First Morse activation!

  • Summit height: 1276m
  • Transportation: car + hiking
  • Rig: KX2, 10W, internal battery
  • Antenna: LNR EFT-10/20/40 Trail Friendly, 6m fiberglass mast tied to a bench + rock on the far end of the wire
  • QSOs: 5 on 20m, all CW

I’ve been fascinated by Morse code for a long time and remember playing with my dad’s straight key that he had from his brief stint in the army signal corps. I first learned the code as a teenager to pass the Romanian amateur radio exam. It took two attempts but I eventually managed, then promptly proceeded to forget it all – mostly due to never using it, but also due to what was likely learning it the wrong way and at too slow of a speed.

I started studying it again last year, using the very nice The Koch method, Farnsworth timing, and daily practice had me knowing the alphabet within a couple months. My first CW QSO happened in April 2017, with the very nice and patient ON4IM. More followed until mid-June, though most of them were contest-style rubberstamp exchanges that didn’t improve my copy skills much. Not much other CW practice to speak of for the rest of the summer…

Last weekend, thanks to HB9DDO, I got to visit the HB9CA contest station. It was very nice, and I got to make a CQ QSO with HB9EXR helping (I handled the paddles and he did the copying :-). This whet my Morse appetite again, so I restarted practicing daily on the commute to work. I’m using Koch Morse Trainer Pro in QSO replay or top 1001000 words mode, starting at 15 WPM with normal (not Farnsworth) timing in order to get used to what things feel like during a regular QSO. By the time the weekend came I was up to 20 WPM with 90+% accuracy on copying words (less so for QSO text) and feeling confident, so yesterday I got on the air and had a few QSOs. Since that went reasonably well, I figured I’d try to do the next SOTA activation in CW.

Said activation came quicker than I thought: today! The weather was overcast and cold but we took our chances, packed the family in the car, and drove to canton Neuchâtel. The summit is easy to reach, although one can’t drive as close to it as Google Maps would have you believe. Once there, I set up the station on a bench, spotted myself (asking for QRS due to it being my first CW activation) – and called CQ SOTA on 20m.

The chasers quickly materialized and were kind enough to take it slow. One of them was AC1Z for an unexpected transatlantic contact. After 5 QSOs nobody else was calling and we were getting cold, so we packed up (quicker with the wife’s help) and headed back to the car.

I’m surprised at how well this went: I was less nervous than I had assumed I would be, the exchanges were quick and to the point (callsigns, signal reports, gl es 73) – simple enough that I only had to write down the important bits. Activating with CW somehow feels better and more fun), and I’m hoping to do most of them like this from now on. With more practice, I also look forward to being able to have longer conversations in Morse without having to write things down.

Lessons learned:

  • no need to wait for perfection before practice; jumping into this was a fun experience
  • pay attention to the temperature in the weather forecast
  • CW is more sensitive to the operating position got lucky this time with a bench being available. Consider bringing along a foldable stool for other locations.
  • the paddle was not properly mounted to the radio and kept sliding around. Check for proper mounting and bring a small multitool along for field adjustments.