Winter QRP Expedition to Lea Hutaff Island

Winter QRP Expedition to Lea Hutaff Island

One of my favorite places in the world is Lea Hutaff Island, situated off the SE coast of North Carolina, between Topsail Island and Fiqure Eight Island.

There are no people living on the island, but this was not always the case. The Lea family house is the only dwelling still standing on the island, and it is not uncommon to see waves breaking underneath during high tide.

Last remaining dwelling on Lea Island

Lea Hutaff Island, which I’ll henceforth refer to simply as Lea Island, is under joint ownership of private landowners and the Audubon Society.

Camping is allowed throughout the island from Fall thru Winter. Lea provides nesting sites for birds, sea turtles, and a host of other wildlife. Fishermen, bird watchers, shell collectors, and nature lovers can be seen in small numbers throughout the year.   The only access to the island is by boat.

Sand dollars and shark's tooth found on the beach

Sand dollars and a large shark’s tooth found during my afternoon walk on the beach

For the past two years, I have made Winter pilgrimages to Lea Island in order to participate in the ARRL 160M CW Contest.  This is a contest whereby amateur radio operators throughout the world try make as many contacts as  possible with stations throughout North America.  North American amateurs attempt to “work” as many different stations as they can, with added scoring incentives for NA stations to work as many states, provinces, and countries as possible.

Now throw in the fact that you intend to go to all this effort while restricting yourself to a maximum power output of 5 watts, and most of your fellow amateur radio brethern would consider you as certainly having lost your senses!  But that’s OK, because we low power folks, or QRP’ers as we’re know in radio circles, are up for a good challenge.

My equipment list has evolved considerably over the past two years, mostly due to weather related events that conclusively proved to me that durable shelter and proper clothing are more important than radio gear.  Say what??  Seeing my generic tent get ripped to shreds and most of my radio gear (and moi) subjected to cold, torrential rain taught me a lesson that will stick with me forever.

Here’s a shot of all the gear loaded in my boat at a campground in Surf City, adjacent to the Intracoastal Waterway just before getting underway for the 20 mile trip to Lea Island .  About midway down the Intracoastal Waterway, I encountered a family of dolphins.  You may click on the photo below for a short movie clip.

boat loaded at dock

I selected a site on the southern end of Lea Island for the 2014 ARRL 160M CW Contest, because high winds were being forecast for Sunday morning, and the southern end of the island  provided safer access than the closer northern end.  During high tide, my campsite was just a few yards from the water, with a lovely panoramic view of the marsh, dunes, and ocean.


50′ top loaded Spiderbeam mast

One of the main goals of this trip was to compare the performance of a fiberglass mast top loaded 50′ vertical with a quarter wavelength kite supported vertical.  Both antennas would use a common radial system composed of 36 radials, with each radial being 20M long.  Many of the radials were covered with from one to three inches of salt water from mid tide through high tide.  Feedpoint impedance tests with an AIM 4170C antenna analyzer indicated that this radial system provided an almost lossless system, coinciding with the predicted  EZNEC 5 ohm feedpoint impedance for the top loaded vertical.

The kite antenna consisted of a quarter wave length of 22AWG wire taped to the 100 lb dacron kite line at regular intervals.  I used a 10′ delta box kite as the “skyhook.”  This kite typically flies at relatively high angles (45 – 60 degrees) with wind speeds of 10 mph.  Higher winds, up to 22 mph or so, turn this kite into a serious lifting machine.  As long as the wind maintains at least 10 mph, this kite has no trouble lifting the Top Band 1/4 wavelength antenna wire.  This kite will not fly well during rainy conditions, however.

You may click on the picture below to view a movie clip comparing the kite antenna to a 50′ tall top loaded vertical.


The kite antenna was the clear winner over the top loaded vertical, oftentimes by 2 to 3 S units!  This surprised me, as the top loaded vertical had been used the previous year with excellent results.

2 thoughts on “Winter QRP Expedition to Lea Hutaff Island

    1. That’s a pretty insightful point, Richard! I spend more time deploying and then recovering the radials than any other aspect of the operation. With a shortened top loaded vertical, I don’t know any way around this issue.

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