Gt.WHERNSIDE, G/NP-008 / IO94AD. VHF-NFD / SOTA, 06-July-08, 06:53 to 16:50.
G4YSS (using SSEG club callsign - GX0OOO/P).
All times BST (UTC plus 1) UOS.
IC706-2G, 9-ely for 70cm, 3-ely for 144.
80m link dipole on 5m mast for 6m (& 40m). Coils for 160m.
20 Ah (1 hr rate) lead-acid aircraft battery (10.8kg).
Backup: IC-E90 Quad-band 5W H/H with integral 7.2V / 1.3Ah Li-Po battery.
Pack weight: 25kg, (55 pounds).
Set off from Scarborough at 03:37. My son Phil, G0UUU declined to join me this year; the WX was predicted to be poor. Once the radio gear is switched on, Phil is a real asset but unlike his Dad, he sees the rest of it merely in terms of torture.
Arrived at the top of Park Rash (SD 9863 7573) at 05:45, walking away at 06:04 and 06:08 (Forgot the 70cm mast the first time). The route is simple but there is a little reascent. A boggy path goes SE via a wall with step-gate and a couple of steep gullies to a stile at SD 9963 7522, where the gradient eases. The well-defined path takes detours around outcrop and is marked by a series of yellow-topped posts (at SE 0005 7468, SE 0019 7429 and SE 0022 7414). The summit cairn and trig-point (SE 00205 73905) showed themselves out of rainy clag by 06:53. Ascent is modest at 211m and distance is around 5.5km (up & down).
Though boggy in places, the big flat top makes an ideal VHF takeoff whilst allowing a huge choice for setting up. The surface is grass on peat, which will readily accept masts and tent pegs to any depth required. This year was no different and I walked grimly NE for a couple of hundred metres.
The period between 07:00 and 07:50 was required to erect a roomy flysheet, half an 18-ely para-beam atop a 2.2m (hand-carried) dural tube, a modified 144 MHz, 3-ely SOTA Beam and an 80m link dipole on its 5m mast. Two sections of this mast are used to support the 2m beam. The 6m/4m dipole could not be used this time. Due possibly to the activities of sheep and the WX, I now had no separate mast for it. Beside that, I was already soaked and chilling in the brisk wind. The rig was an IC706-2G with token back-up in the form of my ‘shiny’ new IC E90 H/H, standing in for last year’s heavier FT817ND. A simple poly ground-sheet, pegged down with short lengths of home-grown bamboo, added the final touch of homeliness and civility. The beams are positioned either side of the flysheet, so that they can be rotated with one hand under the side. The HF dipole needs to be out of the way round the rear of the ‘camp.’
The power source was an old aircraft battery with a (new) rating of 20 Ah at the 1 hr aircraft rating. (36 Ah at the automotive (20hr) rating). The size of a car battery, this is still testing at around 90% of nameplate spec, making it well worth the effort of handling its 10.8kg bulk if you are prepared to ignore the agony it inflicts on the lower back when carrying it!
GREAT WHERNSIDE, NP-008, 704m, 6 pts. 06:53 to 16:50. 12 Deg.C. 15 mph wind. Low-cloud until the afternoon. Heavy rain with periods of light rain and a little sunshine near the end. Heavy static (with shocks) in rain and distant thunder (afternoon). WAB: SE07. LOC: IO-94-AD.
Once again there was no mobile phone coverage (neither O2 nor Orange) so I made a quick call to Roy on 80m CW to at least let him know I had arrived OK. Between 07:00 and 15:00 BST, it was the VHF contest which occupied the time, with thoughts of SOTA on the back burner for once.
A good place to start but there were few stations around this early. First logged was G3CKR/P in IO93AD (Coincidentally NP8 is in IO94AD). The initial QSO ‘away-rate’ was around one every 6 minutes but I did better than that after settling on a QRG of 144.295. At this point SOTA regulars started to arrive following a spot by Chris M3XLG/P. Tom M1EYP (operating GX4MWS/P) called in with, considering the time of day, a creditable tally of 66 QSO’s. Other SOTA chasers worked in this session were: Roger G4OWG, Don G0RQL, Mike GW0DSP, Graham G4JZF, Dave G6LKB, Mike G4BLH and Steve GW7AAV. During a lull, Helen GW7AAU (Steve’s XYL) thankfully took pity on me and made (apparently) a rare appearance.
