Canoeing in Frontenac provincial park, VHF, APRS & QRPSPOTS

By , August 17, 2010 10:06 pm
Wearing a J-pole on my back...

Wearing a J-pole on my back...

Day One – Big Salmon Lake

On the weekend of July 31st and August 1st, Fariba and I headed for the Frontenac Provincial Park to do more canoeing and camping. We rented a 17ft kevlar expedition canoe from the Frontenac Outfitters.

We made site reservations at 3C on Friday and Saturday night and at site 8A on Sunday night, but we were not able to get out of work on Friday and chose to drive down on Saturday morning.

We had planned on doing a portage between sites 3C and 8A, since our last canoe trip did not involve any portaging. When we got to the camp office to register, they said the system opened our site up again because we had not checked in on Friday – doh 😳   (Note to self:  Call the park when trip is delayed… 😎 )

There was an anxious moment or two while the park staff tried to convince the computer that it was okay for us to check in, then we picked up an armful of firewood and drove to the boat launch on Big Salmon Lake.

We dropped the canoe and all the camping gear at the launch and parked the car at the nearby parking lot, then we packed all the stuff into the canoe and I thought to myself… hmmm… I wonder if the VE3UEL digipeater (22km distant) would be able to hear me if I tie the top of my DBJ-2 roll-up J-pole antenna to the toggle on the back of my hat?   So I attached it and rolled up the excess coax cable below my seat, then I put my Yaesu VX-8r H/T in my shirt pocket.  The J-pole was as long as my back so it was a good fit.

Canoe Loaded, ready to go

Canoe Loaded, ready to go

I checked the APRS screen of the radio and yay!  It was working, I was seeing the packets digipeated back to me, so I knew that I was probably showing up on with a canoe icon 😀 That’s a first for me!

The paddle was over before it really began…  it was a very short paddle indeed to site 3C.  When we got there, we unloaded the canoe, set up the tent and then got right back into the canoe to explore the lake properly… this time without the VHF radio. Big Salmon Lake was absolutely stunning.

The water was so clear we could see boulders on the floor of the lake and big bass fish.  The shoreline was equally stunning in the afternoon sun, there was a sweet smell of pine coming from the numerous Jack Pines along the shoreline.  We canoed about two thirds of the length of the lake before turning back to the campsite to make dinner. Instead of our usual dehydrated food, we decided to try a knorr pasta.

It was pretty yummy but cleanup was a pain.   Despite frequent stirring, some of the pasta had burned into the bottom of the pan, and the plates, cutlery and pan were oily and the oil was very tough to remove completely.  So we’ll be removing knorr pasta from our list of camping friendly foods in future.  For desert I had Richmoor Natrual High chocolate fudge mousse.  Wow!  Really tasty but super rich. VA3SIE-7 at Big Salmon Lake (Canoe Icon!) VA3SIE-7 at Big Salmon Lake (Canoe Icon!)

After dinner, I put up a 90′ inverted-L antenna in the trees, and I attached a rock to the stripped end of a 32′ counterpoise wire and tossed it into the lake (there’s a diagram of this antenna system in my previous blog entry), then we got the fire going and I settled in to make some QRP QSOs with my Elecraft KX1.

Paddling on Big Salmon Lake

Paddling on Big Salmon Lake

I had a chat with K8FN, Bob in Tipp City near Dayton, Ohio.  Bob reported that my 2W signal was RST 579 in OH, so I guess the antenna was still working since last weekend 😎   Next I had a QSO with KA3SJK.  Nick gave me RST 559 report from his QTH near Philadelphia, PA.  Had to cut the QSO short due to fading, wow!

Last time I talked to Nick was during this Canadian Islands on the Air activation of Maple Island in downtown Ottawa. Ar 2212Z I had a good QSO with John N9RLO in Upland, Indiana who was struggling to pick out my RST 449 signal in among the QRN and QRM with his Heathkit radio.

For the Bears

Frontenac Provincial Park have installed high wires between strong tree trunks to hang food away from hungry bears at campsite cluster 3 😕   So we took a break to throw a nyon rope over the wire and pull the bear barrel up to about 7 feet above the ground, as well as to wash up and clean our teeth (the smelly camp wash and toothpaste go in with the food in the bear barrel because they smell like food to the critters!)

We returned to the campfire and I whiled away an hour listening to the 3730 net, then I heard Mike VA3MPM check in from his cottage in Aumond, Quebec (as VE2QX).  Mike is president of the Manotick Amateur Radio Group (M.A.R.G.) to whom I delivered a presentation about Summits on the Air recently, so it was a nice surprise to hear him.   I patiently sent my callsign (in CW since my radio doesn’t do SSB) and after 30 minutes or so, someone realized there was a QRP CW signal there, so I was called in and I managed to (eventually) get my name and QTH copied.

