Operating naked on the beach!

Howdy and welcome back! I spent the day at Rooster Rock, a clothing-optional beach on the banks of the Sandy River in Oregon. Since I burn easily I got a cheap tent from Target to get very sandy and to keep me and my gear safe from the sun! As a bonus this specific tent actually has a pass through for cables in the front corner to the left of the door which is pretty great for running solar panel connectors and feed line. I didn’t have any successful contacts, but that’s not surprising given the difficulties I had tuning the Superantenna. I couldn’t manage to get a decent SWR on the QRP radio. The real point of the post is about portable shelter options that can keep you out an entire day even when you’re literally naked. This was able to keep me and the gear cool enough to keep going. Folding a corner of the tent up allowed the interior mesh to breathe away from the sun. In the picture below you can see through the door that the rain fly has been lifted.

A tent on a beach with some small trees and brush in the background. Two small solar panels rest next to the tent. An antenna is set up behind the tent in the brush.

We weren’t able to get the best spot but at least we got something out of the way on a path and had enough space to set the tent up. I had enough clear space to keep the solar panels going all day as well. They kept the battery kept everything charged and running. I tried to see if I could make any UHF/VHF contacts but I was in a gorge so I had very limited luck. I’m sure you’re just as shocked as I am. I then tuned the Superantenna as best I could for 20m and tried to make some contacts but I wasn’t getting out. I heard a bunch of stations on the east coast and in the midwest including participating in a New England radio event or QSO party for the 4th of July weekend. I wasn’t able to get out to anyone though. In addition to those stations I could also hear but not reach Paolo IK5SRF in Tuscany, Italy. Paolo had quite the pileup going.

Interior view of a tent front the door showing a small folding table, three-legged folding camp chair and equipment resting against the walls of the tent. Through the mesh you can see the river.

A view of the radio setup, the table, and chair. This three-legged chair is actually pretty comfortable.

A view of the top of a metal folding table with a radio, water bottle, sunscreen, a pen, and notepad. Brush and beach sand is visible through a mesh panel.

My conspicuously-empty log book with only notes and the radio.

At the end of the day breaking the tent down was pretty easy. We were able to tear down the entire site and radio station in about an hour, have it loaded into the beach wagon and off we were. Much of that time was as usual rolling feed line so it’s not a pain to unroll later.

Failed contact and a sweet waterfall

Alright, so, all this actually happened on May 29th. I just haven’t been able to sit down a put a post together so here we go! My partner and I decided to take a trip out to Oakridge, OR to avoid the setup for camping but to at least see some sweet nature (nature is neat). Read this before following that link. Naturally I decided to take the opportunity to do some transmitting, and the setup at Salt Creek Falls was the only setup I documented so here it is. We started by following the trail down to the lower observation area at the falls which is pretty great. It was a hot day and the mist coming from the bottom of the falls was pretty refreshing. I climbed back up to the top of the path to make a sked, or, prearranged SSB contact with Kevin, K7AJK in Portland, OR. I also grabbed some water from a stream on the way up for my Sawyer straw.

A waterfall, trees, and mountains with a walkway and railing in the bottom of the frame.
Salt Creek Falls
Black backpack with an antenna and paracord attached to the outside of the bag along with feed line and water bags attached sitting on pavement against guard rails with a waterfall in the background.
Bag full loaded with a radio station, food, water, etc.

It only took about 35 minutes to set the station up. Most of that was me failing like a complete amateur to get the paracord where I wanted it in two trees that were spaced about 80 feet apart using an arborist’s throw weight. For this contact we were going to attempt to do 80m NVIS so I strung my Chameleon EMCOMM III portable in a horizontal configuration, which is the configuration recommended by Chameleon for NVIS work. I have some bad pictures of both paracord runs attached to the antenna below, but because they’re bad so I’m not leading with them. What I didn’t capture in a photo was the fact there was a big hump between the trees and the antenna was only 6′ above the top of the hump between the trees, thus making the antenna not work as intended with the ground as a reflector. I still had a reasonably low SWR when transmitting on the Lab599 TX-500 but in retrospect I suspect the hump and poor atmospheric conditions might have resulted in difficulty getting out. I tuned to one of our prearranged frequencies and attempted to make contact once every 5 minutes for one hour. At two points I heard him calling but he didn’t get my replies. I’d later find out that a few of his calls were done at 100W and I could barely hear him. I’m not sure if this was due to bad space weather, poor antenna configuration, or both. I should have also been able to reach K7AJK as he was about 130 miles away which should be outside the NVIS skip zone (see Fig 3 here). It was a bummer but the bright spot is that I did manage to make some digital contacts using JS8Call despite not being able to reach K7AJK.

A battery, charge controller, and radio on top of a backpack as well as a coffee cup, arborist's thorwing weight, water bags, a notebook, and a red waterproof bag.
Radio station deployed in the shade and set up for voice
A Goal Zero Nomad 20 solar panel set up on the ground in the sun.
Solar panel keeping the station’s batteries charged
A video of the waterfall to make up for the bad pictures of the poorly-hung antenna

Lessons learned

  • It’s hard to photograph thin wire antennas in trees from the ground.
  • Don’t forget to take pictures when you mess up.
  • Better antenna placement yields better results. I didn’t properly assess the height of the hump relative to where the antenna was hung or account for the antenna sagging in the middle near the top of the hump.
  • Sometimes the space weather doesn’t cooperate and you can’t account for it.
  • Take all sorts of pictures when operating, especially in an interesting environment. I did some drive-by VHF Winlink work going through Eugene, OR and also did some HF work and SWL on the beach at Crescent Lake as well. None of that includes my improvised sun shelter made from part of a shelter tent and some branches sawed off of dead trees near the beach shored up with rocks.
  • A notable plus is that the 20W GoalZero Nomad 20 solar panel is enough to keep the radio station up and running doing both phone and data work in good and intermittent sunlight. I typically get 1A out of the panel in decent sunlight. The 12Ah Bioenno battery was fully recharged within minutes of the QRP radio transmitting both at Salt Creek Falls and Crescent Lake.