Saturday, 29 May 2021

GW/MW-012 Carnedd Wen 29 May 2021

I took a day out from a family visit in Cardiff to try to activate the last two of forty Marilyn Summits in Mid-Wales that I need for Summits On The Air (SOTA). Only one summit was completed, due to injury leaving GW/MW-020 Esgair Ddu for another day in 2-3 weeks time, when I am resident for a longer period near to Dolgellau.

I left Cardiff at 0715 a.m. on an almost three hour, 125 mile drive that took me along the now familiar and excellent roads through the Brecon Beacons, Builth Wells, Rhayader and Llanidloes. Then from Mallwyd roundabout (A470) I drove six miles eastwards on the A458 to the parking place, a wide gateway which leads to the summit of GW/MW-012 Carnedd Wen (523m, 2 points). 

The locked metal gate at the parking spot, was one of three or four climbed that day, taking the walker on to a 3.5 mile track to the summit activation zone. The first real and immediate obstacle being a concreted sill ford - water depth was about half way up the tongues of my Scarpa's, so the feet remained dry. After a rainy spell this torrent could well overtop your boots I reckon:
The graded track took me up across open fell and then into the forest. The navigation was straightforward, and the climb gradual and as easy as you could imagine. Within 90 minutes after 3.5 miles I was within the activation zone where a caravan had been parked:
Some environmental land management was taking place as I came across packs of plantings stored on the track containing moss and suchlike, so I can only surmise that the caravan is there to act as either a crewroom or sleeping accommodation for the workers. It was a Bank Holiday weekend and I never saw a soul all day... By the time I reached the summit area my left leg achilles tendon was very sore and the final 200m spent locating the deliberately hidden trig point, involved dragging my hungry body and sore ankle over a peat bog making it worse. Rule for the future: "DON'T SKIP BREAKFAST".
The dull grey trig point had been masked by ploughing back the land - to create an ad-hoc quarry with pond, for forest roadstone within 6 feet of the trig and at least 10 feet higher. This higher terrain became the tieing off point for one end of my link dipole:

After climbing up and tieing off on top of the spoil heap I felt decidedly dizzy, so I sat down for 5 minutes to regain full conciousness (Don't tell the XYL!). I put this down to the pain from my achilles and lack of breakfast... The small pork pie and water I had at the start was insufficient to nourish the effort needed to reach the "summit" I thought. I knew at this point that one summit was all I could manage that day.... Completion of the GW/MW with MW-020 activated and chased would have to come on another day...

Time for some Radio then... 

With time to spare having decided on this being a one summit day I switched on my recently purchased (Chinese made) Yaesu FT-65E. I bought this relatively cheap radio as it has a bigger battery pack than my other FT-4X (Also Chinese made). Both radio's also operate on 70cm which is a band I am unaccustomed to using. As I was setting up on HF I used the handheld with long dual band RH771 whip to work Dylan M7DST/P on Long Mynd G/WB-005. Then I heard Vicky MW6BWA/P and Rod MW0JLA/P call CQ from Great Rhos GW/MW-002 also on 2m. Two more lovely S2S QSOs with the added bonus of 59 reports both ways on 70cms as well!


Time for HF action now and Victor, GI4ONL (Bushmills) was waiting at home for me to come on 60m CW, followed by another good mate, Nick G4OOE (Scarborough). A move to SSB and I worked another mate, Terry G0VWP (York) and continued to work my way through the bands on CW and SSB working UK and EU stations, avoiding 20m CW due to the CQ WPX Contest congestion. I finished with a good handful of welcome S2S QSOs. As I was packing up and monitoring S20 Jordan MW3TMX/P came on the air from nearby Garreg Llwyd GW/MW-014 to finish off my nice spell of SOTA activity with 45 QSOs. Jordan being on his 3rd summit of the day with another one to go later. 

The way back down was painful walking with a limp and stiff leg and then when nearing the car I made matters worse, by slipping off a metal gate and slamming my sore left leg hard down on the ground. This meant the air turned blue with profanity but there was only I to hear it!  A golfing friend has suggested some exercises to repair and strengthen my achilles as well as rest and ice packs. I am hoping that this will be enough to allow me to resume activating in Wales when we return in June.

My drive back with a meal stop at the recently refurbished and much improved Burger King in Builth Wells was enjoyed, and I was back in Cardiff by around 7.45pm.