Interestingly a station in the US mid states was hearing much stronger than those in Ottawa, so I guess my antenna was sending more power at lower angles than straight up.

What, no spots??

First a little background.  Some time ago, Guy N7UN and Michael VE3WMB invented a twitter service called QRPSPOTS.  They write an article in QST about it in the February 2010 edition of QST.  It works like this.  Hams use SMS or twitter apps on their cellphones to send a spot (thier operating frequency and some comments) to the twitter account @QRPSPOTS.  An application called GroupTweet then posts a status update to QRPSPOTS with that message, and therefore everyone following @QRPSPOTS gets the message.  Thus, QRPers out in the field can publish their operating frequency to other QRPers in the field and at home.

A few months ago, I realized that I could write an application to send these spots elsewhere.  The Four State QRP Group maintain a web page for the same purpose at, K3UK maintains a chatroom called FISTS (now called FISTS/QRP) at  Apart from hams with fancy cellphones/iphones/blackberries etc, mostly these web pages were used from the shack not from the field.  Also, many folks tag twitter messages related to ham radio with the hashtag #hamr.  So if I integrate these together then they become very useful field tools to help those at home in the shack to connect with those in the field.

I also realized that it might be convenient to be able to send these spots from APRS as an alternative to SMS (since some carriers charge for outgoing SMS messages), for those hams who have APRS in the field.

So I wrote an application which does all of the above.  Now these spots can be sent either by SMS to twitter, or via an APRS message to fake callsign QRPSPT, and when these spots are re-sent to all the twitter users following @QRPSPOTS they are also sent to, and a twitter update is generated with the hashtag #hamr (from my twitter account @VA3SIE).

Here’s a diagram showing the system, the different color arrows show the history of how the pieces were connected together over time.

QRPSPOTS System Diagram

QRPSPOTS System Diagram

So… why was I worried about no spots??

The week before this trip, I had implemented another enhancement of the above (phase 3).  I realized that many people post spots directly to, and not to the twitter account.  That makes sense because has been around much longer than the twitter account.  So I added another enhancement whereby spots which are posted on the web site will also be sent to the twitter account @QRPSPOTS as well as to the sked page, and a twitter update is also generated with the hashtag #hamr (from my twitter account @VA3SIE).

Normally on a weekend, there will be a lot of spots sent to both the web page and the twitter account, but apart from a couple of spots received on my cellphone during the drive to the put-in my cellphone remained ominously silent throughout the day on Saturday.

I was beginning to think that my latest update had broken the whole system 😳    but when I checked there was no cell phone service at site 3A so I put it down to that.

Day Two – Birch Lake

Canoe ready for the paddle to Birch Lake

Canoe ready for the paddle to Birch Lake

Breakfast was Mary Jane’s Farm Organic Outrageous Outback Oatmeal again for both of us (this is quickly becoming a breakfast favorite!)  and we made up some sandwiches, cheese and bananas to have for lunch later since we would be busy getting to Birch Lake.

During breakfast I popped in my earbuds and listened out for the 80m Pot Lid Net, I wasn’t sure if that net meets in the Summer.  Apparently it does not.  But I did hear an interesting item instead. The Georgian Bay Amateur Radio Club was operating VA3FPI on the ONTARS net from Flower Pot Island (an island in Georgian Bay approx. 6 km from Tobermory off the Bruce Peninsula), and at 1445Z I was able to complete an 80m QSO with that station… sweet!  😀

After breakfast and before repacking the canoe for the days paddling, I squeezed in an ONTARS checkin via relay station VE3CAX(?) in Trenton in Prince Edward County to the Net Control Station Barry, VE3ISX in Hamilton, ON.  Thanks for being there, guys!

With that, we repacked the canoe and paddled back to the put-in, then we drove back to the park office to pick up a fresh supply of firewood.  At the outfitters, they had mentioned that the portage from Big Salmon Lake to Birch Lake via Little Salmon Lake was pretty challenging due to the fact that one must climb and descend a couple of big hills.

Paddling on Mitchell Creek

Paddling on Mitchell Creek

The outfitter suggested an alternative put-in so we chose to have an easier time of it and we drove to the suggested put-in for Birch Lake, which is a bridge over Mitchell Creek outside of the park boundary (see the GPS track below).

The paddle from the Mitchell Creek bridge to the campsite (8A) at the end of Birch Lake was a very pretty 5.7km which we completed in 1 hour and 20 minutes at an average speed of 4 km/h.

The first part though Mitchell Creek was especially beautiful, especially in such great weather, there was barely any wind and the lake was placid.  We were a little worried about motorboats on Birch Lake since there are no restrictions on motor boats and this was a long weekend but those we did encounter (except for one piloted by a bunch of teenagers) slowed down when passing us and we only had to deal with a big boat wake once.  Nice! As we approached the end of Birch Lake, we saw that there was a nice beach right where our campsite was situated and we couldn’t wait to go for a swim!!

