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.

Portable Pains

I have just returned from our traditional June caravanning holiday in the Lake District, last year I was buoyed with enthusiasm to have a go at some more portable operation after operating for the first time from the camp site during the 2m UKAC Contest with some encouraging results.

Indeed during the last twelve months I have done some more portable operating, but while VHF/UHF have been rewarding HF portable has been a mixed bag with at best satisfactory results, but then the same can be said of operating HF from home.

This year I planned to again operate in the 2m UKAC Contest but rather than working from the comfort of the caravan I was going to work from some higher ground near the camp site. Unfortunately the weather was awful with very strong winds gusting upward of 50mph and driving rain, even working from the caravan was a no go.

So rather than enjoying this view with a microphone in hand…

… this was the how I spent the evening and as you can see Eddie was equally impressed.

 

When the wind and rain subsided toward the end of the week we did have some nice weather so I decided to try some HF. I had taken just the M0CVO Magitenna end-fed wire and using a 9m fibreglass pole I tried operating with it as a vertical and as a sloper both with and without counterpoises and despite receiving some very big S9+ signals on a number of bands seemed to be incapable of making myself heard, I did make a number of contacts but many reported weak signals and stood little chance of working many of the special event station pile-ups.

It wasn’t helped that on the first day the radiating element connector broke, which necessitated cutting it off and stripping back the wire. I suppose in retrospect I should have been expected it as there is no strain relief on this wire, unlike the loops on the other antennas in the M0CVO range, I rectified this with a few cable ties.

I was running the Yaesu FT857-D from a leisure battery and around 30W as I didn’t wish to interfere with the TV reception as I knew most caravans would be using wide-band antenna amplifiers because of the poor coverage. Indeed the one time I did wind the power up to 100W one caravan mains breaker tripped out, it may have been coincidence but I didn’t wish to put it to the test.

Despite the lack of performance it was great just sitting under the majestic Skiddaw and surrounding hills while I spent a few enjoyable hours operating. I even discovered one of my neighbours was also licensed, nice to meet you Joe (G4LIA)

It was frustrating from a contact point of view and I willingly accept I could be a bad workman so don’t wish to blame my tools but I think some serious rethinking on a portable HF antenna is needed. I am away to Scotland next month for a week on the Isle of Skye and a week on Islay, this time in rented cottages and am hoping to make a QSO with the South Kesteven ARS on the club night.

Anyway that all has to wait as the launch of Eggsplorer-1 HAB and the GB2EGG Special Event Station are rapidly approaching.

April Radio Antics

It has been an extremely busy month since my last post, sadly not all of it radio related.

During the Easter holiday I was away in the caravan at a dog agility show in North Yorkshire, camping in the grounds of Duncombe Park just outside Helmsley. When not competing I was able to find some time to operate.

Boris combining both hobbies!

Using just an M0CVO Magitenna I had some reasonable low power SSB operation on a number of bands and activated a square for the Worked All Britain Award (WAB) (SE58) and gave some points away during the Polish SP DX Contest.

The WAB scheme was something I signed up for last year when I went to Skye but haven’t participated till now. The WAB net on 7.160MHz is a little daunting to listen too but once I jumped in it was relatively painless to activate the square and I plan to do some more when I go back to the Isle of Skye and Islay later this year, but I must improve my portable HF antenna.

Over the weekend of the 11/12th April there was another SSTV activation from the ISS in celebration of Yuri Gargarin’s life. I had some good results decoding images and decided that I’d use it as a way to promote South Kesteven ARS locally and contacted the local newspaper.

The Newark Advertiser did indeed feature the story both in print and on their website and they were very good in mentioning the radio society. It was also printed in the sister free paper.

Copyright Newark Advertiser

It was nice to get some very complimentary reaction to my publicity drive in social media and other websites including an article on the Amsat-UK page http://amsat-uk.org/2015/04/15/iss-sstv-in-the-press/

Last weekend I and other members of the South Kesteven Amateur Radio Society operated the special event station GB5ROC at the Buckminster Cold War Royal Observer Corps (ROC) Nuclear Bunker Open Day.

