Hamfest HAB Flight – Mission Debrief

The National Hamfest high altitude balloon flew on Saturday and Pinky Pig reached a maximum altitude of nearly 26km (25,927m / 96,873 feet) as pictured above.

The flight originally planned for Friday had to be postponed due to wind direction and restrictions but I had sort approval for both days and was able to fly on Saturday. The conditions were perfect on launch day, clear blue sky with little cloud and almost no wind.  Flight prediction put it landing around 25km away.

Both payload trackers worked flawlessly, PINKY the high speed RTTY successfully sent SSDV as well as telemetry and the backup tracker PIGLET sent the slow speed RTTY telemetry. Trackers from all over the UK as well as France, Holland and Poland received data and uploaded data to the UKHAS website.

The received SSDV images can be seen at http://ssdv.habhub.org/PINKY

The flight path can be seen below

The flight can be seen visualised in Google Earth below and while the 26km altitude was impressive it was around 4km less than I’d planned.

The launch certainly created a great deal of interest at the Hamfest, on the Friday we setup the club tent for South Kesteven ARS with a tracking station and demonstrated the payloads to interested visitors. Stewart (M0SDM) used his Land Rover with a push up mast for a pair of collinear X-50s so we could receive and decode.  The mast and the Land Rover generated just as much interest.


On the Saturday I was assisted by my brother David (M6GTD) and just before noon began filling the balloon watched by a large crowd, as can be seen on Dave’s (M0TAZ) blog http://m0taz.co.uk/2015/09/national-hamfest-2015/
Picture by Dave M0TAZ
Once filled to give the correct lift I sealed it off and checked everything was working then without a breath of wind slowly let the balloon rise, taking the weight of the payloads and once I was sure there were no aircraft flying nearby I let her go. The sky was clear and the balloon went up near vertically and could be seen for quite a long time as it ascended. Representatives of the RSGB and RadCom were in attendance to take photos and did a quick interview. 
The tracking station was then full of people as the telemetry and pictures started to be received. It was great to see the huge interest in the balloon. 
As the balloon started to near the planned maximum altitude I began to get ready to set off to recover it then suddenly I was told it had burst sooner than expected. I got a hurry up at which point the laptop and mobile connection decided to stop working! However I knew where to head off with my poor brother trying to sort it out as I drove.
Stewart telephoned and gave me directions of where the live prediction and tracking had put the landing spot. My wife also set off from home to come and assist. In the car we were receiving a signal but were struggling to decode and couldn’t get on the internet to check the tracking. 
I eventually pulled up near the landing zone, while trying to decode the weak signal another car pulled up with two radio amateurs who had been tracking the balloon. I was a little preoccupied and they eventually said they were off and wished us luck. I then realised we were the wrong side of the hill and turned around and drove up to the top and the signal strength increased.
Stewart had phoned to tell me to find the Viking way footpath, as we reached ground zero we saw the other amateurs car and they were setting off down the footpath! It was my flight I wanted to be the first to find it!
My wife then pulled up and was about to set off after them! Then I started getting successful decodes! With the new landing position in the GPS my wife raced off in hot pursuit as I sorted out the car and then followed her with my brother. It was a reasonable walk of around 800m and as we got near it became apparent the other team had been using the online tracker and had only got the last received position which had been sent from around 254m altitude. However the payload was still transmitting strongly and we were decoding it and it was reporting it was in fact at 115m altitude – they were therefore several hundred meters in the wrong direction.
Our accurate location gave us the edge and a quick hop up a bank into a stubble field and a 200m jog my brother spotted the parachute… we had found Pinky and Piglet and got there first!
 I was surprised to find most of the balloon still attached, it hadn’t so much burst as split in a single tear
The payloads had no damage, other than the antenna being bent by the landing
PIGLET had landed as planned and tested, I had put the battery pack at the top of the box the top heavy center of gravity causing it to roll on landing so the antenna would be upright. It was in a perfect orientation hence the strong signal.
The other chase team turned up and congratulated us then left…  my apologies but I was in my own little happy place to be sociable. We then then had the obligatory team photograph before setting back to the Hamfest.
It has been an excellent experience and adventure.  The pictures are better than I could have hoped for! Thanks to my understanding wife, my brother David and Stewart for setting up the antennas for the tracking station and manning it on his own while we went off to recover the payload.
Thanks to the organisers of the National Hamfest and Graham Boor (G8NWC) for asking me to do the flight and helping fund the venture and I hope it succeeded in publicising the event and the hobby.
I have now downloaded all the photographs from the onboard camera and they can been in my Flickr album at https://www.flickr.com/photos/nerdsville/sets/72157658732989849
Updated – I realised I didn’t put the actual landing position on this post, so here it is

