A wonderful weekend of JOTA

What a difference a week makes, last week I was feeling somewhat low and as a result ducked out of the RSGB convention as I wasn’t feeling very sociable.

But this week I had to get my head straight since the South Kesteven ARS (of which I am Chairman) were involved for the second year in the Scouting Jamboree on the Air (JOTA) weekend operating GB5FSG for the 1st Foston Scouts.

But before that we were also involved with another local scouting group, the 1st Barrowby where we assisted in a class of 12 Cubs with their communication badge.

Together with Stewart (M0SDM), Sean (2E0ENN) and Konrad (2E0KVF) we spent an evening giving them a introduction to amateur radio. Konrad who is an ex-scout leader explained the hobby, Stewart and Sean helped them pass messages via a radio. There was also a timely visible pass of the International Space Station during the evening and I hoped they might be able to see it while I demonstrated transmitting APRS messages via the onboard digipeater.

Using my new dual band Yagi, laptop and FT857D in the boot of my car I did successfully get messages digipeated and igated however the cloud and rain prevented the cubs seeing the ISS pass overhead (I put the coordinates in slightly wrong, so are shown slightly south of where we were)

The evening was a great success and the enthusiasm shown by the Scout leaders hopefully means SKARS will be involved in more activities for the Barrowby Scout group. Interestingly we were not the first local club they approached to assist but after they were given the cold shoulder by them we were happy to take up the challenge. The Barrowby group were also interested in being involved in the Jamboree on the Air (JOTA) next year.

So on to the main event this week, the GB5FSG JOTA station, operated by Stewart, Sean and myself. It is exactly a year since I gained my full licence and this was my first Notice of Variation for a special event station, last year under the previous chairman we had run GB2FFC with some success but this year we hoped to improve the experience for the Cubs/Beavers and Scouts.

Firstly we had a much improved antenna installation, with Stewart’s Land Rover and impressive pushup mast we had an excellent OCFD dipole, resonant on several bands including 40m along with another smaller pole holding up an end fed long wire for the datamode station. We also put up a collinear for a 2m VHF station.

Last year we were hampered by the noise of excitable children in the main room of the scout hut which made operating and hearing contacts difficult. This year we asked for some separation from the hubbub and had planned to use a tent. Instead we setup in the storage area in the back of the hut which proved ideal as it allowed us to control the number of children and allowed easier working conditions – it was a little chilly but much warmer than a tent would have been.

On Saturday we used Stewart’s FT897 as the main HF rig, Sean operated a 2m meter station with a number of contacts. Like last year I had my FT857 operating a datamode (primarily PSK) but a damaged feeder issue curtailed this for most of the day and we soon concentrated on the HF SSB voice contact as conditions were good and the band was busy with other JOTA stations.

In keeping with the aims of JOTA we didn’t chase numbers instead we had some lengthy quality contacts, including a marathon 30 minute plus contact with I believe was GB2WSG the 2nd Wellington Scout Group with lots of two-way greeting messages being sent to really give the children a full experience of using the radio.

The day before I had quickly constructed a Morse code oscillator (since I didn’t have one) using an arduino board and an old computer speaker for added volume and this proved popular as the children tapped out their own names, their friends names, call signs, their ages and various words.

I had created some certificates and stickers to reward the children and to prove they had completed the tasks should they need them for any future scouting badges and awards.

Sunday we just operated for the morning and since Stewart couldn’t attend I brought along my FT450D and Sean and myself operated on HF SSB. Sadly my poor Morse oscillator failed quite spectacularly in a puff of smoke but all was not lost as again conditions were excellent and we were able to pass lots of greeting messages again. I haven’t used the FT450D in anger so it was excellent to let it stretch its legs and the audio and DSP proved excellent in dealing with the QRM from the contest running at the same time.

Working with the Scouts this week has really was a therapeutic exercise for my soul and made me glad I got licenced and was able to get involved with this. I am not naturally comfortable with children, since I am not a parent. But it was rewarding seeing the look of wonder on some of their faces as they passed messages.. like it was magic 😉

GB2FFC – JOTA 2014

Last weekend South Kesteven Amateur Radio Society (SKARS) operated the GB2FFC special event station at the First Foston Scout Group for the 2014 Jamboree on the Air (JOTA) weekend.

JOTA is an annual event in which Scouts and Guides all over the world make contact with each other by means of amateur radio, giving them an opportunity to experience wireless communication and electronics.

This was a first for both SKARS and the Scout group and we set up a SSB voice station and a data mode station primarily running PSK. The QTH was the Scout hut in the village of Foston, between Newark-on-Trent and Grantham (IO92PX)

Nigel (M0CVO) and Sean (M6ENN) ran the SSB voice station as well as supervising the popular Morse key trainer. This allowed the children to tap out their names using a crib sheet and gave them a certificate to acknowledge their achievement. Working voice proved challenging due to the high noise level in the hut due to the other scout activities. Despite this they still managed to work stations mainly on 20 and 40m. Nigel ran a Kenwood TS-480SAT into one of his own M0CVO DBD-2040 loaded dipoles at approximately 100W

I operated the data station consisting of my FT-857D and interfaces connected to a laptop running PZTLog feeding a M0CVO Magitenna at 30W. I also had my Czech morse key connected to the TR9500 acting as a sounder and they really like the military style key.

Explaining the PSK datamode and what the program was doing to young children was quite challenging. The Scout group were also running JOTI (Jamboree on the Internet) which consisted of laptops running an IRC chat application allowing world wide groups to talk to each other so the distinction between that and the slower PSK station was a bit difficult for some of them to grasp. Thankfully there were two very intelligent and enthusiastic Scouts who got the idea and understood the QSO process and were soon explaining it to the other Scouts leaving me free to type and push the macro buttons. One of them described it as ‘awesome!’

GB2FFC ran from 09:00-15:00 UTC on the Saturday and 12:00-15:00 UTC on the Sunday and made 88 QSOs in total, mostly other amateurs but we did manage a number of other JOTA stations in both modes. The whole event was great fun and we were made very welcome by the Scout group. The enthusiasm was infectious so hopefully it will be the start of a regular annual club event helping out the Scouts for JOTA – plans were already being sketched out for next year, maybe involving camping!

Here are the PSK QSO maps for the weekend. Saturday was on 20m and 15m and were just European, Sunday I was operating mostly on 10m hoping for some transatlantic contacts, and did make a couple in the short time we had – didn’t quite manage to connect with some South American and Asian stations but they could be seen and decoded to the delight of the children.