At the start, conditions were being reported as bad; some stations desperate enough to call in CW. Turning the beam north, I worked GM3HAM via this mode. Despite not working outside the UK on 2m, I was again surprised at the distance achieved with a modest 3 elements and SSB. Frank G3RMD in Cheltenham, somebody who I would normally meet on 80m, was logged in at 51/51. A return to 2m was made near the end of the contest.
The ‘business half’ of Phil’s 430 MHz, 18 ely Parabeam (bought from Elverston Castle Rally when he was 12) was pushed into service. Using just 9 elements made it easier to mount and rotate whilst still retaining useful gain. It was also less ‘peaky’ to aim. Once 2m has been fully exploited, 432 is a good place to try. Stations in the 144 log can be reworked as they appear. The rain increased markedly by 11am and the 70cm log looked like a watercolour painting due to dislodged condensation. Even with a hat clamped down over phones and the AF gain control at 2-o-clock, it was hard to copy weak signals competing with the pounding that the tent was getting. I worked Goole Amateur Radio Club with the unmistakable callsign ‘G0OLE’ and didn’t forget to beam north for GM4ILS/P and GM3PXK/P. With just 9 logged on UHF by 11:30, 6m QSO’s had to be interspersed with 70cm ones and a 15 minute lunch. There was only one extra-UK station in the UHF log; PA6NL (serial 263 at 10:38z!) worked on 433.256 SSB.
Greater precipitation during this session brought its static problems with high QRN, especially on 6m. At 13:30z, I touched the aluminium mesh which was surrounding the rig but soon drew back. The whole radio installation felt as if it had been connected directly to the mains and to continue, I had to find a safe way of earthing it. After managing to force the inline BNC coax connector bodies onto wet grass using two pencils, I could then deploy the rig’s ready-connected earth spike; something I regretted not doing before the start.
With no aerial for 6m, whatever happened to be selected on the HF dipole (80m and later 40m) had to serve for 50 MHz. That said, VSWR didn’t seem desperately bad so I might try this compromise again. More distant stations worked on 6m were: IZ5EME, EB1DNK and EA1FFH but heard nothing of the reported Caribbean Station. The rest were within the UK and included Kevin M0XLT of the Crag Radio Club. This now 2 year old club has quite a few distinguished SOTA enthusiasts amongst its 15 members.
Other than FM, I had no TX (or erected aerial) for this band but easily heard a CT1 in IM57NH on 70.200 SSB.
At 13:59, the final contest station worked was none other than our very own Mike G4BLH disguised as G4CPS (Colne School). I told Mike that I would be heading for 7.032, Top Band and maybe 80m later. He kindly posted this information for me.
Powers (typical): 20W on 70cm, 30W to 50W on 2m, 60W to 100 W on 6m (and later on 40m /160m SOTA). Battery utilization was 81% and the IC706’s ‘mystery illness’ showed up on 2m yet again. The rig (whether grounded or not) ‘takes-off’ and the physical position of the microphone, in relation to it becomes highly critical. The remote station receives a broken-up or zero signal. This fault was reported after 90 minutes of 2m operating by Mike GW0DSP but this year was easily cured by loosely wrapping the rig in aluminium mesh, carried for the purpose.
59 QSO’s entered the contest log in a time of 6.75 hours, compared with 54 last in last year’s poorer condx. Chris M3XLG told me his score was 72 for the full 24 hours. He would only be allowed 10W and there’s never much doing overnight. What a keen M3. There were a few serial numbers of 200 or more but there are only so many stations you can hear and work. If you had to stick to one band, it would of course be 2m but frustratingly, I was asked for operation on 23cm or 4m more than once. Possibly IO94 is quite rare. I was thanked quite a few times ‘for the multiplier’ and only worked one other IO94; G0OPH Paul in Stockton. I am no ‘VHF expert’ but though there was QSB about, the bands (and their level of occupancy) seemed fairly good to me.
Judging by what I overheard, apart from one mild (but justified) comment about splashing, operating was gentlemanly and hassle free throughout. Some had time to give their names and ASL’s; to stop for a brief chat or even spot me for SOTA! Many commented on the atrocious WX but few (if any) had a QTH as high as mine, so on the latter point I was in a good position to empathise. At least I wasn’t cold or wet through. Many reports were ‘honest’ rather than ‘59’ which was helpful. Generally speaking, the time and effort taken to get the exchange correct and confirmed, especially for marginal contacts, was commendable. From my side, NFD is done for fun, to give out points and the SOTA summit without the bureaucracy of submitting a contest entry. However, there is the option of a check log.