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Review - The Bresser / National Geographic WIFI Weather Center 7in1

Bresser / National Geographic 7in1 monitoring the weather in Pickering

Following on from my previous blog reporting on my experiences with the unreliability of budget weather stations, this is a review of my latest unit, the National Geographic WIFI Weather Center 7in1 by Bresser UK. This unit replaced a more expensive Youshiko YC9391 unit - which lasted less than six months before failing under warranty. 

The Bresser range of weather stations are supplied by Bresser GmbH Germany, however the units can be ordered from Bresser's UK Office and website based in Kent. The Bresser Company has been trading now for over sixty years. 

No duty was payable for my unit on delivery (Post Brexit April 2021). The range of stations available is extensive, currently starting at £35 and going up to £433. The units are branded as either Bresser, Explore Scientific or National Geographic. This review is for the mid-range 7in1 National Geographic model. This review was written after the unit had been in service for just 3 weeks. 

This model and similar units in the Bresser range do not rely on a computer to transfer data to the internet. Data is uploaded from the control panel directly to publicly available websites via the users own router, which becomes an "Access Point".  A comprehensively written 22 page English Quickstart printed manual is included for set up and maintenance and this is also supplied in German.

An adaptable mounting kit for fixing the 7in1 unit to a circular pole is supplied, or the mounting bar with shoe can be fixed permanently to a flat surface. The supplied clamp was used with stainless steel hardware to fix the mounting bar to a 30mm length of tubing attached via u-bolts to a small mounting bracket on the gable end of my home.

The 7 in 1 unit fixed to its mounting bar and fixing shoe prior to erection

The 7in1 Unit

The moulded plastics used are of good quality. The unit weighs 673 grams. Incorporated in the unit is a rain chamber, which operates using a conventional tipper, outdoor temperature gauge, anenometer for wind speed measurement and weather vane for measuring wind direction. In addition humidity and UV / light intensity index is also measured. In use, the effect of sunlight on the temperature sensor does not influence the readings.  A spirit level is incorporated in the top of the unit to ensure level mounting, so that in theory at least, the rain gauge remains accurate.  To power the 7in1 unit I used three Duracell Ultra AA batteries. It will be interesting to see over time how long the batteries will last...

The 7in1 unit mounted in proximity to the writers Amateur Radio antennae

The unit passes weather data at a power level of >25mW on a frequency of 868 Mhz to the control panel inside my home. A range of 150m is claimed - in my installation the signal passes through two masonry walls and two wooden floors to the panel 11m distant from the 7in1 unit. The panel indicates that the signal strength is 4 bars, which is the maximum indication.  

The Control Panel

The control panel is smaller and brighter in colour than my previous unit. It is small enough not to look out of place on top of a worktop, window sill or piece of furniture. The unit is powered by the supplied 5 VDC plug-in mains power supply. Backup is via a CR2032 button cell. No batteries for either unit are supplied by Bresser. 

The panel has internal sensors for indoor temperature and barometric pressure. The display is highly configurable for various parameters of each weather characteristic. I prefer to observe wind gusts in mph, temperature in centigrade, absolute pressure in millibars hPa and rainfall in millimetres.  The unit also displays the "feels like" temperature which I can vouch as being accurate when we have a "nithering northerly" or a "beast from the east" cold wind! In terms of accuracy all measured units can be calibrated electronically during setup. The barometer was actually reading six units high compared to the local airfields, so the panel was recalibrated to match the accurate air pressure. Several weeks later the reading has remained accurate. 

National Geographic / Bresser Monitoring Panel

In addition to monitoring the 7in1 weather data the smart device picks up and displays date, time, and moon state data which it obtains from the internet.

During installation and calibration the control panel becomes an Access Point, allowing set up using WiFi via a tablet, phone, laptop or personal computer. The set up interface can be displayed on Android or iOS devices. The frequency used for the purpose of access is in the commonly used 2.4 Ghz band. I had no problems in accessing the panel settings using an Android tablet or smartphone and a Windows 10 laptop, which all allowed me to save the settings.  The panel was set up to provide viewable current and historical data to three publicly available websites - see below.

