No, I didn't originally plan to stay all night, but once I was there, and heard that CW operations were potentially taking place at some point during the night at the Oak tree station, I didn't want to miss out.
In the meantime, I settled in at the station at the far end of camp and watched KB3CS and N8IVN carry on their work at a steady and sure pace. I also assisted in beverage retrieval for them, which was easier said than done. Even with a flashlight, crossing the camp to reach the food tent was kind of dangerous after a windy rain shower had torn some of our equipment down. But I knew where the tent pegs were and made sure to walk around them.
It was quiet, dark, and the moon had not yet come up. A nice time to sit back and have a Mt Dew while the guys logged more points. Some moths were chasing our trouble light, and I kept hearing the shuttering of their wings as they bumped into the side of the truck next to me. It was quite a calm night.
Once 2:00 am rolled around, I started eying the parking lot outside the truck for our CW operator. His Morse paddle was on the table beside me, so I knew he'd be coming here to look for it. For a minute, I doubted that he'd be back, but just about then I saw a familiar figure crossing the dark parking lot toward our station. Hooray, NG3K is back! We grabbed the keyer, the paddle, and the headphones and started our way back to Oak tree station.
We set up CW operations at Oak and let the phone operators take some rest. For a little while, we had some trouble finding enough outlets to plug in everything, but somehow our trusty Field Day team leader, KA1NCN, found us an extra power strip. Our set-up here was a little different from the GOTA at the Birch tree. Of course, we still had the radio, computer, and fan, but this time we had to remove a coffee pot from the table in order to make room for the CW tools: a memory keyer and a paddle.
The memory keyer was used to send precoded messages on the air. If you operate a telegraph key for many hours straight - as was done here - and you're going to be repeating certain short phrases over and over and over again hundreds of times, you don't want to have to hand key all that repetition. We let the keyer send out the CQ call for us, while the hand-key was used to talk too our contacts once they found us.
As I say, NG3K brought his Bencher paddle along, which is different from a straight key. I posted about this kind of key here last week.
Now, the system here was more complex than at GOTA where we were on Single-Sideband voice and had extra loggers around. Since I couldn't copy code at 20 or 20+ wpm, I wasn't able to help with the logging all that much. I did help keep the screen clear and ready for each new contact, but even so, it meant that NG3K had his hands full.
Once we got set up on a frequency, we started our run. It worked in much the same way as it did on phone, where one person occupies a given frequency and takes in calls one at a time. The first step in making a contact was to send out our CQ FD KV3B KV3B FD - "Come in any station for Field Day - our call sign - Field Day". We let the memory keyer do that by hitting a button. After it sent the CQ message, it paused to give people a chance to respond. If no one responded, the keyer continued sending CQ. If someone did respond, NG3K had to tap the paddle to stop the keyer from looping through the message again and then quick turn to the laptop to enter the call sign into the computer log. Then, back to the paddle to send out a message with our station class and location and asking them for theirs. They responded, NG3K logged, and then sent back a confirmation and thanks. TU = "thank you," R = "received," or QSL = "we copy" was my cue to enter the contact into the log and get the cursor set at the next line for the next contact.
As you can imagine, it got complicated when people tried to respond to us at the same time. If they call on the same frequency at the same time, the transmissions become a scramble and you can't untangle one from the other. Also, some people who responded to us were sending much faster or much slower, so NG3K would have to adjust the keyer in a flash to change the paddle's speed, and then respond appropriately. Then, there were the people who we couldn't hear well because they were so faint. (QRPers like I am going to be, perhaps?) We had to work with those cases to be sure we copied their information correctly.
The CW station launched into action at 2:00 am and ran non-stop until 7:30 am, or so. I saw the sky grow light outside the truck as the hours passed. At dawn, the horizon was lined with lovely low-laying clouds over a white and yellow sky. That was our break time, when I made my morning GOTA contacts. We returned to CW a little later and ran until we got a total of 259 contacts. Whew! That's hard work!
Now, that description does not do justice to the excitement, challenge, or adventure that was the CW station. It's something you just have to hear and experience firsthand to get the full flavor of the moment. The Mountain Dew tastes different at 2 am in a U-Haul truck with Morse code ringing loudly into the night on a college campus in Maryland, you know? :)
This experience convinced me that CW contesting is very fun. I wholeheartedly want to become a skillful CW operator now. With some patience, practice, and experience, I think it is possible!
Tomorrow's post: Amusing incidents at Field Day