CQ from the Elks
Earlier this year, I stumbled over a rather unique and funny call-sign, OH73ELK. After a quick research on the net it became clear that this is a station located in the beautiful Lake District of Finland, in the Savonlinna region, and that this station can be rented for a DX holiday. I quickly contact the owners, Alex and Raisa (home call: UB1AOA), and, after checking holiday possibilities with QRL, we quickly agreed on a week in late April 2019, and Alex and Raisa added that they would be happy to have the First ham operator visiting from Belgium
They would like to welcome OPs from as many different countries as possible. Both are fluent in English, German, and, of course, Russian.
A couple of days later, all necessary bookings were done (see below: “how to get there”).
When arriving in front of OH73ELK, you find a beautifully built typical Finnish wooden holiday home. Alex and Raisa had arrived a couple of days before, but had to leave in the afternoon for QRL back home. After a warm welcome, and an excellent Russian-style lunch, it was time for a briefing on the QTH and the station.
When entering the wooden-structure cottage, the “wow” effect is immediate. It is a 2-floor structure, but the second floor is only built over half of the surface of the cottage, which gives a spacious ground floor, with a glass front up to the rooftop, giving a beautiful view on the lake directly in front of the house. There, you actually have a private beach on the lake.
The ground floor contains a fully equipped kitchen, an open fire, two sleeping rooms, and the bathroom / toilet facilities. There is also a very nice terrace giving on the lake. There is plenty of seating space as well. WiFi is provided. Despite its very sparse population, the Finnish Lake Area, like all of the country, has very good mobile phone coverage. Remember, you are in Nokia country.
That’s not all: there are three more buildings on the property: your private sauna, a BBQ grill, and a provision hut with firewood and other stuff. Next to there, you can park your car.
The cottage is located on “radio island”, connected to the mainland with a solid bridge. There are eight other cottages on this island, but they are spaced over several kilometres, so you do not really have any direct neighbours. Moreover, OH73ELK is the last cottage, at the very end of the small island.
Now, finally, to the second floor: the OH73ELK shack. Neatly arranged under the roof, there is everything to please a ham’s heart (for logging purposes, you might want to bring your own laptop – Alex will then integrate your QSOs into the master logbook when you send him a Cabrillo file. If you do a lot of CW, bringing your own key is also a good idea). The big surprise for me – being used to more bulky and heavy TRX stuff, was the ICOM IC 7300, a small and lightweight SDR-based radio. It took me a while to get used to this little thing with a touchscreen menu. In any event, after a couple of days, I was really surprised by its very good performance.
The first thing you normally do is to tune over the bands and listen carefully. Here comes the next surprise: there is absolutely no noise. None. This island is free of electro-smog. The silence hits you if you are an urban ham. That is certainly a great advantage: you will not miss a call – even it comes at S1.
Another outstanding issue are the well-designed antennas, especially the three-band full-size yagi at 20 meters. You also have wire antennas for the lower bands and WARC, which are hanging high enough to perform well. SWR is almost flat on most frequencies.
For the moment, there is nothing for top band. However, for those who absolutely want to try an experience on 160, talk to Alex. Arrangements are flexible, if you really want to go for it and know how to handle this band.
Finally, once you are tired after all the pile-ups, there is a comfortable bed just behind you.
One important remark: the staircase from ground floor to the shack is rather steep. If you suffer from reduced mobility, this will be an issue.
During my activation, despite several days of lousy propagation, more than 500 QSOs found their way into the log – without pushing it hard. And thanks to two rather good propagation days (and nights – mostly on 20 meters), all continents made it into the log - including plenty of JA/VK/ZL and some nice spots in the South Pacific. All in all, 105 DXCC entities. The only amazing issue was the constantly poor propagation to North America, no matter on which band. One usually very loud US east coast station and two Canadians made it in the log. Well, you are at 62 degrees North, and I guess this might play a role. There were no issues with Aurora.
In any event, the surrounding area with its unspoilt nature and endless lakes is perfect for long hikes, so you certainly will not get bored when propagation gets bad.
It is not necessary to indulge into further descriptions and details of the cottage and the shack, Alex has prepared very detailed information documents covering every aspect of your stay.
Contrary to popular belief, you will not be eaten by mosquitos when staying at the Finnish Lake District. Of course, during certain periods of the year there will be some mosquitos around, but it is not worse than in many other areas of Europe. Moreover, the cottage windows have mosquito nets, so when it gets bad, it is no problem to keep the windows open for fresh air.
Respecting the QTH
You are a very welcome guest, but please keep in mind that OH73ELK is not a hotel. You can of course use all amenities. However, please, keep the whole place as clean as you found it upon your arrival. Concerning bed linen and towels, everything you need is there and can be cleaned after your stay, but nothing stops you from your bringing your own and taking it back home to clean it yourself.
Since you will be cooking for yourselves: all the equipment is there, as are basic ingredients such as salt, pepper and spices. If you are lucky, you might still find some cans of excellent Finnish beers that someone left behind.
You should buy everything necessary in Savonlinna (a bit less than one hour from OH73ELK). There is a supermarket in Savonlinna, on the right side of the road to Savonranta. It’s easy to find, the town is small.
There is also a (smaller) shop in Savonranta, which is the only spot to buy anything once you are at OH73ELK (about 15 minutes’ drive).
Proper waste management/avoidance is taken seriously in Finland. During your stay, please separate your waste properly. Biodegradable waste can be left on-spot, everything else can be put in containers standing in front of the shop in Savonranta. You can use the BBQ, but please do not make open fires. Everything is described in detail in the OH73ELK guest manuals.
How to get there
Unless you come by car or train, Helsinki airport is the obvious destination. If you book early, you can get good deals, since the airport is being used by Finnair as a hub for Asia.
If this is your first time in Helsinki, do stay there for a couple of days. The city is beautiful, has a wonderful seafront and many cultural and architectural attractions, and is easily visited on foot. The distances are not very long. Should you get tired, there is a very good tram network. There are plenty of hotels in all price categories.
Note that Helsinki is not exactly a budget destination. Prices are at the levels of Paris or London.
Next, you need to go from Helsinki to Savonlinna and from there to OH73ELK. And that last bit can be problematic, since you absolutely need a car.
You could of course pick up a rental car at Helsinki airport for the rest of your trip. There is plenty of competition, and if you book in advance (in combination with your flight ticket) you get good deals.
Friends from Finland have however told me that the motorway part (count roughly five hours) is rather monotonous and boring.
So I opted for the train. There is a good connection between Helsinki and Savonlinna (one stopover), and if you book early, prices are very reasonable. Spend the couple of euros extra for the double floor dining car ! Reserve a seat upstairs, and enjoy the beautiful views (tickets on VR.FI).
There is a Hertz rental car agency in Savonlinna, but this is a small booth on the left of the harbour area, and it can take some time to get hold of the guy that is running the business. Having seen the parking, I do not think there are many cars, so make sure you book well in advance.
The OH73ELK documentation describes exactly how to get to your final destination.
Alex and Raisa are great hosts and both quite active in ARDF competitions.
Thank you very much for this superb ham radio travel experience !