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Sunday, 27 March 2011

Lost time, poor eyesight, contesting and WOTA

Here I am stuck in work when I really want to be in the ham radio shack or out on the hills. It is the SOTA UHF funday and to be honest I don't want to loose ground or points on those elusive higher bands to chasers who never normally bother listening for the UHF regulars, but there is nothing I can do about it so I will just have to grin and bear it. I have already (08:30) missed Matt 2E0XTL on Hegest Ridge 1297.5MHz.

I have plenty to sulk about today. If getting up at what would have been 04:30, but because today is the start of British Summer Time is now 05:30, is not bad enough then driving in to work in the dark again certainly is. For the last few weeks the one redeeming feature of the drive to work was some stunning sunrises. Now we are back to cold dark starts and running with headlights on. Why? Just what is the point? For my colleagues on the night shift an eleven hour night beats a twelve hour one, but someone has to do the thirteen hour night when the clocks return to GMT and the shift coming in loose an hours sleep.

It has been a busy week and when I got time to breath I did the mods to Helen's NUE-PSK unit. My nerves were a bit frayed afterwards as my eyesight is no longer up to such fine soldering and my hands not steady enough, probably due to being worried I was going to mess up. I realised after that the reason getting the solder to stick had been so hard was due to the board having been lacquered post production. The problem with removing the lacquer was down to not being able to see the fine tracks on the PCB or work any kind of tool between the other components as I would have liked. Soldering a few wires seemed an easy job but as soon as the iron touched them the insulation melted back so quickly I thought I would end up replacing the lot. Still it is done now and the USB mod is installed and we have the latest software on board too.

Other jobs I had planned for this week took a back seat as what little time I had slipped through my fingers. On Thursday I was back in work for a refresher course that turned out to be another stresser. I was so out of it that later after playing taxi to the family I came in to the shack and looked at the clock. It was twelve minutes to seven but I read it as twelve to eight. I made a mad scramble to get ready for the RSGB 80m Club Contest. I cleared my desk then set up my log and my recording software, found a quiet frequency switched in the 80/40m trap dipole and pushed tune. As the minute hand hit twelve on the atomic synchronized clock I hit record and started to call CQ, an hour early. Opps! When no-one answered I knew something was wrong I looked up at the clock and swore. What a plonker!

I made some coffee and then I retired to the lounge and slumped on the settee and chilled out by watching a rerun of X-Files I had recorded on the Sky Plus box. I never saw the first series when it was on years ago. Then I returned to the shack for another go.

Surprisingly on what was a very busy band I found a free slot and started calling CQ, however after the first half a dozen contacts the dirty tricks started. First of all a tuning signal appeared making a couple of contacts a little slow as although they were end stop signals and fully quietening. I had to ask for many repeats. Then the killer a duo tone signal of the type one puts into a rig under test so you can monitor the output on an oscilloscope, but normally doing this the rig would be on a dummy  load. Stations were answering my CQs but I could not make out any calls under this racket. After ten minutes I went to search an pounce mode, which is not the best method to get a high score unless the band is dead when you get better results working other peoples CQs.

It was a bit depressing to get a log number of 32 when you are still in single figures. It was going to be hard going. In the end I only managed a poor 46, while others gave me numbers closing on 200. My only comforting thought was this was a group effort and John GW4BVE gave me an encouraging number. If only I could have maintained my frequency I may have had at least 100 and probably more. As I worked up the band I worked a station on the frequency I had abandoned and made a mental note of the call. I will be watching for that one in future.

On Friday I worked Phil G4OBK/P on a Wainwrights on the Air (WOTA) summit. He asked me to spot him on SOTAwatch as he was on his way to a SOTA summit. Not just any SOTA summit but the highest mountain in England G/LD-001 Scarfell Pike, which for WOTA is designated LDW-001. What had me laughing was the casual way Phil said he had not intended to do the big one, but as the sun was shining and he was passing by he thought he would add it to his itinerary. He did two more WOTA summits after Scarfell Pike but I never heard him.

One thing Phil did was persuaded me to up-date my chases on the WOTA site. It was when I was doing this I realised that there is at the moment a problem with WOTA. I have a good take off towards Lakeland and have worked all of the SOTA summits numerous times, however I have only worked a handful of WOTA summits that are not also SOTA summits. I can see two reasons for this; First off the none SOTA Wainwrights are more often than not shielded by the surrounding much higher mountains and secondly the majority of activations are handheld only on two meters. Some of this might be because to qualify a WOTA summit only one contact is needed for an activation to count and then there is the fact that a lot of WOTA activations are done by activators whose prime objective is one of the higher SOTA summits and they may as well do the lower WOTA fells that are on route. They however they save the batteries for their HF stations until they get to their prime objective. This is just an observation and I am not complaining, it just may be a hell of a long time before I bag all the Wainwrights.

