Lighthouse April 2019

So, I received an email from a ham in Canada asking if I would be willing to activate a lighthouse to help him with his log. I have always wanted to do such a thing and never had the time to pursue it. There is a monster lighthouse radio event in August, but we both had cabin fever and thought, well let’s do this now!  Seemed simple enough.

 Turns out Chris Basaillion, VE3CBK, who lives just outside Ottawa, planned to work us QRP. Chris found this lighthouse had not been activated since 2014 and sought out someone crazy enough to activate in the middle of winter! He found me through the NSRC web site! He had plenty of experience working lighthouses, so I turned to him to learn the ropes. To be a legal contact, the originating station must have a view of the lighthouse. You also must secure permission from the lighthouse to activate it. So, I wrote to the keeper at the Grosse Point Lighthouse and received a resounding denial. I was stunned. No reason was given just “no!”

 Not one to give up easily, I set out to examine the area around the lighthouse to see where we run a small operation. There were two good spots…a parking lot just north of the lighthouse and a sports field across the street. This led to a chase to see who manages those facilities. Through our connections with the Evanston Bike Club, I was able to get someone higher up the food chain at the Evanston Park District and got permission to use the parking lot near the beach. I am still waiting for an answer from Northwestern on the use of their field. And I did circle back with the lighthouse keeper and told him of our intentions and status.

 With a date set, location secured, we set up to generate some interest within the radio lighthouse community.  We create a press releases that was soon shot out to the list serves for the Amateur Radio Light House Society (ARLHS) I dashed out one sunny day and grabbed a photo of the lighthouse for a QSL card. Everything was looking good. 

 Then it hit me…its winter! It’s cold and snowy. What are we going to use as an operating position? Well, I called Greg Karlove, W9GAK, whose Boy Scout Troop had a re-purposed ambulance in their inventory.  They made it available to us, so we were set. 

 These events always force all sorts of activities that one postpones for another day. I finally dragged out the laptop I bought last year, that I was hoping to use only for ham radio activities and started to load in software. I dusted off the Icom 7200 we had been using at Boy Scout camp and fired it up. In the end, we used Greg’s 7200.  A week before, I ran out to the lighthouse and did a quick site survey to establish trees positions, antenna layouts, parking and where the nearest Starbucks would be! Now, being so totally focused on getting permission to use this park, I completely lost track of the date and grabbed the first Saturday where Greg and I could work this event. Mark Klocksin reminded us the night before our event that March 2 was the ARRL DX SSB contest! Great! Suddenly, we were guaranteed lots of company! 

 The big day arrives. For whatever reason, I did not get much sleep the night before this adventure. I was exhausted but grateful that the temperature was only in the high 20’s and no snow. We pulled into the empty parking lot and had the place to ourselves, all but the policeman in his squad down at the next parking stall street (oops, I forgot to notify the Evanston police about the date!  No matter. He left us alone!) Greg set up the station in the ambulance and I set off throwing lines into the trees for our antennas. The strategy was to use two Par end fed antennas – one for 40 meters and one for 20 meters. We fully expected 40 to be the band of choice, but 40 had a S8 noise floor when we started this event. No way we could connect with a QRP station under those conditions. 

 We moved to 20 meters and carved a small hole for us between a couple big gun contesters. We had almost immediate success and even more once were spotted (thanks to Mark Klocksin for reporting our freqs.) The ARLHS list serve mentioned at least two other events happening at the same time and frequency as us, so we had to dance a little around the bands to find openings. Suddenly, people were booming in and we worked stations all over the place: Ireland, Bonaire, Florida, Utah, New York, Georgia, Kentucky…Canada…hey Canada. Isn’t that where Chris was supposed to be? He called me on the cell phone and reported he could hear us but we could not hear him. We moved the antenna orientation a bit and suddenly Chris was booming into our station.  It was exhilarating. QRP from Ottawa! We couldn’t contain our excitement. Almost a month had gone by since he wrote asking to do this event and here, we did it! Mission accomplished.

 There are still stories to be told however, not having any idea how many people we would reach, I decided to create some special event cards. I worked up a design and sent it to the printers. This printer is a very good printer, but very fussy. He was not happy with my layout! We went back and forth and eventually got it all right. Now I only wanted 60 cards and he quoted a fair price for the service…but then added, “for $80, I will make 500 cards.” Well, I didn’t need 500 cards, but that is what I have so I guess I need to do this event again as an anniversary event.

 The lighthouse keeper came down to see what we were doing. He was complimentary of our set up. We were totally independent of his facility…. although had to rely on few strategically placed trees for comfort stations. Fortunately for us, there was very little foot traffic at the beach that day. He later dragged out an old radio that was his Dad’s shortwave listening station. He was looking for our opinion about its worth. It needed lots of work and was missing tubes.

 We wrapped up at 2:00 p.m. both of us exhausted from the cold and the pace. We barked for 4 hours straight and made about 60 Q’s. We were not breaking any contest speed, but we did have some nice pile ups. Almost no one a called from noon till 1! Interesting! Apparently, everyone else went to lunch and so ate our sandwiches and kept pounding away at the bands.

 Would I do this again? Absolutely. The very best part of this experience was connecting with Chris…a ham I had never met before and helping him get this lighthouse for his log. Apparently, there were many others like him and so I am now filling out and QSL mailing cards. Now, I just must get my Logbook of the World account back up and running (the computer died and…. well, you know the drill.)

 Thanks to Greg Karlove for his support, Mark Klocksin for his spotting skills and to my new friend, Chris Bisaillion in Canada for inspiring this experience. To me, this is what ham radio is all about!

 Rob -K9RST

Rob Orr