CNHARC goes to the dogs...

ARES EC Cliff Dickinson, N1RCQ, through the  Central New Hampshire Amateur Radio Club , has provided communications for a number of world-class dog sled races.  On March 1 and 2, 2003, the Meredith dog sled races were held on Lake Waukewan which is adjacent to Lake Winnipesaukee. 

The mission was to provide dynamic in-race team location updates as well as other safety assistance functions. This is only a representative sampling of the visuals as well as some lessons learned.


Comments and pictures by Rick Zach, K1RJZ.


Most hams were able to provide reliable simplex
communications to net control using standard 2M walkies.

A 40-Watt Yaesu FT90 (left) was installed on this
two-passenger snowmobile along with a
rear-mounted Diamond NR770 no-groundplane antenna. The higher-power mobile was installed to potentially provide simplex communications in some very hilly terrain that followed a low-elevation railroad bed.   (Hint: gear was temporarily removed from a mobile and fastened with Tywraps in no-holes mode).

A Motorola GP300 5-Watt VHF portable was also used.

It was felt that powering a microprocessor-based  radio from a magneto-charged snowmobile was not worth the risk.  Power was supplied  by three independent 17 Ah lead acid gel cel batteries that could be recharged by the snowmobile.  As it turned out, one battery had plenty of capacity to service the entire day.   ARES-standard Anderson PowerPole connectors were used for power distribution throughout.  This standardization was well worth the investment!


These dogs are genetically bred to do only one thing... run! 
Their body language speaks quite effectively.
Multiple trainers as well as a 4-wheel ATV
with good brakes were needed to hold back the dogs while at the starting line.

Get ready, set...


Many "mushers" thanked the hams when passing
and that made it all worth it.  Each checkpoint kept a written log of who passed and when.  Shown logging is
Dave Colter, WA1ZCN .


Later in the morning, whiteout conditions
brought additional challenges.


There was eventually no view of the horizon
or in certain cases, even the shoreline.

In addition to having fogged glasses, some of the younger teenage "mushers" got a bit spooked by the sleet and loss of visibility.  At that point, a few words of encouragement helped.  Due to the moisture, no paper logs could be used so the hams called-in every team number to net control as they passed by.

No dog sled team ever got lost that day
but that was not the case in a race a few weeks earlier.

Due to the whiteout, post-race GPS navigation
was used to locate and return
some of the on-lake volunteers.


For the longer afternoon "open class" races,
volunteers raised temporary fencing
and held-off road traffic  to insure the safety of all.

A team returning from a long round trip
from the Ashland railroad station
via a closed-off railroad bed.

Volunteers directed sled traffic at critical turnoffs.

Others held-off road traffic.

A well deserved dinner of vitamin meal,
raw meat and raw eggs
.  Yum !



And a somewhat wet
but great day
was had by all!




A portion of the post-race exploratory journey
via railroad tracks to Plymouth, NH.
The Diamond NR770 no-groundplane antenna
can be easily seen here.



For LIVE visuals of Lake Winnipesaukee
go to









Some lessons learned:

  1. Simplex communications to net control and other locations worked surprisingly well !

  2. Two frequencies  were used (primary and alternate) but forget enabling scan.  It only added to the confusion because you were never sure what channel you were actually transmitting on.

  3. The FT90 channel knob is easily rotated and when stored in a soft saddlebag, it can get inadvertently bumped.  Just tape-down the freq knob.

  4. The Diamond NR770 antenna worked very well in an emergency no-groundplane environment. The dual-band antenna was effective on simplex and also had very low SWR .

  5. Rainwater entering into an electret mike causes very muffled transmit audio.  The quick fix is to blow the water out of the mike hole. Fortunately, the water never froze in the hole.

  6. The distribution of maps was very helpful.

  7. The use of GPS greatly helped when retrieving volunteers during the whiteout but it is essential to save critical waypoints before they are actually needed.

  8. The external speaker was very loud but the engine noise still drowned out the receive audio.  The use of a good quality, loud Motorola speaker mike clamped under the helmet was much better but the engine sometimes won-out.  One ham used an earbud under his helmet.  Although sometimes painful when removing the helmet, he reported that it worked very well.

  9. Even when powered by floating batteries, some radiated ignition noise into the mobile and portable was and is a problem.  Normal communications capabilities were not effected, though.

  10. The use of ARES-standard genderless Anderson PowerPole connectors greatly simplified installation and equipment reconfiguration on the fly.

  11. To save power, the FT90R was programmed to turn off the display backlight and not to turn on the fan until needed (as opposed to "fan on TX"). The default TX power out was set to 5-Watts but was easily increased to a full 40-Watts when needed.

  12. One 17Ah gelcell easily powered the 40W mobile for the entire day at 300mA standby, 1.5A full audio RX and 9.5A at 40W TX.

  13. A Thermos full of hot Progresso chicken noodle soup was a great mid-day moral booster
    (forget the wimpy Campbells stuff) !

  14. Bring a disposable, waterproof poncho with a mummifying supply of duct tape.

  15. To prevent moisture penetration, N1RCQ suggests wearing latex gloves under the regular gloves.

  16. ALWAYS bring spare gloves!

  17. See #16

I have been snowmobiling for 25 years but I have never had to deal with being this wet.  Although I was soaked to the bone and my fingertips had the texture of raisins, the snowmobile suit and gloves functioned like a warm wetsuit.   The electrically  heated handlebars also helped to warm the water inside the gloves.  Surprisingly, it was not all that bad!


After being released  from the race, I followed the railroad trail to the semi-distant town of Plymouth, NH.  The trip revealed many hidden industries that were facilitated by the previous railroad-driven economy.  These varied from remote sawmills, to a power generation plant to a commercial deer farm.  None of these are discoverable without a snowmobile and that made them even more unique .

This was a very unplanned solo trip but two-meter repeater coverage was quite good.  For safety reasons, it was reassuring to be able to communicate on 147.39 with Mike Stone, N1VE while in beautiful downtown Plymouth.

Now which way was Gilford?

73,   Rick Zach, K1RJZ
 rick (at) rickzach- dot- com