Saturday, 17 May 2014

SOTA in Madeira - Day One Friday - 16 May 2014 CT3/MI-008

CT3/MI-008 Pico Chao dos Terreiros 1436 m / 4711 ft

I planned a walking holiday for members of Ryedale Walking Group in Madeira and five of us signed up for it. The five included radio amateurs and Summits On The Air enthusiasts Phil G4OBK and Nick G4OOE. Accompanying us on the walking holiday (but not with us on the summits) was Judy (XYL G4OBK) and two YL's from our walking group, Anne and Jan. 

Phil - Nick - Jan - Anne and Judy the previous day to this activation
Nick and I decided that four summits could be tackled comfortably in two days and we chose what we believed were the easiest of the four summits to climb from the eleven on the island. 

GPS  track from Boca da Corrida to the two point summit of CT3/MI-008 Pico Chao dos Terreiros
We hired a Renault Clio for three days to help us reach our four target summits. The hotel we stayed in was the Regency Cliff, which is on the western outskirts of the Island's capital Funchal. Our day started at 6.00 am when we eat our specially ordered breakfast in Nick's hotel room. At 6.30 am, just after sunrise, we were heading to a small place called Boca da Corrida where there was one house and a religious shrine.  I had a TomTom satellite navigator with me but realised very quickly when it instructed us to drive down a one way street, that once we left the main road it was useless!  We relied on the 1:40000 paper map we had after that and OSMAND+. This is an Android mapping application running on a 7" Nexus tablet computer. We kept climbing - following signs to Jardim da Serra. It had to be right and sure enough we reached a road junction which was signposted Boca da Corrida. Our parking place was reached just before 7.30am local time. The summit of CT3/MI-002 can also be reached from here, but we took the easier option of walking to CT3/MI-008 Pico Chao dos Terreiros. The distance one way was 2.7 Km and the ascent a mere 223m from Boca da Corrida. 

Nick (centre left) sets out for MI-008 from the car park at Boca da Corrida 
The track leading to the cow shed on the walk up to MI-008
Nick on the steepest part of the climb up to the cattle fence near to the summit of MI-008
From the car park a rough track, too rough to drive on, led us to a stone cow shed and from then on to reach the now visible trig point, we used a faint path around a curving ridge to a fence with a crossing point. Cattle had been grazed on the land but there were none present that day. 

We reached the summit trig point after 50 minutes and set up two stations adjacent to each other - both Yaesu FT-817s running five watts. As soon as we keyed up on the non harmonically related bands of 14 and 18 MHz it was immediately obvious that we were causing mutual interference to each other, so whilst Nick continued to operate CW I moved my station about 300m away and this took a wasted 30 minutes in setting up time.  I easily stayed within the activation 25m zone though on the adjacent knoll and found this solved the problem of breakthrough. The cattle fences were put to good use in supporting our fishing poles and we kept in touch by 2m handheld radio so as to avoid using the same band at the same time.

Pico Grande CT3/MI-002 seen from CT3/MI-008
The radome is on CT3/MI-004 Pico do Areiro which we were to activate the next day - seen from MI-008
Between us we worked down all callers on 14 MHz and 18 MHz in CW and SSB, both of us making exactly 29 contacts each. We were unable to self spot using the Rucksack Radio Tool mobile app as I had turned off roaming on my phone, however the mobile phone reception was excellent so we telephoned Roy (G4SSH) in Scarborough who alerted our activity on SOTAWatch. I recently signed up for the Vodafone eurotraveller package, so this service was well worth the £2 per day charges. 

Nick making his way down from CT3/MI-008
The village of Curral Das Freiras lies below Boca da Corrida in the next valley
The car park at Boca da Corrida had filled up on our return, but no walkers came to MI-008
Returning to the car I was careless to stumble, bruising my left knee. There was no permanent damage, just a little soreness. After something to eat and drink we set off in the car to our next summit, the highest point on the plateau of the Paul da Serra where CT3/MI-006 Pico Ruivo do Paul, is located.  Link to next summit: CT3/MI-006 

SOTA in Madeira - Day One Friday - 16 May 2014 CT3/MI-006

CT3/MI-006 Pico Ruivo do Paul 1640 m / 5381 ft

Road trip from MI-008 to MI-006 (Click to enlarge)
The car journey from MI-008 to MI-006 took far longer than we had anticipated due to a road closure on the ER 110 west of Encumeada which we were unaware of until we found the road blocked by large boulders. I had enquired with the hotel reception who had told me that the road was clear - it looked as though it had been closed for months! In fact when I checked later I found that the ER 110 was closed in February after heavy snow falls caused significant damage to the road. Madeira is a difficult place to get around in a car, it's far easier on foot...

