[amsat-bb] UT1FG/MM Welland Canal

John Papay john at papays.com
Tue Apr 10 09:07:05 PDT 2012

Yuri, UT1FG/MM, left Thunder Bay Ontario on Lake Superior
a few days ago with a cargo of Oats and Wheat destined for
San Juan Puerto Rico.  He had gone through the Welland Canal
which connects Lake Ontario to Lake Erie on the way to
Thunder Bay and would come back through on his way out.  The
Welland Canal is very long, has 8 locks and takes the boat from
a water elevation of 572' in Lake Erie to 246' in Lake Ontario.
On the way in it took him about 8 hours to go through.

My thought was to drive up there and watch him go through and hope
we could get within shouting distance of one another.  But where you
do go to get close and how do you find your way around in unfamiliar
territory?  You may have heard VE3RCN on the birds, sometimes from
different grids and sometimes on the warship Haida.  Kevin is in the
Royal Canadian Navy (hence the callsign) and makes his home in Welland!
After some email exchanges and some research on Kevin's part he offered
to host my time in the area.  That took all of the stress out of the
situation.  He knew everything about the canal.

Yuri sailed out of the Detroit River on Saturday night and into Lake
Erie.  I was able to contact him on 144.200 sideband where we chatted
for almost an hour, much different than the quick grid square exchange
on the birds.  He estimated being at Lock 8 in the Welland Canal around
8am.  After 4 hours of sleep and a quick shower I was on the road at 3:15am.
After a few questions by Canadian Customs (they know what to ask to determine
if you are telling the truth), I was in Canada.  About 15 minutes out of
Port Colborne, the entrance to the canal, Yuri called on 146.52 to say he
was about 15 miles out.  Fifteen miles later I was at Tim Horton's (the
Canadian Starbucks equivalent) where I was to meet Kevin, VE3RCN/VA3OR.
He arrived their shortly after me and we were off to the Lake Erie shore
to catch a glimpse of the MV Barnacle. And there she was off in the distance.
It was all coming together.  The Lake was calm, the sun was shining, it was
about 32 degrees but there was no wind.  The fish were jumping.

After the ship started moving closer to the channel we got into position
to watch it come in.  As it rounded the bend and we could see the bridge,
Yuri spotted us immediately and was waving.  He seemed as excited as we
were.  As he got closer we were able to shout back and forth.  At Lock
8, the first lock, we were able to talk back and forth; we were very close.
There are places on the canal where you can stand on the bank and put your
hand on the ship going by.  The clearance may only be six inches.

After that we went to get some breakfast; then we lost track of where Yuri
was.  Kevin made a quick call to his xyl Donna, VE3WIZ, and she was able
to relay his position so we could catch up with him again.  We waited for
him to pass over the highway at Thorold.  The road actually goes under the
canal!  Next stop, Lock 7.

We were waiting for Yuri at Lock 7 where the Canal Pilot changes.  We were
standing at the fence when things started to come together.  The invitation
to come on board was given and before I knew it I was ushered over the lock
to the other side of the ship and boarded as the ship lowered to the dock
level.  A minute later I was on the bridge with Captain Yuri UT1FG.  Finally
I was able to meet a guy that I've been working on the satellites in
hundreds of water grids since April 2009!  At that point Kevin went back
home to get Donna and they then followed us down the canal, waving and
watching us at every highway crossing and vantage point.

An experienced Canal Pilot takes command of the ship through the locks.  He
stands on the port or starboard side of the bridge so he can see the ship's
hull with respect to the edge of the canal.  There may be only inches to
spare so it is a tedious effort.  The Pilot calls out the commands (Starboard
20, Port 10, Slow Ahead etc) and the first officer carries out the orders.
Yuri is usually with the Pilot and helps relay the commands etc.  There is
very little time for anything else except when you are actually stopped in
the lock.  It's one thing to see the ship going through the locks from
land but quite another to experience the change of level from inside the
lock itself.  It truly was an experience of a lifetime.

Yuri took me to his cabin one level below the bridge.  His quarters are
quite nice and private.  This is where he operates with his IC706, manually
tuning the radio and doing a great job at that!  The power supply from HP1CQ
sat on the table in the corner and a computer running Orbitron is on the other
side.  Yuri now has an ELK antenna installed (thanks to the efforts of
Rick, WA4NVM).  It is mounted on a manually rotatable mast that goes up
from the bridge, starboard side, directly above his cabin.  The ELK is
tilted up at 15 degrees and was just installed on the way back from
Thunder Bay.  The CJU antenna is mounted on the crossboom next to the ELK.
A vertical for 2 meters is on a separate mast above those antennas.  Until
this season Yuri only used the 2 meter vertical for transmit and receive.
It is amazing that he was able to make any contacts with just that antenna.
The CJU improved things greatly and the ELK takes it to a new level.  He
worked PV8DX right at his horizon on FO-29 with it.  Yuri has SatPC32 but
has not installed it yet due to time constraints.  When he is out in the
Ocean again, he will install it and get his radio interfaced.  This will
make it much easier for him to stay on frequency and focus on operating.
Yuri also has a 6 meter rotatable dipole and a end fed long wire that goes
from the bridge to the top of the first two cranes.

The MV Barnacle is a sister ship to the Mottler, the ship that he captained
last season.  It was also built in 2009 and is owned by a Canadian company
based in Montreal.  The engine room boasts a 10,000 horsepower plant and
is controlled by state of the art electronics.  I was able to experience an
excellent meal on the ship in addition to touring the ship with the Chief

Time passes quickly and soon we were at Lock 2 where it was decided I
should depart.  Kevin and Donna were waiting there for me; we were 30
miles away from where my car was parked.  We stopped at McDonald's to
demonstrate my remote control setup but the wifi failed so we couldn't
do that.  After a nice drive and some good conversation we were back at
Tim Horton's in Port Colborne.  At the US border crossing the agent
questioned me as to why I would drive all that way on Easter Sunday just
to see a ship go through the canal.  After I explained that the captain
was a ham radio operator that I had talked with around the world but
never met he handed back my passport and said "GO!"

I want to thank Kevin VA3OR/VE3RCN and his wife Donna, VE3WIZ, for spending
their Easter Sunday hosting my visit to the Canal.  I'm sure they had
better things to do but they decided to take me all around and make my
visit a memorable one.  I hope they enjoyed the day as much as I did.

And a big thanks to Master Yuri Bodrov and his crew for their hospitality.
And also to the Canal Pilot who guided this massive ship through the locks
with great precision.  It was an experience that very few will ever have.

Yuri is headed down the seaway and should be traveling through new water
grids on the way to San Juan PR.  He is due there on 4/20.  He will stay
on until at least the end of May.  He does not know where he will go after
San Juan.  He has truly made operating the birds exciting.  QSL to his manager
UX0FY (on qrz.com).  He has ordered 5000 more qsl cards which should
arrive shortly.

John K8YSE

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