Gunkholing on the Sevylor…

Reflection of the morning sun, through some morning mist but mainly smoke from the forest fires in NW Ontario…

Last Saturday (July 17) I decided to go gunkholing in the inflatable kayak… well, to tell you the truth, I am not sure it is a kayak or a canoe, but it is powered by a kayak-style double paddle: the old Sevylor Rio… Exactly the same that you find here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJmT-lcR0eg (only differences are that I use a foot-action pump and I did get it on the water…). On August 22, 2015, I used it to cross from the mainland to Upper Duck Island in the Ottawa River and operate from it /QRP/P and qualify it for the Radio Amateurs “Canadian Islands Activators” program as ON-296 (https://veislandactivators.blogspot.com/2015/08/va3pcj-another-successful-first.html). Around 7:30am I got the Sevylor out of its bag and opened it on the grass nearby the ramp at Dick-Bell Park. I inflate it as showing in the above video, and launched from the ramp.

First I paid a visit to Sassy at the dock and then rowed out of the harbour, along the breakwater, into the unnamed shalow cove that separates the marina from Crystal Bay. I’ve always called it “Duck’s cove” but have not been able to find a name for it anywhere. It is rather shallow and only once I saw a boat anchored in its mouth. It has some water-grass and lots of river mussels (likely the Elliptio complanata or Eastern elliptio). I am no mussel expert, but those I saw seemed alive and well, several were half-buried in the mud/sand and their tracks were also readily visible along the bottom. The Ottawa River is famous for the diversity of its indigenous mussels, which are even used to monitor radionuclides in its water (an important undertaking given that the reactors in the Nuclear Research Laboratories of Chalk River are just a hundred miles upstream from the water intakes of the city’s two drinking-water purification plants in Britannia and Lemieux Island (“The levels of radioactive tritium in Ottawa’s drinking water are routinely two, three sometimes four times above background level”: https://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/dewar-calls-for-tougher-water-standards-after-tritium-leaks-1.376856), (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/nuclear-contamination-plan-containment-rolphton-cnl-algonquins-1.4584336).

Bird-wise, the purple martins from the unique colony kept within the grounds of the Nepean Sailing Club were very active on the trees (perhaps some fledgelings were already training for their first migration South?). I was able to take pictures of some large birds on the shore, where two American crows seemed intrigued with the “one-leg contest” between a Great Egret and a Canadian goose:

Two American crows watching the one-leg contest between a Great Eagret and a Canadian goose…

Some large flowers of water plants (Nymphaea virginalis) that had been completely closed upon arrival, were open and in full glory a couple of hours later:

Nymphaea virginalis

Actually, the main reason for this fun exercise was to test the ability of two old quadriceps (and other allied muscles) for getting down and raising up from the low level seat in the kayak… and I am glad to report that they are still functional. Next, will be to test their ability to do the same in “QRP”, the BIC Sportyak II…

After Two Years: Again “Portable Afloat” from Horaceville

Sunrise from the cove in Horaceville

At the onset of last week, it seemed that Friday would be close to ideal for a leisure sail up-current in the Ottawa River, from Nepean to Pinhey Point (Horaceville).  A bronze plaque at the site (of the Ontario Heritage Foundation) states the following: “Hamnet Kirkes Pinhey 1784 – 1857 – A merchant and ship owner in his native England, Pinhey came to Upper Canada in 1820. For his services as King’s messenger during the Napoleonic Wars, he received a 1000 acres land grant on the Ottawa River…” What prompted the King of England to so dispose of this parcel of Anashinaabe land, remains to be elucidated; nevertheless, Horaceville was the result of such decision and the settlement was later named after Hamnet’s son Horace.

Last time Sassy had anchored overnight in Pinhey’s Point was two years ago, in August 2019: https://thewakesileave.wordpress.com/2019/08/18/overnight-swinging-at-anchor-in-pinhey-point-first-of-the-season/    

The Jeep Liberty RGB got loaded in the morning with everything needed for a few nights (at least one, maybe as many as three) and made it to Dick Bell Park.