MI-008 to MI-006 line of sight is exactly 10 Kms. If the road thorough Encumeda had been open we would have driven for 53 Kms to reach the summit car park, and this included seeking out a petrol station in Ribeira Brava as we were running short on fuel. Due to the road closure and having committed ourselves to choosing the route we did, we actually drove 91 Kms, going north from Encumeada to Sao Vicente and then on the much improved ER 101 newly tunneled road to Ribera da Janela. The ER 209 hill road was taken from there which was surprisingly good. This brought us to the other side of the ER 110 close to the parking place for MI-006 on the Paul da Serra plateau. 

The nearest parking place for MI-006 - 1.2 Km walk to the summit
It was a very easy six SOTA point walk to the summit of Pico Ruivo Paul da Serra
We walked on a red earth track and then turned right to make our way on a narrow path through some gorse. It was Nick's turn to fall now (I fell on the walk back from MI-008). He fell backwards into the gorse, without any injury. We were soon on the summit which was visited by several other hikers during the 90 minutes we were there. A German couple agreed to take our photo before we left the summit...

Nick CT9/G4OOE and Phil CT9/G4OBK near the trig on MI-006
The equipment deployed on MI-006 was different to MI-008. Nick used his FT-857 running higher power, whilst I stuck with my FT-817. Between us we completed 84 contacts in just over the hour, with Nick remaining on the 20m band in CW/SSB and me using the 17m and 15m bands, also in CW/SSB. I used my link dipole and Nick used a 20m dipole - we both had 5m fishing poles which we fastened to the fence posts around the summit. We operated around 100m apart, and had no problems with interaction between the two stations.

The writer operating from CT3/MI-006 Pico Ruivo da Paul in Madeira
Getting back to Funchal after the activation was very straight forward. We just drove downhill and followed our instincts. Once again the TomTom was giving us totally inaccurate instructions telling us to use the most unlikeliest of tracks into peoples back gardens! We were soon on the VR1 Motorway reaching our hotel.  This was only a 42 Km journey - much easier than the outward one. 

We looked forward to our second day with another early start planned, heading out to CT3/MI-001 Pico Ruivo de Santana. Link to CT3/MI-001

SOTA in Madeira - Day Two Saturday - 17 May 2014 CT3/MI-001

CT3/MI-001 Pico Ruivo de Santana (1863 m / 6112 ft)

My GPS trace from the car park at Achada do Teixeira to the ten point summit of MI-001
The walk to the highest point on Madeira turned into a much easier affair than we expected when we arrived at the start of the walk and found that the path to the summit was paved virtually all the way to the top.

Leaving the empty car park on our way to Pico Ruivo
A mountain house and shop (built in 1939) lies quite close to the top around 80m below the summit. This facility caters for the many tourists and hikers who visit there on a daily basis. I believe we were the first on the mountain that day and we had it all to ourselves on our arrival. 

One of the three provided shelters and picnic places on the way to the summit
Once again we had an early breakfast at 6.00 am in Nick's room at the Regency Cliff Hotel. This saved disturbing my XYL Judy who needs more sleep than I do... We headed off from the hotel in the Renault Clio at 6.40 am and arrived in the empty car park for MI-001 at 8.00 am. It was a bright clear morning with thick cloud below us. The road up to Achada Do Teixeira was good apart from in one place where there was a pothole the size of a car, but this was safely negotiated with care.  

This is Pico do Areiro MI-004 which we visited later in the day by car -  if time and transport could be arranged a walk across to this summit passing over MI-003 would be fantastic
We set out on our walk and passed three stone and slate shelters before we reached the mountain house and shop. This was closed when we arrived at 8.45 am. The duration of the walk from car park to summit was 53 minutes over a distance of 2.7 Km. 

Just below the mountain house is the path left to Pico do Areiro MI-004 (MI-003 is also passed en-route)
The summit top is a paved walkway - we used our hands a few times to climb onto the top walkway, however this could hardly be called a scramble. I set up my station to the north end off the fenced walkway, and using the fence to support the pole. Nick did the same on the opposite end of the top near to the very large trig point. We had no problems with interaction and kept in touch via handheld VX-170 radio's. 