Internet Connectivity

These latest Smart Devices no longer need a direct connection to a computer to upload data to external websites, as earlier models and many current units still require. This is a positive advantage, to provide 24/7 day monitoring without the need to rely on a computer to be left on continuously, yet still sharing the weather data via the users router to a website. In the case of my installation the data is uploaded to Weathercloud, Weather Underground and AWEKAS.  All three websites provide a free service to registered users.  You can see the results at: Weathercloud, Weather Underground and AWEKAS. One last important point to note - this unit is covered by the Bresser five year warranty

The NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC WIFI Colour Weather Center with 7in1 Sensor is available at £189 plus £5.95 carriage from Bresser UK 

Sunday, 2 May 2021

My experiences with Weather Stations from 2009-2021

I've been running amateur weather stations at the two homes I have lived in at Pickering North Yorkshire, for more than ten years. Since I started with the first cheap Watson unit the technology and web content which can be viewed via the internet by the general public, has changed considerably. After spending in more than £500 on five stations in the low to mid budget category over the years, it seems that the stations susceptibility to the very thing they are measuring, the weather itself, is their "achilles heel" of the outdoor sensors. So I thought I would catalogue my experiences of the different units I have used over the years in my blog...

My first weather station was made by Watson and cost less than £100. This Watson station which came as a christmas present, cost less than £100, and the unit has long been discontinued.  The Watson lasted less than three years before there were problems with two of the outdoor sensor units, so I decided to replace the whole thing. Over the next six years I ran two identical WMR88 weather stations made by Oregon Scientific:


I had problems with the first control panel after around three years, so I purchased another WMR88 set as the cost of that was close to the cost of a new panel. The seperate spare sensors for wind, temperature and rain later came in handy to replace the first set when they became unreliable. After six years operation I still had a servicable weather station from the two I originally bought, so I took it out of service, repacked it and sold it in 2020 as a servicable station for £80 on eBay.  

These early stations relied on software running on my own PC. I configured them to upload data to my own website and to the the public website Weather Underground.  This was achieved using the original Cumulus software which was written by a guy on Sanday in the Orkneys.  This software writer has now retired but an updated  version called Cumulus MX is available from another writer. If you try the updated version yourself - good luck, I could never get it to run on a Windows 10 PC.

In 2020 three of of us, all radio amateurs, decided to all purchase identical stations from a company called Youshiko that is trading in the UK now, selling weather stations and other items, such as radio clocks and battery chargers. The company is based in Romford Kent. We all decided to purchase their top of the range "professional" unit the Youshiko YC9391 at a cost then of £299.  The YC9391 has a 7in1 unit with all sensors contained within the roof mounted outdoor unit, which in my case was mounted on on a 30mm diameter pole on my house roof:
Now defunct Youshiko YC9391 Weather Monitoring Station on 29th January 2021
The only external sensor to the main external unit was the indoor thermometer which was seperate to the control panel. There was no internal thermometer within the panel itself:

With technology and internet connectivity of devices continuing at great pace over the last decade, these latest amateur weather stations operate in a different way to the earlier models I had which relied on a home PC 24/7 to perform the upload function every few minutes using software on a PC. The latest units such as this Youshiko and others by Bresser, National Geographic, Explore Scientific and other branded similar stations, utilise the users own WiFi router to upload weather data to the internet directly, so no longer does the user have to rely on connecting their panel to a PC to upload their data to the internet. The panel communicates directly to the router and the router then sends the data every few minutes to one or more publically viewable websites. 

Unfortunately it appears that the three of us were unlucky in purchasing the YC9391 unit, and only one out of the three of us are still using these. Within four months of installation one of my friends 7in1 units stopped functioning completely. The support provided by the Weather Shop where he purchased it was excellent. They told my friend that the units had been unreliable and that they weren't able to repair the unit. They also told him that they had stopped retailing the Youshiko YC9391 on account of its unreliability. He was asked to return the YC9391 to them. To their credit they supplied, at no cost, a similarly priced Davis unit. My other friend was also unlucky with his unit which stopped working after around 4 months - in his case he like me, had purchased direct from Youshiko, who replaced the 7in1 unit. Six months later I'm able to report that the second replacement unit is providing reliable service.

In my case problems with the 7in1 unit developed after 5 months when the UV sensor stopped working. Up to this point the unit had been reliable. At the same time as the UV sensor failed to read, the 3 x AA batteries in the 7in1 unit expired and these were replaced by lithium ones. These lasted just three weeks, so that meant another climb on the roof to replace them! This lithium set lasted less than two weeks so once again it was necessary to climb on the roof and replace the batteries again. This time Duracell Ultra AA were fitted, and yes, you guessed it - these lasted just three weeks! 

