Monday, September 28, 2009

RVing and hamming in Canada.

My wife and I decided to spend our summer vacation RVing in Canada. We did a lot of planning, got books and maps and decided on an itinerary. Our motor home is a 30' Winnebago Sightseer and can comfortably transport both of us and our doggie family, six dogs, 3 Labrador retrievers, a German shepherd malamute cross, a super sized beagle and a border terrier.

I installed a Kenwood D-700A with a Larsen through the glass antenna (I hate making holes in something that expensive and mag mounted antennas don't work too well on fiberglass…). That antenna performed very well for me. At some point, on a Canadian highway, the antenna started hitting the side of the RV, something it had never done before and a quick glance showed it was getting unscrewed from its on-glass base. Fortunately I found a place to stop relatively safely. I could not reach the antenna from the ground, but with my tall step stool, I finally did manage to retighten it with a multi tool. That evening, I took care of the problem, as I set the threads with my wife's crazy glue and that seemed to have solved the problem permanently. I had a Garmin 60CSx GPS attached to the Kenwood and both worked APRS quite happily. Our family could then follow our progress on, that is, if our signals reached an I-gate.

The 60CSx was also my back-up navigation GPS. I used a more advanced Garmin Oregon for daily navigation, as it had a better display and the touch screen was easier to program, or re-program when we made last minute changes in our plans.

Our trip took us from Syracuse NY to Vermont, New Hampshire, where I had planned to stop at Ham Radio Outlet in Salem, but I realized then that it was a Sunday and they were closed! So we did stop at Cabelas, an outdoors equipment store that dwarfs anything in Central NY including Bass Pro Shop or Gander Mountain and we also stopped at LL Bean in Freeport Maine. From there, we entered Canada via Calais ME. We continued through New Brunswick to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton.

My wife, who does not drive the RV is a wonderful co-pilot. While I did the navigation, as I was very familiar with the GPS (from my SAR experience), she worked her magic on the Blackberry and found many answers to all kind of trivia questions that we had about the places we saw or passed through, their history, etc. And since our plan had some flexibility built-in, we managed to make changes along the way, as we discovered new interesting places to go, see and do.

I had packed my portable HF station, an Icom 706MKIIG and a TransWorld Backpacker antenna. That antenna came just a couple of days before our trip and I only had a single opportunity to make sure it worked at all, right from our front lawn and not for very long as I was busy with preparations for the trip. But the single trial convinced me to take that antenna and leave my Buddipole at home, not even take it as a spare.

To do justice to the Buddipole, it is not a bad antenna, it does perform quite well but I found it tedious to set up and tune and I knew I would not have much time to play around with my radios and wanted to maximize the fun. The Transworld antenna is so easy to setup even a caveman can do it (thank you, Geico). Actually, with a little practice, I can set up my entire station in 5-7 minutes or less, as I now no longer need to use an antenna analyzer or a tuner. I took both with me and never used them!

I had fun making contacts from every Province we visited, each time with a different call sign, K9CHP/VE9 (New Brunswick), K9CHP/VE1 (Nova Scotia), K9CHP/VE2 (Quebec) and K9CHP/VY2 (Prince Edward Island).

My wife found out about one jewel that really made this trip worth while ham-wise. Kathy discovered, via her Blackberry, that Marconi had built his second trans-Atlantic transmitting station in Glace Bay NS. Having just toured Cape Breton and the Cabot Trail, we made a little detour that got us to Glace Bay and the Marconi National Historic Site. It has a small museum and is located right where Marconi erected his station after having been ejected from Newfoundland by the local power company who claimed excusive rights. Anyhow, while this station was never perfect and Marconi later on built yet another one south of Glace Bay, it still was working for quite some time. All that is left today is the masonry base of the wooden antenna towers. That is where I planted my TransWorld Antenna, well close enough but not on the very base and tried working my own station. There is a ham station on location and I was invited to use their station, but I preferred trying with my own. Perhaps it was a mistake, as I got a lot of QRM from that station operating on CW with a large Yagi and amplifier, but I nevertheless made a single contact with a station in Lithuania. I heard an Italian station too, but he went QRT, too bad as I'm sure he would have appreciated that call, but I made it from there to Europe, with my tiny station, using the built-in generator of the RV as power source.

I made more contacts, one to Greenland from Prince Edward Island as K9CHP/VY2. Too bad I can't use that one for my DXCC count as it is a new one and not a very common one either.

And it was all made possible due to the TransWorld Backpacker antenna, as its setup is simple and easy and it performs quite well, for standing a mere 8 feet off the ground at its highest point.

From Nova Scotia, we went back through New Brunswick to Quebec. The latter is a wonderful province, and they were extra friendly to us, as for once they dealt with an American that spoke fluent French. We finally made it home through Ottawa and Ontario.

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