I do not think activating for WOTA will ever be seriously on my agenda as I have no intention of going back and doing those few I already did for SOTA. Two a couple of weeks before it started. So any WOTA activations will have to also be SOTA or not at all. The stunning Lake District calls me but accommodation is over expensive so my forays in to that part of the UK will have to remain few and far between.


  1. I realy think all these acrinymes, are getting a bit much
    SOTA summits on the air,
    as it was first
    "WOTA" (Wainwrights On The Air )
    "GOTA"(Get on the Air)Real cheesy American word.
    "BOTA" (Boat,s on the air .????)
    "FOTA" (families on the air??? )
    "AOTA" (Aunties on the air ???)
    "UOTA" (Uncle,s on the air ???)
    "COTA" (Cousin,s on the air ???)
    "Dota" (Dog,s on the air???)that,s a bit wuff!
    but my best one
    "POTA" expect (pizza on the air??) or put your own word to match your feelings ...
    where is my FCUK tee shirt ...or is that "FCUKOTA".... ahhhhhh !!!

  2. No you can't have Pizza on the Air because POTA is Pubs on the Air and when everyone gets to hear about it, it will then eclipse all the other lesser award schemes.

  3. Thank you for your comments on WOTA, Steve. Whilst I agree that some activators use only an HT and rubber duck I think the same can be said of beginning SOTA activators. Most of the people who have got the WOTA bug do use better antennas, however, and they do use them on every summit to give all the regular chasers a good chance of working them. Those who are happy to qualify the summit just for themselves are thankfully in the minority.

    By the nature of the terrain some Wainwrights are hard to work from a lot of places. In fact, being closer to the hills I find I can't work some summits that people more distant are able to. I doubt that HF band operation will ever become popular for WOTA as I don't think people further afield would be interested in a challenge that involves such a small geographic area. Phil G4OBK comes over from Yorkshire to do his activating so it certainly isn't just for Cumbrian locals, but it helps to be retired as he is!

    Still, I hope that you will continue to work and log your contacts with WOTA activations. There is a Lakeland 100 award for making contact with the 100 highest Wainwrights (LDW-001 to LDW-100) which would probably be achievable from your location.

    Julian, G4ILO (Creator of WOTA)

  4. On our last LD holiday Caroline and I activated a number of WOTAs which we were "passing over". We enjoyed doing so, but I have to admit that we did not take it terribly seriously. For one thing, there simply wasn't time to do the full station setup and teardown that would be needed to do it properly. Only needing one contact does make a difference in attitude, but in practice I think we did make at least 4 from most that we did.

    But the other reason I can't take it too seriously is the lack of a decent (i.e. not manual and interactive) means of uploading logs. I still haven't got round to entering our logs, and probably never will even though I could make a CSV file of them in a trice. I've corresponded with the WOTA organisers and I fully understand their reasons for not wanting to put the effort into providing a minority interest feature, but for me I'm afraid it's a showstopper.

  5. Martyn. All of the regular WOTA participants are happy with the method of logging contacts provided (which incidentally is much simpler and quicker than for SOTA.) So what you are asking for isn't just a minority interest feature it is a feature that has only ever been asked for by one person - you.

    Unlike SOTA WOTA doesn't have the benefit of having people with professional web programming and database experience. So the fact that it exists at all is something of a miracle. Unfortunately, as is so often the case in this hobby, there are too many people who prefer to criticize rather than offer to do something about that which they are criticizing.

  6. As someone who does a bit of chasing for WOTA both from home in Annan and from work in Penrith nearly all of the people who activate for WOTA work as many people as they possibly can. In fact some stay on a summit for quite a considerable time. Also a lot of the activators use very good antennas and not just rubber ducks.

    Alot of activators don’t just do WOTA summits because they are en route to a bigger SOTA summit. It is usually because they are doing a circular walk which happens to take in a SOTA summit. An example is High Street where you can incorporate up to 8 WOTA summits to make a good circular walk if you wish. There are other walks which do the same. Wainwright did not choose his 214 summits which make up his 7 pictorial guides because of altitude but because they had a good view. At the end of the day the whole idea of WOTA is to make contacts or activate from as many of the 214 fells as possible. I also appreciate that having a good location helps but that also applies to SOTA when you would like to work people on other VHF/UHF bands on different hills. I would like to work 4m or 23cms far more but my location is no good for that but I can live with it.

    WOTA has a good following of activators and chasers just like SOTA or any of the other schemes that are run for radio amateurs. There will always be people that don’t like a particular scheme for one reason or another but that does not mean that scheme is a waste of time. What WOTA does is enable people who cannot do the high fells for whatever reason but gives them chance to take part in something and be able to walk something that is within there capabilities and that they can make contacts with other amateurs. There are lots of summits that are very easy to do but of course they are usually quite low and screened off. However radio signals in the lakes do strange things as I have worked summits that I am surprised to work given the lumps of rock that lay between me and the activator!