Sassy undocked on Saturday around 12:15pm. Wind was from the NE at abt 5 knots. She hoisted sail before reaching the main channel and around 12:45pm she settled in a close reach at 2-3 knots overground. At 13:45 she was abeam of the Aylmer Marina and at 14:15, abeam of Aylmer Island. At 15:05 she tacked. The wind then dropped and at 15:30pm the sail was doused and the Tohatsu took over. One hour later, at 16:30 she was dropping her Bruce anchor inside the cove at a depth of 6-7 feet with a scope of ~7:1 (which in the case of sassy it means mostly chain since the rode sports 40 ft of metal links). She was alone and had the entire cove for herself. However, soon afterwards a Hunter 31 reached deeper inside the cove close to the north shore and soon afterwards a Hunter 36 set anchor SE of Sassy followed afterwards by 3 other boats further away from the mouth of the cove.

GPS tracks from 2021-07-09 and 2021-07-11

Once the boat settled to its swinging on the anchor, I decided it was time to rig the antenna: This time it was the “Par EndFedz® EFT-10/20/40 Trail Friendly”, which was rigged as kind of an inverted “V” using Sassy’s mast as the mid-pole. I am unable to comment on the possible resonant interactions between the antenna and the metal parts of the boat rigging. I just trusted that whichever this would be, it would not totally hinder all transmissions.

The night was quiet with almost no wind. Past midnight a familiar bird call came from the woods: “whoo-hoo-oo-oo”, which I readily identified as that of a Great Horned Owl. The call was repeated with intervals of a about a minute, twice nearby and twice further away. The Passamaquoddy people of Maine and New Brunswick thought this call to be that of a magical love flute calling for the ignition of human passions. However, I can confirm that at least for someone spending the night alone at anchor, this is a total myth…

Sunrise was around 5:30am, but the birds starting signal their presence in the woods much earlier. I have long been a fan of “Merlin”, an app for identifying birds.  Recently, it has added the ability to recognize the song of birds. In the early mornings from the deck of Sassy it was able to identify the song of over twenty-five different species of birds….  And this was in addition to those I was able to spot only visually: A Blue Heron, a Great Eagret, a Common Tern (diving not far from the boat), an Osprey (flying low over the water) and a Double-crested Cormorant making a low pass at the anchorage.

On Saturday morning I was able to log a few 40m contacts in the SKCC WES and a few more in the IARU HF World Championship (in 20, 15 and 10m). The KX3 was powered by the same deep-cycle 48 Whr batteries of the boat. These batteries do not power the boat through the water (the boat’s auxiliary is an outboard with no battery) and are only used for the night-lights, the sounder and the autopilot. These batteries are charged via an 11W flexible portable solar panel on deck. In the past, QSO in which I operated in a similar manner were logged by some as “/MM”. However, not everyone acknowledges such QSOs (operated from a small sailboat at anchor in inland waters) as “Marine Mobile”. Since this is very similar to operating “Portable” (“/P”) from land, I prefer to call that mode of operation “Portable Afloat” (“/PAF” ?)…

The anchorage remains mostly a sailboat anchorage, but it does get get occasional visits by motorboats. Usually, motorboaters are quite considerate and reduced speed and wake when approaching the sailboats or the shore. This did not happen this time, when a large blue Yamaha Wave-Runner decided to show its true self… (yes, if it was you who did it and you who are reading this, you know that I am speaking about you, and yes, I do have the picture with your face facing the camera, the registration number of your boat and the big splash you made to harass Sassy and myself right in front of the docks…). However, this was not the only contravention that I was to witness last Saturday; among them, in spite of warning signs posted all-around the premises, people were walking in the protected point deemed to be a “fragile ecology” and dogs not on a leash freely roamed the parkland (even the very Point!). In spite all that it was nice to see so many people coming to enjoy the parkland in large groups after a very weird year of distancing and seclusion.

