An unexpected activation of GM/SI-153

Some might know my story, but others might not. I’ll attempt to keep it brief!

My mum and dad owned a ruined cottage on the Isle of Coll in the early 1980’s. As a primary school aged child, I’d be taken to Coll during the school holidays, the idea being to be able to do work on the cottage. We’d camp in the site grounds in a tent. My dad chose my name to reflect his interest in the Isle of Coll. I remember holidays to Coll with fondness. As things go, my parents got divorced and the ruined cottage got sold before I’d left primary school.

In 2016, I was curious and I wanted to go back to Coll to see how much I could remember and to see if the cottage had been restored. I wanted to scratch the itch and get Coll out of my system. I enjoyed Coll and I was actually invited in to the now restored cottage to have a look around by it’s new owner, who’d bought the property from my parents. Rather than get Coll out of my system, I put more Coll in!

I discovered a few years ago that there is a small hill on Coll called Ben Hogh and it qualifies for the HEMA scheme. The stars aligned this year for me to try to get across to Coll to activate the hill.

The HEMA folks seem to prefer 40m SSB, so I had to try to put a lightweight system together to offer that mode. I asked on this reflector about EFHW antennas and I eventually made and tested one. It’s quite costly to take a car to Coll and as it’s such a small island, it’s hardly worth it. Like last time, I opted to take a bicycle.

For my birthday this year, I’ve invested everything into getting a new bike capable of carrying my camping equipment. I’ve had the Cube Nature Allroad for a couple of months now and I’ve obtained a few bits of extremely lightweight camping gear.

On Wednesday 29th May, I was booked on the 7am ferry from Oban. I’d decided to add on the Island of Tiree at the beginning of my trip, staying one night before getting the ferry on to Coll. Tiree has two HEMA qualifying hills, so the plan was to activate one of those.

I set off from Carlisle in the car at around 0015 on Wednesday morning and travelled through the early morning to Oban. I reached Oban around 5am. I’d researched car parking and was made to believe that I could buy 1 week’s parking for £30 via phone app. I parked the car and then tried to buy parking but the app wouldn’t let me as the tariff started at 0900, it was free before that time. I was a bit uneasy about it, but I was stuck, the only thing I could think to do was to set an alarm on my phone and then pay for parking whilst I was on the ferry via my phone app. My bike had been packed in to the boot of my car so I had to assemble it and add the bike luggage.

Check in time for the ferry was by 0615 and I made it in reasonable time, I’m glad I left Carlisle when I did. Another seven bicycles turned up for the ferry queue and there was quite an excited buzz in the air.

We boarded the ferry via the vehicle ramp around 0630 and after helping to secure my bicycle, I made my way up to the passenger decks. At 0700 when the ferry was due to leave all was quiet. At 0715 there was an announcement over the tannoy stating that there appeared to be a fault with the starboard engine and they were hoping to get it sorted. Another tannoy announcement sometime later stated that there was a fault with a 24v system and they were contacting CalMac head office for further guidance. At around 0830, it was decided that all vehicles would be unloaded from the ferry and that an update would be given at 0930. I got off the ferry, I had a feeling that the engine issue would be serious.

I was stood on the ferry quay with my bike wondering what the heck to do. It didn’t appear as though I’d be getting to Tiree or Coll anytime soon. I’ve been to Mull a number of times, the last time in August, so I know Mull quite well. Mull is also the way to get to the tiny island of Iona and, Iona has a HEMA qualifying summit. I’d had an ambition to camp on Iona ever since I had found out that it had a campsite a few years ago.

I enquired at the CalMac ticket office and the lovely lady there was very happy to swap my tickets for a sailing to Mull instead. As Mull is a large island, having a car makes sense, so in total I had to pay an extra £13.60 to add on a vehicle (Cheaper than paying for the parking in Oban!). It was around 0900 by now and the next sailing to Mull was at 0955. I took my bike back to the car and dismantled it to get it into the back. I didn’t really expect to get on to the ferry, but I queued up in the stand by lane. Before I knew it, my ticket was being scanned and I was being told ‘aye, we’ll get you on’.

Mid morning I found myself on the Isle of Mull with a vague plan of wanting to go to Iona, but with no campsites booked. I parked up at Craignure and had a think. I managed to book a place at the Iona campsite via their website. So that was it, I was heading to Iona! I stopped off at Bunessan to buy some lunch but pickings were quite thin for a vegetarian like me. I ended up buying junk. I parked up at Fionnphort and then reassembled by bike for the second time. The crossing to Iona doesn’t take long at all and the sea is the most gorgeous turquoise colour. The cycle to the campsite took only a few minutes. There was no answer at the door of the campsite but a notice suggested pitching where you like and then check in later. I put my tent up and offloaded some gear from the bike.

