Transcript - Episode 109 - Susan Meckley - W7KFI
Eric, 4Z1UG: QSO Today Episode 109, Susan Meckley, W7KFI.
QSO Today is listener sponsored by you, please become a listener sponsor today. The button links for sponsorship are on the right side of the show notes page at www.qsotoday.com. Welcome to the QSO Today Podcast, I'm Eric Guth, 4Z1UG, your host.
My thanks to Patrick Sullivan KC3CVN who brought to my attention and arranged for today's QSO with Susan Meckley W7KFI who now resides in a military retirement home in Washington DC. Susan is a long time ham who is now known for her years sailing the Pacific by herself with Amateur Radio. She only recently came back to shore at 80 years of age. The interview is recorded to her landline, so the audio while a pretty good copy tends to vary in quality. She is still a fascinating guest with a great story.
W7KFI, this is Eric 4Z1UG, are you there Susan?
Eric, 4Z1UG: Susan thanks for joining me on the QSO Today Podcast. Can we start at the very beginning of your Ham Radio story, when and how did it start for you?
Susan, W7KFI: Well back when I was in high school, one of the friends I met George Ulm, is W9EVT. I was in his house and he was building a KW for AM of course. I got interested, and he turned on his HRO-70, and I looked at the ham bands, and I was … So he armored me, and helped me get my license.
Eric, 4Z1UG: He did, and when was this? You were back in high school, you want to…
Susan, W7KFI: It was about 49 or 50 back in there. I’d say about 1950, 51.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You were in high school and what was George's call again?
Susan, W7KFI: W9, evidently very tired. Those were the phonetics he has always used.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Did you learn with him, did you learn out of books?
Susan, W7KFI: Yeah, I learned out of books, I learned from him. In fact he helped me build my first rig which people today don’t quite know what I mean. It was an old metal 6L6 inverted running in oil about 5 watts. I still remember the first QSO WN1CLP Charlie Lampapa, but I’ve never been able to locate him to try and get a QSO out of him.
Eric, 4Z1UG: He was your first QSO, so what was your first call sign?
Susan, W7KFI: That was W9SOC I think.
Eric, 4Z1UG: W9SOC and your first license, was that a novice license?
Susan, W7KFI: That was a novice. Back in those days you could have a novice for one year, then it expired and it's gone. That was to help you filter up to your 13 words a minute.
Eric, 4Z1UG: How was that process for you? Did you take any actual anchoring to the code?
Susan, W7KFI: Well when you are young your brain is like a sponge, so it wasn’t really hard.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Got up to 13 words a minute, and then you passed the general the next year?
Susan, W7KFI: Right, and I had the general, we had all privileges. Then I began the FCC, started taking away privileges and giving them to Extras and other people for a set of licensing, and I said, well the heck with it. I’ve over 50 years now I have boycotted the FCC, but it didn’t seem to bother them. A couple of months ago I went down and took the Extra exam.
Eric, 4Z1UG: So you just got your Extra?
Susan, W7KFI: No, I just finally figured that my not getting it; well it didn't seem to have any effect on the FCC, so I better get it. I finally went down and took the exam here a couple of months ago.
Eric, 4Z1UG: And did it have an effect?
Susan, W7KFI: No, not really.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Oh you didn’t see … It didn’t move them?
Susan, W7KFI: No, well I can operate down lower or 25 KC of each band, and it seemed there is little bit more DX because I operate mainly CW.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Which speed do you think you run?
Susan, W7KFI: Well I used to go around 35 and 40 all the time. I found that getting old, it seems that my brain takes a fraction of a second longer to decode what I'm hearing, and my speed stand around 20, 25. I can still copy 30 if I have a typewriter in front of me but that’s it. However I always send at the speed of the other station. That’s something most hams nowadays they wouldn’t bother themselves with slowing down to the speed of the other station. To me everybody has to get started, and that’s just a common courtesy.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Do you like working new hams on CW?
Susan, W7KFI: Oh yeah, but I jump up to 14 or 15 in that area. There is a lot of slow speed hams just standing outside. I talk to a lot of them.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Do you remember what it felt like when you made your first QSO with WN1CLP?