Standard Alkaline, Lithium and Duracell Ultra AA batteries

So after an awkward and protracted email discussion with the man at Youshiko about my faulty unit with no offer of replacement I lodged a Section 75 claim through my credit card company against the company. After five weeks Youshiko offered to refund my money and provided a forwarding address. The unit was returned to them boxed with all the original documentation. With the £299 back in my account I had now to decide to buy a replacement, my 5th weather station in twelve years.... so what did I buy? I got the National Geographic WIFI Weather Center 7in1 from Bresser UK costing £189 and I will write up a review in my next blog entry. Happy weather watching folks...

Sunday, 25 April 2021

At last we can travel to Wales for SOTA...

Its now  over a year since I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and dilated cardiomyopathy, which doctors call heart failure. The condition means that my heart lacks the ability to pump blood around my body at the rate it should. Despite being on optimum medication for this condition, my heart stills pumps at a rate of only 32%, when with normal heart function it should pump at 55%-70%, which mine did until two years ago when my heart became damaged - the doctor thinks by a virus (not Covid-19). So having optimised my medication without much improvement I was fitted with a CRT-D Pacemaker (which includes an on board defibrillator) 10 weeks ago. The heart can fail at anything less than 40% ejection fraction so at 32% this little unit could save my life.  The pacemaker however, does not appear to have made much difference in terms of my fellwalking ability, although my atrial fibrillation has  been fixed, with the unit inside maintaining my heart rate at 60+ when sleeping and 80+ during the daytime. So this one day trip to Wales was a test to determine if I could come anywhere close to my fellwalking ability in the years before my heart became damaged and allow me to continue hill walking and SOTA activating. 

GW/NW-035 Manod Mawr (661m)

After leaving my home QTH in North Yorkshire at 0545L I was parked at Manod Mawr slate quarry at 0930L. This was an excellent Sunday morning 200 mile drive with no hold ups whatsoever, on a lovely sunny day. 

Parking at Manod Mawr Quarry for GW/NW-035

A path to the rear of the slate workings leads up to the summit. I followed a GPX track by Simon G4TJC which I downloaded from the SOTA Mapping Project. A discernible path took me right to the summit shelter less than a one mile walk from the car, with 500 feet ascent - 30 minutes walk time, I would grade the walk as easy.

Quarry waste and scrap metal to rear of the quarry buildings

I was carrying fairly heavy 2m FM gear - a Yaesu FT-1500M mobile radio, 4 AH LiFePo battery, 5m pole and vertical dipole. I had a Yaesu FT-4X handheld and RH770 whip in the sack as backup and a bottle of water. 2m was buzzing with activity when I switched on at 0925z, and the Welsh Association Manager, Roger MW0IDX was first into the log! Great to work an AM who is still active in SOTA having been in the role since 2002. I noticed that many AMs appear in name only in association manuals and no longer take part in chasing or activating.

GW4OBK/P station pole with antenna on the summit of Manod Mawr GW/NW-035

Several nets, the RSGB news etc meant I finished up on 145.300 MHZ where I made 16 QSOs. The most welcome contacts were S2S with Tom M1EYP on Cloud G/SP-015, Neil and Karen 2E0TDX/2E0XYL on Foel Goch GW/NW-039. It took me 22 minutes to return to my car after an enjoyable walk and activation. My best DX was Alan 2E0AGB in Dewsbury. 

Looking down on the Manod Slate Quarry Workshops on my way down
GW/NW-027 Arenig Fach (689m)

A ten mile drive from NW-035 west towards Bala on the B4391 and A4212 roads, brought me to a gate at the foot of GW/NW-027, Arenig Fach.  I parked on the very dry grass verge by the A4212. In wet conditions I would have driven on for 300m and parked in the layby. It was here that I spoke to the only person I saw walking all day, a man about my age - and I met him again on the summit. Before setting out I had some lunch, a pork pie and a pear. All I then had to carry was a small bottle of water plus the radio gear. The walk started well enough on grass, however once I passed through the intake gate in the stone wall at SH 823403 I was into rough heather and the climb became less enjoyable. My heart condition means I now have to stop from time to tiime for a minute or two rest on a climb of this nature.  I would have expected to climb this in around 60 minutes a few years ago, but today it took me 95 minutes to climb the 1.5 miles to the summit shelter. This involved an extended "comfort break" behind a wall, if you know what I mean... (Too much information)... There was just under 1200 feet in the climb and the fellwalker I spoke to at the bottom appeared from my left as I approached the shelter. We exchanged a few socially distanced words and then he left the summit to me.