Situated on the Lincolnshire/Leicestershire border ROC Post Number 62 is leased to the UP AN’ AT EM! History project and has been restored as a museum and is managed by ​​​Jed Jaggard. The free open day was a rare chance to visit and experience an important part of British post-war history.

These bunkers are underground structures found all over the United Kingdom, constructed as a result of the Corps’ civil defence nuclear reporting role and were operated by volunteers during the Cold War between 1955 and 1991. There was a network of over 1500 such monitoring posts around the UK designed to detect nuclear detonations and monitor blast and subsequent fallout and radiation levels should an attack take place.

Thankfully they were never used and the last of the posts were closed in 1991 when the majority of the ROC was stood down following the break-up of the Communist Bloc. Many have been demolished, fill in or adapted to other uses but the majority still exist, although in a derelict condition.

During the open day visitors had the chance to climb down into the bunker so for reasons of practicality SKARS operated GB5ROC from a tent close to the bunker hatch.

Along with Stewart Mason (M0SDM) and Sean Burton (2E0ENN) we operated on 40m from 10:00 till 16:30 BST and made a total of 151 contacts mostly UK operators with a number of European stations.

Equipment was supplied by Stewart who did the majority of the operating and consisted of a Yaesu FT-897D at 100W feeding an off centre fed dipole at around 30ft on top of a Racal push up mast. Stewart also provided a new club banner.

The open day was very well attended and a number of local and not so local amateurs (one visitor from Australia VK4UA ) came along thanks to the publicity the event had received on Facebook, Twitter, GB2RS and the Southgate ARC newsfeed. It was great to meet up and chat.

Encouragingly members of the general public were keen to learn what amateur radio was all about and they were able to take away a number of leaflets with information about the hobby and contact details for SKARS.

It was an excellent day all round with the operators have a fun time and gaining useful experience of operating a pile-up. The weather was kind with blue skies and sunshine. Hopefully it will become a regular activation at future bunker activations.

The video below Stewart operating Richard M6GPT who had tried most of the day to make contact and was successful just before the station was closed down.

SKARS member Mark (M0OBL) had monitored GB5ROC and made a video of his Elecraft K2 receiving us load and clear.

Next month is going to be very busy as I have GB2EGG and the Eggsplorer-1 HAB flight to organise and that too has made the press. http://www.sleafordtarget.co.uk/Egg-sent-space-World-Egg-Throwing-Championships/story-26372439-detail/story.html

Oh and lastly remember this is the original “Radio Antics” blog, often imitated but never bettered.. 73

Update, the visit of VK4UA to GB5ROC wasn’t due to any publicity or advertising – it was simply because Stewart had his van parked on the verge with his callsign clearly visible and he was visiting the area – the simplest ideas are the best it seems!

A dark cold evening in a layby

True to my last post I drove out to some higher ground to operate portable for the 70cms UKAC on Tuesday evening.

Several hours sitting in the car on the side of a deserted road in the dark and cold was worth it. Despite some initial trepidation I really enjoyed the experience until I got spooked at the end.

Like the last time I operated from this location I put the small yagi approximately 3-4 metres up on the top of my ‘painters’ telescopic pole stuck in to a parasol stand. I sat in the car and reached out the open window to rotate the pole as required. I wrapped up well and had a blanket over my legs and a woolly hat on and kept surprising warm despite it being just 1°C, turning the courtesy light on only when I needed to write in the log.

It was nice to be noise free and I made 29 contacts, nothing earth shattering but with a modest set up and operating in the AL section (10W max) I was more than happy and got my first contact in the Isle of Man.

From the reports posted on line it seems conditions were flat and activity was low. Frustratingly several times I found a distant station only for it to be drowned out by splatter. I know some of this is down to my radio and the antenna but the source is nearby and so strong that even turning the beam makes little difference. Ironically being higher up meant the signal was even stronger than I experience at home.