Hamfest HAB Launch likely to be postponed to Saturday

Given the latest flight path prediction, weather forecast and approval restrictions I will unfortunately have to likely postpone the National Hamfest high altitude balloon till Saturday.

The forecast for tomorrow is strong gusty winds at ground level which isn’t ideal for launching, but that is the least of the issues.

The current flight predictions for tomorrow are not good. The prediction model used is accurate and for the size of balloon I have and the amount of helium at my disposal even a maximum fill giving the maximum ascent rate and assuming the calculated decent rate for the parachute it is still putting the likely landing right on the coast. Earlier in the week the landing wasn’t quite as marginal but as the model’s data set have been updated it has drifted further eastward, it is odds on it will actually land out to sea.

However the real show stopper was when I received the CAA approval for the launch this morning. They have put a restriction not permitting a launch if the balloon and payload is likely to go on a North Easterly or Easterly path that could interfere with operations on local military airfields.

This is the predicted flight path, generated by the CUSG Landing predictor at predict.habhub.org and the flight path currently goes directly over RAF Cranwell but not at a high enough altitude. 

Flight prediction for Friday

Saturday is forecast to be a much calmer day with a predicted path as shown below

Flight prediction for Saturday

There would be no issues with the airfields for that flight path and has the advantage of going almost straight up and landing close by.

Apologies to those wanting to track on Friday, but the situation is out of my control and I would be foolhardy to ignore the prediction and  it is very unlikely it will change significantly to allow a flight tomorrow so I hope you can all track on Saturday. I will still be at the Hamfest tomorrow with the equipment if you want to know more about what it is all about.

Hamfest HAB – Pre Launch Update

Not long now! Just three days left till the National Hamfest and hopefully the launch of my second high altitude balloon.

Balloon, parachute and helium have all been purchased and payloads have under gone final testing and have been put to one side ready for the flight which should hopefully be around 12pm on Friday 25th September.

The SSDV payload callsign PINKY will transmit on 434.575MHz USB RTTY 300 baud 880Hz shift ASCII-8 no parity 2 stop bits.

SSDV Test image

the backup telemetry tracker callsign PIGLET will transmit 434.150MHz USB RTTY 50 baud 380Hz shift ASCII-7 no parity 2 stop bits

They will transmit using the UKHAS telemetry protocol and can be tracked on tracker.habhub.org for information on how to receive and upload data to the tracking system visit the UKHAS wiki some information and useful links have been collated on the AMSAT-UK website

I was hoping to also transmit using the LoRa system, using the callsign PERKY. The transmitter had been successfully tested but a last minute gremlin has struck and it stopped working this weekend, I have been unable to locate the fault and suspect it is the actual module and with time being short have all but given up getting it working. If I do get it working it will be on 434.450MHz in Mode 1

PERKY seen working on SDR

PINKY & PERKY tracker

I have already detailed the PIGLET payload in an earlier post. The PINKY/PERKY payload is constructed on strip board and was originally meant to to be a prototype, hence the rubbish layout. I had planned to build a better laid out version but the tight time scale, stresses and demands of work, commitments with the radio club not to mention nursing the wife as she recovers from a major operation scuppered that plan. Being pragmatic I decided it didn’t need to be work of art to work! I have secured all the connections with hot glue and it has been drop tested several times.