    Julian G4ILO has done a superb job with WOTA just like the originators of SOTA or any other scheme. I along with a lot of other people are very grateful to Julian for setting up the scheme.

    P.S. I also like SOTA!

    73’s Geoff GM4WHA

  7. Hi Geoff, As I said "I am not complaining, it just may be a hell of a long time before I bag all the Wainwrights", but this may not be a bad thing. I have only one English and a handful of Welsh SOTA summits to bag, so WOTA is offering something to keep me chasing. Even out of the Lakeland SOTA summits there are some to collect for WOTA. Not that running out of SOTA summits is going to happen soon. Just Scotland alone may take a lifetime and some and then there is the rest of the world. What I was doing was pointing out how few WOTA summits I have worked (and I have never knowingly ignored a WOTA activation) so in other words I have been unable to hear most WOTA activations that are not also SOTA because they are lower fells and the VHF path is blocked under normal conditions. When I activate for SOTA I try to work as many bands as possible. WOTA activators on a circular walk with half a dozen low fells are less likely to operate a band I can hear them on. I think maybe most WOTA activators underestimate how many of us in different parts of the country would like to work them. The same goes for a lot of SOTA activators, most of whom start with a handheld and then get drawn in. In the end it is all just a bit of fun. I don't bother collecting awards or gongs but I like to tick the boxes.

    73 Steve GW7AAV

  8. Hi Steve - All

    As a WOTA and SOTA enthusiast I picked up this thread out of interest and found there was a lot of suppositions and false information contained within it. Thank you for your renewed interest in WOTA Steve!

    Also, thanks for helping me out last Friday whilst I was activating on LDW-005 Great End and quoting my tongue in cheek comment on your blog "that as I was passing by Scafell Pike I might as well activate it"! The SOTA spot you put on made all the difference and I made 34 QSOs on 2m FM from LD-001/LDW-001. It took us 45 minutes to reach Scafell Pike from LDW-005 Great End and the same time to return back there. The weather was warm and clear and my friend and I were both feeling good, which is why we decided to add Scafell PIke to our round of Wainwrights. It will save me returning there when I go to Wasdale next week. I can do a different walk instead. We started our Wainwright round that day at 9.30am from Seathwaite and finished it at 7.30pm. I activated 6 summits and made 85 QSOs on 2m FM with a 5w handheld and simple vertical antenna. I don't see what is wrong with that and why this style of operation is seemingly being mocked by some. This was an enjoyable 14 mile fell walk with almost 5000 feet of ascent. As a SOTA "Half Goat" the 10 points will come in useful as I strive (half-heartedly) after six years effort towards my Mountain Goat status. I would probably be Mountain Goat now if it wasn't for my interest in Wainwrights On The Air. I'm glad you have now updated your WOTA score by the way. I regularly work down into your area from the Wainwrights using a handheld with a simple external vertical antenna so I'm sure if you maintain your interest you could make many more QSOs from non-SOTA WOTA Summits.

    To put right a few other points in the thread:

    From Steve GW7AAV:

    We followed LD-001 last Friday with three (not two) WOTA Summits, they were Allen Crags, Glaramara and Seathwaite Fell (Bessyboot - the official Wainwright part of the fell). I worked G4ZRP on the Wirral who was running low power whilst I was on Glaramara and Allen Crags so if you had been listening I would have probably worked you also Steve.

    I don't know of anyone who conserves their battery power by operating low power VHF on WOTA summits and then uses the higher battery power on HF when they land on a SOTA summit. I certainly don't as I only use 2m FM when in the Lake District. It's quick and easy and you can cram in more summits and operating fun in the day.

    I agree that accommodation in the Lakes can be expensive in the summer season, however good, cheap accommodation can be found in winter and in the shoulder seasons if you look for it. This for me is the best time to walk the fells. March/April and September/October. The good thing about WOTA is that you can concentrate on the lower fells during the winter if you do not want to take the extra risk of going above the 2000 feet mark.

    to be continued...

  9. Continuing.....

    From Martyn M1MAJ:

    I'm glad you enjoyed making contacts as you passed over the WOTA summits on your last trip to the Lakes. This is exactly what I do, and rarely spend longer than 20 minutes including setup and takedown time (which is minimal with a handheld and vertical antenna) on a summit. You always make more contacts on SOTA summits than you do on plain WOTAs, unless of course it is Hallin Fell, heavily screened on three sides! It's usual these days to make between 10-20 QSOs on most Wainwrights unless that are one of a handful which are really well screened by close in higher fells, but it is amazing what is possible sometimes due to reflections even with a handheld and external vertical antenna such as a J-Pole sitting in your rucksack, which is all I use.