The annoyance is compounded by the operator’s habit of regularly changing calling frequency seemingly with little regard of who is currently operating there. This SDR screen capture shows an example of the same contesters signal during a recent 2m UKAC. Captured using a vertical collinear several strong clean(er) signals are clearly visible even with the mismatched polarisation. Sadly it is not a one-off and I have observed similar splatter from this source during both 70cms and 6m contests.

It was very dark and eerie on the quiet road and I’m afraid I got spooked with 20 minutes of the contest left, a 4×4 drove past slowly and appeared to shine a spotlight at my car. I was midway through a QSO writing in the logbook so I only caught it out of the corner of my eye so wasn’t sure if they did. But a while later I saw what looked like torch beams moving in the nearby field that seemed to be getting closer. In retrospect it was nothing untoward when I checked the map later there are farm buildings in that direction but I’ve seen one too many horror films so decided not to hang about so threw everything in the car and headed home with out looking back..

you can’t get rid of the Babadook
…. you’ll see him if you look 

Operating /P for the 432MHz UKAC tonight

The 432MHz UKAC contest is usually a pretty dismal experience for me, low elevation, local noise and a mediocre antenna makes for a difficult evening. Last weekends VHF/UHF contest and some tests with fellow club member Stewart​ (M0SDM) on Sunday evening convinced me to try operating portable this week.

I have a small Moonraker 7-element ZL-Special on the main antenna mast, purchased originally for monitoring satellites and was pressed into service for SSB when I got licensed. It has never wowed me performance wise and I have been intending to replace it for quite a while but since I only use it one day a month it hasn’t been a priority. So the mast came down last night and I removed it so I can take it out with me to operate portable from some higher ground tonight.

Using the 2m delta beam in June 2014

Last year I had a go at operating portable from the car and posted a write-up. It is my intention to repeat this exercise but with the 70cm antenna on top of my ‘painters pole’ mast. I have serviced the antenna and fitted a new short run of quality coax and spent a far amount of time with the AW07A analyser adjusting the antenna’s tuning capacitor and have got the VSWR right down to 1.1:1 on 432.200MHz so things should be optimal.

I am looking forward to this evening, hoping it pays some dividends.

As I mentioned the 24 hour March 144/432MHz VHF Championship contest took place last weekend. I took part to give away some points just grabbing a few short sessions with the radio. I concentrated on the 2m band due to my issues on 70cm.

In my AW07A analyser review I mentioned some issues with my 2m LFA YAGI, thankfully these have been resolved. The use of some wire wool to remove some corrosion and a hacksaw to take 10mm from the long elements of the loop allowed the end elements to ‘trombone’ in sufficiently to get the antenna resonant and the VSWR is down to 1.2:1 on 144.300Mhz.

I only made 18 contacts, but was happy with the distances achieved with 30W, getting a lot further south than I normally do, given I am 18m ASL. There was also some local wideband noise (I captured a screenshot on the SDR) and the conditions gave some interesting fading.

M0NRD QSO map March 144 VHF

Noise across the band

   

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..

Back from Skye

It is back to the real world after a great week in the Isle of Skye with almost constant sunshine, temperatures topping 28°C (83 °F) and very humid conditions. Some great walks with the wife and the dogs to some new locations, the highlight was watching a school of porpoises playing in Loch Bharcasaig.

The cottage was booked last year primarily for our holiday requirements with no thought of radio operating as this has come later. As I feared in my previous post my unpreparedness meant disappointing operating as 2M0NRD/A

Located on the main tourist route up the Waternish peninsula I didn’t want to have any unsightly aerials up at the front of the property. It is situated part way up a hill side and knew there was a wooden fence at the rear and to the right separating it from the neighbouring croft. I had taken a couple of 6 meter long fiberglass poles which I could bungee cord to the fence and then string the OCF dipole between them or alternatively use one of them to hoist the M0CVO Magitenna as a sloper. These poles and wires would be largely be obscured from view by the cottage.