“Pinky” pig will be the passenger on the day, donning his fetching headset. Getting him in the right position for the camera was tricky.

I am still waiting for the CAA approval, should hopefully get it soon. I have put in a request for both days of the Hamfest just in case, the latest prediction at predict.habhub.org shows if I get the fill right I might just escape a watery landing on Friday, however Saturday looks more promising at the moment – also the forecast for Friday at the moment also has strong gusty surface winds, which could make the launch problematic. I am still planning for Friday since conditions and predictions do change.

Friday prediction as of 22/09/2015

Saturday prediction as of 22/09/2015

I and other members of South Kesteven ARS will be in attendance with a tracker station on the day, so please introduce yourself and perhaps join the club?

Please don’t mention anything to do with other pigs in the news..

Hamfest HAB – “Pigs In Space” Preparations

Already a week into September and not long now till the National Hamfest where I and the South Kesteven ARS are launching a high altitude balloon launch subject to CAA approval. The documents have been submitted so just waiting for the nod.

The balloon and parachute have been purchased from Steve Randall (G8KHW) at Random Engineering, using the same size as I did for the Eggsplorer-1

I had joked about sending some “Ham into space” on this flight but following the smelly end to Eggsplorer-1 have opted to play it safe and avoid food! Instead will be sending up a toy pig (well a small squeaky dog toy)

Similar to the Eggsplorer-1 the main tracker will be a Raspberry Pi fitted with a camera and two transmitters.

The tracker is based on the “Pi In The Sky” code base/design by Dave Akerman (M0RPI) and Anthony Stirk (M0UPU) with some modifications since I am building on simple strip board using a different GPS module/interface and omitting any power supply monitoring.

On the Eggsplorer I used an old Pi Model B but was forced to butcher it to reduce the power demand by desoldering the network/usb chip. This time I am using a Model A+ which is smaller/lighter and has a much reduced power demand and with the locking micro-SD card socket will hopefully prevent a repeat of Eggsplorer-1’s failure mode.

PINKY & PERKY are progressing well, just waiting delivery of some strip board and they should be completed in the next day or so.

PINKY will be 300-Baud RTTY, sending telemetry along with SSDV image packets using the UKHAS format.

PERKY will be using one of the LoRa modules again sending telemetry and SSDV but with greater resolution and speed, but will require a LoRa receiver/gateway (see Dave Akerman’s website).

While the SSDV is attractive to tracker enthusiasts the high speed RTTY is more difficult to receive, so I will be flying a secondary ‘backup’ tracker. The use of a backup proved invaluable on the Eggsplorer when the main tracker failed.

PIGLET will be a 50-baud RTTY transmission with telemetry and should prove easier to receive.

I finished PIGLET at the weekend

Again built on strip board it is based around the ATMEL ATMega128 micro-controller using the Arduino system with a number of off the shelf modules connected to it.

It has one of the GY-GPS6MV2 GPS modules I blogged about last year feeding into the UART. The NTX-2B transmitter (frequency agile version from Hab Supplies) and a I2C BMP180 pressure/sensor module (not visible as mounted to measure external conditions) It also has a small boost converter to supply 5V and extract all the available power it can from the 3-AA lithium battery pack.

One change compared to the EGG1 tracker is to use a PWM output from the Arduino to generate the RTTY tones rather than a register voltage divider (guide here) which seems to give a cleaner signal.

The antenna is simply copper wire making a 1/4 wave ground plane. The ‘box’ are some layers of styrofoam glued together with UHU-Por with duct tape, some straws and beads for safety. Just needs the batteries fitting and the lid fixing with more duct tape and PIGLET is ready to fly.

Full details of frequencies will be posted nearer the time.

MADHEN Eggsplorer-1 – We’ve got the data!

Following the euphoria of the Eggsplorer-1 payload being found six weeks after launch washed up and retrieved from the beach in Terschelling, Netherlands it has been an agonising wait to see what the Dutch police would send back. My impatience got the better of me last week and I contacted them directly to be told that unfortunately due to the awful smell and condition of the box they had simply removed the memory card and had posted that back as requested.

