FLSPOTA 2021 Recap

Wow, it’s been two whole years since I posted to this blog and an eventful two years at that.

In the fall of 2019 I completed my AA and transferred into the University of South Florida. Since entering engineering school proper, I have generally been far too busy to play with my radios. Florida State Parks on the Air 2020 was a welcome opportunity to do so but, as the event neared and the pandemic caused the closure of all state parks, we made the difficult decision to indefinitely postpone the event. When I say “we” here, I mean the FLSPOTA organizers: Matt NJ4Y, Ben N4BLH, and myself.

In early 2021, we decided it was safe to proceed with FLSPOTA. I once again reserved special event call W4E and reached out to Pat AA0O, the president of the St Petersburg Amateur Radio Club, to see if he wanted to work the event together again this year. We decided to forgo our now-annual trip to the beautiful Egmont Key to avoid the logistical headache it entails. Instead, we selected two mainland parks:

  • Terra Ceia Preserve State Park, a large wetland preserve with low traffic and a great saltwater ground plane.
  • Hillsborough River State Park, a much busier, more traditional state park with ample parking near where we would be activating.

I was excited to get on HF due to the start of Solar Cycle 25; the last time I worked HF, conditions were pretty poor all around. They were definitely better this year — and that was especially evident on Saturday thanks to being surrounded by saltwater.

One more exciting thing about this year: As I’ve been back in school and surrounded by other Electrical Engineering undergrads, I’ve found a group of young people who are interested in getting their radio licenses. Three joined us for FLSPOTA this year (one Saturday, two Sunday) to observe and ask questions. All three were really interested and impressed by what HF can do. That’s a win in my book!

Saturday at Terra Ceia Preserve, TCP/K-3663

Pat AA0O and Jake, USF EE student.

We hiked about 3/4 mile into the park and set up shop on a peninsular sand bar bordered by mangroves. The weather couldn’t have been better: clear skies, low 70s and low humidity. We set up a 20m vertical dipole and tuned the WRC to 40m. We ran our stations simultaneously, trading 20 and 40 meters every so often, thanks to a set of bandpass filters Pat acquired between FLSPOTA 2019 and now.

Left: 20m dipole and Spiderbeam mast. Right: Wolf River Coil tuned to 40m

We made a whopping 169 HF contacts on Saturday. Most were in CONUS, but we also worked Alaska, Canada, Slovakia, Slovenia, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Farthest contact was to Dunajská Streda, Slovak Republic: 5,229 miles. Not bad for 100W!

Saturday contacts on 20m (yellow) and 40m (red).

Saturday gallery:

Sunday at Hillsborough River, HIL/K-1878

Yes, that’s the General portion of 20m. We were just spinning the dial and listening at this point.

Terra Ceia took a lot out of us, and Sunday was a much more toned-down activation. It was also practically raining caterpillars at Hillsborough River — oh, the joys of spring!— which didn’t make us want to stay as long as Saturday.

Another thing I disliked about Hillsborough River (as compared to Terra Ceia) was the amount of visitor and ranger traffic. One of the rangers approached us, apparently very concerned we’d interfere with their radio system. At one point, a family with a dog decided to play catch fairly close to the WRC vertical we had set up for 20m use. This meant we had to cease transmitting, lest we give the poor dog an RF burn.

Despite the interruptions, weaker conditions, and less ideal location (so many trees), we managed 44 contacts on Sunday. AA0O worked Finland on CW, and park chasers in Italy and Mexico worked us. The rest were CONUS and Canada.