What do you get when you combine a dynamite location with an active, established and organized group of friendly folks? You get the best damn field day possible. At least that's what I was treated to this past weekend as I was fortunate enough to attend the Mike and Key Amateur Radio Club's annual field day event.
This club operates the 6A field day station under the callsign K7LED. They have been doing this event for more than 30 years and they are blessed with a superb location. Situated on a pre-WWI era military fort, now a Washington State Park, Fort Flagler is a location that truly has something for everyone. The group rents a 10 acre dry campsite for its members as well as a refurbished WWII military barracks building for those who don't care to camp. The park itself is a living museum and hosts some huge concrete bunkers and gun (cannon) mounts that are a well preserved piece of early 20th century military legend. The huge gun batteries were designed to protect the Admiralty Inlet, the entrance to Puget Sound and most of the principal cities of Washington, from enemy attack. Three such forts were built and staffed back at the turn of the last century so that their guns could triangulate any enemy ship that dared enter the waters. Not long after they were built, however, everything changed when military aircraft came onto the scene and by the 1930's the forts were completely obsolete. The military released the lands to the Washington state park system back in the 1950's after having never fired a single shot at an enemy.
The park has several 100 foot high bluffs that overlook the water and the field day operation sets up right atop one of the 1899 battery locations. The view is unobstructed to the east and the south, making the location perfect for covering the entire United states with one or two antennas per band. Down below the bluffs at sea level, the CW team sets up a couple of transmitters that launch their signals right from the edge of the salt water, another great location. The 100 foot vertical separation provides a good isolation between the phone and CW operations and it has become a tradition for the club in what they now call CW Beach.
I arrived there in the Zed on Thursday afternoon and was warmly greeted by the camp host, Dick - WA7NIW, a.k.a. the Wagonmaster. In no time he had us parked into a comfortable location in the club camping area which is just a short walk up to the operating positions on the bluffs. Setup began at 11:00 AM local time on Friday and the team, now numbering in the dozens, spent most of the day erecting a number of towers and some very large and unique wire dipole antennas, the most notable of which was the two 40 meter strings. These wire Yagi antennas are built using a series of inverted-vee antennas that are supported by about 200 yards of rope that is strung over the top of a pair of 100 foot fir trees. The whole antenna was already built (having been used for the past few years) and came spooled in large hose reels for easy deployment. Two such units were built, one facing east and one facing south. Last year the 40 chief, Dean - N7XS set a club record with over 1000 contacts on 40 with this setup.
I got to operate the 40 meter setup for a 2 hour stretch on Saturday and had a great time. At one point I achieved a QSO run rate of 147 contacts per hour which to be honest, I didn't know I was capable of. There's nothing like having a pileup no matter what the situation and this one was as fun to operate as any.
The club also operated dedicated 15 and 20 meter stations with monoband beams as well as an 80 meter dipole. The 20 meter station operated literally underground in the soundproofed concrete bunker beneath the tower. It was like bringing life back to a 75 year old radio station. I got to operate the 20 meter station on Sunday morning and won't soon forget the experience. There was just something magical about it.
Also, back on top of the bluff, a great VHF/UHF station was setup, also with its own tower and stacked 6m/2m/440 Yagi arrays. I happened to walk in on them late Saturday afternoon and was truly impressed to hear them work sections in Georgia on 2 meters, more than 2000 miles away. Having never worked VHF sideband, my jaw just dropped. It was great.
There was also a GOTA station which introduced ham radio to a number of cub scouts. It's never too early to spark the interest and we certainly hope that the experience will leave an impression on these kids.
I also had the great pleasure to operate the 20 meter CW station down on CW Beach. Mike, N7WA was the chief operator and he quickly showed me the ropes at operating a contest CW station using the N1MM software. Even though I qualified at 20 WPM back in the 80's, it's been quite a while since I had to copy quickly. Mike worked right there along side me and helped fill in the numerous blanks in my mind as CW contacts came racing in over the headphones. Working together we did quite well topping out at around 60 QSO's per hour. The experience once again made me want to break out my Bencher key and go for some more.
Back at the campsite there was plenty of food, plenty of friends, families and kids everywhere. Nobody was in want of anything as everyone helped each other regardless of the task or need. The Mike and Key club treated us like family even though we'd never met any of them before and when we left the site we had quite a few new friends that we'd made over the short weekend.
What was the final score? Who knows... I'm sure it will be a great showing in the 6A class and I can't wait to see the results of the non-contest, as the ARRL likes to call it. These guys deserve all the recognition they can get for the hard work and dedication to the hobby. Regardless of the tally, however, the K7LED team managed to do it all and do it exceptionally well while making it a load of fun for everyone.
We certainly hope to join them again at a future Field Day.
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