Susan, W7KFI: No, WN1 “Charlie Love Papa”, oh yeah that was very exciting because we had been down there pulling on George's work bench building this rig brand boarding it. The thing actually worked and we talked with somebody, and that was from Chicago all the way to the East Coast, so it was fantastic.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah, it's a fantastic feeling making the first contact.
Susan, W7KFI: Right, that was…
Eric, 4Z1UG: What was the receiver that you used with your first rig?
Susan, W7KFI: Well I was using his ... If I remember HRO…
Eric, 4Z1UG: HRO-70?
Susan, W7KFI: HRO-70. It was what he had and I was using his receiver, but mine was an S40B. I used that at home, and that’s the way I used to make my contacts on crystal 3746 KHz.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Then you just tune up and down the band listening for the reply?
Susan, W7KFI: Yeah, no I usually call CQ, and then you turn the whole band, which was a novice with 3700 to 3750. And you hear California and that was really rare DX.
Eric, 4Z1UG: How did Ham Radio play a part in the choices that you made for your education and career?
Susan, W7KFI: Well I went into the Navy, and in the Navy I became a CW operator. I have been operating CW ever since. That's probably in 5 … Going through Radio School at Cambridge, Maryland. That’s been a pretty good benefit all my life.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Ham Radio gave you an interest in going into the Navy to be an operator, or was that some interest that you carried before then?
Susan, W7KFI: It got me interested in going and being a radio operator. I operated that, we did that for them, and then I got into public affairs, and that ... They recommended a very interesting career.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Public affairs or the Navy?
Susan, W7KFI: Yeah public affairs, but then doing photography and shooting some 16 millimeter, and then writing stories for magazines and whatever about my experiences.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You were career military?
Susan, W7KFI: Oh yeah, that’s right. I’d say one too in active Navy, and then I was transferred from the Navy to the army, because they wanted my particular job, they had a use for it in a local reserve unit. They said of course you won't be called to active duty; you’ve already done your active duty. Six months later there I am at Portland, and was going up to 3, 4, so that we are all wrong about that.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Active duty was Korea?
Susan, W7KFI: No, no I never left the United States.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Oh you never left United States, okay.
Susan, W7KFI: Yeah, 32 years service in the United States.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You were a young woman at that point when you left the military, what did you do after that?
Susan, W7KFI: Well I went to work for an electronics company, and I worked for Michelin Corporation for a while. But mainly I was doing electronic jobs with the Kleinschmidt Laboratories on their teletype equipment, and doing a lot of type writing, bouncing around here and there.
Eric, 4Z1UG: In the middle from what I understand, from what I’ve read, you also had a family?
Susan, W7KFI: That’s correct, yes. That was almost like another life almost.
Eric, 4Z1UG: In parallel with the one you were doing with the Army and Navy?
Susan, W7KFI: Right.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Susan according to what I can find online, you spent over 20 years sailing the Pacific by yourself. How did that start for you?
Susan, W7KFI: Well, I was living in the army. I went back in the army 4 months before I would have been too old to get back in. I went back in specifically to get the retirement, so I could buy a small boat and sail off into the sunset. Because when I first started Ham Radio back in the early 50s, I used to read in CQ magazine about Danny Weil and his Yasme. I think that was the name of his boat.
He was traveling all over the Pacific putting up a place with us, and boy I’d like to do this. I spent my time in the Army, retired, got a sail boat, and sailed into the west.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What kind of sail boat did you get?
Susan, W7KFI: Well I was on a 46 foot Transoceanic, and it’s pretty big, slept 12 people. As I got older I had not figured on the amount of strength that you lose, and I traded that one down to a 32 foot Challenger ... Challenger 32, in fact I can still handle that pretty well even today.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Do you still have that boat?
Susan, W7KFI: No, about a year and a half ago in Hawaii, I sold that to a family over there.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I found on your website, I found this in the “Wayback Machine”, and that’s why I'll put a link to how to get to that. You make a log entry that it took two years to sail from Alameda California to Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico in the Darma, that’s your 32 foot Challenger.
Susan, W7KFI: Right.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You used the term slowly, why slowly and what did you discover from that?
Susan, W7KFI: Well I was not in a hurry; I always tell people if I was in a hurry I would fly. Anyway I would pull into a harbor, and I would usually the local Yacht Club of the harbor, they would have a reciprocal. I’d hold up my Treasure Island Yacht Club card, and they’d look at it. I’d say reciprocal, and sure come on in. I go in and anchor or tie up, and after a while they would plan and say, “Susan when are you leaving?” I’d say well tomorrow, and I’d move on to the next spot.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You just took your time going down the California Coast?
