West Summerland Key, FL

Winter Star Party with Doug Biernacki from February 13 – 19, 2023.

WSP is more than just a six day event, it is a great winter project. The large investment of time and money really makes it a big deal. Having a successful event required careful planning based on incomplete knowledge, especially for the first time attending.

Overall, the trip was a great adventure that began upon departure at 0700 on February 11th, and concluded upon return home on February 20th. If nothing else, a week fantastic weather in the Keys was worth it. We had two great nights of astronomy and one fair night. The wind and clouds hampered astronomy on the other three nights. All-in-all, I consider the trip a complete success.

A huge benefit of this trip is that my confidence in taking the camper out on extended trips is greatly increased. It made for a very comfortable field accomodations.

Making the decision on December 19th completely focused my mind from that point until the gate opened on February 13th. At decision time, I had just completed a five-month run of planetary imaging that did not include any DSO imaging. The preparations were able to get me out to the telescope more this winter than any winter before, and reach a basic level of DSO capture and processing competence. Another benefit of this preparatory time is that given the changes in how my body responds to the cold in recent years, I have had to re-learn how to deal with cold weather.  In those respects WSP has been a very positive forcing function.

A rundown of my lessons learned follow.

WSP Specific:

Register in early November. Doing this will get us motivated to start honing imaging skills and tuning equipment earlier. Better choices for a staging stopover near Wesumkee should be available as well.

Arrive at the SCAS presentation/drawing early to find shade and bring chairs.

I’ll just note here that the two WSP-specific lessons learn is a testimate to how careful study and planning prevents surprises once boots were on the ground.


It takes a lot of effort to to tune equipment and improve skills to a desired level. In addition to the effort, the number of clear nights that it takes is a pacing function that spreads the effort over more time than we tend to anticipate.

Packing the Cherokee and camper on the day before departure and unpacking it on the day after arrival greatly simplified the departure and arrival process. This practice might be worth considering  on a case by case basis for other star parties.

If possible, park camper with tongue pointing north. In this orientation the morning sun will be on the door/awning side, and the door/awning side will be in the afternoon shade.

Where the observing field has not been marked off into observing spots, make land claims for camper, truck, and scopes immediately on arrival. In my estimation, we knew that we needed to do this, but had a less than optimal outcome because we tried to overthink it. The sequence should be to park the camper and level it from side to side before disconnecting, disconnect the truck and park it, and set tripods in the desired location. Final leveling and setup of the camper, and set up of equipment can then happen at a leisurely pace.

While on the road, scout out decent food locations.

Consider camp food options other than the food truck. What options are there that don’t require a lot of prep and cleanup time?

Be prepared for wind – observatory tent or similar.

Be prepared for rain – a light pancho will do. Setting up camp in Savannah could have been a lot worse if it had been just a little colder. Got rained on at Camp Wesumkee, but getting wet was ok down there.

Don’t favor DSO over planetary, or the other way around for extended periods of time, because the ignored skill set almost completely disappears.

Winter Star Party 2023 - 2023-02-13
West Summerland Key, FL - 2023-02-15 07:06L
Winter Star Party 2023 - 2023-02-15

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