CT9/G4OBK operating position on MI-001. CT9/G4OOE is on the higher lump near the trig point
Conditions were excellent for low power operation - we were both using FT-817 transceivers and between us completed 104 contacts in little more than an hour. I carried on where I left off the previous day with operation on 18 and 21 MHz in CW/SSB. Nick started on 10 MHz CW and when that dried up moved up to 14 MHz in CW and SSB. Best DX for Nick was VK2IO (New South Wales, Australia) in CW.  I went for quantity rather than quality and failed to make a single contact outside of Europe! I had turned on data roaming on my mobile phone which helped when I moved frequency when I used the excellent free Android App called Rucksack Radio Tool (Thank you DL1DLF). Nick continued to utilise the dial a spot service provided by Roy G4SSH who lives near to Nick in Scarborough, North East England. 

The mountain house and shop just below the summit
Within an hour of arriving groups of walkers and individual hikers started to arrive, including many of french nationality. We packed our gear up after a 90 minute stay and headed back to the car park passing many tourists on the path without rucksacks and wearing trainers. To be truthful this would not be a problem on a day like we had with such settled weather. The path was paved, there were shelters, there was a shop near the summit where drinks an snacks could be purchased and there was a restaurant open for business when you returned to the car park!

Restaurant and car park on our return around midday
Indeed, when we returned there were coaches, minibuses and tens of cars on the car park. 

After our pack up lunch we drove back down towards Santana and on to our final SOTA activation in Madeira on this trip - the Pico do Areiro CT3/MI-004, an eight point summit, where you were able to drive into the activation zone.  Link to CT3/MI-004

SOTA in Madeira - Day Two Saturday - 17 May 2014 CT3/MI-004

CT3/MI-004 Pico do Areiro (1818m - 5964 ft)

Surveying the summit for the best two places to set up our stations
The summit of Pico do Areiro MI-004 must be one of the most visited places in Madeira. You can drive along an excellent tarmac road virtually into the activation zone, where there is a military radar station, tourist shops, toilets and a cafe. 

The large car park on CT3/MI-004
When we arrived we had plenty of time to spare so we investigated operating on the adjacent hill which sports a lattice mast and which does not attract the tourists. Between there and the main summit with the radome there is a roundabout in the col before the rather more craggy summit rises.
The roundabout and col in between the two hills which we had doubts was within the 25m drop zone
For the avoidance of doubt as to whether the col was within the 25m drop zone or not, we decided to set up nearer to the highest point yet try to keep our stations as far from the public as we could. Nick set his station up on the "switch back" accessible ramp for wheelchair users, while I found a perch on a ledge to the side and below the viewing platform near to the trig point. 

Nick CT9/G4OOE rigging his antenna alongside the accessible ramp for wheelchair users
Neither of us were pestered by the public asking questions, although we had some curious looks from the many people visiting the summit. 

My perch just below the public viewing platform on MI-004
We didn't suffer any interference from the radar installation, however we were disappointed by the poor HF conditions compared to our morning activation on MI-001 Pico Ruivo. I stayed with my FT-817 (the only transceiver I had with me), whilst Nick used the higher power from his FT-857.  We both used linked dipoles mounted on 5m poles. 

The view towards MI-001 Pico Ruivo - the path looked excellent 
Once again I stuck with the 15m and 17m bands on both modes, Morse and Voice and this time made some contacts outside of Europe with N4EX (Rich - North Carolina) and N7CW (Bud - Arizona) logged on 21 MHz CW. Nick stuck with 20m CW and worked  Heinz HB9BCB/P on the Swiss summit of VD-029 Les Rodomonts. In one hour of operation each we shared 53 contacts which was considerably down on our previous efforts on the preceding three summits. With no further stations calling who could hear us we packed up and headed for the cafe for a cool bottle of Coral lager - the local brew. 

It was then time to head back to Funchal, to try to forget about SOTA for a few days and continue with our walking holiday! We wondered how long it would before someone would go to Porto Santo to activate the five summits there...

Back at the hotel for our dinner (Thanks to Nick for taking the photo)
Bird of paradise flower

We had a third day with the car so all five of us took a tour of the Island, returning to show the ladies the MI-004 summit, before I returned the hire car back to base. Before that we visited the volcanic lava caves at Sao Vicence, which were intriguing and featured a fantastic AV presentation called "Journey to the centre of the earth".  Here we are inside the caves:

73 Phil CT9/G4OBK/P & Nick CT9/G4OOE/P now QRT....

After operating in Madeira I picked up another 4 unique summit activation towards my SOTA Complete score. This still leaves me in 5th position in the all UK table with a score of 234. There are 22 operators in the UK now with a complete score in excess of 100:

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Survey work on North Yorkshire's Public Rights of Way

Over the past year I have been part of a team along with four other members of Ryedale Walking Group (RWG) taking part in the survey of more than 1000 miles of public rights of way in some of the 97 Parishes in Ryedale, our area of North Yorkshire. This means that every right of way will be walked by someone interested in keeping our network open in the whole of Ryedale's 97 Parishes. If access is not possible on any footpath or bridleway it is reported to North Yorkshire County Council and the relevant Parish Council. 