Susan, W7KFI: Yeah, I wasn’t really in any hurry. I was enjoying myself meeting people and cruising, and on the Nuevo of just north of Monterey California's annual Nuevo was the national park. They have all of these sea lions and the sails, they’d come in and spend their time there, it was very interesting place. The entrance to Monterey Bay to get into Monterey California is wide enough that when you sail across it, you are outside of land.
I can remember very vividly I was out the middle and I think just came out ready to turn and head in towards the east. I saw these two fish way out there, they were on the surface going so fast. They were throwing up a rooster tail behind them, and I thought, oh my gosh, it’s two Orcas.
I’ve heard of Orcas sinking a small boat, and I thought this is it, I’ve had it. They come right up to the boat, stopped about 10 feet away, and one of them rolled over and looked at me. Then that old whale, he was saying to the other one, “Did you see the look on her face.” Then they went out, and they did it the second time, I know they were playing with me.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Did you have Amateur Radio on the boat at that time?
Susan, W7KFI: Oh yeah. I don’t think you should cruise without it, yeah. I had a Ham Radio on board to talk to people so that they do something cheaper that every afternoon, plus to get weather and email read by Pactor.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You are sailing down the California Coast; do you remember any Ham Radio stories?
Susan, W7KFI: Not really, except daily I’d check into the Pacific papers and let them know where I was at, and the speed course, weather cast information, etcetera. They take the information on where you are, but they also get the weather information, and then they send back to the national weather crew.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Everyone that checks in contributes to the local weather?
Susan, W7KFI: Right 14300 of a 20 meter Ham band is the Pacific seafarers. In fact almost 24 hours a day you can always find somebody on that frequency there. Here you have a bunch of private sail boats and the yachts all over the Pacific spots where there are no weather stations. The information is rather valuable to the weather service.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Did you find a large number of Ham Radio operators who were also mariners?
Susan, W7KFI: Oh yeah, heavens yes. Most people cruising on a sail boat or a yacht ... There are very few cruising yachts, most are cruising sail boats. They have their ham license, they are studying aboard, or they are getting ready to study for it. Because your email and your weather products and weather charts, and things are so much easier to get are more valuable. Ham Radio is the way to get to them.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What kind of marine electronics and ham gear did you have aboard the Darma?
Susan, W7KFI: I had the ICOM 718, which is a bear bone transceiver, but I use that for my Pactor email or whatever. I also had a Yaesu FT-847, and then eventually years later I put a K3 on board one of the Elecrafts, so I was pretty loaded with ham gear.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Did you also have other marine electronics, depth sounders, radar, or things like that?
Susan, W7KFI: Oh yeah, I had the radar, and I had a depth sounder, and I also had a forward seeking sonar, which would give me a graphic picture of what was ahead of me. Later years I had the automatic identification equipment, the AIS on board. I had a little bit of everything on them, a lot of them electronics.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Now I listened to an interview that you did, and also looked at the website that you made in 2007, 2008 when you were crossing from Mexico to Hawaii. When you are a solo sailor, what are the hazards of sleep, and how are they overcome?
Susan, W7KFI: Well they were definitely, you are rolling the dice as a solo sailor, because you can’t stay awake 24 hours a day, but I had a little kitchen timer that every 20 minutes it would wake me up. I would look around in every direction and use my generation 3 night vision to check out there, nothing out there, quick check of the boat, and the position, and back to sleep. About every 2 weeks, then I would, during the day time; I put out a pon pon on the VHF, and just lean back, and sleep for a few hours.
Eric, 4Z1UG: During the day?
Susan, W7KFI: Right, always during the day.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What’s the reason for that? Remember you are explaining to Bill why your break was 25 minutes?
Susan, W7KFI: Well it takes above 20 minutes for the average tanker or car carrier to come up over the horizon and get to you, so you set your radar with a guard zone. I had mine set for 4 miles. Anything deeper than 4 miles then the alarm would go off, but I don’t really trust those things, and I wanted to be awake every 20 minutes, look around, don’t see anything, go back to sleep.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You didn’t depend upon your technology? You trusted but verified your technology.