More days past and I was beginning to think irony was going to play a cruel trick and the card after its fantastical journey would end up lost in the post. I shouldn’t have been so pessimistic as it arrived today! Along with the card was a detailed map showing the final location and labels from the side of the box.

There was a nice note from the police.

The SD memory card seemed to have had survived more or less intact, though there was some corrosion on the contacts and crucially a small corner of the card was broken off.

The plan was to use the Win32 Disk Imager program to make a direct raw image of the card and work on that copy. I first used a small wad of wire wool to gently clean up the contacts

I was encouraged when I inserted the card into my Microsoft Windows laptop and it was detected, however my heart sank when any attempt to access it or use the imager program was met with an error. I gave it another gentle going over with the wire wool and thankfully was then able to make a image file, the next stage was to extract the precious data.

The card of course contained the Linux based Raspberry Pi file system and in order to access it on a Windows machine I used the freeware linux-reader from DiskInternals which allows access to Ext2/Ext3/Ext4, HFS and ReiserFS file systems within Windows.

It was a simple case of using the “mount image file” option and the partitions were then accessible and everything appeared intact, there were images on the card unfortunately not the “egg in space” image I wanted, just some nice “egg in the clouds” shots.

The telemetry log file confirmed the worst, the flight computer had indeed stopped/crashed at approx 2.5km up and no further images had been captured of the 31km accent into the stratosphere (confirmed by the backup tracker) I had hoped the transmission had stopped because of a fault in the antenna or the radio module board alas this wasn’t the case.

On the day of the launch I did have problems with the payload not booting up. It had worked flawlessly under test the previous weeks and I had secured everything in the box ready for the flight. The day before the launch I had spotted there was another balloon going up in the UK at the same time and we had both opted for the same frequency. So at the eleventh hour I was forced to take out the SD card to change the configuration to prevent the transmission clash.

The launch day start up problem was the SD card. I had removed and reinserted it to get it to start up and secured it down with plenty of gaffa tape. Looking at the card now and the fact the broken corner is old damage I am convinced this is the reason for the failure as the card may well have become dislodged due to turbulence.

While slightly disappointed it is still a miracle I have any images at all and can only thank Jan and the Dutch Police again.

I have certainly learned a lot and hope the National Hamfest HAB that I and South Kesteven ARS are flying is more successful

MADHEN Eggsplorer-1 FOUND!

The payload for the MADHEN Eggsplorer-1 High Altitude Balloon that I and the SKARS team launched in June has been located washed up on a beach in the Netherlands. Amazingly the egg was still intact inside the capsule.

On Friday evening I went to the Hucknall Rolls Royce ARC to give a presentation of HAB flights including details of the Eggsplorer-1 launch and its subsequent apparent loss at sea, then yesterday we had a trip to North Yorkshire and visited the Boon Hill Show and I admired the display of eggs within the produce tent.

It must have been synchronicity since a few hours later despite the poor mobile phone coverage I spotted a message on my mobile phone. It was from Jan Wouter Kramer from the Netherlands, whilst out on a remote beach in Terschelling he had found the Eggsplorer-1 washed up and taken some photographs!

Nearly six weeks to the day after launch she had been found with the egg apparently intact! I tried several times to ring back but the poor mobile coverage prevented it so sent a text message hoping it would reach him. I couldn’t wait to get home to and finally did just before midnight.

I frantically logged on to check emails

Hey Andrew

Found your email on the site.
These are the pics we made.

We found it today about 14:00 during a walk on the beach of Terschelling in an area were not many people are walking because it’s more than a two hours walk from the nearest houses.

As you can see the egg wasn’t damaged but had probably lost it’s strength. While trying to investigate what was inside the ‘bulb’ it broke open and the egg broke in two parts. It was nearly empty. Only a few cc of dark ‘water’ was left in it with a terrible smell …….

Best Regards !

