More than just a Ham radio blog.
is an informative, cynical and sometimes humorous look at what is happening in the world of amateur radio.

Monday, 30 May 2011

You’ve Been Warned

You must read this... You’ve Been Warned

RSGB and the Tower of Shame

When a UK radio amateur decides he wants to put up a mast the first thing they do is some homework. They ask themselves “Will my neighbours object?” and “Am I likely to get planning permission?” They approach other hams and ask what problems they encountered in getting the necessary plans passed. If they are a member of the Radio Society of Great Britain there is a fine service http://www.rsgb.org/committees/pac/ offered by them that can help to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible and give them the best chance of getting the essential piece of paper.

What a UK radio amateur does not do is rush out and order the biggest tower he can afford and then learn like the Radio Society of Great Britain did that they cannot erect the tower at Bletchley Park, home of the National Radio Centre because it is a ‘Heritage Site’. Where was the fine advice? Where was the forward planning?

The society now has to sell off their fine tower at a discounted price (http://www.rsgb.org/lusotower/) to cut their losses and when those losses are added to those already incurred by the ‘Green Shed Fiasco’ and being ripped off by the legal vultures for advice that amounted to,”Don’t bother!” over the PLT/ Spectrum Defence action, it puts the society in a very fragile state. That fragile state involves not only bleeding funds like a stuck pig, but bleeding angry members too. Some of those members are already very upset at what has allegedly gone on with the former General Manager and the limited facts that have emerged, due to the threat or potential threat of legal action for libel/slander that hangs like the sword of Damocles over the board members.

From the ranting in the forums it is clear that a great number of both members and ‘would not be members if you paid thems’ are wishing that there was indeed a huge sword hanging above the heads of the RSGB’s board and that they could be brought to task for their mismanagement. Unfortunately RSGB is a limited company and there is very little that can be done. If RSGB were a charity for example then each board member would be personally responsible both legally and financially for their actions. Even school governors can be fired, fined and even imprisoned for mismanagement, even if it was the Headmaster was the one who ran up debts the budget could not meet and they had no knowledge of it (and it has happened).

The questions keep mounting up about what on earth is happening at RSGB and the answers when they do come seem to always be far from satisfying. Over the years ex-members have left the society both money and equipment. Last year it was the turn of a museum full of radio heritage that was sold by the society on eBay and now we hear that one old timer’s donation of several thousand pounds is to be used to employ a fund raiser rather than being fed in to some practical project like keeping GB4FUN on the road. Where will the funds be raised from I wonder? Oh that is right from us members.

I would hate to see the society fold and it’s hundreds of volunteers do a fine job, but I feel that as a member it is just like the management has steered us all down some blind alley and got us all mugged, I just want to punch somebody but there is no one to hit. None of us has personally lost a large amount of money but it is the principle of the thing. Collectively we all want justice, but personally I would settle on revenge. I just can’t see there being any satisfaction either way. I just hope the society can pick itself up and be stronger as a result. The key would be tightening the rules so these things cannot occur again. Maybe this is just what happens when things are run be well meaning amateurs?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

In praise of zip ties.

In this hobby of amateur radio there are so many things we take for granted, one of those is the zip cable tie. I pondered the other day what we did before these things were invented and to be perfectly honest I could not really remember what I did before they became commonly available in the high street. I suspect I used pieces of string and stiff wire or wraps of insulation tape, but whatever is was it was neither as neat or convenient as the cable ties I use today. It took a couple of radio amateurs to remind me that wiring looms used to be wrapped with a none adhesive cotton tape, painted with tar and then lacquered. Nowadays zip ties and self amalgamating tape make wiring loom manufacturer a lot simpler or at least it would be if the looms weren't twenty times more complex due to the toys on our modern vehicles. I have since recalled that on my motorcycles rubber ties were often used along with a sort of aluminium tie with a slot one end and a round head at the other, but just how did I hold up my antennas? I am at a loss.