You don't get a much better shelter than this one on Arenig Fach

It felt great to be on the summit but bashing through that heather was damned hard work and not enjoyable one bit! It was now 1245z and I switched on the 2m FM band to find plenty of summits audible on the air. Moel y Gamelin, Easington Fell, Tryfen and Shining Tor were all logged for S2S. I logged 12 QSOs in 35 minutes before packing up. When I worked GW4TJC/A Simon he confirmed that my last planned summit of Mynydd Nodol GW/NW-048 nearby, was just as heather crusted as the one I was now on...  Maybe I should head back home after this?  I decided to wait and see how I felt when I got back to the car. The walk back down to the car took me just 50 minutes, not much slower going down than the old days! 

GW/NW-048 Mynydd Nodol (539m) 

After a drink and an energy bar and despite Simon's warning about another heather bash to the summit, I decided to spin the car round and go the the cattle grid parking place for Mynydd Nodol which was only two miles from my current parking spot, but more like 3 miles by road to drive to get around Llyn Celyn reservoir, which is to the north of GW/NW-048:

Thanks to Simon G4TJC and Gerald MW0WML for the GPX track downloads I got from the SMP ©Crown copyright 2021 Ordnance Survey Media 018/21




Parking on a track near the pylon line just off the lane for Mynydd Nodol GW/NW-048

After following a track for a while I climbed the (unmarked) fence at SH 860394. The unavoidable heather came into my climbing line as I went up by the fence. My arms and legs had little strength left in them now,  so it was a case of climb for 25m, rest, then continue. I must have had to stop around 10 times for a minute or two to enable me to complete the short climb. It wasn't breathing that was my problem but the lack of strength in my arms and legs... Eventually I topped out at the fence corner SH 865392, and a short walk over a small col took me to the summit cairn for my 3rd activation of the dayūüėÄ 

It was the same distance as the walk up Manod Mawr (0.9 miles) with 600 feet ascent, but this climb took me 53 minutes as opposed to the 30 minutes easy walk up to Manod Mawr. The difference being the terrain - easy gradual path compared to a bash through heather on the steep section going up to Mynydd Nodol. 

The summit cairn Mynydd Nodol - I fastened my pole and aerial on the nearby fence
I was on the air at 1545z and made nine QSOs in 20 minutes including an S2S with M7BIA/P Martin, on Gun G/SP-013. I packed up and took the left side of the fence going down which had less heather on it than my route up, until I got near the bottom track, and was back at my car at 1640z. Time out from the car less than two hours and another unique summit bagged. 
 
The drive back to North Yorkshire was uneventful. I took the C road from the summit parking down to Bala and then the usual Chester bypass, Manchester M60 western circuit, M62 and A64 home. I stopped off at Tesco Prestwich for fuel and McDonalds Whitefield near there, for the lousiest burger and chips I have had in my life. I won't be going back there, it was dreadful - lukewarm chips and a cold big mac. 
 
The trip leaves me with 79 unique summits left to activate to reach my target of 1000 SOTA Completes - that's 1000 summits chased and activated. I'm hoping that travel restrictions ease soon and we are able to continue with SOTA Touring into Europe again - which should enable me to reach my target before the end of 2022.  I was home for 2200 local in time to catch the news and in bed an hour later ūüí§ūüõĆ I think on future trips like this into North Wales I will consider activating with just a 2m handheld and whip. I could have easily qualified the summits with much lighter gear and enjoyed the climbs without having to keep stopping for rest which made my day less enjoyable. Total distance walked 7 miles, 2350 feet ascent, 395 miles driven.

Thursday, 28 January 2021

Mains filters for the Radio Shack - Covid Lockdown project

To hopefully reduce any mains borne interference and to mitigate against the possibility of putting RF into the mains supply, I recently built two mains filters by copying the design published by Ian White GM3SEK in his technical blog. The filters are now feeding two 10 Way surge protected 13 amp distribution panels in my shack:





 
Here is my parts list:

Mouser:

Fair-Rite ferrite clamp on cores low & BB Freq 31 Mat (Bought Jan 2019)
Fair rite ferrite cable cores 43 Full flat cable core (2 needed per filter)
Schaffner power line line filters 16A fast-on (1 per filter)

Rapid Electronics:

2 X Hammond RL6465-F Flanged ABS wall mount instrument enclosure 150L X 100H X 90W - box width very tight - only just accomodates ferrite filters when wound.
Schneider Electric GGBL3010S LWM 1 gang 13A switched mains socket

CPC: PL10035 EXT LEAD 10 GANG WITH SURGE + RFI X 2

Cable - domestic appliance sized 3 core mains cable - I had that in stock. The large Fair-Rite clamp on ferrite just accommodates 7 twisted turns of that sized cable. Any thicker and you would struggle to get 7 turns through the middle.