Jan Wouter Kramer

The pictures were amazing

I emailed Jan back as far too late in the night to telephone

Hi Jan, 
Sorry I was able to take your call this afternoon but was out of coverage for most of the day.

Thank you very much for the information and pictures of the Eggsplorer-1. It was our first ever balloon flight and after it landed in the sea I thought we would never see it again.

Amazingly it appears very much intact, shame about the egg being rancid, would really have liked to get it back and would have paid for shipping – but I can imagine the smell was awful.

The Raspberry PI circuit board inside the box had a SD memory card which was held down with gaffa tape, I am not sure if it is still attached and it may have contained some photos of the flight taken with the onboard camera. However given the remoteness of the payload I understand if it is too far to return for such a slim chance.


Andrew Garratt (M0NRD)

As I wrote given the remoteness and the rancid condition of the egg I couldn’t really expect Jan to go out again to collect it but had a fantastic text message this morning

Hi Andrew, thanks for your email. The good news is that I found the local police willing to pick up the remains of the eggsplorer. (They are allowed to drive on the beach by 4×4) I just got a phonecall that they found it and are willing to send it back to you.
So you have an address for me ??
Best regards
Jan Wouter

As you can imagine I am totally EGGSTATIC!!

I rang Jan this morning and had a great conversation, seems he visits here every year and goes beach-combing with his son, they have never found anything quite as exciting as this!

So MADHEN Eggsplorer-1 has traveled 31km into the stratosphere, landed in the sea and traveled approximately 370km from launch site to its final resting place on the beach. The World Egg Throwing Championship people are very eggcited.

Just hoping that there are some photos on the card if it has survived, cannot be sure from Jan’s photographs. Since the flight I have suspected two possible fault scenarios, bad connector on the SD card on the Raspberry Pi or the antenna was broken off due to the backup tracker suspended underneath. I am hoping it was the latter and the card is recoverable and readable since it would contain pictures.

The backup tracker is also there but has lost its polystyrene egg cover, gps-antenna and battery pack but can see it is still attached to the main payload. The question is how long it has been on the beach? Given the relatively good condition of the box and the labels are still attached it may have been quite soon after splash down.

I am indebted to Jan for taking the trouble of contacting me and the police, I can’t thank him enough! When I get the payload back I will post an update.

All the members of SKARS are eggcited and gives new impetus for the National Hamfest flight next month.

Sneeking off to track a HAB

Following our sojourn to Scotland we spent this weekend visiting and catching up with the relatives, as a result radio activity was a little limited.

Yesterday we were visiting my mother-in-law and I had seen that the University of Southampton Spaceflight Society were launching a High Altitude Balloon from the New Forest. I am never one to miss the chance to track them and decided at the last minute to throw the Alinco DJ-X10 receiver and an audio lead into the bag with the laptop which by happy coincidence we were taking since it contained the holiday photographs.

After an enjoyable Sunday lunch I dutifully did the washing up and then as the others succumbed to postprandial somnolence I sneaked off to see if I could receive anything as the flight was already well under way.

I put the Alinco on an upstairs windowsill with the W-881 Watson Super Gainer antenna fitted. The radio which has SSB capability was still tuned to 434.650MHz as this was the frequency I used on the EGG1 tracker and amazingly I heard clear RTTY telemetry of the CHRISHAB tracker and connecting it to the laptop with a simple earphone-to-microphone input lead was getting clear decodes.

Being a silver surfer my mother-in-law has a broadband connection so was able to upload the packets to the tracker system.

I left it running while I returned to be sociable. When I checked back later the flight had ended but I was more than happy with the number of decodes I had achieved with this modest set up and proves with all things radio it pays sometimes just to give it a try!

The previous day I visited my mother and got to try my brother’s very nice new Yaesu VX-8R hand held. I made a short QSO with MX0PPC the Central Amateur Radio Circle (CARC) who were running some intermediate classes that afternoon. My brother is getting to grips with it and its in built APRS and GPS and soon hopes to be spotted by the International Space Station digipeater.