Susan, W7KFI: Yeah, I had it going, and I had it running, and I trusted it, but your eyeballs are the best ones you’ve got. Those are the best things you’ve got to avoid collisions.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What kind of antenna did you use on the back of the Darma in order to work that little dance?
Susan, W7KFI: Yeah I ran a wire, just a plain old wire from the top of the mast down to the back of the boat. Some people will cut the back stay, put into insulators, and then use that. I always ... The people that I advised and talked to, I said, “Look if you cut the back stay, you are putting in a potential failure point, so just run an extra wire.” That’s what I did, and it worked out very fine. When I was in port or an anchor, I’d throw up a G5RV, and then inverted B configuration, and that worked out pretty good also.
Eric, 4Z1UG: The long wire that you had running from the back of the boat up to the top of the mast, were you using some antenna tuner?
Susan, W7KFI: Right, I had the antenna tuner always, you need that when you are using these things, some people said, “Oh I can’t do that, look at all the wires.” I said, “Well hey, if you use the back stay, there is still got a lot of wires around that are going to interfere with your antenna.” The additional piece of wire, I always figured it was a good way to go, and one of the things is the ground.
You have to have a very good ground, and I would take the copper foil that you use on stain glass windows, and with a sticky back on one side, and I’d run a bunch, say 3 layers of that down in the bilges of my boat, above the bilge water, but below the water line. If you stop and think about it, the copper foil is a conductor, the both fiber glass is an insulator, and then the ocean is a conductor, so you’re capacitively coupled into the ocean, and it works quite well.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I used to work on boats as a kid, and we would put copper screen throughout the bottom of the hole to do the same thing.
Susan, W7KFI: Yeah you do the same thing, that’s identical, yeah.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Then you bond everything together, right, so you wouldn’t have an electrolysis problem.
Susan, W7KFI: Well you bond most things together. I did not bond my water or fuels tanks. I didn’t want them into the system, and I don’t know whether that was correct or not, but I never did it.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You never sunk?
Susan, W7KFI: That’s right.
Eric, 4Z1UG: On your voyage to Hawaii from Mexico in 2007, you described checking in with Ham Radio, and you mentioned earlier that you were talking about this Pacific Net, is there any other Ham radio support that’s available to mariners in the South Pacific besides this net?
Susan, W7KFI: Very definitely, there are two or three nets, they meet on 40 meters, and also on the marine frequencies for people that are going down the West Coast, but the main offshore net is 14.300, the seafarers, and now there is one for the Atlantic, and the Caribbean. Because right now I still check into the Pacific seafarers net, but if you are on the East Coast, it starts at 11, at night, while out there, its 5 and 6 in the afternoon. The nets don’t really interfere with each other, because they are at different times of the day, but that way you can usually find someone on 14.300, because although the Coast Guard says, “Oh yes we monitor 24/7.”
They may monitor, but I had a ... It was during a delivery for a coast guard commander, and he was on board. We needed to call a coast guard because he needed to extend his lead. We were totally unable to get a hold of a Coast Guard on any of the emergency or coast guard frequencies, and eventually I was able to get one up in the Allusions, but very, very weakly. However Ham Radio, boom there you are, you can talk to somebody.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That’s pretty cool.
Susan, W7KFI: When I left Hawaii ... I beg your pardon, when I left Mexico I was out or somewhere along in the Pacific, and on my radar I had a return, and I couldn’t believe there was anything out there that big. I know there is no land, and it turned out that it was the ... How you call it, the Boeing space launch platform, and the Boeing space launch container ship that goes along with them. I kept calling them because it’s courtesy, captains will say, “Well you are on a pass port or starboard, how do you want to do this?” They would not answer me.
It just happened that at the same time on 20 meters I was talking with some hams up in Seattle. One of them called Boeing, and I guess Boeing raised hech with their space launch thing, because about 10 minutes later the Boeing launch platform, it was calling me to make arrangements for our passing.
I think, I'm not sure, I think they had lost something up there, because all night long I could see the search lights behind me where they were looking for maybe the booster from one of the rock or whatever, but it was an interesting experience. When I talked to them on the VHF, they said that they normally won’t answer people, because they don’t want Brain piece to know where they are located, because they come out and raise that with them.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Well I have to tell you, up until today I never knew that there was such a thing as a Boeing space launch platform at sea.
