Gt.WHERNSIDE, G/NP-008 / IO94AD. VHF-NFD / SOTA, 05-July-09, 06:39 to 17:46.
G4YSS (using SSEG club callsign - GX0OOO/P).
All times BST (UTC plus 1) unless stated as UTC (‘z’).
IC706-2G, 9-ely for 70cm, 3-ely for 144, Half-Wave vertical for 4m, J-Pole for 2m FM.
80m link dipole on 5m mast for LF-HF. Coils for 160m.
3 x 7.5 Ah SLAB and 2 x 8.8 Ah Li-Po batteries. (40 Ah)
4m Band & backup: IC-E90 Quad-band 5W H/H with integral 7.2V / 1.3Ah Li-Po battery.
Pack weight: 25kg, (55 pounds) including 1.3 ltr water and 2 ltr ice.
Details of the H/B 4m band half-wave end-fed vertical used on this expedition are at foot of this report.
Set off from Scarborough on my own at 03:27 BST. Phil, G0UUU could not be persuaded to ‘undergo torture’ so I was resigned to a third year of heavy workload from the operating viewpoint. He would gladly work the station all day long if luxury transport to the top were provided! Instead we took some gear locally onto Irton Moor on the Saturday afternoon, managing to work 16 VHF-NFD stations. Our activities did not go unnoticed by GCHQ who sent their security vehicle out to us even as we were setting up! I never have this trouble on SOTAs.
The WX was predicted to be warm and showery with some low-cloud and this was accurate. One thing I fear in summer, especially when I have so much equipment deployed, is lightning but no threat developed for a change. This was the seventh consecutive year of NP8 Field Day events for me and the routine is well established. I’d decided against an overnight stay on the grounds of even more pain for negligible gain. Besides, I wasn’t in this to win the contest or even to enter it; just for enjoyment and the SOTA-ing.
Arrived to park the car at the top of Park Rash (SD 9863 7573) at 05:33. Walked away at 05:55. In spite of it being early it was shirt sleeve order. The route is simple but there is a little reascent. A path, boggy in places, 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 minor 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 low-cloud by 06:39. Ascent is modest at 211m and distance is around 5.5km (up & down).
Though wet 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. I walked NE on a bearing from the trig for a couple of hundred metres to find the usual but featureless operating point in the mist.
The period between 06:45 and 07:40 was used to erect the flysheet, half of an 18-ely parabeam atop a 2.2m (hand-carried) dural tube, a modified 2m-3ely SOTA Beam supported in identical manner and an 80m link dipole on its 5m mast. I didn’t bring the 6m/4m dipole because I have recently finished a half-wave vertical for 4m (see foot of report). Last year I found that 6m can be worked well enough by using the HF dipole set to either 80m or 40m. In the event no signals were heard on 6m anyway.
A simple poly ground-sheet, pegged down with short lengths of home-grown bamboo, added the final touch of ‘luxury.’ The beams are positioned either side of the flysheet near the front, so that they can be rotated with one hand under the side. The front and rear tent poles became supports for 2m and 4m half-wave verticals respectively but the HF dipole needs to be out of the way round the rear of the ‘camp.’
The trusty IC706-2G with its lightweight panels would be doing most of the work but it needs to be wrapped in aluminium mesh if it is to function on the 2m band. This has nothing to do with my modification. ICOM had it for weeks a few years ago but could find nothing wrong with it, albeit under test conditions. Once in its mesh home, it performed faultlessly all day, despite the mesh crackling periodically when touched, either due to static discharge or somehow finding +12V.
Though not intended for or optimal on this band, the IC E90 seemed to handle the 4m FM requirement very well.
The power source last year was an old aircraft battery with a rating of 36 Ah (at the 20hr automotive rating). Unfortunately this weighs in at 10.8kg and inflicts agony on the lower back when carrying it! The (new to me) Li-Po batteries and three 7.5 Ah SLABS (22.5 Ah and 8kg of SLABS) plus (17.6 Ah and 1.45 kg of Li-Po’s) (total weight – 9.5 kg) formed the power supply this year. Even with QRO, 40 Ah proved to be overkill and 2.6 or even 5.2 kg could safely have been saved by leaving one or two of the SLABs behind.