As an affiliated group of the Ramblers, RWG are providing assistance to a team of around fifteen people undertaking this vital work for the Ryedale Ramblers Group, of which I am also a member.  We hope that in the long run, our work will lead to improvements being made to the deteriorating footpath and bridleway network in North Yorkshire. 

Completed Parishes surveyed by RWG Members so far have been:
  • Aislaby
  • Coneysthorpe
  • Cropton (footpaths outside the National Park)
  • Gillamoor (footpaths outside the National Park)
  • Henderskelfe
  • Middleton
  • Newton on Rawcliffe (footpaths outside the National Park)
  • Normanby
  • Sinnington (footpaths outside the National Park)
  • Welburn (Kirbymoorside)
  • Wombleton
  • Wrelton
In all these Parishes every single notated footpath and bridleway on the County's Definitive Map has been surveyed, creating a standardised record for each notated right of way. 

Problems have been recorded and submitted to the North Yorkshire County Council Rights of Way Team and to Parish Council Clerks. 

The exercise in our area has so far shown that the authority responsible North Yorkshire County Council, apply their limited resources to the "honeypot areas" of the Howardian Hills (ably assisted by the AONB administration).  Apart from the occasional isolated problem, the public rights of way north of the A170, which lead up to the North York Moors National Park, are also fairly well maintained. Other areas however, are often neglected, with landowners deliberately obstructing rights of way in some cases, without being challenged. We have found bridges missing or too dangerous to use, gates chained up and many rights of way have been deliberately fenced across. One footpath in Normanby even has a grain silo sited on top of it, blocking the route and in another place in Normanby a footpath has been turned into a "private" garden and fenced off.  

Parishes currently being surveyed by RWG Members in May/June 2014:
  • Brawby
  • Kirby Misperton
  • Kirkbymoorside
In early May we surveyed the parish of Welburn (Kirkbymoorside) discovering several footpaths of great interest in fine condition. All bridleways and footpaths inspected were in good heart, with just one obstructed footpath found on the border with Wombleton Parish. If only all Parishes paths were as good as Welburn. 

The total network in Welburn can be covered by one single 8.5 mile walk without doubling back, so this walk will feature in the RWG Autumn Walk Programme. Here is the likely route, marked in blue on the map:

The route passes close to Welburn Hall School, (pictured below) where we will pass through this five barred gate into the grounds. We will then cross the bridge over Hodge Beck and then turn right to follow the beck back to the A170.  

We should all value our rights to walk in such beautiful surroundings in North Yorkshire, so I hope that the footpath survey we are undertaking will in time improve and reopen those parts of our network that are closed off, and so help us to maintain those rights.

Best wishes and thank's for reading this, 


Walks Coordinator - Ryedale Walking Group

Monday, 5 May 2014

A new Windows 7 computer for the G4OBK Amateur Radio Station

Front of the Ankermann unit
With Microsoft Windows XP support now at an end and the 250 GB hard drive on my six year old HP Desktop almost full, it was time to replace the main PC I use in the shack for amateur radio, running two websites, uploading my weather station data up to the internet and the administration of virtually everything I do these days in the voluntary sector.

My computer needs I imagine, are wider than the average user - for ham radio I use the Logger 32 station management software.  This interfaces my computer via Logger 32 using Telnet, to the SOTA Packet Cluster in Scotland run by Andy MM0FMF. This computer has aother purpose -  I make extensive use of computer mapping with Memory Map, Anquet, Garmin Base Camp installed. I use an Open Street Map based app called OSMAND+ via Blue Stacks which is an Android emulator programme installed on the PC.  I use the MS Office applications Outlook, Word and Excel. I have two transceivers (On HF/50 MHz a Yaesu FT-2000 and on VHF/UHF a TS-2000X) interfaced to the PC using two seperate Microham interfaces for Voice, Morse and Datacomms.  My main antenna rotator for HF is also controlled by the computer within Logger 32 through a serial port. I had to install a PCI card for this - modern PCs don't include serial ports these days.  I run the main PC into two 19" Iiyama Monitors. The onboard graphics card is well up to the job and is a far better performer that the ATi card I had installed as an extra in my old HP machine.  It took me around two weeks to install around 40 other programmes on the Ankermann  but all is fully installed now and the system is working extremely well. 