Susan, W7KFI: Yeah, they have a 2 vessel, they have one that has the launching platform, and it would set there, and then the instrumentation or controls will go back off them. Through remote control they control the launching of the rocket in to space.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Pretty amazing, now if you are a seafarer apparently you have to watch for SpaceX’s launching platform right out at sea, a lot of obstacles in the water these days.
Susan, W7KFI: That’s right, about 400 miles out from Puerto Vallarta is a little Island of Socorro. It’s a couple of 100 miles south of Cabo San Lucas, and it’s a Mexican military station. They won’t allow you to go ashore, but they never say anything, and they allow boats to come in to anchor and spend a night or 2 there to rest.
I had planned on stopping there, but when I got there the volcano was spewing a little bit of smoke, and fire, and I figured, well I will keep right on going. Till in the middle of the night I was woken up by 2 guys in a Panga. A Panga is about a 20 foot open row boat with a big 50 horse engine on the back. They are beating into the side of my boat trying to wake me up. I woke up, and I couldn’t understand what they were screaming at me.
I reached over, grabbed my 12 gauge shotgun, and cycled it, and boom they were gone. They didn’t stick around. What I found out when I got to Hawaii, there was some fishing net attached to the bottom of my boat. Apparently these guys were trying to tell me that I was heading for their fishing net. However, they did not have the internationally required poles and lights on their nets so you can tell where they are, so I just went straight on ahead. Apparently I tore a part of their nets off with me.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Maybe they were poachers.
Susan, W7KFI: Well, it could be.
Eric, 4Z1UG: They didn’t have a proper authorization.
Susan, W7KFI: Yeah some people, they call long liners, they will put out nets that are miles in length, and they are supposed to put lights, little blue lights on them, and also poles so that you can tell where they are, but you are liable to hit a long liner just about anywhere.
Eric, 4Z1UG: If it ran under your prop or something like that, then you could get it wrapped up in your propeller or something.
Susan, W7KFI: Very definitely.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Did you spend any time in the Atlantic Ocean, or the Caribbean?
Susan, W7KFI: No, I didn’t. I did that on the Navy on some of their boats, but not on my own.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Is that like a whole different World than sailing the Pacific?
Susan, W7KFI: It is because the distances between islands and ports, sometimes is less than a day’s run from one to the next one. It is, from what I understand it is rather expensive down there also. The Pacific, from Puerto Vallarta on the Southern Mexican Coast to Hilo, Hawaii, I am told is the longest passage if you are doing a check on navigation. It is a 3,600 miles, but I tell you it does get you a lot closer to your maker, because every night you’d look up and say, “Lord, let me make it till dawn.”
Eric, 4Z1UG: You mentioned in your journal about the lack of REM sleep. If you are only sleeping 25 minutes intervals, you never get into REM sleep. What is that like for a sailor after being at sea for a couple of weeks?
Susan, W7KFI: I really couldn’t tell you because I don’t remember what it was, but I know I had no problem. In fact even today I can lie down on the floor, and within 2 or 3 minutes I'm asleep. It’s just something that solo sailors learn to do. However, when I got to Hawaii, I did not want to stop. I wanted to continue on towards the Marshall Islands, but talking to a doctor on the radio, he said, “No, no time to go ashore.” I pulled into Hilo in Hawaii.
Eric, 4Z1UG: And what happened?
Susan, W7KFI: Nothing really, I just pulled in there, and that’s that.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You describe getting on land for the first time. Do you remember that?
Susan, W7KFI: Oh, some people get sea sick. You can get land sick, because you go ashore and nothing is moving, and you are used to having it moving. Therefore, even for a week or so, suddenly everything is kind of ship, and you know it didn’t. It’s just your body and your brain telling you that it is supposed to. There is such a thing, getting land sick.
However, I did discover in Mexico, a medication called Sturgeon just like ... Excuse me, like the fish, you take a Sturgeon, and you don’t get sea sick. Very good medicine, sold in every country in the world except the United States. You take transdermal patches and things like that, you get a dry mouth, and there are side effects. I did not notice any affects whatsoever from using Sturgeon.
Eric, 4Z1UG: There must not be a lot of money in Sturgeon.
Susan, W7KFI: Yeah, that I don’t know.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You sailed alone through Hurricane Marty; can you describe that experience, and offer advice to would be sailors?