Water is another heavy item (1 kg per litre plus containers) but there are no prizes for taking too little when you are away from a supply for well over 12 hours. Helped by cool breezy conditions in the morning, the fact that I had shade and didn’t move more than a few yards, I still needed 70% of the 3.3 litres available. It’s fortunate that I didn’t rely on a 2 litre bottle of pop I hid there in 2007 because someone had nicked it! A can of sardines was the basis of a good lunch (after 10 minutes of attack with a penknife.) Because a 2 litre bottle of water is taken in the form of ice all the food and drink can be kept highly palatable for the entire 12 hours. The latter is my way of ‘blowing a raspberry’ at summer, a season I like the least.
GREAT WHERNSIDE, G/NP-008, 704m, 6 pts for SOTA. 06:39 to 17:46. 13 to 15 Deg.C. 10 to 15 mph wind. Low-cloud until mid morning. Two moderate (non-electrical) showers in the afternoon with periods of sunshine. WAB: SE07. LOC: IO-94-AD.
I have never been able to find any mobile phone coverage (neither O2 nor Orange) in the past. However, a call home at midday was partially successful in that half a voice message got through before cut-off. Fortunately GB3YC Scarborough is easily reachable with a watt or two.
A priority was to set up 2m FM before 06:00z in time for an announced appearance of M6ROB on Pen-Y-Ghent but I didn’t hear Rob and there was no response to calls on S20 apart from a single /M.
Down to business….
160m CW for SOTA:
It was not surprising that calls at 7:40 on a Sunday morning went unanswered but true to form the 160m enthusiasts were up and about at the alerted time of 8 o-clock. With 100W to the loaded dipole and helped by a spot by G4SSH, logging 5 stations in mid-summer was beyond expectations. It may have helped that Scarborough’s G4SSH and G0NUP and Pickering’s G0OBK were both in line of sight. Signal levels from further afield weren’t all that bad considering this was 3 hours after dawn. Chasers were no doubt being generous in reporting my signals at typically 559 but two struggled slightly, with a watery 339. Mike G4BLH later told me that he heard nothing in Lancashire. The award for best ‘DX’ was split by EI2CL in Dublin & G3RMD in Cheltenham. Possibly the fact that it was early on a Sunday morning helped keep chaser noise levels down. QRN is the major barrier to 160m SOTA.
160m SSB for SOTA:
Calls on 1.843 were just a token effort in respect of non Morse enthusiasts. Not surprisingly, these went unanswered. 160m is hard enough on CW, never mind on phone and in daylight too. Nevertheless this was still a good start but also marked the last of the dedicated SOTA until the afternoon. NFD was the reason for existence until 14:00z.
2m SSB for VHF-NFD:
The 160m alert had been for 07:00z so starting with G5FZ/P at 06:53z I filled in the time before 1.8 MHz by getting four into the 144 MHz NFD log. This was after two failed attempts to work M0IOD/M on 2m FM at 06:00z. Both times I lost him in the QSY to .400 so I don’t know what we were doing wrong.
With Field Day, the best option seems to be to dip into each band and work across it a couple of times, exchanging with all stations which can be heard. After that it’s a good idea to park on a spot and call CQ for a while on different beam headings until that ploy dries up. It seems that this is a more effective method later in the contest. One advantage is that it gives SOTA chasers half a chance, rather than constantly trying to hit a moving target which must be infuriating at times. Thanks must go to G4BLH for spotting a couple of my fixed frequencies with SOTA chasers in mind and also for alerting me to carry out successful S2S’s. When fresh stations become hard to find, a QSY to another band without delay is the best course of action. You can always come back later to repeat the process after new stations have appeared.
In seven separate sessions on 144 MHz SSB from 06:53 to 14:00 z, I made 66 contest exchanges. In between were QSY’s to 4m FM and 70cm SSB with non-operational sweeps of 6m. The furthest distance covered on 2m SSB with 50W and a modest 3-ely horizontal SOTA Beam was probably DF0MU. As if to attract UK stations he used the phonetics ‘DF3 Manchester United’ and was located in JO32PC. I also logged PA and ON as well as the more routine Scotland and Wales. Ireland was not heard but as an aside, we did hear an EI on Saturday from Irton Moor whilst working using my son’s own callsign.