National Hamfest Balloon Launch

Following my maiden high altitude balloon launch last month of MADHEN Eggsplorer-1 at the World Egg Throwing Championships I have agreed to attempt another launch at this years National Hamfest which takes place on the 25th-26th of September at the Newark Showground.

Once again I will be assisted by the members of South Kesteven ARS and hopefully this time it won’t end up splashing down and being lost at sea.

I intend to have a SSDV system running on a Raspberry Pi using the usual UKHAS RTTY protocol and possibly this time a LoRA transmitter which allows faster transmission and higher resolution, however this requires ground stations to use a LoRA receiver, this are straightforward to build. I have done some experiments with the code base developed by Dave Akerman but didn’t implement them in the Eggsplorer-1

As to any special payload? Well following the yokes about “Ham n Eggs” following the sending of an egg in the stratosphere, who knows….?

Anyone interested in joining South Kesteven ARS and being involved then contact me via the club website at www.skars.co.uk or our facebook page

Radio antics on the Inner Hebrides

I have just returned from a much needed break away to the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, consisting of a week on the Isle of Skye and then a week on Islay.

It was our fourth visit to Skye but Islay was a new destination for us. While it was primarily a holiday away with the wife and dogs doing some walking, sight-seeing, visiting the numerous malt whisky distilleries (especially on Islay and Jura) I also planned to do some operating.

Last year I did operate from the same rented cottage on Skye but this year I wanted to do some portable working on both islands. With this in mind and following my disappointment last month I had taken time to properly prepare. As well as repairing the end-fed wire “magitenna” that had caused issues last time out I had constructed a linked dipole for 40m/20m for a simple inverted-vee using a fibreglass windsock pole.

I took the Yaesu FT857-D with a small SLA battery for portable work and a small power supply when in the cottages. Unfortunately things didn’t get off to a good start when I dropped the battery when unpacking. I had used a small screw-terminal chock block to connect to the power loom and the weight of the battery simply ripped both wires out of the terminal block and they touched with an almighty spark and welded themselves together. I acted quickly to remove them from the battery but it has almost certainly affected the battery. Despite this set back the battery performance proved more than sufficient for my needs.

During the first week on Skye, the South Kesteven ARS, which I am the chairman, had their monthly meeting and we planned to try and make a scheduled contact (sked) I did have a run through one evening to test the set up and antenna, drinking a beer and making contacts while sitting on a bench at the cottage watching the sunset going down over Loch Bay with the Outer Hebrides in the distance – sheer bliss!

On the night of the sked the famous Scottish midges were out in abundance and I opted to work from inside the cottage. A successful contact and conversation was made even if there were a few issues at the club that night. They were unable to get the planned antenna up due to activities in the nearby scout hut but like all good hams they improvised using an Ampro-40 magmounted vertical on top of a large saucepan until they were able to get a dipole up but by then band conditions had started deteriorating, but a contact is a contact.

Going portable I had planned to do some Worked All Britain Award activations, the W.A.B scheme uses the Ordnance Survey (OS) mapping agencies National Grid Reference (NGR) system to divide the country into 10km x 10km grid squares. The aim is for activators to operate from the squares and for other operators to “work” those squares.

In addition to activating squares, operators can also activate pillar type triangulation points (commonly known as ‘Trig Points’) which were originally used to carry out the surveying for Ordnance Survey maps but have now been abandoned and have become interesting relics and many are now sadly falling into disrepair, however many people still seek them out and a database exists at www.trigpointing.uk

I planned to try to activate some squares and trig points as the more remote locations such as the Scottish Islands are highly sort after as they don’t get activated as often.

Firstly before I describe my adventures let me be brutally honest! I am fat, in fact very fat and unfit!

I haven’t always in such poor shape, in fact I used to be a keen walker regularly going out at weekends walking miles and even completed several long distance footpaths, including The Coast to Coast Walk back in 1991. I then spent many years competing in dog agility most weekends which kept me reasonably fit but the last few years circumstances have changed and I now have a sedentary lifestyle and desk bound job. This coupled with stress, apathy and being a more than willing victim of comfort eating mean I have piled on the pounds.

