The Friendship Cruise started long before any of us hams can remember. It’s a river cruise through the beautiful deserts of Utah which covers just over 180 river miles. It starts on the Green River at Green River, Utah and winds South to the confluence with the Colorado River; then North -- against the current -- up the Colorado River to Moab, Utah.
In the past the boaters have paid a registration fee for a Utah river-running organization, the Canyon Country River Marathon Association (CCRMA), to help them with logistics through some very remote and otherwise foreboding (but strikingly beautiful) country. The CCRMA has essentially disbanded and the cruise has been run by the Emery County Jeep Patrol or the Emery County Sheriff’s office.
The cruise is not practical -- even dangerous -- for a boat and crew to undertake unsupported. The river is chock full of floating logs and debris -- some visible, some submerged -- and hidden sand bars, and there is always the real possibility of mechanical breakdown or running out of gas. We’ve had three fatalities in the last ten years and have had to call an ambulance to Mineral Bottom on another occasion. And there aren’t too many places to escape from a river bottom 800-1,000' below the plateau. So, the sponsoring organization arranges for maps, orientation, fuel drops, emergency rescue service, and the shuttle of cars and boat trailers from the launching ramp at Green River to the exit ramp at Moab. And, incidently, the service of delivering car and trailer to two emergency boat ramps along the course can make or break the trip for the crew of a disabled boat. The Emery County Sheriff’s Jeep Posse handled that task this year.
The CCRMA discovered the utility of amateur radio to coordinate all these services. Amateur radio stations (just like Field Day) operate on emergency power (there isn’t any alternative, although rumors of rare desert “current bushes” persist) in VERY remote locations and on rescue boats on the river to keep the 100-or-so boats and crews safe and found. (The number used to reach 600-700 boats. Low water years has taken its toll over the last two decades.)
Radio communications for the Friendship Cruise generally consists of H-F voice on 3987.5 KHz, the statewide RACES channel. This is occasionally supplemented by VHF-FM voice in the high-traffic areas of Moab and MGM Bottom. I asked Pat Buller, W7RQT of Issaquah, Washington how it all began. Pat helped found the Ogden Amateur Radio Club and the Utah VHF Society, and was a charter operator of amateur radio communications for the Friendship Cruise.
Pat recalls: “It all began with a conversation between the late John
Blevins, W7BRB, and Jerry Warner, then W7VSS (now W7RH) on the 75 meter
band. It seems that John had some association with the Carbon
County Jeep Posse who, at that time, had the contract to shuttle cars from
Green River to Moab, with stops at Mineral Canyon or the Potash plant for
pull outs if necessary. John reported that the Jeep Posse had tried
CB and Civil Air Patrol with poor results. The CB didn't work,
and the CAP didn't take the whole thing seriously.
The first time amateurs came on the scene was with John at Green River, Ron, WA7BME at Moab, and Jerry, W7VSS, Pat, W7RQT, and John Merrill, ( his call escapes me), at Mineral Bottom. That was it for the first year. The same scene was repeated the next year with Gordon Smith located at MGM or Potash plant. The equipment at Mineral consisted of a Swan 240 and Heath HP23 power supply owned by W7CQP, Jerry's dad, an Onan 350-Watt generator of OARC, 240' antenna center fed with ladder line, tuner & masts by W7RQT. Additionally we brought down a Motorola 5V FM rig and 5 element Yagi in hopes of talking to Moab or Green River. No such luck.
The FM rig did however, help us out. During the Saturday operation,
someone asked if there was a way we could charge a battery. Yes,
we could. He took the battery from the boat, and we connected it
to the ONAN which had a 12V charge capability. To speed up the charge,
we raised the RPM on the generator. All was fine for several
hours. Unknown to us, the battery owner decided it was
time to take his battery. Perhaps 5-10 minutes lapsed
before we had capacitors blow in the HP23 power supply. When the
battery was removed, the engine RPM raised along with the AC voltage to
about 135 volts. Repairs were made by robbing the capacitors
from the 2 meter power supply. Were back on the air in about 20 minutes.
Another strange thing happened Sunday morning. The Onan wouldn't start. The valve clearance somehow went to zero. We re-gapped to about 0.13" and the first pull it started. We were operating again.
Food was arranged by the wives of the two members of the Carbon County Jeep Posse who attended Mineral Canyon. The arrangements were that they would provide the food, and the River cruise would provide the gas for travel and generator. The success of the "HAM" operators was so far above expectations of the Jeep Posse, they demanded our presence the next year. They knew they had a system that made their operation far above that of anyone else that wanted to bid on the operation. We kept accurate records of what trailers were requested, by whom, and time. It was the most complete document of the entire operation. It became obvious that a radio on the rescue boat would certainly be to everyone's advantage.
The following year included improvements. A 3.0 KW generator of W7RQT, 1000watt flood lights, more spare parts, and the addition of Gordon Smith at MGM. I could go on, but how much detail is desired?” (Pat Buller 3/30/98)
Fast forward nearly thirty years... There have been some efforts over the last couple of years to experiment with an expanded VHF-FM voice capability to try to reach more locations on the river. 1995 saw some success with cross-band repeaters on Island-In-The-Sky and at the East Rim of the Colorado river, South of Moab. 1996 saw the use of in-band repeaters. 1997 saw the addition of the Panorama Point repeater site. This year we used two linked in-band VHF repeaters at Canyonlands Overlook and Panorama Point, plus a cross-band repeater at the North end of the Green River.
The 1998 communications plan (we use that term when we’re really
just winging it) called for four land-based communications stations, three
land-based temporary repeater stations, and three rescue boats. The land-based
stations were set up at the Green River Fire Station, the Mineral Bottom
(dirt) boat ramp on the Green River, the concrete MGM Bottom boat ramp
on the Colorado River, and the Moab boat trailer parking lot off Highway
191 just outside Moab.
Repeater stations were set up after a long four-wheel-drive commute to Panorama Point, high up on the West Bank of the Green River by Clint Turner, KA7OEI, Gordon Smith, K7HFV and Michael Hines, AA7XY. Mike Collett, K7DOU, and Dick Abbott, K7MZ, four-wheeled out in the dead of night and set up at Canyonlands Overlook on the East rim of the Colorado River south of Moab. Ron Jones, K7RJ, set up a portable cross-band link outside Green River late Friday afternoon.
The Rescue Boat stations consisted of Bret Mills, WX7Y, on the Sheriff’s
boat with VHF, UHF and H-F with a loop antenna., plus Mike, WA7ARK, on
Rescue Boat 2. Mike flew down to Canyonlands airport and was ferried to
the boat dock by an accommodating ham. (Is this tough duty, or what?) Brent
Thomas, AC7H, operated “Rescue-3" with a VHF setup. Next time you see Brent
ask him why he keeps his pager on a tether attached to his belt. (Boat.
Pager. Water. New pager.) Now, these three guys really had the fun. Additionally,
Doug Miller from KSL Channel-5 boarded the Sheriff’s boat to ‘do’ the cruise
and Bret got his mug on KSL Outdoors a few weeks later. Not to be outdone,
Clint Turner filmed the boat and amateur activities and presented the nifty
video you saw at the May UARC meeting.
Red dirt, friends, nifty apparatus, red dirt, sounds of the river in the middle of the night, a full eclipse of the moon in Mineral Canyon, red dirt, more nifty apparatus....Marconi would have loved this stuff.!
Come join us on the Friendship Cruise. It’s habit-forming.
73, Mike K7DOU