Upon arrival, I could not believe what a great campsite this was!!  It was nothing like campsite 3C.  There was loads of room… a separate tent platform and campfire area, the campfire had wooden benches all around it, and next to the tent platform there was a picnic bench.  Then there was that great beach.  At first I thought that it was more than one campsite… so I was very happy when I realized it was all ours!

GPS Tracks in Frontenac Provincial Park

GPS Tracks in Frontenac Provincial Park

We quickly put up the tent and then we took a couple of chairs down to the beach and spent some time swimming and sunbathing.  Wow it was so refreshing!  There were loads of fish in the lake too, some pretty big ones, but they didn’t nibble our toes 😎

Arrived at campsite 8A

Arrived at campsite 8A

After swimming, I set up my antennas.  As well as the 90′ inverted-L with it’s 32′ counterpoise tossed into the lake, I hoisted the DBJ-2 roll-up J-pole antenna into a tree.  I managed to get it up about 20ft.  There was a hiking trail sign below it so I clipped my Yaesu VX-8r H/T to that and set my symbol to a tent, then set it to send my APRS status every 30 minutes to the VE3UEL digipeater (22km distant).  I also set the radio on scan hoping to hear a repeater.

That done, I got the fire going and then we made dinner, this time we made two more MEC dehydrated meals, Natural High Scalloped Potato Works and Natural High Three Bean Chili which we mixed together.  What a combo!  Really tasty, and it was so filling we skipped desert.

It was great to eat dinner by the campfire.

After dinner, Fariba read her book and I jumped back on 40m and found Bill N4QA in Redford, VA.  Bill was on 7.040MHz using his modified Small Wonder Labs DSW-20 which will also operate on 60m and he was using his GADS! antenna.  Bill gave me RST 569 and his 3W was coming in loud and clear on my KX1.  Good job, Bill!

As the night drew on I returned once again to the 3730 net, then I heard Mike VA3MPM and a bunch of others having a bonfire up his cottage in Aumond, Quebec but this time no one was able to hear me… still – enjoyable listening.   Maybe the counterpoise was pointing in a different direction here on Birch Lake than it was on Big Salmon Lake the night before (and it was pretty marginal on Big Salmon).

Bear Barrel Hang

Bear Barrel Hang

I took a time out with Mrs. VA3SIE, to brush our teeth and then find a couple of trees to hang our bear barrel,  full of all the smellies (food, garbage, toothpaste etc).  (Why do we bother?  check this out)  Once we got that task completed (wow, it was so nice to have a strong wire at site 3C) – still managed to get it up about 8 feet. We returned to the campfire, tossed a few more logs in and I fired the radio back up.

At 0215Z I found Zeke, W8EEO on 40m in Ravenswood, WV.  Zeke gave me RST 559, not bad.  We chatted about hiking and camping/canoeing, then a station started calling CQ out of the blue and was answered by another station, and they were zero-beat with Zeke, so had to give that one up.  The joys of QRP 😕

The next station I found was Lee at the helm of WB9EBS, in Dixon, Illinois.  Report was RST 569 with some fading.  We chatted about the weather and about what gear we were using on both ends, until the QSB ate up that contact.

That was it for Sunday night…  I did some short wave listening while dozing off to the campfire.

Monday Morning VHF & So what about those QRP Spots??

On Monday morning, my cell phone beeped.  And beeped.  And beeped!  All the spots from Saturday suddenly appeared at 7am.  So it was a huge relief to know that that I hadn’t broken anything with my tinkering.  What’s more there was a bunch of spots from the so my improvement (phase 3 above) was working!  Turns out there was a group tweet outage (this is the service which turns a twitter direct message to @QRPSPOTS into a status update by @QSPSPOTS).

VA3SIE chatting with Steve VE3KC on VE3KBR

VA3SIE chatting with Steve VE3KC on VE3KBR

As we were eating breakfast (porridge! – I really do need to find a camping spurtle!)  and my H/T crackled to life – it was a Steve VE3KC and another fella having a chat on a CTCSS enabled repeater coming in at about S1.  Turned out to be VE3KBR, 35km distant in Kingston.  It took me some time to figure out how to search for the correct CTCSS tone, but once I had done that, I was able to stop in and say good morning :-)

I returned to 40m after breakfast and picked up Pierre VE2PID.  Whenever I have a QSO with Pierre, I have fond memories of a hike up Mount Minsi (see photo here) on the Appalachian Trail, on a trip to NYC with Mrs. VA3SIE.  Pierre is also active in the VE2 SOTA association and our paths cross there from time to time, so a QSO from Birch Lake was really a pleasure.  Pierre gave me RST 459 from Sherbrooke, QC.  He was using 75W from an Elecraft K2 to a dipole up about 70ft (wow – high!).  QSB was killer!  We chatted about our plans to do SOTA activations in the coming months!  Vive SOTA!