Later in the afternoon, Woodpecker arrived (Kirill and Natalya’s P23, with her unique junk-rig and sail and an electric auxiliary). She anchored nearby, amidst the other twenty or so sailboats that had also been arriving throughout Saturday to overnight at the anchor along the Ontario shore SE of Pinhey Point. After a visit by Kirill and Natalya who rafted their kayak to Sassy, a frugal dinner and several sunset pictures, it was time to snug in for the night.

Woodpecker in the morning mist…

On Sunday morning, after the traditionnal breakfast with cereal, coffee and toasts, Kirill and Natalya again came by in their inflatable kayak and we had a very interesting chat on myths and language, which in some way drifted to the idea of property of the land as it evolved (or didn’t) in different cultures. Then it was time for Kirill to try his new drone for aerial photography. Because its positioning in the air depends on it being able to identify a steady point below it, it could only be flown on land. But fly it did and it will be very interesting to see what pictures it was able to take from the high grounds of Pinhey Point. Then, Kirill and Natalya decided to enjoy the rest of the Sunday in the anchorage while Sassy and I thought that it was time for an early return (we wanted to be back on time to watch the UEFA final…).

Sassy weighed anchor at 11:15am, There was almost no wind and she proceeded SE on the Tohatsu. It wasn’t until she was abeam of Aylmer Island, at 12:40pm that she could again hoist sail and shut the engine off and sail on a beam reach to a light S-SW wind. However, the wind dropped again and one hour later (at 13:40pm) she had to rely again on the Tohatsu. At 14:34pm she was again moored at her dock.

Sassy and I dread having many encounters with other boats and boaters inside the access channel and in the harbour, but this time everything went better than expected and the docking was uneventful.

Once at the docks I met a mate-sailor with whom I had had the pleasure of sharing crewing duties on “Constance” (a Bavarian 40 sloop sailing off Vancouver) may moons in the past. He provided for a perfect ending for a superb weekend by inviting me to join him and his lovely family at their table in the terrace of the marina, a terrace that I had longed to visit for almost two years… Thank you Nigel!

Three boats in the fountain…

Yesterday, Sassy and I had our second outing of the season upriver. The day was sunny, but the winds were borderline for both of us (normally this would not have been the case, but this is the onset of the season after a long and weird winter as landlubbers). The wind was West with gusts at 15-20 Kts. with long lulls in between. We decided to chance it…  Burton was coming out in “Restless”, his handsome Compac 19, and Kirill and Natalya were doing the same in their uniquely junk-rigged PC23 (actually, they were trying a new experimental sail). Sassy motored uneventfully to the port entrance, but soon enough she was a toy in the swell fetching from upriver. Eventually she made it into the main channel past the K1 buoy and was able to head to wind, albeit at the expense of the Tohatsu pushing harder than usual and the ST-1000 trying to keep her heading upwind. The sail came up half way with ease, but then hell happened, suddenly, as it usually does… Something was hindering the headsail from being hoisted further than mid mast. From the corner of my eye I saw a large sailing vessel in full sail, overtaking Sassy on her starboard side. It was coming close to less than a boat length. I yelled. No change. I turned to face the outboard and managed at the last second, to turn Sassy to port and avoid the collision. Both hulls missed each other only by a few feet. Yes, it was a sailboat and Sassy was technically a motorboat, but this was not a crossing, it was an overtaking situation and a much better knowledge of the Colregs (or even a more sensible seamanship) should have applied on the side of the helmsperson (she was not a helmsman…) of the large sailing vessel. Luckily nothing happened and the sailboat proceeded undeterred on its original course. However, Sassy’s mainsail was still half-way up and she was heeling to port with the mast close to the water. Suddenly I realized which was the problem: the downhaul was badly tangled. No time to untangle it, time to use the rigging knife… and soon the sail went up gaff and all. I switched the outboard off and we were sailing:

Photo of Sassy by Natalya Belaya, from the deck of Woodpecker… Thank you Natalya!