Twice I was called at the end of an exchange on someone else’s frequency and asked to QSY. Perhaps they were keen on logging IO94? Once this resulted in others calling me and I ended up with my own QRG for an hour or so.
I came across Tom and Jimmy M1EYP/P - M3EYP/P working the contest from SOTA G/WB-010 - The Wrekin. At first I though I’d missed out after hearing them fade to a whisper when they turned their beam away but they heard me ‘off the back.’ Another S2S was with Tony 2W0LAE/P on a ‘soggy’ GW/NW-032. Our SOTA friend Martin GD3YUM was also taking part from IO74 but not from a recognized hill apparently.
The most productive period was around noon and came as a result of calling ‘CQ SOTA / CQ Contest’ on a fixed spot of 144.253 for an hour. Here 24 stations called me with at least 9 of these being recognizable as SOTA chasers. All of the latter were happy to carry out the standard contest exchange of Report, Serial number and QRA Locator with the majority giving serial numbers above 001. As had happened with Tom and Jimmy, Rick M0RCP put his son Tomas (M3OOL) on the microphone to give me a second bite at a ‘two for the price of one’ offer.
Whilst working one op in NE England who was very long-winded as I remember it, I heard ‘HI’ from a listener in the background.
70cm SSB for VHF-NFD:
Another quick check on 6m pointed to a dead band so 70cm was the recourse at 09:50z. Using just 9 elements of my son Phil’s 18-ely Parabeam makes it better to carry, mount and rotate whilst still retaining useful gain. It is 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.
With 20W from the IC706, 14 + 1 stations were worked; PA6NL in JO21BX being the most distant. He gave me a serial number of 299 at 11:15z. A couple of stations asked if 23cm was available at GX0OOO but I could only offer them 4m FM; an offer that wasn’t taken up.
A final visit to 432 at 13:41z produced just one extra QSO (with G0FBB/P in JO01) bringing the band total up to 15.
6m SSB for VHF-NFD:
I normally work a CT1 on here but this year nil heard throughout. Is 6m VHF-NFD now Saturday only?
4m FM for VHF-NFD, SOTA and general:
Other than FM, I had no TX for this band but could hear one or two stations in SSB on the IC706. Contacts on this band and mode were mainly with non contest stations though two did make NFD contest exchanges (E.g. G0OLE – Goole Radio Club). Using 3.5W to my recent home-brewed vertical half-wave, just eight stations were worked on here throughout the day as follows: MW1FGQ in North Wales, G0OLE/P near Bishop Wilton on the Yorkshire Wolds, G4IZH (Ser: 001) in Wakefield, G4BLH Nr Nelson, M0PIE in Huddersfield, G6CRV at Heysham, M1LSD/M (Ser: 001) in York Rally car park and an exciting S2S with Rob and Audrey GD4RQJ on Snaefell - GD1. Eight QSO’s in all.
Once or twice I heard strong contest stations calling CQ on 70.450 FM but was unable to get back to them. One example was GM3HAM which I normally work but was never destined to track down at all this year. I did try listening in SSB on the 706, then calling stations in FM on their frequency using the H/H but without success. I even resorted to sending one SSB station CW on the handheld’s PTT but without sidetone available it might have sounded like gibberish. When you consider the likely cross-polarization situation, it was not surprising that success eluded me. Perhaps it was fortunate that my ‘desperado’ mouse power ‘interference’ was not heard as I would not wish to annoy anybody. Investing in a transverter to enable the use of narrowband modes from an 817 or 706 set on 10m or 2m is a consideration for next year but how I will carry even more gear up, I don’t know.
The final few stations were worked on 2m just prior to the end of the contest at 14:00z.