Then it was time to head to the small hill, Dun I to activate it for HEMA. I left my bike next to the road and after after very short time I was at the summit. I fired up my FT817 on 40m and I heard no band activity at all. Switching to 20m brought in some very weak signals. Hmm? Propagation problem or radio problem? I fired up Facebook messenger and went to the HEMA chat, there was a post stating X class solar flare. Just my luck! I announced my presence on the messenger group and though several callers tried, there was just no way I was making contact with anyone with my QRP. It’s a weird coincidence as exactly the same thing happened when I was on Coll in 2016 and my MTR-2B didn’t even get picked up on the RBN.

Dun I or ‘The Hill’ on Iona

Dun I on Iona didn’t make a single QSO.

Oh well, at least Iona has lovely beaches! I packed up the radio gear and headed back to the campsite. I was able to check in this time and the owner of the campsite was lovely and suggested a nice beach to paddle at after I asked. I had something to eat and then walked to Port Ban beach. I really enjoyed my paddle and as expected I was the only person there. Returning to the campsite later a corncrake was busy making calls from the long grass.

After a shower I flopped into my sleeping bag and then didn’t wake until 0840 the next morning! Not even the corncrake could keep me awake after that long day!

I packed up my tent and then went to explore my favourite beaches on the north end of Iona. Again, I was the only person on the beach. I ended up walking around the entire northern end of Iona and then I cut back over Dun I to where I’d parked my bike. I had my FT-817 in my pack for security but the pole for my EFHW was strapped on to my bike! I hadn’t intended to summit Dun I again. Whilst on Dun I I got phone signal and managed to book a campsite I have used before at Salen on Mull.

Typical Iona beach

white sand and turquoise sea :slight_smile:

I headed back across to Mull and took the scenic route to Salen in the car, past Ben More GM/SI-003 which I had activated in August. I checked in at the campsite and then went to Tobermory to get an evening meal at a pub.

On Friday I thought that I would activate SOTA GM/SI-153, which is a small hill just 3 miles or so out of Tobermory. I managed 8 CW QSOs across 40m and 20m, so I was glad to have at least qualified one hill during the trip!

S Airde Beinn summit GM/SI-153

S Airde Beinn summit GM/SI-153

8 QSOs

Initially my original trip was meant to end on Sunday, but I booked a ferry back to Oban at 1730 on Saturday, it was the earliest car slot available to book. I was told that I’d be able to sail earlier by waiting in the standby queue. I got to Craignure around 0930 and joined the standby queue which had 8 cars in it. The tiny ferry MV Loch Frisa arrived and only one car from the standby queue got on. I was then asked when my sailing was booked for and I said 5.30pm, the lady just laughed. The next ferry came and it was another tiny ferry, the MV Coruisk. MV Isle of Mull, the big ferry had been taken off to cover another route. I asked at the ticket office what chance I had of catching the ferry anytime soon and I was told they were extremely busy and struggling to catch up from the MV Clansman failure on Wednesday. It was suggested that I change my tickets to a sailing from Fishnish instead, which would entail another ferry crossing (Corran ferry) and a scenic drive through Glen Coe. It seems as though others had been given that advice too as there was a queue at the Fishnish ferry! Eventually I managed to get across to the mainland mid afternoon. I arrived back home in North Yorkshire at about 2235, after stopping off at my mum’s in Carlisle for a cuppa and some homemade shortbread biscuits.

It was certainly an adventure! I think I made the most of it despite being very different from what I had planned! For the first time I slept very soundly in the tent, all three nights, not sure whether from sheer tiredness or better gear!

Better luck next time!

73, Colin


Our favourite hill on Mull - not that we did many - and we had a lovely day on Iona.
You certainly made the best of re-planning to accommodate the obstacles placed in your way and had much more of an adventure than we did.


Colin it’s those impromptu trips that are so rewarding, thanks for sharing it.


Well done on getting a decent result for your efforts despite having your original plans totally scuppered. It’s a real pity about conditions when you were on the summit on Iona.

When Paul G4MD and I went to Mull in 2016 we were accompanied by my XYL and she ascended SI-153 and also went to Iona (while we activated a couple of summits), enjoying both. Paul and I have yet to see Iona, but my XYL wants to return, so next time we will set aside a day for the trip.

73, Gerald