Sunday, 2 July 2017

VHF National Field Day

It's some years since I took part in a contest... I was a member of Travelling Wave Contest Group from 2010 - 2013, and further back than that, from 1982 onwards I took part in many RSGB and CQ World Wide Contests in CW, SSB and DATA on a regular basis in my own right.

Since getting back on the amateur bands in January 2017 after moving house, I've wanted to see what I could work on VHF from my new location.
2m band - WIMO 144 MHz 7+7 Cross Yagi up 4m above ground
6m band - 125 feet long OCF Dipole with 4:1 balun at 10m above ground in the Beech Tree in my garden
Despite having a temporary aerial set up 18 reasonably distant contacts were achieved this weekend from my location in Pickering, close to the North York Moors, in Maidenhead Locator IO94of. My garden is 60 metres above sea level. Each headset on this Google map represents a contact on either 6m or 2m:

I operated for a few hours in the Fixed Station Sweeper (FSR) Section. The FSR section states that fixed stations cannot call CQ - we have to search and pounce on stations and try to work them after hearing National Field Day VHF contest stations calling CQ. 

I used a Yaesu FTDX5000 running 150 watts on 50 MHz with a 125 feet off Centred Fed Dipole up 10m in a tree. On 144 MHz I used an Icom 7400 running 80 watts into a Wimo 7+7 Cross Yagi on a 2.7m long boom. The XYagi is temporarily mounted at 4m above ground in a parasol base and has to be turned by the "Armstrong" method. 

Best DX on 144 MHz was EI9E at 441 Kms, located betweeen Kilkenny and Wexford. Best DX on 50 MHz was G2BQY/P at 354 Kms, located just north of Shepton Mallet. The only station worked using Morse was GM4ZUK/P near Aberdeen, a distance of 321 Kms  on 50 MHz.

It was quite a surprise to work such distances on 50 MHz using a wire antenna, and I was pleased with the performance of the Cross Yagi on 144 MHz operating at just 4 metres above ground. 

I did work one SOTA station on 2m SSB in the contest - this was GX0OOO/P operated by John Earnshaw G4YSS from Scarborough. John was on Great Whernside in the Yorkshire Dales and made contacts throughout the day on VHF in the contest and on HF also, including on the 1.8 MHz band (160m) where I also made contact using Morse and Voice Comms.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

SOTA in Moravia Czech Republic - May 2017 - Day One

Wednesday 3rd May

1. OK/JM-065, Hvízdalka - 442m, 1 Point (Complete)
2. OK/VY-056, Zelený kopec - 491m, 1 Point (Incomplete)

Our two man SOTA Tour began for me when I caught the early morning train from Malton in North Yorkshire. The destination was Stansted Airport near London, where I was to meet Victor Mitchell GI4ONL who was flying in via Easyjet from Belfast.  Our connecting Ryanair flight to Brno left Stansted in the early afternoon. We were travelling light - with a rucksack each and a small handbag. 

Transit through security was straightforward - there were no problems with the radio equipment, lithium batteries, antenna poles, walking poles and HF wire aerials which were travelling with us in the cabin. Our arrival clearing passport control in Brno was easy and within 15 minutes of stepping off the plane we were getting into our Skoda Fabia hire car and heading for our first SOTA activation of the five day trip, which was in the direction of our first hotel of the two booked for this Moravian Tour. 

Our modus operandi on this tour was to activate and qualify as many summits as possible on at least two HF bands and on both Morse (CW) and in Voice (SSB). This meant we both had to make at least 4 contacts each on every summit we visited.  The summits were chosen not for their points status, but for their proximity to each other and to where we were staying in hotels at Namest nad Oslavou (3 nights) and in Nove Veseli (2 nights). 

We were to find that all 39 summits visited over the five days we were in the OK/JM (Jihomoravský) region and the OK/VY (Vysocina) were easy to access on foot with no restrictions in reaching any of them. In some cases it was possible to legally drive into the activation zone of the summit, walk a short distance and then set up the antenna and operate within 10 minutes of arrival. 