Why make this confession? Simply because most trig points are on prominent hill tops and high ground throughout the country and therefore will require some physical climbing to get to them. I was under no illusion there were many on Skye and Islay that I stood no chance of reaching without some form of coronary episode! But I had identified a number of more attainable ones requiring on paper just a modest exertion.

How wrong I was.. 

On the Isle of Skye we were staying on the Waternish peninsular and I had identified two possible candidates the nearby Ben Horneval (TP1275) and Ben Geary (TP1269) while both were over 260 meters in height the maps and descriptions seemed to indicate reasonable but still strenuous approaches. However prior to us arriving the weather had been very wet and the ground was very boggy and when actually standing looking up at the hills I sensibly thought “Not a chance!”

Instead I opted to go to the coast, specifically Talisker Bay which is glorious and simply activate a WAB square NG33 while the wife and dogs occupied themselves on the beach. So off we went, drove across Skye and walked the mile or so from the parking area carrying the rucksack with radio and pole. I went of to a nice spot just up of the beach to set up to then discover I had forgotten to pack the coax… never mind had a good few hours on the beach and stopped off at the Talisker distillery on the way back.

I hadn’t given up on a Skye trig-point and I had spotted Culnaknock (TP0664) on the North East coast of Skye, which was tantalisingly described as “one your granny could do” and had the advantage of also having a Geocache for the wife to get. So we set off in the car with the dogs for a grand tour round the island and ended up there late one afternoon.

There were a number of suggested approaches, on the first we were met with fences, livestock and a sign saying private and seeing no obvious path up we investigated another through a gate on the main road. This was more straightforward however the nearest parking area was a little way down from the gate. The road was extremely busy and we weren’t comfortable trying to walk up the road with the dogs due to the traffic. I was feeling at little peeved at this point and opted to stay with the car while the wife retrieved the cache and took a photo so I know what I missed.

In the end I made no trig point activations on the Isle of Skye, but should we go back at least I am more prepared.

The second week of our holiday was on Islay. Islay is simply a fantastic place to visit, much quieter than Skye, probably due to the two hour ferry journey involved and I did manage some portable operating between visiting the eight whisky distilleries and a trip to a ninth on nearby Jura.

The cottage we were staying in overlooked Lagavulin Bay with the Lagavulin Distillery and the remains of Dunyvaig Castle, it was a two minute walk to a high point near the ruins where I set up one evening and had an hour operating in the setting sun, again band conditions were poor but I didn’t care, NR44 was activated.

There were two trig-points quite near to the cottage. Ardmore Point (TP0875), from the map this looked simple enough, however the road to Ardmore was a private road so couldn’t take the car and while walking there from the nearest parking space was simple enough time didn’t allow it.

Cnoc Rhaonastil (TP2293) was another potential trig point, locally called the Fairy Hill it promised spectacular views for short but steep walk, however again parking and access proved problematic and so was never attempted. 

The Mull of Oa (TP4976) trig-point I actually walked to being next to the American Monument which commemorates the loss of two troop ships in 1918, the Tuscania and the Otranto and the spectacular location overlooks the very spot where the Tuscania sunk. The monument built to thank the inhabitants of Islay for their help is built in the shape of a lighthouse and is visible from many areas on Islay. Despite the very wet ground conditions the walk was straightforward however the weather put paid to any attempt at activating. The wind was very very strong, as this short video demonstrates.

The attempt on An Curran (TP0839) really was a comedy of errors, being a fairly modest 49m high and close to where we were staying it should have been straightforward. To get to the summit you have to navigate a dense conifer forest and I had read the description on the trigpointing.uk website of how to ascend via a gate and distinct path.