Internal view of the Ankermann Sorbus A8-6600K
My Amazon UK review (with additional pictures) follows:

5.0 out of 5 stars Delighted with my Ankermann PC Sorbus 9 April 2014

 Name:A8-6600K 8 GB Win 7|Verified Purchase
Rear label on Ankermann Sorbus PC with AMD A8 Processor
Rear Connection Panel
I bought this quad core PC two weeks ago to replace my ageing HP DX 2300 Dual Core unit which was purchased in 2008. Whilst that unit was running well 24/7, and has for the last six years, the 200 GB hard drive is almost full, it was running Windows XP (support ended yesterday 8th April, not that it mattered to me), and I believed the old HP may be on borrowed time since a friend who is in the PC business told me that generally companies needed to replace their desktops every three years. I am not a gamer, I never play computer games but am more of a business type user. I multi task when using a computer and run some pretty demanding applications all at the same time.

Having tried out Windows 8.1 on a friends laptop I was put off with that operating system. So I wanted a PC that included a licensed version of Windows 7, a unit that was reasonably quick, that had plenty of USB ports and an SD card slot. My budget was less than £350. I studied the specification, reviews and prices of three makes of computer. CSL, Zoostorm and Ankermann. The Ankermann PC AMD Sorbus AMD A8-6600K was my choice, the price tipped the balance. I found most of the Zoostorm models did not include an SD card slot which I needed, so they were ruled out. .

The PC arrived in around 4 days - earlier than expected. Despite Ankermann being a German company the PC was shipped by Amazon in the UK. It arrived via the carrier Hermes and I was away at the time. This carrier left the double boxed carton on my doorstep on Saturday at 12.30pm and it laid there until I arrived home the following day at 7.30pm. I was unimpressed with Hermes as I have been in the past....fortunately it didn't rain over that period and the box didn't get stolen.

One Terabyte Seagate hard drive 

The unit was unpacked next day and switched on. I used my own keyboard and mouse. Windows 7 was pre installed, and after easily changing the language on boot up to English I had no problems registering the licence on the phone by auto message with Microsoft. The supplied OEM Dell Windows 7 DVD is still in it's sealed wrapper and was not needed.

The unit weighs 7 Kgs (Shipping weight on Amazon said 14 Kgs) and the dimensions of the unit are 39cm deep X 35cm high X 17.5cm W, slightly smaller than quoted on Amazon. Not a problem.

The unit comes without bloatware, not even a virus checker and this was good news. I put the unit online and installed the free AVG anti virus. Over the following week I installed around 35 applications and programmes which I use on a regular basis. No problems. The unit sports 5 USB ports on the front and 4 on the back. It also has two graphic card interfaces, a VGA and a DVI which is great as I run two monitors. I also needed a serial port to drive a motorised antenna rotator via software. Very few PCs have these installed these days so I purchased a Dynamode two port PCI serial card from Amazon for £9 and installed this myself. I am not a gamer but more of a business type user...

AMD A8 Processor on an ASUS Motherboard

So how does the unit perform? Using the built in Windows Performance Information Tool the PC scores an index of 4.9. This score is down to the onboard graphics card, which scores 4.9, but this is far superior to my previous computer and another 4 year old Acer dual core PC my wife has, which scored 2.5. I understand that the current maximum score attainable by a Windows PC is 7.9. Here is a breakdown of the scores from my Sorbus:

Processor (AMD A8-6600K): 7.3

Memory (8 GB): 7.3

Graphics (On board AMD Radeon HD 8570D): 4.9

Gaming Graphics: 6.4
Hard Disk: 5.9

I was impressed with the workmanship inside the PC and how quiet the unit is when running. The motherboard is by Asus who have an excellent reputation. I have one of their tablet PCs. You can just hear the processor fan on the Sorbus if you put your ear close to the cabinet.

I e-mailed Ankermann in Germany with a couple of queries, they replied within five days partly in German, partly in English. I used Google translate to convert the German text and it worked surprisingly well and my questions were answered.

The speed of the graphics impressed me. On my old PC I had installed an ATI HD5450 dual head graphics card to allow me to drive two monitors. Fortunately as stated, the Ankermann Sorbus already provides two graphics ports, one DVI and one VGA. Ankermann confirmed via e-mail that I could connect two monitors to the unit and they were right. Graphics have come a long way over the last five years and the on board graphics easily outperforms my dual head card by around 100% according to the specifications - so I do not need to install the old card in my new unit as the performance would be inferior to the graphics supplied.

Overall I give the Ankermann PC Sorbus a five star rating and I am really glad I purchased it. The two year warranty is also a plus point should it go wrong. My wife's Acer dual core PC is now over four years old so when the time comes to replace that I will be replacing it with a unit from Ankermann.