Volt drop through the filters off load when tested is approx 1 volt - 232V in 231V out.

Monday, 30 November 2020

CQ Worldwide CW Contest 2020 - 10m band at G4OBK

For the first time in some years and with a respectable sunspot count of over 100, I decided to enter a worldwide amateur radio contest - this is the annual CQ WW CW Contest which always takes place over the last weekend in November. CQ is an American Ham Radio magazine, so it comes as no surprise that the contest falls around the time of their Thansgiving Day Bank Holiday. It also happens around the time of my birthday - the 28th November - this time round I was 68 on the Saturday of the contest. With the current lockdown in England there was no better time to take part in a 48 hour contest - although I would only operate during daytime hours. 

When I was younger I would take part in most of the worldwide contests and try to stay awake and operate for the full 48 hours. This just isn't possible for various reasons now so an entry on the 10m band when there is propagation mostly during daylight seemed appropriate. So what equipment should I use? 

Ideally a dedicated antenna, such as a 5 element yagi built for the 10m band would be ideal, however this was not possible so I used my every day antenna - the multiband G3TXQ Hexbeam which on 10 metres is claimed by its maker MW0JZE to produce 3.6 dBd gain with a front to back ratio of 16 dB. The rotatable Hexbeam is fed with Ecoflex 15 coaxial cable and it is fixed at 12m above ground on a Tennamast. It is rotated above a 4m/6m yagi by a Yaesu G-1000DXC motor:


On the Saturday morning after opening my birthday cards and present from XYL Judy - a new jumper and fleece dressing gown, I ventured into the shack, however the 10m band in North East England was devoid of signals at 0830z - at 0848z though something started to happen and RN9S in EU Russia was the first station heard and worked.

Plenty more stations were worked immediately afterwards and within an hour of logging RN9S I had 20 stations in the log. Running by CQ Calls on a frequency proved pointless as I got few takers, even using 400 watts of power, so search and pounce was my best option. In the days previous to the contest I had downloaded and re-familarised myself with the contest logging program Super Duper by Paul O'Kane EI5DI. The program is easy to use compared to some of the newer contesting software - its heritage dating back to around 1990 when we were using DOS. Its not too complicated and after a gap of more than 10 years using it, with a little practice, I was up and running. I had the CAT connection and Winkey CW keying from my keyboard using the microHam CW Keyer and Bencher paddle key.  My station was the Yaesu FTDX101MP and Linear Amp UK Gemini DX1200 amplifier - having decided to run in the single band 10 metres, unassisted classic high power section of the contest.  I also used for the first time in a contest, my SDR Play RSP1A receiver displaying 28000 - 28060 KHZ on a seperate monitor. This proved very useful when the band opened up but was not so busy, as new CW activity could be seen on the spectrum display. The transceiver could then be put straight on to the frequency of interest to see if I had worked that call. As the band was relatively quiet all through Saturday the information provided by the extra SDR receiver proved to be a Godsend! 

Saturday proved to be the poorest day compared to Sunday, when I was able to run and work 65 stations in an hour - mostly from Eastern Europe and Russia. Among them was 4L6QL, a country and zone multiplier. My best 10 rate was 140 an hour, but this was short lived! Some of the sending speeds used by the serious stations were ridiculous, and to the untrained ear would not have been recognisable as Morse Code. The special callsign stations in Cyprus and Zone 33 were the worst culprits. I took a casual attitude to the contest and took a break when things were quiet, and an hour off for my lunch both days. On Sunday a two mile dog walk interupted my activity and I guessed that some USA stations were not worked that could have been.  

On the Saturday session the first USA station heard and worked was at 1425z. This was N4XD (Zone 5), this was just after working P40W in Aruba. Only five USA stations (all Zone 5) were worked on the Saturday and the opening finished with N4BP at 1433z!  N4BP was the most consistently heard and probably the loudest of the USA stations heard on both days. I must have tuned across his signals at least 10 times over both days and he was always the loudest. After USA faded out it was Caribbean and South America until 1625z when the band closed, but there lean pickings and I ended the day with 73 valid contacts, 33 countries and 14 zones. 