It looked short and simple so didn’t take a map or the GPS with me. I found a gate and what seemed like a path along a wall and set off and quickly the path became indistinct and the trees were indeed very dense, so dense I was struggling to get through them. But I carried on going up gaining altitude thinking I must be nearing the top, however it got to the point I just couldn’t get through the trees anymore and there was no sign of them thinning out as they supposedly did at the summit. It started raining and was having to negotiate water filled hollows, heather and bracken hummocks and swarms of midges – this was not fun!

Eventually I did spot a clearing only to find it was where a power line ran up the hillside. I knew I was too far south and since going north through the forest was neigh on impossible I instead descended following the power line through chest high bracken back to the road, all the time worrying about “Serpents” as the locals quaintly called the adders which were prevalent this year.  When I did reach the road I had to climb a low dry stone wall and promptly slipped into a deep water filled ditch on the other side, losing a boot in the peaty mud much to the amusement of a passing group of horse riders.

I almost decided that this was enough, I was doomed not to activate a trig point however one remained on the hit list and I succeeded in activating it on the final day.

I had spotted Cnoc Lolairean (TP2283) when visiting the nearby Bruichladdich Distillery earlier in the week, only 29 meters high it was on a small ridge along the side of Loch Indaal and it involved just a short walk up a farm track and up a narrow track to the top.

The wife went of to get a coffee from the nearby mini-market and took the dogs for a walk on the nearby beach while I went to the trig point. What it lacked in height it made up for with the position with fantastic view across to Bowmore and down the Loch.

I used bungee cords to hold the pole to the pillar and soon had the inverted-vee up on 40m. I had around 40 minutes of operating, and band conditions were again poor with lots of noise but I did make a decent number of contacts running approximately 20W before the battery voltage started to drop off. I was especially pleased to work Stewart M0SDM a fellow SKARS member.

One unexpected radio highlight on Islay was capturing a SSTV image broadcast by the Russians from the International Space Station to celebrate 40 years since the Apollo-Soyuz link up. I didn’t know about the SSTV operation before we went on holiday and so hadn’t taken any VHF aerials with me so I just stuck a piece of wire into the back of the FT857-D and dangled it out the window to hopefully catch one of the passes early on the Sunday morning, I hadn’t had time to unpack properly but the captured image was actually quite good considering.

Prepping for some more /p

Following the eggcitement of last week I am been taking it a bit easier this weekend preparing for some portable operation in Scotland.

I have made a linked dipole inspired by the ones sold by SOTAbeams, it is a simple inverted vee supported by a 9 meter fishing pole the wire elements are made of sections which are joined together depending on the band required.  I have made a two band version, 20m/40m and it tuned nicely using the analyser. 

As a backup I have also revisited the “Magitenna” which disappointed last time I tried to used it. Firstly I replaced the original wire which was too heavy for the low power I run and is very prone to kinking.

While doing this I discovered that the terminal post on “the special matching unit” was simply turning when I tried to tighten the wing nut. This pointed to a broken or at best poor internal connection and I was forced to open up plastic box to make a repair, sadly “forced” was the operative word.

One of the four screws was inexplicably super-glued in place and being cack-handed I soon ruined the head trying to remove it and had to drill it out. Once the screws were removed I then found the lid too was glued in place at several points and had to prise the lid off trying to minimise any damage in the process.

Given that nearly all other ham equipment I own is designed to be serviceable, including rigs worth several hundred pounds I found this annoying and unnecessary for a simple antenna, especially as the ethos is for amateurs to experiment and modify things. It certainly wasn’t glued for weatherproofing as it would be have sealed all round, it could only have been to stop it being opened. I could understand this if it were protecting some patented, copyright design but it wasn’t, behold the magic within the “special matching unit” nothing but a simple un-un which I suspected already. 

Anyway I was able to tighten up the simple screw and bolt and ironically I used some epoxy resin on the screw head to try to stop it coming loose again. Hopefully this loose terminal was the reason for the poor performance last time.

I am looking forward to having another go from operating in Scotland this year with some more experience I hope to improve on last years efforts

While tinkering in the shack I kept the FT857 on and tuned around looking to give points away for the VHF Field Day and made a number of decent DX contacts using just 30W