Portable in a very windy Cumbria

Before amateur radio took over my life my main pastime was competing at dog agility which I did moderately successfully for many years, for several of those I was even the chairman of a Nottingham Agility Dog Training Club and organised one of the larger Kennel Club Championship shows as well as judging at many events. If you search my YouTube page there are a number of videos showing me and the dogs in action.

Things change and sadly I became disillusioned with the sport as seemingly endless rule changes and its increasing popularity saw it losing its core ideal, what was meant to be fun for dog and handler had sadly become too competitive, professional and commercial, too many people now make money out of the sport and what was once an enjoyable social activity is now spoilt by unsportsmanlike behaviour, complaints and bitchiness.

When my dog Boris suffered a cruciate injury the enforced time-out made me realise I didn’t want to do it anymore and so I don’t.. well apart from the odd exception, last weekend was the West Lakes Agility Club Show held in the small town of Haverigg on the Cumbria peninsula (Locator IO84IE)

This is a lovely old-style small friendly show with the bonus of being held just a stones throw from the sand dunes and beach. I had agreed to go and like the recent holiday in Skye it was initially planned with no thought for any radio operating.

We would be caravanning at the show for the best part of four days without any electrical hookup and the wife had volunteered to help on Saturday leaving me on my own for most of the day… so a plan was hatched at the last minute.

I purchased a nice new ‘spare’ 100A/h leisure battery and smuggled on board the FT-857D with some suitable battery clips, headphones, a fiberglass pole, some antennas. I don’t own a suitable ‘portable’ ATU at present,  having borrowed one from SKARS on several occasions but as this was a last minute thing I would have to chance operating without it. I took the M0CVO HW-20P OCF-Dipole, which has a usable VSWR on 20m, 17m, 15m, 12m and 10m without an antenna tuner and the M0CVO Magitenna, but wasn’t sure what I would get from this as I’d only ever used it with a ATU.

The weather was difficult all weekend, we arrived on the Friday to be met with warm and sunny conditions but a steady strong wind. There was bit of a battle to get the caravan awning up but we managed it.Saturday the wind just got stronger, the forecast for Sunday was for even stronger winds so it was dismantled and packed away, indeed it was worse around 25-30mph with must stronger gusts.

Undeterred I got the antennas up,  however the fiberglass pole I have must be getting on for 10 years old, and would often fly a pirate flag when camped at agility shows. It had already lost it’s top section many moons ago but was still quite tall and so I hoisted up the OCFD balun and coax and the end of the magitenna wire in the buffeting wind and it was swinging around wildly – almost inevitably it proved too much and the remaining top section splintered!

Despite losing over in a metre in length I tried again and managed to get everything up, the OCFD wires were tied out to form a sort of inverted-vee using a handy nearby fence, the Magintenna was pulled to form a sloper across over the front of the caravan, but due to the lost height actually touched the front of the roof. Amazingly I got an almost 1:1 VSWR on 40m and loud and clear RX.    

This weekend was the International Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend (ILLW) this annual event has been going since 1995 and promote public awareness of lighthouses and lightships and their need for preservation and restoration, and at the same time to promote amateur radio and to foster International goodwill.

The bands were kind and I had an enjoyable Saturday afternoon and a few hours on Sunday making QSOs with a number of UK and European lighthouse stations on 40m and 20m and it seems the whole event was a great success. Alas the wind proved too much for the remainder of the fiberglass pole and it developed a large crack in the bottom section forcing me off the air.

By coincidence Haverigg has two lights, the old Hodbarrow beacon and the restored Hodbarrow Point lighthouse (pictured above from the beach). Last year we walked to the restored lighthouse but since the restoration was completed in 2004 it is sadly looking in need of some remedial work.

I only learned of the ILLW event at the last minute and sadly neither of the Haverigg lights were activated that weekend, next year if the show is on at the same time I may look at trying to operate from them.

Oh and the wind? Here is a video of a walk on the beach on the Sunday morning..

M6GTG/P The results are in!

Last nights 144MHz UKAC Contest gave me the opportunity to try operating portable for the first time. Caravanning in the Lake District just outside the town of Keswick I had spent the previous evening preparing (see earlier post) and after a day out walking I set up the station in the awning.

I hoisted the 3-Element Delta Beam to full height and waited for the appointed time. The campsite was very quiet but I still attracted some strange looks as people wandered past!

In the end I struggled only making 6 contacts, I searched and pounced initially and then called CQ for a time with no response. The caravan site has a strict no-noise policy after 22:30 so shutdown and packed up just before 22:00 Despite the low number of QSOs I wasn’t disappointed, given my location and low power (10W) I was glad of any contacts.

Earlier in the day my wife and I took the dogs on a walk to the top of Latrigg which is just to the North of the campsite and is one of the lowest fells in the Lake District at 381m asl. From the summit we could clearly see the campsite below at just 218m.  So perhaps not the best spot to be operating from, being surrounded on all sides by mountains.

Next month I am away to the Isle of Skye for the UKAC 6m contest, encouraged by the Delta Beam I might have a go at constructed one for then (if the wife agrees)

In the meantime I have got the magitenna up for HF but haven’t used it yet after all I am here on holiday and have to spend time with the wife and dogs!

Just a correction in my earlier post about passing my intermediate I neglected to acknowledge the help of Nigel (M0CVO) and SKARS for the assessments and organising the exam.

First time working portable

Have taken one further step up the amateur radio licensing ladder, passing the Intermediate exam and assessments. A big thank you to Grantham ARC and Alan and Keith for invigilating and congratulations to my fellow candidate Mark Orbell who also passed.