    As Julian G4ILO said we don't have the services of someone with the expertise to produce anything like the SOTA database and log upload facilities, however only basic information is required, cross checks are made within the database (Better than SOTA in that respect at present since the asterisk system of confirming contacts disappeared). I've entered getting on for 1400 QSOs into the WOTA Database since I started. It is functional and we all get by very well without complaint. Julian is very open to offers of assistance but if no one comes forward with specialised offers to help then things will remain as they are. The regular activators/chasers have no problems with this system.

    From Geoff G4WHA:

    You said you could do 8 summits as part of the High Street round. I'll put you right on that one Geoff. You could do 11 and this would be a tremendous walk and WOTA session if you pushed the envelope and were organised. This has been done with basic equipment, a 2m handheld and a vertical antenna, 54 QSOs were completed in the day. I state this to prove that WOTA is not just about making one QSO with a handheld and a "rubber duck". It's about getting on the air on amateur radio, enjoying a good walk and appreciating what the great man AW created when he produced his seven pictorial guides and many other books between the 1950s and 1980s.

    To finish - the WOTA scheme is basically run by one man assisted by a few ad-hoc others. G4ILO came up with an idea which has proved increasingly popular and continues to go from strength to strength, long may it continue.

    I expect once I have visited every fell top, seen every tarn and Lake Distict Valley and known the Lakes inside out I will return to chasing the MG for SOTA on HF CW/SSB. In the meantime I'm enjoying the LD area to the full with WOTA and it's brilliant. Another plan I have is to climb Wainwrights Outlying Fells in due course. There are 110 in his Outlying Fells pictorial guide. I think they will suit the more mature operator, so I'll start on those when I reach 70 I reckon!


    Phil G4OBK


    Wainwright Society Member No. 1382

  10. Phil, Accommodation in the Lakes - We need to bear in mind there are six to eight in my family party can cost over twice what we pay over the rest of the country with the exception of Devon and Cornwall. Last time I was in the Lakes for a week it cost me £700 to rent the cottage for the weekend and that was in May. At the height of the summer that same property is £2,500 for a week and is not available (like most) for short breaks.

    As for the modus operandi I suggested, I have spoken to several operators who tell me this is exactly what they do and reading activation reports from various blogs and websites confirms this is common. It is not a criticism of your operating style but merely an observation.

    The fact the you worked the amateur with possibly the best whiskers in Britain - Brian G4ZRP does not mean I would of heard you as Brian is a pretty ropey signal here on two metres himself and so a path to Brian is no guarantee of a path to me. I did indeed hear Brian working you on the other fells but even with my ten element beam (it is a cross yagi and switched to vertical) I could not even detect the faintest sign of you here. We should bear in mind the signal difference here between WOTA LDW-005 RX @ 52 and LDW-001 @ 59+ we both were using the same equipment over a similar distance.

    It may not be what you want to do but I would hope that someone else might take up the challenge of doing these lower fells on HF. There is no hurry to complete so I can wait until someone who thinks like I do takes up the challenge.

    Congratulations to you for your achievements you are as it stands the WOTA King. Long may you reign.

    As I say SOTA, WOTA, IOTA you can keep the awards I do it for the fun of the chase, that may be why I hate to see the prey get away.

    73 Steve GW7AAV

  11. Steve, you are not the only one who has sometimes wished a WOTA summit was being worked on HF. There cannot be many people who have a path to every Wainwright on VHF from their home QTH and I certainly don't even though (or perhaps because) I'm much closer to the hills than you are.

    However it is probably inevitable that, being a regional scheme, its popularity is mainly within the region. In that context I believe it has been extremely successful. In the last few months many amateurs have become keen chasers who were never previously interested in SOTA. Some of them will no doubt start chasing SOTA as well. And WOTA has got many people going out in the hills with radios who had never done so before. Some had done the Wainwrights already and were glad of an excuse to do them over again. Others had rarely set foot on a summit before. To give an idea of just how popular it is becoming, in the first 3 months of this year I have worked more Wainwright summits than during the whole of last year. Last summer at weekends it was hard for activators to find a clear frequency on 2m. I can't imagine what it is going to be like this year.

    I'm sorry if WOTA doesn't meet everyone's expectations but most of the folk round here regard it as a big success and are having a lot of fun with it.

    73, Julian G4ILO

  12. It is a great success and I have no doubt it will continue grow and in my opinion anything that gets pale, over-weight radio amateurs out of their dark dingy shacks and out in to the fresh air is good by me. And the more people get on board the better the chances I have of catching someone on the low ones when conditions are conducive to short skip propagation of some sort.