Backpackers Contest & SOTA:
After the NFD contest, seven stations called in on 144.303 for the SOTA. From these, Steve M0SGB/P and John GW3GUX/P were joining in the Backpacker’s Contest. Steve was on Winter Hill and John on a non-SOTA highpoint called Drum Hill. The others were Graham G3OHC, Chris M3XLG, Scott 2E0RCS/P, Roy G0SLR and our old friend Mick in Clitheroe, 2E0HJD newly returned from Germany. I kept receiving disturbing news about a huge storm. Mick had last seen it heading for Pendle Hill. After that it might wander my way. “You may only have an hour or so!” I hurried onto the next stage, which was to be 40m CW for SOTA.
SOTA 40m CW:
The storm warnings were disturbing. After the static shocks, I knew it would be an electric one and the tip of my carbon mast was the highest point for many a mile. Worse still, Mick (2E0HJD) had reminded me that he, Steve (G1INK), my son Phil (G0UUU) and I had narrowly avoided this potentially disastrous event on this very hill following VHF-NFD in 2006. Noting the wind-speed and direction gave me some confidence but I didn’t want my ‘bacon’ getting cooked. In order to save it, I would need to emulate Klaus, Dan, Norby or Phil G4OBK as closely as possible! Why ‘spare the horses;’ the power was set at 60W and thanks to Mike’s post, the chasers were waiting for me on 7.032; first up being Daryl G0ANV. 37 eager regulars followed in 46 minutes! This was ‘really shifting’ for me. There were a mix of G’s and Europeans today, with one S2S; Guenter DL5WW/P on DM/NW-018. Mike GW0DSP QSP’d a further storm warning via S53X and SM6CMU (thank you all three). Though I tried to scribble this on the damp log, it would have been far better if I’d been any good at reading CW in my head and at the speed I have to send it! Apologies for this.
After a few CQ’s and late-comers, my mind turned again to the worsening WX. I really had to go sooner rather than later. Countering this, I had ‘advertised’ 160m. I fitted the loading coils and guessed the settings; luckily they were right first time!
SOTA 160m CW:
This would have to be ‘rapido’ and merely a duty but if any 160m chaser was not continuously monitoring 1.832 they would surely miss out. Screwing the power up to 100W, my CQ call at 1523z was answered in ‘short order’ by Mike G4BLH, with a 339 RST. Feeling considerable gratitude, I tried just once again but without success. I’m afraid that the ‘80m might do’ turned into an ‘80m won’t do.’ I didn’t feel too bad about this; 40m had covered ‘far G’ and 2m had filled in the gap.
No time to lose; it was fine outside but there were some ‘dirty’ looking clouds hanging over neighbouring hills. Packing the entire ‘encampment’ up in 20 minutes, I was on my way through waterlogged grass by 16:50. 10 hours of lying on lumpy ground had taken its toll and the 85 ltr. pack with its painful cargo and slippery surfaces, ruled out any form of rushing. ‘Almost got away with it!’ The heavens opened 100m from the car, which was regained at 17:32.
2m SSB: 38
2m CW: 1
70cm SSB: 14
6m SSB: 6
Total (Contest): 59
Non-Contest / SOTA
2m SSB: 7
40m CW: 38
80m CW: 1
160m CW: 1
Total (SOTA): 47
Grand Total: 106 QSO’s.
Battery utilisation: 81% (measured) of 20 Ah (1 hr rate) lead-acid aircraft battery.
5.5 km walked and approx 211m (692ft) of ascent.
Pack weight: 25kg (55 Ibs).
Home drive along flooded roads: 17:45 to 19:55.
Thank you to spotters: Chris M3XLG, Roger G4OWG, Mike G4BLH, John G4WSX, Mike GW0DSP, Roy G4SSH and Ingemar SM6CMU. Thank you also for the storm warnings.
This was SSEG’s 6th successive VHF field day on NP8, Scarborough’s closest 2k; only 157 miles round trip.
Ascent 211m and 5.5km (3.4 miles) walked.
Maybe this can be repeated next year with better WX (we hope). Phil, G0UUU???
73, John G4YSS
(using Scarborough Special Events Group callsign; GX0OOO/P).