It was a comfortable sail between gusts. Kirill and Natalya were doing fine in Woodpecker with their very flexibly special sail and Burton was sailing Restless full-and-by as if the wind had been half its speed. Here is Restless, abeam under Sassy’s boom:

But stronger gusts were coming. I could easily spot their darkness on the waters upwind. After a while, it started to be uncomfortable both for Sassy and for myself. I should have reefed… As it is usually the case, the moment this thought occurs in one’s mind, it is already too late… I decided to try it nevertheless. With the centerboard down I let the mainsail loose to port and latched the tiller to leeward… Sassy was now hove-to to starboard… I brought the boom closer to the port railing and let the sail down a few feet (it came down easily, even if by then I had no downhaul with which to force it down). Sassy’s reefing lines attached to cleats on the starboard side of the boom and I managed to bring both the tack and the clew down without much trouble. Then, the three vessels sailed for a while, meeting each other in the main channel of the river.

However, the channel soon started to get crowded: many sailors avid for a place on the water after fifteen months of seclusion, and also many new sailors, and motorboaters — one hopes all fully certified…

Restless was the first to turn in, and Sassy followed suit. Woodpecker decided to do as the “Chêne” in Lafontaine’s fable: “Le chêne et le roseau”: She tried to brave “l’effort de la tempête”… or perhaps she does more like the much smarter “Roseau”…  Either way it was not long before she too came back to her finger-dock in the marina. Here is the record from the Garmin aboard Sassy:

It was fantastic to meet Burton and Kirill and Natalya both on the water and at the docks…

First outing on the river

First outing in the river… just to make sure that everything works (including Sassy’s skipper). The wind was calm (North, at less than 5 kts) and at times nonexistent. Sassy undocked and motored at minimal speed out the marina, watching for incoming motorboats that may not realize that every sailboat motoring with an outboard is really a “vessel restricted in its ability to manoeuvre”…

As Sassy approached the NE corner of the marina (see picture below), her skipper almost yielded to the temptation of sounding the horn with the nautical sound signal corresponding to such restriction: Morse-code letter “D” (one long blast followed by two short), but the chances were judged to be almost zero that it would have been correctly interpreted by the kind of vessel that Sassy has been dreading to encounter since the incident reported here last year.

Almost generating her own wind while motoring, Sassy was able to hoist sail “on the fly” as she progressed outwards within the auxiliary channel. Then she sailed close to the wind for a few tacks. Here she is sailing in open waters:

Once she reached beyond the junction marker, the sail was doused and she motored back to her slip. Her skipper is happy to repport that everything worked as expected and that this time Sassy managed to successfully avoid all potential collisions…

“Of Stars and Comets…” – a New Book

This may appear as having little to do with Ham Radio or Sailing. However, several of the stories inside the book below do relate to boating (some were even written while afloat) and at least one of them deals with antennae and Morse code. Furthermore, “writing” can be viewed as some kind of “hobby” and, therefore, the time devoted to it may also “not count towards age…”. Hence, this posting may not be completely out of context after all… The big news is that VA3PCJ (also known as VE3DTI and CX7RT) who also happens to be Sassy Gaffer’s skipper, has just published a book: a collection of short stories, twenty-six to be precise even aiming at some degree of literariness… The stories are quite cosmopolitan, sometimes philosophical, ironical, or even romantic but it all has to do with the idea of “the absurd” as developed by the French writer and philosopher Albert Camus. However, this book is clearly the work of a Canadian author… A Castilian Canadian author that is… because the catch is that, in its original version, the book has been written in Castilian. Well ok, in “Spanish”…, but there are other languages spoken in Spain which are no less Spanish than Spanish: Gallaecian, Catalan, Esguerra, Asturian, etc., which is why I prefer to refer to the language of Cervantes (and Borges and Cortázar and Galeano…) as Castilian, the language that evolved from the one that used to be spoken in the Kingdom of Castilla, which later on chased the Moors from Spain (incorporating in the process significant signs from their culture, particularly from their language), unified for its crown most of the Iberic Peninsula and even went to declare that it owned most of the American continent ignoring in the process the ancient people and civilizations that existed there before their arrival. Anyway, Castilian is an amazingly expressive language, perhaps more forgiving and with a more flexible syntax than other symbolic languages. It also allows a particularly free use for the metaphor, all of which is explored in the short stories in the book. Here is a brief «apperçu»: https://www.escritores.org/libros/index.php/item/de-estrellas-y-cometas-y-otros-relatos The book can be ordered directly from its editorial: https://editorialartistica.com ¡Buena lectura!