Sunday dawned and having lingered over breakfast I went into the shack around the same time to find 10 Metres coming to life at 0850z. This time R4GM was first into my log. Over the last 10 years contesting has changed somewhat - the one most noticable thing are the special shortened callsigns used by the seasoned contesters. Calls such as G3T, D1M, C4W, P3X etc. Years ago you would have taken these for pirate stations! The other noticable changed is the earlier mentioned sending speeds from programmed keyers wound up to ridiculous speeds of 40-50 WPM.  Propagation conditions on Sunday were better for sure, with a great opening to Eastern EU and Russia in the late morning - the spectrum display on the RSP1A was not needed as the band was full of big signals! More EU countries were logged via reflective propagation rather than direct path so that boosted the multipliers to some degree. Either side of the lunctime period some good DX worked such as 5T3, CX, ZD7, CE, KP3/4s, PJ4, 8Q7, TA, PZ5, C6, ZF and W (Zone 4 and 5). The only gotaway I heard and called for 15 minutes but which gotaway was VK3JA from around 0900-0915z. He had a long line of callers which I couldn't hear, but he didn't hear me!  At 1328z I worked C6AGU and then K1TTT but no other USA stations were apparent. I took an hour off to walk our dog, returning at 1424z to find several USA stations working at good strength in a far better opening than the previous day - 15 were logged, including Zone 4, with W4DD being the last USA station logged at 1550z. The only Canadian station logged was VO1HP in Newfoundland.


From then on it was South America only until the band was devoid of signals at the later time Sunday, of 1730z. My Cabrillo contest entry struggled with the callsign for AZ1A/X which was Argentina. What the /X stands for is not known. The contest organisers will hopefully allow me the 3 points for that one...
 
*In early December CQ Magazine released raw scores - at
present I am coming in at 5th in EU in the single op high power section:
I really enjoyed my time in the CQWW CW Contest this year, a refreshing change from the daily routine of SOTA Chasing and DXing using WSJT-X on FT8... My final claimed score was 208 QSOs with 50 countries and 19 zones for 26634 points. The only station I heard of any significance and did not work, was VK3JA who has a great ham radio station. Steve's QRZ.COM entry tells the story -  plenty of real estate and a Rhombic antenna centred on EU on a lovely hilltop QTH in Victoria. Maybe I'll work him next time...

73 Phil G4OBK

Result: #1 England #4 Europe (Up 1 place on claimed scores)



Sunday, 11 October 2020

SOTA GM/SS-184 Middlefield Law and GM/SS-120 Cairn Table

With a good weather forecast on 11th October 2020 I left Pickering at 6.00am en route to the East Ayrshire town of Muirkirk which is close to the two summits for the day.

SS-184 Middlefield Law

It was exactly 200 miles to the parking place at NS685297 and I got there without having to stop. A really good drive on a sunny morning, minimum temperature 2c on the M74 in the shade and at the parking place near the metal gate by Forkings:


From here I followed the quad track - which veers off when near the summit. Quite a dry and steady walk up, not too steep with a few wet patches. It took me 24 minutes to reach the trig. As it was Sunday I expected plenty of chasers on 2m FM to be within range, and I wasn't dissapointed. After working regular chaser GM7NZI (Ray) I was called by MM7MMW/P (Michael) who was on SS-042 Shalloch on Minnoch - a very welcome S2S contact. 
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Yaesu FT-1500M - 40 watts to an end fed dipole on an old broken pole on its last legs...

GM/SS-184 Middlefield Law
After eleven contacts on 2m FM in fifteen minutes I closed down and made my way back to the car.
 
SS-120 Cairn Table
As I parked the car on Furnace Lane on the opposite side of Muirkirk to Middlefield Law I heard MM0GOG/P (Duncan) calling CQ SOTA. He was strong so it was no surprise when he said he was on Cairn Table above me! I got my chaser points as GM4OBK/M and agreed that we would meet each other on my way up. It was time for an early lunch, so I had that in the car to save carrying it up to the summit. Whilst eating I heard Duncan working Pete MM0HQO/P on Green Hill SS-123 near Wanlockhead. Pete lives very close to me in Pickering, unfortunately as I was in the valley I couldn't hear him. The walkers car park was full but there is plenty of roadside parking in Furnace Lane across from the Muirkirk Golf Clubhouse - and the lane leads into a path up the hill there where I saw this sign:

I'm unsure what was mined above Furnace Lane, but its worked out now and what is left is derelict. However the remains of the building seen above still sports part of a chimney, so I guess this may have been the furnace from which the lane and industrial estate below took its name.  This side path soon joined the main muddy "tourist route" up to the summit which was boggy despite the council having installed duck boards, several of which had sunk into the mire!  I wouldn't recommend this route up to Cairn Table - the way I came down was far drier ground with no deviations around the mud necessary, unlike on the way up. You may download the GPX track for this and Middlefield Law from the SMP:  
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I was passed by a few younger walkers as my pace is not what it was a few years ago. Approaching the summit I met MM0GOG (Duncan) for the first time, on his way down. Duncan  told me he had enjoyed a fruitful activation which included several 4m (70 MHz) contacts. I reached the summit in exactly 83 minutes to find plenty of places to fix my aerial pole to. I went away from the large cairn and trig to another large pile of stones where a low shelter had been built - enough to keep the wind off the bottom half at least, and no one came across to disturb the proceedings. There were plenty of stations on the 2m FM band, with the Scottish Microwavers out using 13cm. They also carry 2m gear and so in my log appeared several, thanks to Andy, Jack and Jim, and also to Tim G4YBU on G/NP-005 Ingleborough:
 

Three countries on 2m FM wasn't bad, with GI4ONL hearing me almost 100 miles away. 
The Cairn Table itself and trig point

Topograph on summit with Middlefield Law SS-184 in the centre of the picture
  
The descent back to the car took me 70 minutes and was much drier than the ascent.

So to the drive home and calls at my favourite stop offs for diesel at Tesco (A69) Carlisle and the KFC Penrith for takeaway.  I was back home in Pickering just before 8.00pm. The KFC chicken was dissapointing today though - terribly dry and the coating had little flavour. I hope this doesn't mean that Colonel Sanders "11 herbs and spices" recipe has permanently changed....

Looking forward to activating another two unique Scottish summits as soon as I get the chance....

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

SOTA GM/SS-164 Kirkland Hill and GM/SS-186 Benbeoch

 Kirkland Hill GM/SS-164 - 9th September 2020

This early morning summit activation in Upper Nithsdale was a straight forward affair. There was room to turn the car round and park without blocking access to the cattle grid at NS745164:

A 33 minute climb up the bland moorland took me to the trig point. It wasn't so boggy, just a little tussocky. There was one gate in the fence at NS736166. On the way back down I cut across the moor and climbed the fence. I then came across a track which went straight down the hill to join the track running alongside March Sike:

With a 5m pole and dipole with my KX2 I made 13 contacts using Morse and 3 using Voice, all on the 40m, 7 MHz band:
It wasn't a bad morning, but I had another summit to go for so I limited my time by not going on other bands, By 0800z I was leaving the summit and heading back down. 


Benbeoch GM/SS-186

Having driven early morning from a holiday cottage near New Galloway I headed back in that direction, passing the road end in New Cumnock to Glen Afton, which leads to the summits activated a few days previously Windy Standard and Blackcraig HillI was driving on the B741 and one mile before I reached Dalmellington I found the usual parking place for Benbeoch in a lay-by at Pennyvenie Bridge. 
Benbeoch is above a large area of worked out opencast coal mine workings, which need to be negotiated to gain access to the summit. A couple of barbed fences were climbed and a banking in a copse and this led me on to one of the mine access roads just south of two lagoons. It was quite an eerie place - thankfully there was no one around and all I could hear was the sound of running water and a buzzard squeeking and circling above me. A wide graded access road (next picture) took me north and to ease the gradient and rougher ground I went left before climbing a banking
 
It wasn't a bad choice and the unchartered route took me to a wall and fence corner at NS495079, the summit can be seen above my rucksack:
I came back to the same point on my way down, although I took a steeper way down to reach it. Continuing on to the cairn above the crag, the ascent took 55 minutes. I had more time to spare on this summit so ventured on to the 20m band as well as 40m, where conditions were not so good to Europe. Five S2S contacts were completed out of the twenty in total. It started raining then, just a shower but I wanted to get back to the cottage for a late lunch so I called it a day and packed up:


Pictures above of the cairn with my 5m Lifes-a-Breeze travel pole supporting a link dipole for 20m, 30m and 40m. The bottom picture is a view of the opencasted area below the summit. I opted for a more direct walk down, spotting a small brown deer living in the area of the opencast mine on my way - there are better places for a deer to live I'm sure! Nearing the B road I opted for an earlier exit from the site out on to the road. I was glad to get this summit completed as there could have been issues with access, but no person was encountered during the activation.