yesterday morning it was cool and foggy. i was up early, about 4:30am. seated by a fire, i was listening to the early bird Slabs chat on CB23, and had my Yaesu HT tuned to PAPA-7. i’ve tried a few times in vain to hit that repeater, about 40 miles distant, with the HT, but there simply isn’t enough power – that is, under normal conditions. perhaps it was the fog clinging to the ground, but when i inadvertently pressed the PTT, i heard a “beep-boop” come back at me. “wow,” i thought to myself, “really?” i tried it again, with the same result. i went ahead and transmitted my call sign, still hitting the repeater, but no one responded. there wasn’t any activity at that early hour usually, anyway, so i waited a while for some PAPA user to come on.

eventually Gary, W6??? (sorry, i’m even worse at remembering calls than i am at remembering names!) came on and i replied. he thanked me for the comeback but said i was unreadable, and advised me to increase power. as the HT was already fully open, i climbed up to the top of the shack container and tried transmitting again. this time my signal came through clearly, and we had a pleasant, but short, QSO – my first on the PAPA system.

knowing weather conditions wouldn’t always be like this, but encouraged by the QRP success, i decided to finally invest in a 2m/70cm mobile/base station – one powerful enough to easily reach PAPA 7 and capable of serving as a home repeater to my HT, and an antenna. i always want to build my own antennas, but i like to start out with something that’s quite likely to actually work. i chose a Kenwood D170A and a Diamond X300A antenna. i expect to build a 70cm yagi eventually and aim it straight at Toro Peak, but this setup should at least get me on the air well enough to become acquainted with the PAPA system and hopefully get some further advice.

this was the first time i had ever made an unlikely QRP contact on any band! i’ve been completely inactive on HF since my MFJ multiband gave up (and was subsequently cannibalized.) for once i got to feel a little tingle of excitement at making contact under unusual conditions, and i look forward to much more activity on VHF/UHF very soon.

Addendum, 2009.12.11.1808:

Propagation remains favorable under cloudy skies, high-ish relative humidity. I located Toro Peak (location of the PAPA-7 repeater) and from here it’s virtually a straight line traversing the long NW-SE length of the Salton Sea (salt water is a kind of magic RF mirror / amplifier,) explaining some of this. Still, covering about 50 miles on a 5-Watt HT is not trivial, especially with glowing reports of signal clarity and strength. Thanks, Yaesu, and thanks to all you PAPAites who indulged my “quickie” propagation checks. Today, a year and a half after my FCC licensing, I graduated from listener to operator. The incoming 2m/70cm setup should be more than adequate for comm with PAPA-7 under merely normal conditions!

Addendum, 2009.12.13.1221

That was Gary, W6MAT, whose call I couldn’t remember.