Over the years I have read of experienced activators reaching their chosen summit, only to discover that they have left some vital piece of equipment at home or in the car. I have occasionally set up only to find that something has broken or does not work as expected, but have never actually left something behind. Surely I couldn’t be that silly, could I? Well, now I know it can happen to anyone!
Sunday was not initially planned as a SOTA trip. A former work-colleague of mine was exhibiting his preserved Routemaster at the Gosport bus rally, and I had decided to make a trip there for a couple of hours. A little later came the idea of making a really early start and activating a couple of Dorset hills before returning via Gosport. All last week the weather forecast for Sunday looked favourable, and I was eagerly anticipating a pleasant few hours enjoying the views across Poole Harbour and the Isle of Wight.
The first surprise occurred on leaving the house at 0430 to find it raining quite hard. Oh well, with a drive of around 120 miles, the weather should have improved by the time I get to my destination. However, the mixture of drizzle and heavier rain continued as I drove, and, as it became light, it was apparent that the cloud base was very low as well. Still, the temperature was a mild 17C, so I remained unperturbed.
My first target was Nine Barrow Down (G/SC-013). I had previously activated this in November 2005 using the route that Richard G4ERP has subsequently entered into the summit notes. It had not been a pleasant climb on that occasion, with ankle deep mud mixed with cattle droppings, so I had planned an alternative. There is a viewpoint on the B3351 at SZ005818 with room for about a dozen cars, and I was confident that it would be empty at 7am on such a wet morning. To my amazement it was jammed full of motor-caravans, all with their curtains tightly drawn. I managed to squeeze into a gap after some deft manoeuvring, and no doubt roused a few from their slumbers as I opened and closed the car doors in preparation for the ascent.
Just a hundred yards east of the parking spot is the entrance to a bridle way that leads up the side of the hill. Almost immediately I was immersed in cloud, but it was a clearly delineated path at a fairly gentle angle up the hill, with occasional sheep and cows appearing phantom-like from the murk. Eventually the route flattened out, and a quick check with the map confirmed that I was safely within the activation zone. I quickly set up the antenna and assembled the rest of the station in the stiff breeze and continuous drizzle. The very last thing to be done was to connect the ATU to the antenna and radio, but where were the cables? Searching the pockets of the rucksack with increasing anxiety, I had a real “One Foot in the Grave” moment when I actually heard myself say “I don’t believe it!” out loud.
So, what to do? All that was possible was using the FT817 with a whip antenna on 2m, not an easy task in the “Great Southern VHF Desert”. However, I was overlooking, or would have been on a better day, the large conurbation of Bournemouth-Poole, plus the Isle of Wight, so it had to be worth a try. A quick tune around the SSB segment revealed a strong French contest station, but he could not hear me. I resorted to calling CQ on 2m FM, a totally new concept for me. After a few minutes I heard a reply, but very weak and under-modulated. Eventually I discovered that he was down in the valley below me, so quite what equipment he was using I don’t know! Twenty minutes later I managed a chat with another local station, but silence followed. By now the wind had increased and the rain was getting heavier, so I decided to admit defeat and set off back to the car. By now the inhabitants of the motor-caravans were awake and glaring out at the bedraggled figure that had been the cause of their early morning wake-up call.
Sitting in more comfortable surroundings, I debated what to do. I was still far too early for the bus rally, so I decided to visit Swyre Head (G/SC-012) a few miles away just for the walk. As I pulled into the deserted parking area at SY943792, the rain increased in intensity so I further debated my options. After ten minutes the rain eased to a steady drizzle again, so I set off up the hill with my rucksack, having remembered that there was an RSGB 70cm Low Power contest just starting – ever the optimist, maybe I could qualify this summit! Halfway up the hill, in thicker cloud and stronger winds than ever, I abandoned the idea of SOTA and just found a sheltered spot to attempt some 70cm operation. A few minutes of tuning around revealed no activity, nor did a few CQ calls elicit any response. Just then the rain intensified and I admitted defeat, scurrying back down the hill to the car.
I did enjoy the bus rally when I got there, although the drizzle rather impeded any good photographs, and I could see hundreds of yachts reveling in the strong winds out in the Solent.
Where were those errant leads? Neatly tucked away where I had put them after my holiday to become 9H3VQ. They are now carefully stowed in my SOTA rucksack, and I have learned to check everything before departure in future!
73 de Les, G3VQO