One of the first Field Days I ever attended (back in 1982) was at the Fairgrounds in Largo (home of the Renaissance festivals). At that event, the Clearwater Amateur Radio Society (CARS), the Metro Repeater Association (Metro) and the St. Petersburg Amateur Radio Club (SPARC) came together in the spirit of inter-club cooperation to put on a huge ARRL Field Day effort. This was complete with a great location, good equipment, operators to man the stations, great food and loads of fun.
In that spirit, last week in Clearwater at the Clearwater Fire Training Center located off of Belcher Road, members of CARS and SPARC joined the members of the Upper Pinellas Amateur Radio Club (UPARC) to put an effort in for Winter Field Day. Yes, I said Winter Field Day. Winter Field Day was started several years ago to practice the same emergency communications abilities at Summer Field Day but with the understanding that not all emergency deployments occur in the late days of June. While WFD is not an ARRL event, it follows the same general idea. Go to a remote location away from existing radio infrastructure, use generators and see how many other hams you can contact in a 24 hour period. Our joint Winter Field Day was a huge, resounding success!
With three separate stations, we made 430 QSOs for a point total of over 13,000 (including 6000 bonus points). More importantly, we aptly demonstrated what can happen when three of the larger clubs in the area work together to conduct an event to support each of their members and the hams in Pinellas County in general. Of course, an event like this does not “just happen”.
Representatives of the three clubs met for weeks before the event planning all the little details. We staged a “dry-run” where all the radio and computer equipment was setup and made operational. We call this thing we hams do wireless, but being short a few key cables can mean the difference between talking or not.
Setup for the event started at 8:30 AM on Saturday morning, January 27. Approximately 20 people were present at the start to setup two wire antennas including stringing them from the fire training center towers used to train firefighters on high rise building fires.
An additional vertical was setup as were three separate HF station locations and supporting computers.
Generators for emergency power were setup as was a VHF talk-in station and a satellite antenna and tripod. Everything was set up by Noon and ready to go just in time for the first of four meals our wonderful cooking team provided. Lunch of hamburgers and hotdogs was served.
At 2:00 PM, the HF stations leap into gear making contacts with stations all around the country. Very poor HF propagation made it slow going limiting most contacts to 20m and 40m with mostly East coast and Mid-west stations responding.
Around 6:00 PM, it was time for dinner of pulled pork, side dishes brought for the potluck and desserts.
The contacts continued throughout the evening.
Several times during the day, a satellite contact was attempted using an Arrow antenna, a Yaesu FT-817 radio and a satellite tracking program on an iPhone.
After 5 unsuccessful passes (including a try at 2:00 AM Sunday morning), Tom NY4I made a mad dash after getting a few hours of sleep at home to pull into the site while an FO-29 pass was just starting. Everyone came together to bring the antenna to an open spot in the parking lot while Tom gathered up the FT-817. Then, when the satellite was at its highest point of that pass, NK1N from Hillsborough, NJ responded to our call for a successful contact at 8:20 AM.
Having our 1500 satellite bonus points in the bag, we settled into finish up making more contacts followed by a lunch of leftovers (pulled pork gets better with time). It looked like a storm was moving in around Noon so the decision was made to start taking down some antennas that were not used. The final station stopped at 12:30 PM and the antennas high on the fire towers were removed. The team proceeded to start dismantling the equipment, antennas, computers and other items. As usual, the site came down much faster than it went up. At the end, while waiting to help load some items, a bunch of us hung around just chatting and enjoying the camaraderie of the day. It was an incredibly fun time all weekend and if you missed it, I do hope you plan on attending next year.
As we pulled out of the site right at 2:00 PM, the aforementioned rain started to fall proving the decision to tear down early ever more prescience.
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