This morning as I returned from the kitchen with my second coffee of the morning I spotted that the centre of my 5 MHz dipole was about three feet above the ground, turning it in to a Vee. Surprisingly it still tuned with only a tiny adjustment, but I had to fix it anyway. It was a zip tie that had failed due to exposure to UV and the high winds we had been experiencing. I took the opportunity to replace one section of the telescopic fishing pole that I use to hold up the centre of the antenna. It had split length wise some time ago and was held together with gaffer tape. Afterwards I wondered how long that zip tie had been in service and I found I had put up me 5MHz dipole in December 2005, so had been waving about being pulled by the wind on the antenna for five and a half years, I think I am happy with that. In most applications a tie would not experience the forces this one was subject to and so should last much longer even outside exposed to that nasty UV from the sunlight.

Three cheers for zip ties! Hip Hip Hooray!     

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Dayton - Smells like the ham spirit

The flea market section of the world famous Ham Radio extravaganva known as the Dayton Hamvention was disrupted Saturday when a sewer line ruptured. Vendors were quickly moved to another area and a crew moved in to clean up the area shortly after.

One vistor told me "The flea market was impressive and there was no shortage of s##t to buy." Another told me "The smell was a bit of a problem, but no worse than the delicate aroma of armpit that can make your eyes sting in the more crowded sections."

By the way Elecraft have the KX3 on display at the show, which looks very interesting. G4ILO's blog has a link to a video which I can't access just at the moment, but should be worth a look.

Glasgow and Clyde Raynet on Jura IOTA EU008

The Isle of Jura Fell Race is not for wimps, 28km over seven mountain summits, including the Paps of Jura, with 2370 metres of climbing. The safety of the fell runners is paramount and solid communication is essential. The duty of providing that communication falls to the volunteers from Glasgow and Clyde Raynet.

Anyone who has worked with Raynet on this type of event will tell you it can be no walk in the park. Often to get to checkpoints Raynet volunteers need to be nearly as fit as the fell runners themselves as although they will not be travelling as far they will be carrying radio gear, including masts and beams and enough battery power to last the event and beyond, food and enough warm clothes to remain on the mountain all day in any weather. Weather in the mountains can change rapidly and the volunteers need to be able to stay in position whatever nature throws at them.

In my book it is volunteers such as Raynet, St. John Ambulance, Red Cross and Mountain Rescue (Scotland)  (England & Wales) who should be getting medals at the end of such an event, because although I am impressed by the fitness and dedication of these fell runners I am certain they must be stark raving bonkers to even think about entering. Still everyone to his or her own, if we were all alike then we would never have invented the wheel yet.

I have no medals for Glasgow and Clyde Raynet but we can all show our support because they will be active from Jura, which is IOTA-EU008 on all bands HF from 26th May to 2nd June using the call GS0RAY/P. Please look out for them and show your support by giving them a call.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Lindisfarne (Holy) Island EU120 Up-date

A little up date from Ricky G0LZX about the GB0HI amateur radio activation of Lindisfarne (Holy) Island for IOTA he says...

Just to let you know we worked exactly 1200 contacts in 18.5 hours and the radio was manned all that time, we generated a lot of interest and the people we spoke to were genuinely appreciative of our activation. If you work the maths it works out about 67 contacts per hour. We tried 2m which was a none starter, 6m which no contacts were obtained and stayed on HF the rest of the time. It was worthwhile and we did enjoy it, had a laugh and made a lot of amateurs happy in the process 100% success.

Ricky G0LZX

Well done to Ricky and the team. Not a bad tally when you consider the amount of other special calls flying around for Mills on the Air weekend, and various other events.

I would just like to say if you have never visited Lindisfarne it is well worth a visit, particularly if you are in to history and culture, there is plenty to see for such a compact place. Take plenty of money however especially if you are not a member of the National Trust. There are some nice places to eat and at least one real spit and sawdust pub which may make a change from the mass market clone establishments we tend to get these days. I can't remember the name but the food and beer was great even if the place was in a time warp.

