Doh! Not a good day!

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

In reply to G3VQO:
Hi Les,

You are not alone…

Last year, I was climbing “La Pendine” (2750m) and after more than 3 hours 1/2, at abt 10mn from summit, realized that I had could’nt remember the Sota REF…!
Fortunately, I could have a phone call with Andy, and he gave me the information.
I suppose that every activator has known such experience.

Best 73
Alain F6ENO

In reply to F6ENO:

You are not alone…


I would be amazed if any prolific Activator had not forgotten something important at least once (maybe even more than once…). Whether they would care to admit it on the reflector is quite another matter :wink:



In reply to G3CWI:

I went up a SOTA summit and I forgot:

  1. Goretex jacket on Blackhope Scar 1st attempt (about 1in rainfall that day).
  2. 12V SLAB on Penvalla 2nd activation, nobody noticed QRPp :slight_smile:
  3. 80m antenna on Ballencleuch Law having made a sked for 80m.
  4. 2m rubber duck on VX-170 twice. 2m rubber duck for 817 wont fit SMA != BNC
  5. Lunch when activating Hods Hill.

Brian G4ZRP came with me on a 13mile walk and forgot his walking socks. He borrowed my other spare pair.

The more times I forget things the longer the list gets and the more stuff lives in the car/rucksack. I did forget the mike for the FT-817 once but called back at the house to drop of the Sunday papers. I checked the shack to make sure the PC monitor was off and saw the mike sat by the JRC-JST125 and stuffed into my pocket.

I consider myself as having a good memory aswell :wink:


In reply to G3CWI:

Surprisingly “unscathed” myself mainly as my kit is totally separate to the main home station and lives permanently in the rucksack: main coaxial lead on Worcester Beacon G/WB-009 and HF antenna on Sell Moor Hill GM/SS-211. Both items were accidentally left in the car. I got by using just patch leads in the first instance (2m beam at 1m above ground!), but the outer of the VHF coaxial lead wouldn’t load up on 60m on Sell Moor Hill, so it became a VHF only activation.

Remedy to forgetting the SOTA reference - just ask the first chaser you work. My usual excuse is that I was concentrating on getting everything else sorted out!

73, Gerald

In reply to G3VQO: I’m glad I’m not the only one. G6DTN puts it down to Anno Domini. Most recent one was getting 3/4 way to the start of Aran Fawddwy (GW/NW-007) and having that nasty feeling that something had been left behind. It had - the pole for the centre of the antenna.

Perhaps there should be a trophy for the most points lost by forgetting kit, HI.

Regards, Dave, M0DFA/G6DTN

In reply to G3VQO:-
I am quite new to SOTA activities and am learning fast , the hard way, that you need a check list that gets longer with every trip out.
Have only done 6 activations but have already ,left my headphones behind,locked myself out of the car on site (you may have seen my blog).
Today I went out to SE-004 Butser Hill and having set up thought for one awful minute that I had no pen with me to make a log. Today I was on my scooter for the first time having worked out a way of fixing my pole to the side of the scooter. Had I been in the xyl’s car I could probably have found a pen in the glove box.
All turned out well in the end as I found that I was sitting on the pen !

I have been looking at doing Nine Barrow Down and Swyre Hill so your notes about parking and access are most interesting.

Regards, David , G3RDQ

In reply to G3RDQ:

I’ve never left anything of great importance behind, as much like Gerald (G4OIG) my SOTA kit is completley seperate from the main station and again like Gerald lives permanently in the rucksack, but the biggee that happened to me on a summit in Wales, was walking down the mountain and arriving back at the car after the activation to discover my car keys missing, retracing my movements they had to be up at the trigpoint, amazingly, a mountain bike club were active on the mountain and had hired a farmers tractor and trailer to carry the riders and bikes to the summit, I spoke to them and they gave me a lift to the summit, literally to the trig point, there was the keys, then I got a lift back down with them, if I was gonna lose the keys, this was the summit and day to do it on.
Since then I have attached a wide dayglow neck strap to the car keys and now the keys have a dedicated zip up pocket in the rucksack.

John M0JDK