlink capability can do. Anyone in our group who has Winlink or Packet capability is encouraged to participate in this task. This will be performed Saturday during the SET.

Task #8 is to send digital data through the Maine Packet Network. Anyone in our group who has Packet capability is encouraged to participate in this task. This will be performed Saturday during the SET.

Your participation is important! Not only is this an important learning exercise, to help us determine areas to improve upon, but it is also our opportunity to showcase our capabilities and demonstrate what we have learned and built upon during the year.

Catch you on the air!

73′

Tim
KB1HNZ

2021 Maine QSO Party is September 25-26!

Mark your calendars!

THE 2021 MAINE QSO PARTY IS SEPTEMBER 25-26!

Contest Period: 1200 UTC Saturday September 2, 2020 to 1200 UTC Sunday September 2, 2021.

Bands and Modes: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, and 10, CW, and phone (SSB, FM, AM).

Exchange: Stations in Maine send signal report and county. Stations outside of Maine, but within either the United States or Canada, send signal report and state/province. DX stations send signal report and “DX.”

Click here for more details and complete rules.

Annual Business Meeting is This Thursday!

Please join us this Thursday, September 9th, from 7:00 PM-9:00 PM, at Wassamki Springs Campground, for our Annual business meeting. If the weather is nice, we’ll be meeting outside near the former camp store. Please bring a lawn chair as there may not be a picnic table available near the site.

For those who haven’t been there before, the camp store is located near the back of the camping area. Turn right after checking in at the office, follow the road past the lake, and take the next left. Follow that road almost to the end, where you’ll see a small white building with a porch. Its important to DRIVE SLOW and follow all campground rules when present on the property. We are guests!

First on the agenda is Officer Elections. Among the current officers, Brad Brown (Vice President), Tim Watson (President), and Josh Brown (Treasurer) are termed out. Having served only one year so far, Jason Andrews (secretary), may run again if he chooses.

The Maine QSO Party HF Contest takes place the last full weekend of September (September 25-26). We need club members to get on the air and represent Maine! The 2020 MEQP had a record number of entries, from 7 different countries, 41 U.S. States, and 2 Canadian Provinces.

The 2021 SET is scheduled to take place Saturday, October 9th (usually from 8:00 – noon).

Guest Speaker: Fred Kemmerer, who is running for ARRL New England director, will join us via Free Conference call to tell us his ideas.

If you’d like to join us remotely, here’s the dial-in instructions:
(Last month we found that cell coverage at the campground is spotty, so we’ll do the best we can).

Dial-in number (US): (425) 436-6366
Access code: 2618168#
International dial-in numbers: https://fccdl.in/i/kb1hnz
Online meeting ID: kb1hnz
Join the online meeting: https://join.freeconferencecall.com/kb1hnz

For additional assistance connecting to the meeting, text ‘Call Me’ to the Dial-in number above and you will be called into the conference. Message and data rates may apply.

See you there!

73′

Tim
KB1HNZ