Don't forget GB2HI from Hilbre Island this weekend 20th - 22nd May 2011. Hopefully that will be equally successful to the Lindisfarne event.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

RSGB National Amateur Radio Centre (The Big Green Shed)

Are you a member of the Radio Society of Great Britain? Wondering where you subscriptions are going? Well you may be glad to know not all of it has been fiddled on unauthorised expenses or gone to pay off the interest on the ex-general manager's credit card bill. No some of it has been poured in to what appears to be a money pit called the RSGB National Amateur Radio Centre. From what I gather the story goes something like this... RSGB is offered one of the many 'huts' at Bletchley Park in which to establish a National Amateur Radio Centre. The centre would be a show piece for the hobby and offer a great opportunity to introduce the ham radio to the general public. I am sure we would all back the thinking behind this, however after much effort and not a little expenditure it was found that the hut our national society had been offered was 'beyond economical repair'. Not wanting to retreat from their announcements of a wonderful new facility or miss the chance of a foothold in the now legendary Bletchley Park RSGB decided to replace the hut with there own building. Probably because of planning constraints the building had to be in keeping with the style of the surrounding huts, despite the fact that most of them are in such a bad state of repair that they will probably not still be standing in another couple of years. So instead of getting a building for next to nothing or building something more substantial RSGB paid a couple of hundred thousand pounds on a shed. Having seen the building prior to painting  it seems a terrible shame that it had to be painted  that yucky green to match the other huts but we cannot blame RSGB for the vomit inducing colour, however a nice coat of yacht varnish would have gone down a treat. What really gets my goat about this new centre is not the insane price of the 'shed' but the fact that it was scheduled to open in April 2010 and from what I saw through the dusty windows it is still an empty shell twelve months down the line. The money has been spent, there is no going back on that, but for Pete's sake (that is a metaphorical expression, I don't mean Mr Kirby) let's get the place open and start attracting in the visitors to Bletchley Park and maybe some new blood in to the hobby.  Okay I am a little miffed that I planned this trip six months ago and they still had not got it open when I got there, but a lot of us have been asking questions about why it is taking so long. In a more tongue in cheek thought surely the RSGB  would have wanted to have got away from the giving the impression that all radio hams are shed dwellers.

Begin Activating Summits on the Air

Every now and then I am approached by a fellow radio amateur with questions about Summits on the Air. Often those questions are about the rules, but more often I get asked “What gear do I need to start activating?” Usually it will be when I am half way to work on a repeater and the answer can be a long and complicated one. So hopefully I can explain a little better here.

The answer is complex because everyone is different; you need to find your own level. If you are an experienced climber or hill walker the answer will be different from the answer for a complete beginner. The answer also depends on the summit you are intent on activating and the bands you want to work.

Take the beginner on a small summit, a ten minute walk from the road that overlooks a major urban conurbation with a large number of radio amateurs active on VHF. The minimum equipment that could be used might be a handheld 2m radio with a rubber duck antenna, a waterproof and windproof coat, stout shoes, a log book (preferably waterproof) and a pencil.

A stage further on and the transceiver might be replaced by a Yaesu FT-817 or FT-290 and a small portable beam so as to operate SSB. The preferred antenna amongst SOTA operators is the so called SOTABeam, either the one made by G3CWI or a homemade version. There are plenty of designs on the Net to try, but the object is to keep the design lightweight. The SOTABeam uses a boom made of PVC conduit and stainless steel elements. The elements are stored inside the boom for transport.

To utilise a SOTABeam a mast is required and for this purpose most SOTA activator opt for cheap telescopic fishing pole (often called Roach Poles in the UK or Squid Poles in the US). I say cheap because the good poles are carbon fibre and we want the cheaper fibreglass versions, for reasons that should be obvious. Then we need some way to hold up the mast on the hills. If there is a handy fence post then cable ties, elastic bungees or even gaffer tape could be utilised, but the usual method is guy ropes and tent pegs. I personally use three short guys attached via a ring (made from the inside reel off insulation tape) that fits just above the first section of the fishing pole. The size of pole will depend on what you are prepared to carry a 7m pole is probably a good compromise, 6m will just about do if you want to keep the weight down and 10m ones are okay for easy summits but a bit heavy.