The wooded summit area JM-065 Hvizdalka was accessible by car from the E65/D1 Motorway and our short walk into the woods for our initial activation in the early evening was met towards its end with some rain. We completed as the rain came on and as we were earlier than anticipated this allowed us to drive around 20 miles south west of the first location to the second summit of VY-056 Zeleny kopec. Despite the now quite heavy rain we got lucky, more by chance than good planning as there were several structures and a large stone tower called Babylon on the summit!  Victor OK/G4ONL was located in a BBQ hut around 50m away from me and was operating on the 30m band. My first contact was with Terry Sayner G0VWP a friend of mine who lives in York. Terry was to make contact with me on the vast majority of summits visited on the tour. Here is my comfortable operating position on VY-056 where I used 20m SSB only, leaving the CW work to Victor:


The Babylon Tower on Zeleny kopec and my Elecraft KX2 transceiver used for this tour

As dusk approached and after two successful activations with 27 contacts between us using the 20m, 30m and 40m bands, we packed up and headed off to to check in at our hotel in Namest nad Oslavou.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

A one day trip to Scotland with the "new" Muncaster Fell top on the way home

My approach to Tinto - an easy clear route
GM/SS-064 Tinto

On Thursday 27th April the weather forecast was pretty good. I left my home in Pickering at 5.50am making for the Lanark area in Scotland so as to visit and activate the summit of Tinto (Ref GM/SS-064) for SOTA. After a problem free drive with one stop I was walking by 9.20am from Wiston Lodge - my approach to Tinto would be from the south via Pap Crag. This was a good place to park the car with others, parked at the educational establishment there.

Signage to the summit in the grounds of Wiston Lodge
A GPX file of the walk can be found in the SOTA Mapping Project tracks section. Here is my route:

GM/SS-064 Tinto - 1.63 miles with 1450 feet ascent in 51 minutes
Topographic view from Tinto
The days activations were to be a proving ground for my radio gear - the next week I was heading to the Czech Republic for a 5 day SOTA Tour with GI4ONL. On arrival I made just two contacts with MM0GOR and GM0GAV on 2m FM using a handheld and RH770 whip before erecting the HF bands linked dipole.  I was using my Elecraft KX2 with the built on KXPD2 key. Within 10 minutes of starting up on 40m CW I had a problem - the KXPD2 key started to fall to pieces and I couldn't send dashes!  The key has made less than 500 QSOs. On inspection I found the terminal posts for both contacts had worked lose. I had no screwdriver to tighten the small crosshead screws, however I did have the small allen key for adjusting the contacts and this served as a makeshift screwdriver for tightening the screws enough to complete the aborted contact I had with John G4RGV! Apologies to the previous stations worked for the sending errors I made prior to realising what was wrong. Continuing on with the operation I worked summit to summit on 20m with Juerg CT7/HB9BIN/P on CT/AL-003 in Algarve and after switching to SSB I was called by Stavros SV2RUJ/P on SV/MC-005 in Greece. 

Total contacts: 28
(2m FM = 2)
(40m CW = 11 SSB = 2) 
(30m CW = 6)
(20m CW = 2 SSB = 5)
Operating time 59 minutes. 

Returning to the car for some lunch I then headed across the valley towards nearby Lamington Hill GM/SS-172, whilst making a mental note to obtain some loctite for those small screws when I returned home..... The issue was later reported to Elecraft so they can ensure that locking compound will be used in future on their paddle keys. 

GM/SS-172 Lamington Hill

Like previous activators I used the car park on the other side of the A702 to start the walk to Lamington Hill. Before setting off I removed the 2m handheld and whip from my rucksack. In doing that by mistake, I also removed the bag containing the HF dipole - only realising my mistake when I reached the summit 40 minutes later! So this was a none SOTA visit to Lamington Fell. I thought the rucksack felt light....
Trig point on SS-172 Lamington Hill
Track to SS-172 - 1.9 miles 920 ft ascent in 39 minutes - GPX track shared in the SMP
Returning to the car with one local summit left to climb, Dungavel Hill SS-165, I started thinking.... Either I could return to the car, collect the dipole and walk back up Lamington Hill or instead immediately go to Dungavel Hill and then head south to the relocated G/LD-059 Muncaster Fell on my way home - and that is what I decided to do. 

