Friday, August 8, 2008

Back from the Big Boat -- on a real RF high!

Well, it was a fabulous weekend! Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • N9N went on the air at 0900 EDST Saturday from the Submarine Force Museum and Historic Ship Nautilus in Groton, Connecticut, with stations on 40 and 20 SSB. Chuck Motes and his crew from Navy/Marine Corps MARS had done a fabulous job of setting up the stations, including a comfortable camper trailer, a G5RV Sr., and a trailer with a portable crank-up tower and 4-element beam--plus air conditioning and some fantastic vittles. It was a great setup! They also had gone to a lot of work to schedule volunteer op and logger shifts. I can't say enough about all the folks who participated, including non-MARS volunteers and a group of Army MARS members. One highlight was the sausage stew. Man! I'll mention names and give more credit later.

  • Only glitches were a support rod for the G5RV that decided to break Saturday morning, requiring the lowering of the tower so it could be climbed and the rod replaced, and a nasty Alabama-like thunderstorm that rolled in Saturday afternoon. By the way, all I had to do was walk in, sit down, and operate. And when the storm hit, I was nice and dry inside the museum, doing my little presentation (below).

  • Besides N9N, I was there to do a talk and book signing at the museum and library, in support of my new book, THE ICE DIARIES. Several members of the crew who took Nautilus to the North Pole in 1958 were there for the anniversary celebration, and I was a little nervous, hoping I would get it right when I talked about it. They all came up and assured me I did fine, and that means a lot to me. Thanks to all who came by. We must have sold 75 books. Thanks to the musuem staff, and especially Lt. Cmdr. Caskey, the commander of the museum and ship, for their hospitality.

  • Sunday was a little cooler and less humid, and we were back on the air about 0900. 20 rocked all weekend, 40 was not quite so good, especially around mid-day. We also did some 75 meters and I got a chance to do about an hour on 20 CW. A contest was underway and it was difficult to find an open frequency there. One highlight of the weekend was working AC3Q Harold Dennin, first on SSB, and then switching to CW. Harold was one of the Navy radio ops in Pearl Harbor who received and confirmed the first signals from Nautilus when she emerged from beneath the ice pack after successfully transiting from Pacific to Atlantic via the North Pole. That transmission -- "Nautilus 90 North" -- was the basis for our special event call sign N9N. Wow! Recreating that "QSO" was special! It was also a thrill to work several other former Nautilus crewmembers, folks who worked on constructing the ship, and other submarine and military vets.

  • I deserted the team again on Sunday afternoon for a special ceremony commemorating the polar run anniversary. This took place right next to the Nautilus, with an honor guard, a band, the congressman from that area, and the sub squadron commander who oversees most of the Atlantic fleet. Nine PANOPOS -- Pacific to Atlantic North Pole Sailors, the Nautilus North Pole crew -- were present, too, along with some family members of those who had passed away. On the way back to the station afterward, I passed through the reception area and got to sign about another 15 copies of ICE DIARIES. I also got to meet the daughter of Tom Curtis, the man who was primarily responsible for adapting the gyrocompass that allowed the North Pole run to take place. He was aboard for both trips north in 1958.

  • I finally had to leave Sunday night at about 9 PM. I had to get up at 2 AM Monday morning to drive down to New York City for a TV appearance. Chuck reports the "Magic Minute" was wild and wooly...and wonderful! It was his idea and I loved it! Nautilus reached the North Pole at 11:15 PM EDST on August 3, 1958. At that precise time in 2008, N9N took as many "check-ins" in one minute as the ops could capture call signs, then went back and worked each one for a valid contact. Chuck reports 18 stations were confirmed. If they send QSLs, we'll include a special certificate with their N9N return card. I understand it was recorded and I'm looking forward to hearing it.

  • The rest of the trip was mostly promotional...a quick interview on channel 11 in NYC and a very nice one-hour interview on Joey Reynolds's national radio show that originates from WOR 710 in New York. A real treat was sitting in for a segment of the show with guest Earl Klugh, one of the truly great jazz guitarists. I got to introduce a song from his new album that he played live for us. I also managed to get a ticket to be in the audience for the taping of the David Letterman Show that aired Monday night. Dave made one of his "how old is John McCain?" jokes that included a mention of ham radio. Finally, it was an early flight out of Providence Tuesday, back to Birmingham just in time for a signing event at Alabama Booksmith. Thanks to several hams who dropped by for that, too.

I operated on about 10 hours of sleep for the entire weekend but it was a wonderful four days. I can't say enough how much I appreciate Chuck and his crew for what they did to help get word out pay tribute to those 116 men of Nautilus and what they did 50 years ago last weekend.

Now, back to reality. When I got home Tuesday night, there were already 50 cards waiting. Since then, I probably have about 300 stacked up on the operating table. I will design the card this weekend, print them ASAP, and hopefully start responding in a couple of weeks.

If you worked N9N, I hoped you enjoyed the experience. If we didn't pull you out of the pile-ups, I apologize, but thank you for trying. I told Chuck when I first got there that I would be thrilled with 500 QSOs. Well, we got over 2,000! That has to be a record for a non-DX one-weekend special event, a testament to the volunteer ops and their abilities, the quality of the setup the Navy MARS guys provided, and the interest in that submarine that went to the North Pole to help win the Cold War 50 years ago last weekend.

Don Keith N4KC


John Krupsky said...

Don, I have posted some audio recordings at


Chuck Motes said...

Don, thanks for your kind comments. We enjoyed the event, and thank all the volunteers, expecially Navy and Army MARS. Let's do it again, and Rick will once more bring his Sausage Stew!