This is about IOTA (Islands On The Air) for the rest of us that don't live near an ocean. The USIslands program
is where hams can 'activate' an island in all 50 states, whether it's
located on a lake, a river or yes, an ocean, and be placed on a master
list as the first ham on that island. I have operated from three
islands here in Colorado. Note: these were the days (2001) before I
'discovered' QRP. I was running 100 watts. The following story
describes my first trip to Lake Dillon located high up in the mountains.
Eight-foot boat loaded up for the trip
Saturday, Sept. 22, 2001
This was to be my first island activation. A friend, Ted (KC2FOB), and
I had come up here in August to check out the lake and found a Forrest
Service road with a boat ramp that would put me less than five minutes
rowing time away from the first island. The boat is a Walker Bay 8 foot
rowboat. After checking in to the hotel in Frisco, CO I drove down to
see how much the water level had dropped and if the docks were still in
the water. Lake Dillon is a water supply for Denver some 75 miles away,
at an elevation just over 9,000 feet, and this time of year the water
level is low at many reservoirs in the state. Well, the road was closed
and the gate padlocked! LESSON #1 NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING.
Having to cross the lake from the other side meant rowing almost a mile
of open water in a small open boat. (Note, objects in mirror may appear
farther that they really are.) High mountain lakes can be very tricky,
where sudden downdrafts can flow from the surrounding snowcapped peaks.
That afternoon I rowed out to Sentinel Island to check out possible
operating sites. The island is nearly cut in half by a lagoon. At the
entrance I found a wide, sandy beach for tomorrow's work.
Sunday, Sept. 23, 2001
Due to circumstances beyond my control, including the hotel's alarm
clock going off in the middle of the night, I got a total of 3 hours
sleep. A wake up call at 6:00 a.m., quick shower and breakfast and off
I go. There was frost on the boat lying in the bed of the truck. I
arrived at the launch site, and hauled/dragged the boat and equipment
200 feet along a crushed gravel path, then 30 feet down an embankment
to the water. No boat ramp here. Sure wish the size 27 deep cycle
battery had wheels.
As I shoved off, the sun still had a way to go before making an
appearance since the lake is surrounded by 13,000+ foot mountains.
There was steam rising up from the water as I left the shore and with
the pre-dawn light it made a surreal landscape.
I arrived at Sentinel Island (CO-006L) and was in operation by 8:30. It
had taken longer that I had expected to pack the boat and set up. There
wasn't a cloud in the sky and the temp. was still in the low 40's so
the sun would be a welcome sight. I had 2 antennas set up. One was the
copper pipe vertical that John (KL7JR) describes in the home-brew page
of the USI website. The other was a newly acquired 33 foot fiberglass
mast from MFJ from which I planned to hang a 20 Meter delta loop or
sloping dipole. The copper vertical did so well I used it exclusively.
The radials were made from 300 ohm foam feed line left over from a
(failed) project. Shorted at one end and alligator clips on the other,
they lay nice and flat without having to stake them down. I was able to
throw 2 of the 3 radials into the water.
After calling CQ USIsland I got my first contact in less than 30
seconds. LESSON #2 It pays to announce ahead instead of
spur-of-the-moment trips. I've never participated in a contest, except
for the QRP ARCI PSK Sprint earlier this month, and have never been on
a DX-pedition, so was amazed at the non stop pileups. Didn't have to
call CQ again.
I wanted to be sure I was able to work on a second island, so I packed
and was set up on Fishhook Island (CO-005L) in an hour or so. Another
nice sandy beach among the otherwise rocky shoreline. As I was working
the again-nonstop calls, I was keeping an eye on the wind, which was
slowly building, and the water which was no longer the "smooth as
glass" surface it had been. After completing QSO number 102, I made the
executive decision to quit before it got any choppier out there. The
row back was uneventful, except for the tendency for the boat to
"weather vane" into the wind, so it was 2 strokes normal and 1 or 2
with the left oar to keep my course.
After looking over the log, I see there were 102 contacts including 25
states, 4 Canadian provinces and Japan. Several of the calls were from
guys who had stumbled onto the activity and wondered what the fuss was
all about. It was fun explaining that I was operating from an island in
The equipment included an Alinco DX-70, MFJ-941E tuner, 259B SWR
analyzer, a cooler with wheels that doubled as table and waterproof
container for the equipment and don't forget the 300 pound battery (or
did it just seem that heavy)?
Special thanks to John Reisenauer (KL7JR) for the antenna design and
Ron (KIØII) for the many 2 Meter drive-time QSOs discussing
portable setups and trip logistics, etc.
What a great way to combine things nautical, the outdoors and ham
radio. To anyone contemplating trying this for the first time, stop
contemplating and go do it!