So you have moved on from the handheld and you have a little too much gear to lug up the hills, so you need a quality rucksack. Make sure you buy a big one and one that is waterproof.You now have a rig, mast, SOTABeam, guys, tent pegs, coax, a mallet for the pegs, your log and pencil in a shiny new rucksack. It is time to consider what you need to do to take you station on the bigger hills.

If you are planning a longer hike you first of all need to think of navigation. These days most people think of a GPS. If you take a GPS then make sure you know how to use it and take spare batteries. Even if you use a GPS and have well planned your route you should still have a map and a compass. Most experienced hill walkers will even take a spare compass. Again know how to navigate by map and compass. One danger of trying to follow a GPS track in a white out is you can easily walk over a shear drop. Your map should be the very best scale you can buy.
Water: Even in the mildest weather there is the danger of become dehydrated while hill walking. This may first show itself by getting cramp, which can be extremely debilitating and turn a pleasant stroll in to a painful limp or worse. The amount of water to carry will depend on the temperature and the individual, but one litre should probably be considered the minimum.

Spare clothing: The weather in the hills can change dramatically from minute to minute so just because it is sunny and warm when you start out does not mean you will not experience all four seasons as you climb you intended peak. As a minimum I would suggest a spare fleece, water poof jacket and trousers, gloves and a woollen hat, one of those silver blankets that runners like to parade in after a race (they are tiny when packed away) and maybe a bivi bag.

Extras: I would suggest a whistle should be attached to the outside of your rucksack. This is to attract the attention of would be rescuers should you experience a problem. A luminous waistcoat or jacket to aid your being found or to ensure all your party can keep in sight during a white out. A torch possibly a wind up type and a head torch with spare batteries are a good idea.

If you are beyond the beginner stage and thinking of tackling more serious hills the next thing to look at is footwear. Buy the best boots you can afford and you will get years of wear out of them. Choose Gortex lined or similar that will keep your feet dry even when the boots get soaked. Socks are important too, in avoiding blisters. I wear a thin pair of cotton socks beneath thick woollen walking socks. This way the cotton socks rub against the woollen ones rather than your feet which might cause blisters.

Not all hills have nice paths up them and crossing moorland it is easy to step into knee deep pools so waterproof gaiters can be a great saver. They can also protect your lower legs from thorns, nettles and nasty biting things.

So we pretty much have all the gear now but what we wear is important. Denim jeans are a no go because when wet they stay wet. It is worth looking at trousers designed for the job, they may be more expensive but worth it. The type I choose are very thin combat style cargo trousers. Although they are very thin they are surprisingly windproof, cool in summer and warm in winter, but the best thing is they can be soaking wet and after only ten minutes walking they are as dry as a bone again.

Woollen sweaters may seem warm but they offer no protection against the wind, become heavy and take a long time to dry when wet. Fleeces can be bought that are wind and shower proof yet let the body breath and keep you warm.

Tee shirts and underwear can be of the wicking type which draws moisture from sweating away from the skin.

Finally we are kitted out for our mountain adventures or are we? A first aid kit and sugary sweets should be added to our bag along with our lunch which may include a flask with a hot drink or soup. I also pack a small MP3 player which I use to record my sessions if the weather makes conventional logging a problem and of course a camera to take some pictures of the views and the station.
Now with all that kit some thought as to where your adventures are taking you. Is that peak that you want to climb going to be easily to qualify on VHF or do you just want to do some HF?

If the answer is HF the next question is, which band? The activator is King and you should activate on the bands you want to do. If you just want to do SOTA with a VHF hand held rig then don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, but don’t moan when in the wilds of Scotland you fail to get a single contact.

