I was looking forward to the first 2m Tuesday night activity contest of 2011. With the sensible rule changes that favoured intra-UK contacts in the UK activity contest, and the new low power (10 watts maximum) section which protected QRP, SOTA and Foundation stations from having their normalised scores crushed by 100 watt stations, I had the opportunity to be competitive, rather than merely a participant. I did what every self-respecting individual does these days, and announced my enthusiasm in my Facebook status.
Less than 24 hours ahead of the contest, my wife advised that she was going out for a drink with friends on the Tuesday evening. I have to admit to having pulled a face like a smacked bottom. After gently spitting out whatever dummies I could find, I sheepishly returned to my shack to update my Facebook status. In times of adversity, feel sorry for yourself on Facebook, then loads of people you sort of know (“friends” - in inverted commas) can type how sorry they feel for you as well. It solves everything.
The following day, Marianne announced a complete reversal of her plans, and I was free to go out again. SOTAwatch Alert added. Facebook status updated. Somebody “liked” it. Have a shower. Eat tea. Prepare kit. I hadn’t done a darkness activation recently, so I grabbed my CD of “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”… No, I mean I checked my headtorch and put a spare headtorch in my coat pocket. Flask of coffee prepared. No pre-heating. (Pre-heating is for wimps, or for inferior quality flasks).
I arrived at Cloudside at 7.15pm, with the evening temperature dropping to around 1 degree. I ascended the hill while repeatedly running my packed radio kit around in my mind. Had I remembered everything? Did I remember to transfer the guying kit and RG58 feeder from Jimmy’s rucksack to mine? Upon arrival on summit at 7.25pm, I was able to confirm that everything was packed. Plus other things I didn’t need. Like a 20m Magic Moggy antenna and a 30m dipole.
I began to prepare the antenna by getting the lower part of the mast in an upright position before adding the SOTA Beam and extending to full height. Big problem. The ground was frozen hard and wouldn’t take a peg. Usually, I find I can poke around and find a weaker spot under a tuft of grass, but nothing was happening. I glanced at my watch. 7.40pm. Time was on my side - if I could find a suitable contingency.
I decided to site the pole near one corner of the topograph that I would be using for shelter anyway, and wrap two of the guys around it. I used gaps between the bricks to tuck the strings in, and found the length was perfect such that the loops at the end could be brought all the way round and then loop over the bottom part of the fishing pole. The third guy string was angle at 45 degrees away from the topograph, and was held in place by placing a large rock over it.
Time check: 1952z. I settled down in the sheltered side of the topograph, sitting on my foam mat on top of my bothy bag, which I always like to have to hand. The 817 was set up with fist mike, Palm Paddle (in the event not used), fresh SLAB and radio controlled clock, and we were ready to go. Time check: 1957z. I got my pencil and notepad ready and found a clear frequency.
As my clock clicked round to 2000z, I began calling and immediately worked GW4ZAR in IO83KF. My activator point for G/SP-015 for the year was qualified by Jimmy M3EYP, who was my fourth contact. Thereafter followed one of my best contest outings with 76 QSOs in the two and a half hours. Everything was on SSB, there was never enough of a drop in activity to justify any calls on FM or CW.
Although the QSO count was pleasing, the multiplier count was arguably not so. Of course, the EI station worked wouldn’t give me a new multiplier under the new rules, and I never heard the EI others were reporting in 52 square. I did hear the Channel Islands station in IN square, but he was too close to M0GVG operating from very nearby Biddulph Moor for me to have a chance. I almost completed with GM4BYF in IO85, but the word “almost” indicates the gotaway. So nothing from GM, and I never worked one from JO01 - a big miss.
As well as being bitterly cold on the summit, the ground was filthy - damp and muddy. My trousers, coat, trainers and rucksack were all in need of a serious clean by the end of the night. My hair badly needs cutting, and it was a sight from a horror B movie when I removed my fleecy hat. Undeterred, I still walked into the Harrington Arms at Gawsworth at 11pm. Thankfully, they hadn’t introduced a dress code since my last visit, although one of the local farmers having a late drink in there was keen to tell me that I’d got the wrong night for the fancy dress.
A pint of Mr Scrooge ale, with a bag of Nando’s Peri Peri Chicken crisps and a Spearings pork pie hardly touched the sides as I devoured my late evening supper. I was home for a quarter to midnight, and watched the test match on Sky Sports 1 for a while, before retiring to bad.
A very pleasing first VHF contest evening of 2011. Many thanks to the significant number of known SOTA chasers that worked me. And probably the most QSOs I have ever made for a scoring one point activation!