June 2023 ARRL VHF Contest

My plan for June’s ARRL VHF contest was ambitious: 10 grids and 700 miles of driving! I started my rove at Red Wing Park in Virginia Beach, grid square FM26. That park is usually a bust for me; and that was true this time, too. Blowing a fuse (my fault) only to discover that my spares were not in the car didn’t help with my operating time! Regardless, I need to see if I can find a better spot in the relatively small area that’s publicly available for parking and operating in FM26. If you’re not aware, ~90% of FM26 is over the Atlantic Ocean while much of the rest is either privately owned or crowded, which is typical of a beach area.

Next, after detouring to an auto parts store for some fuses, I drove up the road a few miles to First Landing State Park (K-1299) in FM16. I made just five contacts before driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel to Cape Charles. The majority of Virginia’s eastern shore is in FM27. However, Cape Charles protrudes west just enough to have it lay in FM17, which is my home grid. I chose to make some QSOs from there just to see if I could reach across the Chesapeake Bay to contact friends at home and on my local repeater. Reaching 42 miles (67 km) across the water was a cinch! I probably will skip Cape Charles in the future and just make my FM17 QSOs from a park near home. Next, I drove to Exmore, VA to make some contacts from FM27. Exmore isn’t particularly exciting; it’s just a more affordable place to spend a night than Chincoteague.

Chincoteague, also in FM27, was a top destination for me on this rove! I wanted the beach photo and the chance to shoot a signal over the Atlantic Ocean to work New England. I left Exmore at 5:45am and took this photo around 7am. I made just 10 contacts during my one-hour visit. I’m sure I could have done better if I had stayed longer, but I was on a schedule. I decided to do a “quick” POTA activation (K-0561) on HF, adding the VHF contacts that I had already made, and then left. I tripped over a couple of stations on 144.200 MHz as I was leaving the area. I parked and worked them on 50.135, 144.200, and 432.100 MHz. The unplanned stop delayed my driving schedule, but the contacts were good points multipliers for both me and them. I also learned that my 15-element beam antenna requires a bit of fine tuning to find a distant station.

I left Chincoteague and drove to someplace forgettable to make some contacts from FM28. My route was to take me over Maryland’s Bay Bridge toward Annapolis and the border for FM29 was too close to ignore. So, I shot up to a rest stop just over the boundary line, northeast of Centreville, MD. It was a surprisingly clean stop. I was falling behind schedule, either because of traffic or neglecting to account for other stops for fuel or food. I opted to drop my next stop to make-up an hour. I knew that I’d spend plenty of time driving in FM18 and could make some FT8 contacts while on the move. Then things got really bad, blowing my “schedule” to pieces!

Highways 50 and 301 were PARKING LOTS between Queenstown and Skidmore, MD. It took an hour or longer to travel over that bridge and its connecting roads. I visited Sandy Point State Park (K-1595) to work from FM19. That place was PACKED, with many of its parking lots full, including plenty of derelicts who parked where they shouldn’t. And for what? A TINY BEACH? I’ll never understand the appeal of leaving one congested area and traveling on congested roads just to hang out in another congested area with thousands of strangers. I must lack “vision!” HAHA! I found a legal parking spot and made some contacts as fast I could, all while watching for other drivers who might opt to park in a manner to block me into my space. The thought seems paranoid, but it happened to someone else right beside me, making my car ripe for the next sheep to double-park in front of me! I also added some HF contacts for a POTA activation before leaving. The traffic and crowds in that area were more than sufficient for me to exclude it from future roving plans! Perhaps I can still consider it for the January contest when beach-goers stay home?

Nearly three hours behind what I now know was too ambitious of a schedule, I was getting tired and was still three hours from my next planned stop, which was another three hours from home. I decided to skip grids FM07, FM08, and FM09 and drive home, which was still three hours from my current location. That decision shaved 175 miles (280 km) from my drive and got me home by 10pm. I’ll work those grids into a future plan. In fact, the overlooks along Afton Mountain were a priority, second only to Chincoteague. I didn’t want to forfeit Afton, but I also didn’t want to be on the road until 2am, especially since I started very early that morning. I monitored 144.200 and ran FT8 on 50.313 during my drive home. I also made a few voice contacts along the way. Click here to hear my last five minutes of 50.180 MHz sideband activity when I was about an hour from home.

In the end, I made 76 QSOs with stations located in 25 different grid squares and worked from 7 grid squares. That won’t win me any prizes, but I’m in the books, possibly around mid-pack. I learned a few lessons over the weekend:

First, I had recently switched from my car desk to a low-profile platform for my rotator controller, shared here. It’s great for my usual activity around home, but I missed having the separate platform for my laptop. Although I don’t use the laptop for logging while driving, having it higher and closer to me while running FT8 would have been a nice option. I’m brainstorming a solution that will give me a computer platform while still preserving the rotator controller’s excellent position. Next, I need to create a checklist so that I can ensure that my car is loaded with everything that I might need. A checklist would have ensured that my spare fuses had not accidentally been removed from the car that morning.

Finally, it’s clear that I underestimated the time needed to make this work. I was perpetually falling behind as each day progressed. I’m going to double my travel time and on-station operational times to account for traffic, fuel stops, meals, and other factors in the future. That will reduce the number of grid squares on my itinerary, but it may also put my schedule right where it needs to be. I hinted this already, but I’m staying away from population centers! What a horrible experience! I roved to my north because of the prospect of being exposed to more contest participants. I suspect that I can find a route that gets me within earshot of contesters without putting myself on such congested roads. I’ll test another route in July during the CQ Worldwide VHF contest. Until then, check out this companion video for this article.

See You in July!


About Scott

I grew up near Houston, TX and served in the U. S. Coast Guard ordnance and electronics communities for over 35 years. I became involved with ham radio and computers in 1995. The explosion of technology made my jobs and hobbies quite interesting. My hobbies include Volkswagens, bicycling, photography/videography, electronics, ham radio, and web management.
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