It is important to know how much room you will have for antennas. It is no point in trying to get an 80m dipole up on a rocky summit with a small activation area. In that case VHF might be a good option, but on a remote summit you might consider 20m and a vertical antenna. You need to judge for yourself what bands suit you and your chosen location.

Antennas for HF: In order to not carry an ATU I carry a linked dipole for HF. I have made several one covers 80/60/40/20/10 metres and another 60/40/20/10 and is tuned on each band for the frequencies we use on SOTA. My wife’s liked dipole covers 20/17/15/12 metres and is tuned for the data modes sections of those bands.
These antennas work by inserting or removing plugged links to leave a resonant dipole on the chosen band.

For twenty metres operation you could use a wire vertical on your fishing pole with a 9:1 balun See: Rybakov 806 Multiband Antenna

I would recommend against antennas such as the Miracle Whip and Walkabout type antennas as I have found them incredibly inefficient. I am also not a fan of the Buddipole as I think it is too heavy for lugging up hills and is less efficient than a simple dipole in an inverted vee configuration.

What modes to use? Most activations are done on CW, FM or SSB but do not be afraid to try something different. My XYL is experimenting with PSK via a portable NUE PSK unit at the moment.

Personally on a summit I like to do as many bands as I can, before I either get too cold or my batteries run out. I use a Yaesu FT-857 so I can run 25/30 watts on HF and I carry two 7 AH seal lead acid batteries for power. I usually have the ability to operate 80/60/40/20/10/6/4/2 metres and 70 and 23cms from hilltops although I rarely get the chance or conditions to cover all the bands.

Hopefully that lot will help you decide if SOTA is for you or not. If I missed anything please add a comment so as to help others. Above all do it your way and have fun but stay safe, be aware of other folk out to enjoy the countryside, take care of the environment and when someone asks what you are doing be a good ambassador for amateur radio and SOTA

Monday, 9 May 2011

East to West - Holy Island to Hilbre

It has come to my notice that some likely lads from Merseyside and West Lancs are due to activate Lindisfarne (Holy) Island EU120 next weekend  Kev Haworth, M0TNX, Paul Scarratt, G0WRE and Ricky Knowles, G0LZX will use the callsign GB0HI (Holy Island). They will be active on 40,30,20,17 and 15 metres on SSB, Data and CW from 0500 UTC on the 14th of May until 0500 on the 15th May. If conditions make it worthwhile they may operate 6m as well.

Well I wish them every success in this endevour but when I tried to activate Lindisfarne (Holy) Island EU120 I could not generate any interest at all. The GB call will probably make all the difference but an island you can drive to did not seem to be exotic enough and I worked a handful of friends.

The same mob are at it again on the weekend of 20-22nd May this time from Hilbre Island with the call GB2HI on the same bands. In this case they say 6 and 2 metres are also possible.

Possible! I am sure at least one operator on 2m could generate enough interest on FM and SSB to make it worthwhile operating the band all day. This is due to the high numbers of amateurs from Wirral, Wales and the Lancashire coast who will have almost a direct sea path.

In their press release (as seen at Southgate ARC Newsline) they say the Island has not been activated for 10 years. Strange that because I have it in my log several times during the last seven years and I know at least one radio amateur who regularly walks across at low tide to bird watch and is never seen without his dual band handheld. Likewise I know another amateur who regularly canoes out to the island with his waterproof floating 2m rig for company. I also seem to recall that I have worked Hilbre during Lighthouses week in the past couple of years. Maybe Hilbre is not as rare as they would like people to think, not that it would put me off giving them a call.

So good luck to them. If you hear GB0HI or GB2HI call in and say "Hi!" or you could just pop over and say hello. If you do then be sure to consult the tide tables as the RAF rescue helicopter pilot from Valley is busy keeping his Princess happy by eating his Waitrose own brand rice pudding and does not need any call outs.

Bletchley Park - A lack of direction?

