Might as well get right down to essence of the matter. If you don’t use a skill regularly, it degrades. In my case, I haven’t done much operating at all lately, but I have made some sporadic SSB and digimode QSOs. However, I haven’t done any CW in years, which was really stupid on my part. I’ve never been super great at it, but at my best I think I got pretty close to “almost comfortable” with making CW QSOs. Never to the point where I wanted to ragchew for a long time, but I could easily make a contest-style QSO and could do a bit of conversation without too much trouble. The few times over the last few years that I have launched some RF, it was easy for me to slip into the mode of bypassing CW because it felt like it was harder than just trying to speak in a mic or click around on WSJT-X. Bad move on my part.
The great (and constantly improving) solar flux numbers and the little bit of free time that I’ve clawed back have inspired me to get back to my ham radio roots and just try enjoying operating like I used to do. Even though I don’t limit myself to QRP, QRP is my first and most favorite sub-genre of ham radio and it always has a draw for me. QRP was a slog for years because of the mediocre-at-best peak of Cycle 24 and the abysmal trough that followed. Now that we’re facing better conditions, what better time could there be to revive my QRP ops? And while SSB QRP can be a fun challenge, everyone knows that CW and QRP go together like peanut butter and jelly. The effectiveness compared to the power output and the simplicity of the gear is simply unbeatable.
So now is the perfect time to get back into the CW game. Because of my skill degradation and often having to jump up at a moment’s notice to take care of kids or animals, I’m in no position to start making ragchew QSOs, but the quick exchanges of a POTA QSO are perfect for me to use as a re-entry point. This afternoon, I set up the IC-705 and busted out my new CWMorse mini paddles (purchased based on seeing them on K4SWL videos) so that I could give it a go with my trailer-mounted Cobweb antenna on 20 meters.
Holy cow, was my sending terrible. My receiving isn’t great either but with most POTA ops running around 20 WPM that wasn’t too difficult for me. However my brain just kind of went into lockup trying to send some basic QSO info like signal report and state. The fault was definitely not with my paddle. Even though the exterior components were made with 3D printed (PLA?) material, the action was quite good considering the money I spend on it. The problem is just that I’m that much out of practice and I was nervous. Sorry to the two OMs that I inflicted my awful Morse Code onto.
I still did have a good time getting back on QRP CW. I’m going to do my best to do some CW ops at least a few times a week, hopefully even more than that. My short-term goal is to get comfortable enough to be able to do a CW POTA (and maybe SOTA!) activation of my own in the near future. Also, I’d really like to get hold of the machined aluminum CWMorse paddles, now that I know they make quality keys. I’ve got some other ideas about QRP brewing in my head, but that will have to wait for another post. If I can get some kind of basic workshop set up here on our new property, I might be able to really start doing some fun stuff again.