My new callsign is 2E0NRD

Current QTH

I am currently writing this blog entry while on holiday sitting in the caravan watching the sun rise over the Lake District. I have brought the rig along with a M0CVO magitenna for HF and not wanting to miss out on the 144MHz UKAC tonight have a Sandpiper 3-Element Delta Quad.

It has already caused some strange looks on the campsite while I built it up and tested it last night and I hope I won’t have any RFI issues as caravans are often fitted with wideband TV amplifiers! Thankfully the site is currently very quiet as the school holidays have finished.

Testing the Delta Quad last night

Initially was going to make a Moxon for 2m but I messed up my first attempt and ran out of time to make another so at the last minute ordered the Delta Quad from Sandpiper. It is a well built antenna I just had to cut the three loops and solder them up, the instructions were very clear. It is easily dismantled and seems ideal for portable work so is an investment for the future.  I hope to use it during July’s VHF NFD.

The antenna has an excellent VSWR match and when testing I clearly heard a cw/jt65 beacon around 144.480MHz which must have been GB3NGI on the Slieve Anorra Mountain in County Antrim, Northern Ireland (IO65VB)

I will be operating as M6GTG/P tonight as don’t want to upset my UKAC scores and I am not really sure what to expect as surrounded by mountains in most directions here but should be fun. I might even rope in Boris to give me a hand

Boris not looking too impressed

Last Tuesday (27 May) was the 50MHz UKAC. I had intended to do some operating over previous Bank Holiday weekend and with reports of Sporadic E propagation picking up on 6m I had put my homebrew Moxon back up on the pole with the new rotator. Unfortunately the operating was curtailed due to the discomfort I am currently suffering due to a trapped nerve in my back.

That weekend saw some horrendous weather and it rained heavily for several days, indeed it had rained most of Tuesday, checking the VSWR in the evening before the start of the contest I was shocked to see it had risen from 1:1.5 to nearly 1:3!

I knew the bad weather was forecast before putting the antenna up so had made sure all the coax connectors and the feedpoint were properly sealed with self amalgamating tape so was somewhat perplexed. In the end I decided what I thought the issue was, the moxon frame was untreated softwood and in the bad weather had become very wet and damp and suspect it was affecting the resonance.

Despite this I decided to carry on as I was only running 10W and had a productive few hours despite some local noise.

I
27 May 2014 – M6GTG 50MHz UKAC QSO Map

Anyway time to put the kettle on and I will post an update about how I get on tonight.

All systems go…

Excellent service from Waters and Stanton, Radiozing and M0CVO Antennas meant my FT-857D, PSU and HF antenna arrived the day after I ordered them. They have however sat in the boxes while I have struggled to reorganise my workshop/shack after the Christmas chaos.

I have disposed of a lot of junk being quite ruthless to reduce the clutter and have completely changed the layout, increasing the size of the desk and putting it on the other side of the room next to the workbench, which is much more logical.

The new look operation centre

I have finally summoned up the courage to drill a large hole in the wall to allow the antenna coax to enter properly, previously it has been done by squeezing it around the door!

Unfortunately the weather this weekend has been horrendous, yesterday I planned to erect the antenna but gave up following the intense squall which hit in the afternoon with thunder, lightning and hail! Today hasn’t been much better with heavy rain for most of the day, the rain did finally eased off so I managed to erect a temporary mast with the 144/430MHz collinear on the top and the HF antenna underneath.  I know this isn’t ideal as the mast is metal and may affect the HF, but seems okay. The forecast for the next few days is also a bit worrying but the mast is guyed at two heights so should be secure.

The antennas, with the stormy sky behind

I have literally just turned on the FT-857D and had a quick listen on the bands, it is very daunting for this first timer! The first thing I have worked out is how to drop the power output, current set a 5W for HF and VHF/UHF
 

I have a power/swr meter suitable for HF/VHF and UHF I purchased at last years Hamfest and I have it connected in the setup, and was trying to check the SWR but it wasn’t registering anything when I pressed the PTT then I realised that with SSB enabled it wouldn’t!! Switching to FM and I was able to check that everything was okay… Beginners mistake I know!

Now off to read the manual..

Got a proper radio, well it’s on order!

Well I’ve finally done it..

I have ordered my first proper ‘rig’ It is a Yaesu FT-857D a nice small, portable/mobile unit that will give me access to the HF and 6m/2m/70cm bands in all-modes. It has took a while since I first identified it as potential purchase but thanks to some generous Christmas presents I now have the sufficient funds and following several recommendations have decided to take the plunge and ordered it from Waters and Stanton

She is a beauty!

I have a decent 7A PSU, purchased last year which I am sure would have sufficed for 10W maximum operation however I decided to also purchase a MAAS SPS-30-II 30A(35A peak) PSU. It was a good price from Radiozing and offers plenty of power for anything I am likely to run in the foreseeable future, and from the pictures and reviews seems to be built like the proverbial brick out-house. As well as the main connectors on the back it has spring clip terminals on the front as well as a cigar lighter type connector. Dual meters showing V/A and can be used in variable mode from 9-15V or fixed at 13.8V 

This is the beast!

I have also ordered one of M0CVO Antennas highly rated HW-20HP off centre fed dipoles as a starting point for HF. The antenna works in 6 bands (20, 17, 15, 12, 10 & 6m) without needing an Antenna Tuning Unit (ATU) which is one thing I haven’t purchased, however Nigel(M0CVO) Chairman of SKARS (South Kestevan Amateur Radio Society) and owner of M0CVO Antennas has kindly offered to loan me an ATU in the short term.

Delivery should be later this week and I suspect I have a large learning curve ahead of me as I hit the airwaves! If you should hear me please be gentle..