And… the CAT came back…!

Yup… the CAT came back… the SUNCAT, that is… And her mast went up too…! The most amazing thing is that just a few weeks ago achieving all this had seemed rather unthinkable…

“Sassy GAFFER” went in the water last Wednesday morning. It was perfect timing because as she arrived at the ramp on her trailer, the finger dock at her slip was… gone! Well, not quite, except that all the old wooden slats (some had been quite rotten for a while) had been removed and the new ones were not in place yet…

But a call to the Club’s office made it happen, as the two mariners that had been changing the wood in the docks of the Club worked against the clock on Sassy’s finger dock while I was bringing the outboard engine to her stern bracket and fastenning the fenders and all the mooring lines on deck.

So, a few minutes later, after some short manoeuvering, Sassy was, once again, happily moored to the slip. Here she is:

And today Friday, after some cleaning, the battery was connected, the mast was unwrapped, and once the windex was installed it was hoisted (singe-handed — yes! I can still do it!) to its upright position:

All the time, while working on deck I was humming “The cat came back…”. Here is my favorite version by the muppets of “The Muppet Show”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltlPINPn8UU

That version in particular fits rather well with Sassy, because the pirate cat’s name in the Muppet Show was… “GAFFER”…!

Conditions at the Marina…

This morning (May 4 2021), in preparation for launching, I visited the site of the marina at the Nepean Sailing Club. Several boats are already moored at their slips:

The ramps is ready with the floating docks already in place. The level of the water (58.1m today at Britannia) remains close to datum (datum at Brittania is 57.9m):

Conditions to access the marina are still very strict and “recreational boating/sailing is not permitted under the Provincial Government ‘Stay at Home’ order”:

Also, the grounds remain fiercely guarded 24/7:

The Tohatsu and a Visit to Alice’s Land…

Sassy’s outboard engine (my son the mechanic insists that because it is not electric, it is and ‘engine’, not a ‘motor’) has been retrieved from AIM Marine, in Carp after receiving a tune-up. The morning visit to Carp allowed for a tour of “Alice’s Land” (Carp has long adopted the theme of Alice in Wonderland, likely because of the “hole” in the ground that is the Diefenbunker…). While driving through town we stopped at the “Alice’s Village Cafe”, where we were able to order take-out capuccinos and muffins that we subsequently enjoyed inside the Jeep, while parked on the side of a road facing a very nice view of the Ottawa Valley — a rare treat these days both for tastebuds and eyes…

A QSOs VE3/ZL in 40M – A Greyline Path?

Lately, VA3PCJ/VE3DTI/CX7RT has not been too active in HF… However, he has been present in the bands several time this year: in addition to several SKCC WES he has been heard in the ARRL DX, the K1USN SST, the CQMM, the OQP and the FQP, which, together added over one hundred QSOs to his logs. Not bad for someone that had not operated the bands since last October… But the big surprise was in the morning of April 18 in the CQMM. While scanning the 40M band, at 07:45 EDT (11:45z) a strong signal was detected at 7.012 MHz. At the time VE3DTI’s rig was the ICOM 706MKIIG, pushing abt. 50W into an EndFed 84-foot wire winding up and down a maple tree.

The station calling CQ in the CQMM was ZM1A, a station near Auckland, New Zealand, operated by Jacky Calvo ZL3CW. The exchange was quickly completed and ZM1A has since confirmed in LoTW. Of course, there are infinite straight routes around the globe for connecting Ottawa to Auckland, but the most direct and within the shortest distance would have been be westward from Ottawa, across the night and the Pacific: 14,500 Km (The next shortest, going East from Ottawa, across the Atlantic, Africa and the Indian Ocean, would have been in the order of 25,000 Km.).  