Then I found Joe W2KJ running 4W from a K2 to a loop antenna but he wasn’t hearing me well, RST 429 so we kept it real short.

I decided to try @QRPSPOTS, so I typed this message into an SMS message to twitter (21212 in Canada):

d QRPSPOTS 14.060 mhz from birch lake interior camp site

KX1 by night light :-)

KX1 by night light :-)

A minute later, my cell phone beeped and gave me the message back, so (great!) it was still working.  A couple of minutes later while I was in QSK sending a CQ call, I heard someone calling me very strong signal, ‘VA3SIE ?  VA3SIE ?’ but they weren’t hearing me… well, I guess they used to spot to find me :-)

So not picking up anyone on 40m I tried a self spot on 40m as follows:

d QRPSPOTS 7039 khz at interior campsite birch lake

Then after sending CQ for a while, I picked up Robert at the helm of WA1WCC, the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.   Robert was receiving me solid through some bad fading.  He was using 100W to a dipole.

I left the frequency to Robert, changed up to 7042kHz and re-spotted myself on @QRPSPOTS:

d QRPSPOTS Qsy 7042 khz

My final contact of the trip was with Dick, K1ARO in Simsbury, Connecticut.  Dick runs 75W from a TS-480 to and end fed zepp antenna up 20ft.  Dick mentioned that my 2W signal was holding up well, he gave me an RST 539 signal report.  That’s QRP… solid copy but you ain’t twitchin’ the S-meter.  We didn’t holid it though, the QSB was pretty bad.

With that, we ate lunch, packed up the canoe and paddled back to the car.  Did the paddle in the exact same number of minutes as the outgoing trip – what’s the chance of that :-)

So finally here’s some videos and photos.

Next I have a SOTA activation to write up, so stay tuned!

Photos and Videos

10 Responses to “Canoeing in Frontenac provincial park, VHF, APRS & QRPSPOTS”

  1. great write up says:

    Hi Martin

    Well done…nice to see such a well made write-up and video. Looks like you had a wonderful time combining many activities.

    I am headed back to Algonquin (cedar lake) for a few days — planning to stay on an island on Cedar lake Sept 1 thru 5th. Radio support via Ten-tec Argonaut and PFR-3A–all solar powered. Maybe we can qso.

    Again, nice job on the site. Keep up the reat work.

    scott VA3IED

    Adventure radio society #666
    Polarbear #200

  2. jim mouck (VE3NWN) says:

    Hi Martin:
    What a wonderful blog.
    How did you learn to put together such a great blog?
    I am starting my own blog and would sure appreciate any advice you would share with me on how to go about setting up a great blog. What resources did you use to learn how?
    Thanks in advance.

  3. VE3WMB says:

    Martin :
    Great write-up (as usual). BTW I got my spurtle from Lee Valley Tools … standard issue wooden one !

    Michael VE3WMB

    P.S. One of the 10 or 13 foot Shakespeare Wonderpoles might work to support your J-Pole while you are paddling .. it could also double as a fishing pole in case you decide you want fish for dinner 😉

  4. Esteve says:

    Hi Martin,

    Nice trip and nice description, photos and videos.

    Hope to hear you one day from the other side of the ocean.

    73, Esteve EB3EPR PB#207

  5. va3sie says:

    @VA3IED Thanks. Is there cellphone coverage at Cedar Lake? If so, you could post your frequency to QRPSPOTS on twitter. You will also be able to receive other spots from other QRPers. Then we might be able to find each other on the band. I will be in Nova Scotia then doing some summits on the air activations. If you need help setting up for QRPSPOTS just drop me an email.

  6. va3sie says:

    @VE3NWN I use wordpress for my blog. If you have a linux machine on your home network it’s pretty easy to install and get running. If not you can host your blog on their web site, it’s fee. Get started at either if you have a spare linux machine or for the blog hosted on their own servers.

  7. va3sie says:

    @VE3WMB :-) … It’s good to have a spurtle. Good idea about the fishing pole. Just need to figure out how to mount it to the canoe…

  8. va3sie says:

    @EB3EPR Thankyou! When the bands are better maybe we can exchange QSO during polar bear moonlight madness!

  9. Rob Leiden, K1UI says:

    Just a correction, the antenna used by WA1WCC was a dipole not a Budipole.


    Rob K1UI

  10. va3sie says:

    @K1UI Thanks for the correction, Rob. I have updated the article. Great job maintaining this awesome historical site on the air!

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