Susan, W7KFI: Don’t, that's the best thing I can tell them.
Eric, 4Z1UG: How did you find yourself in the middle of the hurricane?
Susan, W7KFI: Well, I had already figured hurricanes, hurricanes. I would just put out to sea and ride it out. I went through 3 hurricanes in Mexico. Fortunately I was in port at the time, and I found out I want nothing to do with hurricanes. It’s like Marty, 3 mariners ceased to exist and every boat with those mariners sank. Like the one I was in, they were only 3 or 4 of us that did not sink. We didn't sink, because we were very close and they had … If I remember I had 20 sub lines out to the peers, to fences, to trees, to anchors everywhere, and I made it through with no damage.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Being a dog lover myself I have 2 English Springer Spaniels. I read your blog post about saving your dog’s life by CPR. Do you want to tell that story?
Susan, W7KFI: Oh yes, I went down to the end of the pier to someone else's boat to Leslie Smucker’s boat, there were a bunch of people down there having lunch. Of course I tied the leash onto Cavi. When I came back to the boat, she was hanging over the side of the boat, tie hanging out of her mouth, and hung herself with the collar.
Well I quick got her out, started pumping on her chest and pumping the hand around her muscle and started blowing air in. I figured it worked for a human; you bet it might work for a dog. By gosh, it did, pretty soon she survived. However, she just threw up in my mouth, and that got to me.
I don't think there was any damage, because she was to respond, all of the commands and things that were just like before. I learned very quickly you are on a boat and you have a dog, don’t use a collar, use a harness.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Right, that's good advice, how long was Cavi a fellow passenger on your journeys?
Susan, W7KFI: Oh I would say for about another year, and then someone stole her and made off with her. I saw one in Mexico; I purchased another dog down in La Paz.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That dog sailed with you all the way to Hawaii?
Susan, W7KFI: That dog sailed with me down into Puerto Vallarta, and Puerto Vallarta there was a man there who had a really sad case. His wife and kids left him and went back to the states. He had cancer and was dying, and he was so lonely and we got to be very good friends, and he and Cavi got along. I gave Cavi, that was the second dog, same namem to him. I learned later via our radio, because on board is we keep track of each other by short] … That he had finally died, and that there was another boat to have the Cavi, and Cavi was leading a pretty good life.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What is the pucker factor?
Susan, W7KFI: Pucker factor? I know that it will help you adequately describe that in poet terms. You see something ahead of you and let’s put it this way. 95% of the time, so we'll say like you lean back with a diet Coke, have some good music and enjoy. 5% you are absolutely terrified, because you know you are going to die. During those 5 minutes there is a tremendous pucker factor.
Eric, 4Z1UG: It’s like being an airline captain right, it's …
Susan, W7KFI: Right, in other words your butt grabs hold of whatever you are sitting on, that's the pucker factor.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You are a grandmother, a solo sailor, and Ham radio operator. How did you manage your family before and during your voyages?
Susan, W7KFI: Well on the voyages I would talk to them sometimes via radio, most often email, and the kids kept saying you are going to die. Well after I went all the way down, and was down in Mexico, maybe she does know how to sail. They would visit me where I was. I had some people come down to Puerto Vallarta and visit, some into Hawaii, and we got along quite okay.
Eric, 4Z1UG: After you landed in Hilo, just after that you headed out to the Marshall Islands. Now it's my understanding that you intersected a DXpedition there at the same time?
Susan, W7KFI: Not on that particular trip. When I headed for the Marshall Islands, about 3 days out, I got a tremendous toothache; I turned around and came back to Hawaii. Instead of going back into Pearl Harbor, I went into the commercial marina, and spent sometime there. It’s a good thing I went back, because I had oral surgery.
I did take off and head south. A son of a gun about 3 miles, 4 miles off of Johnston Island came out 3. I had engine problems, and I pulled in there at Admiralty law says that they are required to allow you to spend 72 hours for bunkering in refuge.
Besides I had a letter from the Air Force giving me permission to stop there. However, fish and wildlife, they do not like anybody going on to Johnston Island. 72 hours, one tremendous pile up on 20 and then I went back, I had to leave.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You made your own DXpedition on Johnston Island?