GM/SS-165 Dungavel Hill

Gate and signage at Cattle Grid leading to path up Dungavel Hill
As a Rambler I've come across many signs when walking warning of bulls and cows. There are rarely bulls grazing and this was the case here...this was just an attempt to frighten walkers off. This was a rougher more tussocky and slightly boggy and steep walk in places than the previous two, so the 0.7 mile walk with 610 feet of ascent took me 26 minutes at an average speed of just 1.6 mph. It was tiring and I arrived breathless on the summit at 2.30pm... At least this time I was able to operate on HF with my dipole and make another 28 contacts in just under 30 minutes on 7 MHz and 10Mhz with just one QSO with RW3XZ on 14 MHz CW. There were no summit to summit contacts available. The GPX track is shared in the SOTA Mapping project:

On my return to the car I made my way back to Carlisle and the long drive down the Irish Sea coast to the appropriately named Fell Lane which leads to Muncaster Fell. 

G/LD-059 Muncaster Fell
If you read my previous blog you will have realised that Muncaster Fell was troubling me. Its relocation meant that I could no longer say that I had SOTA Completed all 175 SOTA Marilyn summits as an activator and chaser. I believe that I am still the only SOTA activator and chaser to have achieved this. My status needed to be restored which is why this awkwardly positioned summit needed to be activated by G4OBK...
The walk from part way up Fell lane to the new summit - GPX file shared in Track section of SMP
There was a tallish narrow protruding rock about 5m down from the highest point at the new location and I managed to tie my 5m pole to this and make a handful of contacts. As I have found in the past in SOTA once you get beyond evening dinner time there is a shortage of chasers hunting for contacts:

These are all great guys these chasers. I have met most of them in person apart from Manuel EA2DT and Mariusz SP9AMH. Thank you Mariusz, Luc, Jan, Manuel, Terry and Pedro for making my day. 

I had a 30 minute fast food stop at the A59 Burger King near Skipton on the way home and arrived back home in North Yorkshire at 11.40pm, making this an 18 hour day with 472 miles driven. The distance walked was 11 miles and the total ascent on foot was 3400 feet.  

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The highest point of Muncaster Fell

Its 2017 and I have a little more free time now after my house move last last year - so I'm starting up Catterblog again....

Readers will know I enjoy walking and in particular climbing to the tops of hills and mountains with amateur radio equipment, setting it up, erecting an aerial and then making contacts as a part of the ham radio hobby. It's called Summits On The Air (SOTA) . 

SOTA is worldwide now, and the scheme was started in England in 2002. I first got involved in it in 2005. 

Each country has its own association and a manual which sets out the rules. In the UK the Marilyn Hill List is used to determine where the summits are. Hills are included in the list if they have 150 metre prominence above surrounding ground. In England there are currently 175 hills listed. There were 176 early last year until felltop assessors (known by some as "The Meddlers") determined that Swyre Head in Dorset had a prominence of 148.3 metres so it was removed from the list. Later in 2016 felltop assessors using sophisticated GPS equipment determined that the previously listed location at the trig point on Muncaster Fell / Hooker Crag near Ravenglass, was not the highest point. A new higher location was determined 500m north east of the trig point beyond Hooker Moss. See map showing the old and new locations:

The difference in height between the old and new Marilyn summit is just 700mm, yes, just 700 millimetres, with Muncaster Fell / Hooker Crag topping out at 231.4m and the real Muncaster Fell (without trig point) topping out at 232.1m. As there is a drop of more than 25m between the two points the new summit is the one which now counts for SOTA with effect from the 2nd March 2017. 

As I had climbed all 175 Marilyn Summits in England for SOTA (or had until this summit moved) I have now climbed 174, so I need to revisit Muncaster Fell and make some ham radio contacts from the new location to have climbed and operated from every English Marilyn summit.

My good friend and fell bagger chum Geoff Fielding (M0PYG) who lives in Herefordshire, was the last ham radio operator to make valid contacts from the old top. He was on the summit that day with another fell bagger friend of mine, Nick Langmead (G4OOE) from Scarborough. 

Here is Geoff at the summit on 24 November 2016, when he made 10 contacts on the now deleted G/LD-055: 

Thanks to Michael Graham who shot this photo showing the position of the new summit, the highest point of Muncaster Fell, which overlooks the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway:

© Copyright Michael Graham Geograph
So I need to head over to Ravenglass anytime soon and activate the new summit for SOTA, which has been given the reference G/LD-059.  Hopefully someone else will also visit and I will make a contact with the fell as a chaser from my radio shack in Pickering.

Post script 6th March 2017: The new top was successfully activated for SOTA on 7 MHz and 145 MHz by Michael Warrington G0HIO/P.