In the midst of that piece Southern Englishness that is Buckinghamshire sits the town of Bletchley a strange mix of run down housing estates and the homes of wealthy commuters who are something in the city. It was probably very different in 1882 when Sir Herbert Leon started building his mansion. Bletchley Park must have been stunning in its day, from the understated gatehouse with its grand gates through the manicured lawns complete with lakes and fountains to the Victorian splendour of the manor itself; with its built in pigeon loft, home to a flock of white doves, a dairy and ice house, it’s stable and yard and of course the garage for Sir Herbert’s two Roll Royces. Sir Herbert was a wealthy financier and the second son of George Isaac Leon, a stockbroker, and Julia Ann Samuel. He was elected as a Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for Buckingham at a by-election 1891.

The high life at Bletchley Park lasted until, like a number of the countries historic buildings, it was enlisted in to the war effort. In 1938 the Government Code and Cypher School took up residency. From that point on it faded from existence behind a veil of secrecy to all but those who worked there or needed to know. Eventually the tales were allowed to be told and the Park’s part in that conflict and many others became legendary.

Many radio hams were recruited to work at Bletchley and many more that trained or worked in the Code and Cypher School eventually became interested in the hobby. No surprise then that for as long as I can remember I have heard tales of espionage, code breaking and covert radio operations, sometimes in hushed voices and sometimes in fascinating talks at various radio clubs. One such talk involved how the person had been involved in breaking the Japanese version of Morse code and although I heard this talk several times over the years it never ceased to fascinate and enthral.

Books I read about the goings on at Bletchley Park such as the breaking of the Enigma code and the cloak and dagger of the cold war blended in my mind with the James Bond I had loved since childhood and spy fiction from John le Carré, Alistair MacLean, Frederick Forsyth and others to make a potent mix of expectation, which when blended with the personal accounts I had been privy to over the years was in retrospect bound to lead to disappointment.

What I expected to find when I visited Bletchley Park I cannot really say, but whatever it was I did not find it. The first impression when we handed over a small fortune for my family was good, the shop was well stocked with posters and tea towels emblazoned with the words ‘Don’t Panic’ , Union flags and postcards of Sir Winston Churchill giving his trademark two fingered salute (was it really V for victory or was he just telling Gerry to Foxtrot Oscar?). As we made our way through the exhibits the chaotic disorganised nature of the place became clear, here was a number of well meaning individuals doing their own thing without any systematic logic or plan.

Firstly all the displays had far too much reading material for anyone to truly absorb within a reasonable time and stood reading the more interesting of the panels one became aware you were holding up the queue if you stood long enough to read one thoroughly. Then the displays seemed to have been used as an excuse to get rid of someone’s lifelong passion for Airfix model aircraft, there were hundreds of them. Odd bits of memorabilia had been haphazardly strewn about to give the impression of a 1950’s jumble sale. Here and there the ignorance of the person assembling the mess shone through as we recognised items my wife and I had possessed and which were made a long time after the war. Occasionally some toys owned by my children cropped up and even my granddaughter said “I have got one of those”.

The Enigma display was better thought out but looked like someone had been sacked before they quite finished. Moving on to the Winston Churchill collection and a warehouse worth of the British Bulldog memorabilia, here we were greeted by the owner who had been collecting since the end of the war. After seeing the dusty disorganised mess of mostly complete tat it was hard not to feel sorry for the loony and feel he should probably have a nice cosy padded cell somewhere.

Eventually we made our way towards the main house and the cafe next door. After lunch we visited the manor but were shocked to find every room was a bare conference room and no attempt had been made to restore the place to its former Victorian splendour. The so called toy museum seemed to be another personal collection that looked and smelled like it had been recovered from a council tip. The Railways at War feature was just an excuse for the local model railway enthusiasts to show off their collection of toys and those in attendance seemed more interested in doing their own thing than entertaining the public. As a result hardly any of the displays actually had any running trains and none of them actually had anything to do with ‘Railways at War’.