Susan, W7KFI: Right and I hit a couple other small islands here and there, that was the interesting part of Ham Radio.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Did you make QSO cards for them?
Susan, W7KFI: I lost my log book out at sea. I have recently found a copy of my license because I had ... There was a big storm up there, and I ended up logging out inside of the boat pretty much, but it did not sink. I lost the log book and also the license too from the Air Force saying it's okay to go to Johnston. On an Italian website I recently found a copy of my license, and I got that back.
What I have been telling people, if you could send me your QSO, and if you’ve got the proper dates because I know what dates I was there, I wanted to send a QSL. Now ARL originally would not accept them, because they say, “Well you didn't have permission.” Well my gosh, I’ve got the letter from the Air Force giving me permission also. I don't know if ARRL is going to accept it or not, but always it shows the QSOs. However, the people that are … Excuse me. The people that are sending me a QSO will have to have the correct dates on them.
Eric, 4Z1UG: In other words the ARRL does not want to encourage people to break the law in order to operate a DXpedition from some remote island?
Susan, W7KFI: Yeah that's right, in fact fish and wildlife has a small team of people on the south end of the atoll studying an ant infestation, the ants are bothering the birds. They said, well you can't go there because of that. Well good gosh they can get rid of 100% of the ants, the next coconut that floats in you’ve got ant infestation again. I think it was more a problem of securing funding than anything else.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Where else did you go from the Marshall Islands?
Susan, W7KFI: Well I went to Majuro. I pulled into Majuro, and I started to perform [inaudible 00:38:37] but then in the sailing directions, they gave you all the GPS points to get through the mine fields, because apparently they were never removed. I said, no thank you, and I did not go there, I just took off instead.
Eric, 4Z1UG: There are still floating mines in the waters of the South Pacific?
Susan, W7KFI: Well, if you want to believe the NOAA, if you want to believe the sailing directions of the world, yes there are.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Wow, well I'm learning something new every day, and this is actually new to me. It was my understanding that you were actually headed to Thailand; did you actually make it to Thailand?
Susan, W7KFI: Well I wanted, I’ve been there 4 or 5 times, but not by boat. I very definitely was going to Thailand, I was going to go and live in Chiang Mai, but no I did not make it that far.
Eric, 4Z1UG: How far east did you go?
Susan, W7KFI: I made it down to Majuro and the Marshalls. I was going to go over to Palmyra and then from there down to the north Cook Islands, stopped very briefly at Rarotonga. Then I turned around and went back towards Hawaii, I was getting a little bit too old. I figured at 80 years old, I really didn't have any business being out there solo sailing anymore.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Okay, so that was the question I was going to ask for those ... If the listeners were sitting here wondering, how old were you when you started your voyage from Mexico to Hawaii?
Susan, W7KFI: I was about 67, 68, somewhere around in there. I'm not really good with dates. I know I cruised ... I left San Francisco, and 23 years I spent out there going here, there, and everywhere, so let’s see, 60 something.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Amazing, so for anybody that thinks they are too old at 60 to start on a new adventure, then Susan is the example that you can do it.
Susan, W7KFI: Yeah, well there are a lot of people there even my age are still out there, but I think you are pushing the odds a little bit. What I figured at 80, my health could go at any moment, and if I'm on some small island, or some place with no good healthcare, I rolled the dice and I lost, so I moved back to the main land.
People asked me, “How do you cope?” I said, look, I said 2 people with I had at lunch, I said, read the sailing magazines, and read books, read every one you possibly you can. Knowing what to do is not difficult, knowing when to do it, that’s the difficult portion, because if you are thinking, should I have done this or that? Well you should have already had it done.”
Eric, 4Z1UG: What advice would you give to someone who’s maybe starting on the last third of their life? They are just passing 60, and they’ve got, maybe they have a little money, maybe they don’t, but they are looking to do something that’s different. Would you recommend a sailing life to them?
Susan, W7KFI: Oh heavens, yes. You have to be put up, be able to be the type of person that’s self reliant, because the minute you leave port, there is nobody out there except you, and you’ve got to be able to fix the boat, fix the radios, do whatever is necessary. I definitely ... And sailing, I say almost everybody saves their money all year long so they can then spend 7-10 days somewhere, and you don’t get to know the people, you don’t get to know the country. A sail boat, I pull in somewhere, I like Mazatlán, and I spent over a year at Mazatlán.