This was the second time that VA3PCJ/VE3DTI was able to log a station from ZL: the previous Ottawa-Auckland QSO had been with ZM90DX (also confirmed in LoTW) on February 16, 2014 at 18:33z, (13:33 EDT & 06:33 NZST) at the peak of the solar cycle and in the 10M band. At that moment the Sun was South and West of Ottawa, over the Pacific, likely favouring skips along the shortest distance between the two stations.

However, at 11:45z on April 18 2021, the Sun would have been along the longest route somewhere above Africa (see attached figure), which, if the same QSO had been logged in any of the higher bands, would have been, then, the most likely route followed by the waves. The 40M band, on the other hand, is known to depend on the Sun only for short daylight skips of around 500 Km, becoming available for intercontinental DX during the night, particularly “between late afternoon and a few hours after sunrise [when] the band is most useful for inter-continental communication for one or two hours before sunset, during the night and for one or two hours after sunrise.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/40-meter_band). And these were the approximate conditions on April 18 2021: Sunrise in Ottawa was at 06:21 EDT, hence the contact (07:45 EDT) occurred 1 hr and 24 mins after sunrise. In Auckland, that same day, sunset was at 17:51 NZST (05:51z), and since the QSO was at 23:45 NZST (11:45z), it occurred there 5 hr and 54 mins after sunset, with the Sun almost exactly opposite to the midpoint along the shortest path, somewhere over Africa.

40m can start to open to DX in the afternoon in late autumn and remain open to DX for a period after the sun has risen. In fact, the first 60 minutes after sunrise in the winter on 40m is not called the ‘Golden Hour’ for nothing” says Steve G0KYA (talking about England) in http://www.infotechcomms.co.uk/Understanding_LF_and_HF_propagation.pdf. The path of this QSO could have been a late “greyline path”, which, as Steve goes on to say, happen “where one station is experiencing sunrise while the other has sunset”. And if not “greyline”, at least in this QSO the 40M wave seems to have followed a path that close to its midpoint it would have crossed the projection to the other side of the Earth of the position of the Sun’s Zenith:

Back in CW, QRP and HF…

Two weeks ago with the ICOM 703+ (now, already 12 years old…) and the the AME Bushwacker in SS mode, I had managed a dozen or so QRP QSOs in the SKCC WES. And this weekend, although I was in the shack for less than one hour, I was able to complete four QRP DX QSOs in the 15M Band: three in the Caribbean (ZF, KP4, KP2 and PP2CC). Yes, Rans PP2CC from Luziânia in the State of Goiás was able to receive the 5W signal that my 703 was outputting in Ottawa into the endfed long wire winding up and down the maple tree in the backyard of my QTH. Not a lesser achievement for that same antenna was the fact that the signal that it received from Goiás was being emitted at only 100W. Being heard by three of the “powerhouses” in the Caribbean (ZF1A, KP4AA and KP2A) was already awsome enough, but reaching the heart of Brasil with ony 5W, was a rare and almost unbelievable treat which turned real this morning, when in the RUMlogNG software that I use to keep track of my logs, I received Rans’ QSL via LoTW.

Granted, I was not operating CW manually, as in these contests reports are seldom exchanged at speeds below 30 WPM, speeds that I am unable to reach manually even with a iambic paddle: instead, this time I had decided to use the internal keyer of the ICOM-703 (not the most intuitive of keyers, but easy to operate once one understands the peculiarities of the button menus in the 703). Receiving, of course, was by human ear, something I still can manage even without earphones. CW at 30+ WPM is not something I can decode at first shot, but after hearing it transmitted two or three time I am often quite comfortable with my decoding. The power, something that DX stations were required to transmit with their report, was easy to pick since it was usually either K, KW or, in the case of PP2CC, a clear ATT often repeated as 1TT. The 15M band had its peculiar strong QSB, but I was glad to see that propagation seems to be slowly improving as the solar cycle continues to progress towards its new maximum. One thing is also certain: the four stations that I had the fortune of being able to contact in this ARRL DX CW were not experiencing the same temperature as that indicated by the thermometer outside the window of my shack…

73 ALL!