The rear fence runs north to south, meaning the main lobes of the antennas would be to the west and east, not ideal for any ‘inter-g’ UK operating, so I had planned to use the side fence. What I hadn’t spotted on the photographs was the overhead power line running on that side of the property. I could have put them up but opted for safety and used the rear fence.

I set up base in the spare bedroom at the back of the cottage but I really didn’t get to operate very much. We were out and about during the day and I did dabble on HF for an hour or so on some evenings. I could certainly hear a lot more than I do at home with very little noise and had some very strong signals coming in. I made a few QSOs but other than the contesting I am still finding my feet as an operator and being mike-shy I find the HF bands intimidating. I struggled to find a free frequency but did call CQ on 40m and 20m but with no response even after several minutes, eventually giving up as I was invariably swamped by another operator.

Last week was also the start of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, not only did I see some of the stadiums and venues while driving up to Skye but I also heard the special event station GA14CG operating out of Stirling on 40m some evenings. It was a huge S9+ signal and despite several sustained attempts I was unable to break the pile up. Seems they were beaming south and being north of them in Skye I stood little chance being at the back of their Cushcraft X-240 with just 50W and my OCF dipole being end on in their direction..!

Having holidayed in Skye before I was aware of the terrain but having surveyed the cottage using Google Streetview it seemed nicely situated. Upon arriving at the cottage it became apparent that the mountainous terrain was a bit more imposing than Streetview had shown, so not unexpectedly the 50MHz UKAC on the Tuesday evening was a disaster!

I spent the best part of an hour tuning around the band, occasionally hearing faint voices in the static but nothing legible. I vainly called out “CQ Contest” for a while but nothing was heard, even using the tuned dipole – even if I had managed to build the planned Quad beam it is unlikely I would have fared any better. 

The cottage was meant to have broadband and Wi-Fi facilities but a fault meant this wasn’t working all week, coupled with no mobile phone signal left me feeling cut off, ironic really given the founding principle of amateur radio communication. I did do some digi-modes but without an NTP connection the error in the laptop clock (several seconds a day) meant I was initially too far out of synchronisation for JT65 or WSPR until I realised I could use the clock on my Garmin GPS which I use for geocaching. Doh!

It is likely we will be going back next year and hopefully will be a bit more experienced as an operator and will be more prepared. 

Oh and here are the porpoises I mentioned earlier

144MHz Backpackers Contest

I had a great time today competing in the 2nd RSGB 144MHz Backpackers contest. I entered the 10W Hill Toppers (10H) section since I could operate from the comfort of the car and I could use the FT857 as the Hill Toppers section in the RSGB contest allow operation up to 10W.

The Backpacker (3B) section and the concurrent Practical Wireless 144MHz QRP Contest are limited to just 3W. Normally the FT857 can only be lowered to 5W but by applying a negative voltage to the transceivers ALC line via the accessory socket the transmitters output can be lowered. This method is detailed here it is a simple circuit and I will make one up in due course, I didn’t have the parts to make one in time.

Anyway I digress, firstly I had to find a suitable hill top that wasn’t too far from home. I wanted somewhere quiet and minimised the risk of any confrontation with societies undesirables. A quick look on the local Ordnance Survey map and I spotted a viewpoint symbol.

1:50,000
1:25,000

It isn’t exactly a mountain at just 82m above sea level but is nearby and seemed quiet when I drove out to inspect it. It is the Maplebeck View Point and has a metal plate highlighting hills and structures that can be seen from the ‘summit’ sadly the overgrown hedges did limit the view but it did seem a decent spot with an off road parking area and picnic tables.

The viewpoint
The information plate on the viewpoint

I now needed to sort out the equipment. Operation from a motor vehicle is permitted but all equipment used during the contest must be battery, wind or solar powered. So I made a trip to grab the spare leisure battery from our caravan and the cast iron parasol stand to act as a base for my pole, the antenna would be the Sandpiper 3 element Delta Beam I used in the Lake District.

battery wedged behind drivers seat
Parasol stand and painter’s telescopic pole
Operating from the passenger seat, FT857 on dashboard
Antenna up

I had the FT857 on the dashboard and sat in the front passenger seat, the pole was within easy reach out the window and I had fitted a small pointer on the pole so I knew which way the antenna was pointing, so could turn it by hand.