I spent 2 years down at Puerto Vallarta. You get to see more and to do more, and the thing that I advice is to start going to the marinas, and talk to the harbor master, and ask, “You got any boats for sale?” Start looking at them, you don’t know what you are talking about, but you naturally learn what features you might like, and you’ve been to this marina over and over except the last 6 to 8 months.
Pretty soon you walk in, it’s so hot, “how you do’in”, and then they start telling you about the abandoned boats. Almost every marina has at least one or two boats that have been abandoned. Nobody is paying rent, the owners are who knows where or whatever, and usually you pay a few months rent, and the boat is yours. Now admittedly it’s probably you’ll fix them up, but you will learn about the boat as you fix it up, and get it ready to go to sea. You end up with something that is a product of your own, and you’ve got a good boat, and now you can head out and go sailing.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Now you are a land lover, how are you spending your time now?
Susan, W7KFI: Well, here I volunteer for specific organizations.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Where are you now?
Susan, W7KFI: I'm on the East Coast, Washington DC. In fact I just this morning prior to talking to you, I videotaped some church services, and then did the production on them with titles, narration, music, etcetera. It goes on the in-house TV in our organization, so that those people that are bed ridden they also can attend the services, and see what’s going on. I just do that every week as a volunteer.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What do you do on the internet, are you still an active amateur radio operator?
Susan, W7KFI: Oh yeah, where I am at, I can’t put up any antennas at the moment, so I will use Remote Hams, you know remotehams.com, and I use a rig here at W3 Alpha Charlie. I operate their rig all the time, and one in New Mexico, and one in Sacramento, and I do with my computer. On my computer I have a picture of their rig, and then I use it as though I'm sitting right in front of it, so I'm still on the CW every day.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What’s your favorite band?
Susan, W7KFI: 20 CW.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You are on 20 CW every morning?
Susan, W7KFI: I am, in fact this morning though, I'm finding that 40 meters CW is pretty good in the mornings, and also because a lot of European stations are on there, some Swedish and Slovakian station I was talking to this morning.
Eric, 4Z1UG: One of our guests was Helen White; W1YL, who loves to operate 40 CW also remotely every morning, have you ever talked to her?
Susan, W7KFI: Yes I have, the call sign is familiar, and I know that I’ve talked to W1YL. I think I'm not sure, I think it was either 40 or 80 CW, I'm not sure of that though, but I’ll look in my online books to let you know.
Eric, 4Z1UG: She loves operating 40 CW about 7:00 in the morning East Coast time.
Susan, W7KFI: Well, unless she really knows, but my voice is filed up, it goes up and down. I had my throat slit with a razor by a guy here quite a few years ago, throat was put back together with plates, and my voice sometimes is great, sometimes is rusty, sometimes I can’t even talk, so CW is perfect for me.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What advice would you give to newer or returning hams to the hobby?
Susan, W7KFI: Oh that’s simple; remember you have to start sometimes. There are people out there just starting out, send CW at the speed of the other station. There are so many stations hams are “zip, zip, zip” at 35, 40 words a minute, you call them at say 15 or 20, they don’t slow down. They are accepting a call CQ, CQ over and over, and over, nobody is answering them.
If you listen up higher in the band, people are calling at a slower speed, talking to people at a slower speed over and over. If you are on the air and you are on CW, send at the speed of the other ... In fact I have programmed into my computer a message I send it says, “Fast does not make you good. Send at the others speed, 73s LID,” and I sign off.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Susan you have been a wonderful guest on the QSO Today Podcast. I want to really thank you for agreeing to come on, and with that I’m going to wish you 73, and good sailing.
Susan, W7KFI: Okay, thank you very much, pleasure talking to you, and remember when you get on the air, send at the speed of the other station.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That’s great advice, and I’ll do just that, 73.
Susan, W7KFI: Okay then, 73.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That concludes this episode of QSO Today. I hope that you enjoyed this QSO with Susan. Please be sure to check out the show notes that include links and information about the topics that we discussed. Go to www.qsotoday.com, and put in W7KFI in the search box at the top of the page. QSO is available in the iTunes store, and on a host of podcast services and applications. I still recommend Stitcher and Pocket Casts for your computer or Smartphone.
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Until next time, this is Eric, 4Z1UG 73.
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