There were other displays in various dingy, rotten and flaking huts but all of them were equally disorganised. The exception was the National Museum of Computing, the highlight of which was the full working replica of Colossus. It was at least clean and almost organized, but above all it was staffed by real enthusiasts who could talk the talk with the even most knowledgeable visitor. It was here my kids were in there element and we had to drag them away from vintage computers such as the Commodore 64, BBC, Spectrum and Amiga 1200. “Hey kids I have all those in boxes if want to use them” I said “and all those games”, but eventually we just had to wander off and hope they caught up.

Great swaths of the park is still covered in more dingy, rotten and flaking green huts, which when we looked through the dusty windows appear to have been used to store yet more obsolete computer junk and un-seen items for display. The local sea cadets have a place at Bletchley but we could not find the Milton Keynes Amateur Radio Society whose station is supposedly open to visiting amateurs. Then there is the Radio Society of Great Britain’s new headquarters, originally due to open in April 2010 and still not occupied, but more about the ‘Big Green Shed’ later.

What disappointed me most about my visit was not the impression of a dirty disorganised mess, but the fact that nothing had been done to capture the atmosphere of the geniuses at work, of the great minds that had worked feverishly for days, weeks and years to make sure we were always at least one step ahead of our enemy. Imagine the tension, the brain wrenching puzzles, the gallons of coffee and a million cigarettes. Take your average hippy hacker shave his head, put him in uniform and send him in a room with a hundred clones then give them a slide rule and an exercise book each, now your nearly there.

How good were these guys? How clever were these guys? One radio amateur who told me a tale or two was sat in his shack one day holding a conversation with me, at the same time he was working a Japanese maritime mobile station in Tokyo harbour on twenty metres on CW in Japanese and also at the same time playing chess with another amateur via SSB on eighty metres while filling in return QSL cards. I believe my friend was an unsung genius but if what he told me is true there were some people at Bletchley who almost redefined the word and yet a lot of them left after the war to live normal unsung, unremarkable lives. Blessed are the geeks for without them the wicked would have taken over the world!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Wendover Windmill

Hanging my amateur radio antennas from a fifty to sixty foot high windmill seemed like a great idea and it was always a bit of a dream to stay in either a windmill or a lighthouse, but the reality was somewhat less than the expectations. The problem being that Wendover Windmill is in the midst of Wendover, which is a smallish urban sprawl in Buckinghamshire not far from Aylesbury occupied mainly by commuters working in the capital.

The weather was fantastic but as holiday accommodation goes although Wendover Windmill  more than adequate but having eight flights of stairs to climb to go to bed is at least seven flights too many and when you come down to breakfast it is a long way back up for your reading glasses, to change you footwear or pick up the camera.

As a HF radio location  Wendover Windmill  could not have been very much worse. At home I suffer S7-9 noise most of the time on 80m S5-7 on 60 and 40m  but very little on the higher bands. Here I had S9+40dB all the time from 80-10m and consequently I did very little on HF and two metres was completely dead.

Probably only a mile away as the crow flies is SOTA summit Wendover Woods G/CE-005 and I was determined to activate it, get my point and cross it off the list. Here was the surprise even with very odd conditions on 60 and 40 metres Helen and I managed 46 contacts, without really trying. The noise level as the summit in the forest on HF was near nil. Stations were reporting massive QSB; Now we hear you, now we don't but S9+ when we do reports followed one after another. I was ready to try another band when a summit to summit contact with Jack GM4COX/P on GM/SI-008 Beinn Tarsuinn came through on 40m suddenly my rig kept going off so after exchanging reports with Jack I left him the frequency and packed away the gear. Later I traced the fault to the two blade type fuses on the power lead both of which had worked loose.

One of the things I said to Helen before we went away was that if the Windmill was any good we might book it for the Mills on the Air week next year. Bearing in mind the noise level at the Mill I think we will give it a miss. Oh well maybe we will look at somewhere with a few more hills instead.

Don't forget International Mills on the Air is over the weekend 14 and 15 May.