I was initially quite nervous setting up as it turned out the road was actually quite busy and I was getting a lot of quizzical looks from passersby, but once I got going I just ignored them and enjoyed the contest a lot. A number of walkers asked what I was up to and it seemed the viewpoint was a stop off on a MG owner’s outing this morning.

I made a reasonable amount of contacts, given most people were operating QRP with some decent distances. I did suffer one brain fade and missed another potential locator square when the other station repeated my report back and I blindly wrote it down and then lost them before I was able to correct it.

At one point I thought I would have to pack up as I was getting huge static crackles and pops which were due I think to some nearby high tension electricity pylons and what appeared to be a gathering storm, there was some brief rain but it quickly dissipated.

Next month I am looking forward to the VHF National Field Day and the 3rd Backpackers Contest as a number of members of the South Kestevan ARS are keen to have a serious attempt.

Planning some more /P and /A

All too quickly and the holiday is over

Apart from the UKAC on the Tuesday night I didn’t do anything else with the radio, I did have the HF antenna up but the trapped nerve in my back meant I was in a lot of discomfort after being out and about during the day and so rested and zonked out on painkillers rather than struggling to set up the rig.

I must sort out a proper portable station that I can just open it up and start operating, I am impressed with Charlie’s M0PZT porta-pack frame idea being an excellent solution especially for back packing.

In the past the wife and I used to be keen walkers, tackling many of the peaks in Cumbria, Snowdonia, the Peak District and elsewhere. We completed the Coast-To-Coast Walk back in 1991 and The Cleveland Way the following year.

Dipping my boots at Robin Hood’s Bay in 1991 at end of the Coast-To-Coast

Sadly I am too overweight now to be a serious Summits On The Air (SOTA) operator but I plan on getting back to a reasonable level of fitness. As it happens if I’d been more prepared our walk of Latrigg last week could have been my first Wainwright On The Air (WOTA) activation.

Next month we are off to the Isle of Skye. We are staying in a self-catering cottage with plenty of room so rather than being /P portable I can be /A alternative and will be able to set up the rig in the cottage so can use it as and when I want.

I’ve already mentioned the holiday coincides with the 50MHz/6 Meter UKAC and am currently toying with the antenna choice, one advantage of being so far North is I won’t need to rotate it as pointing it South South East should cover most of the UK. From the photographs of seen the cottage is reasonably elevated with clear views across Loch Bay in that direction. There are mountains ranges to contend with but who knows with propagation? I’ll be in the rare IO67 locator square so might even have to contend with a pile up!

I will almost certainly operate as 2E0NRD rather than M6GTG for that week as using just 10W might be a bit optimistic.

IO67 Locator Square

I got somewhat excited last week when I received an email announcing the RSGB First 50MHz Contest results I was down in 35 place in the SF section but with a rosette next to my callsign? Wow I’d got an award! Pleased with myself I jumped on twitter to spread the news…

Gobsmacked.. pic.twitter.com/sGDI4jDh1W
— Andrew Garratt M6GTG (@nerdsville) June 7, 2014

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been quite as quick to brag as it appears I was the only Foundation Level entrant!

Still I managed 4 verified QSOs on what by all accounts was a very difficult contest, with low activity and poor conditions. In fact I almost missed the contest altogether and was only alerted to the contest by a tweet by Robert @G1ZJP and was late starting as I needed to get the antenna up. I actually made 5 QSOs but one was broken because I mistakenly put 59 in as the serial number.. Doh!

This weekend is the 2nd RSGB 144MHz Backpackers contest and the Practical Wireless 144MHz QRP Contest Unfortunately the FT857 is too powerful for the QRP contests as the limit is 3W but I could have a go at the Hill Toppers section in the RSGB contest which is limited to 10W and as luck would have it I am left to my own devices this weekend so might take a drive in the car..

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.