40m CW for SOTA:
After G4BLH posted it for me, a CQ on 7.033 was immediately answered by Roy G4SSH who I suspect was waiting there after some emailed plans of the day before. I neglected this band somewhat through the winter but in came a steady stream of 27 keen, mainly overseas ops and three G’s typically found on 40m. Fritz DL4FDM was one of quite a few ops who I knew by name and there were plenty more old friends. Kurt ‘threw me’ at first with his HE8 prefix but then I remembered. HE8 is HB9! ‘UNF’ as a German suffix strikes me as incongruous; I’m certain they use metric bolts there but it makes Frank’s callsign (DL6UNF) remarkably easy to remember.
I used 30W to the dipole and 100W for tricky situations despite being well into my third SLAB by now. The fact that 7.032 / 7.033 is still very much a recognized SOTA sub-band which seems to be regularly patrolled, is handy knowledge for any activator. ‘CQ SOTA’ normally invokes a rapid response from somebody whether you’re alerted or not.
The tiny bit of short propagation to G4SSH (probably ground-wave) and 100W came in handy to announce in CW the next QSY to 7.060 SSB.
40m SSB for SOTA:
7.060 is a WAB QRG which I’d used years ago for SOTA but it was clear today. Roy got the message in CW and his spot was in good time to ensure a small pile-up starting with DL9KI at 15:15z. Ten stations won the points on here and some new acquaintances were made. Two G’s, G0RQL and G0PEB sneaked in ‘under the radar’ but the rest were French, German, Belgian or Swiss. The Swiss station HB9RE Fritz, who I’ve worked many times in CW, obviously is not a Tennis fan or he wouldn’t have been available to work me on Wimbledon Finals day! Battery Amp-hours wasn’t an issue by this late stage, so I went for full power / QRN-free copy as far as possible and one or two people had a short chat.
80m CW for SOTA:
G4BLH must have picked up the QSY message this time as Mike had me spotted for 3.532. The use of 80m was an attempt to cover the 40m-band ‘gap’ between midlands and south coast. I must apologize for not doing SSB afterwards but time was pressing by now and it had been a long day of contest exchanges which had taken its toll on my larynx. With dots starting to spray around due to fatigue and the ‘bone-cracking’ agony of lying on a lumpy and not so soft surface all day, I worked 6 English stations on 80m and Mike EI2CL.
2m CW for SOTA:
At the end of the 80m session Roy asked me if I wanted to work 144 MHz CW. With time draining away and the knowledge that I would have to demount the beam, change its orientation, substitute a fourth battery after reconfiguring its connections, then wrap the rig with mesh again, I hesitated. When I remembered what a success 2m-CW had been from Scafell Pike last month, I couldn’t resist trying it from here. This time with amp-hours to spare, a 706 in lieu of an 817 and almost line of sight 100 km path to Scarborough’s southern villages, I knew I would have the signal to really ‘knock their heads off.’ Roy’s and Kevin’s (G4SSH / G0NUP) that is.
After making the necessary changes and re-routing the coax. (The wooden mast extension to enable the beam to be mounted vertically made the mast taller and strained the feeder.) I pointed the contraption due east and called CQ on the CW calling frequency of 144.050 with 50 Watts. Nothing! After a few more calls and the grass beginning to scorch in the direction of Scarborough, I gave up and started to repack the station. What could have gone wrong? In the end, I realised it was my error in that I had not copied Roy’s suggested frequency, thinking I didn’t need to. We would surely use the same QRG as last time (144.050) from LD1? Luckily Roy was still monitoring 3.532 and yes, when we finally coordinated properly, the 144 signal really was an ‘ear-splitting’ 599++ both ways.
Afterwards Roy used our latest special event call, GB70VI for the Voluntary Interceptors of WW2 to contact me. There then followed Mike G4BLH, and Kevin G0NUP. Kevin had a distinctively chirpy but nonetheless effective signal.
That was it. VHF-NFD / SOTA on NP8 was over for the seventh year running. After recent dowsing it was fine again outside but there were some ‘dirty’ looking clouds hanging over neighbouring hills (like last year when the roads flooded)! Getting the extensive ‘encampment’ back into and onto the rucksack took 40 minutes but I was on my way by 17:46. The 85 ltr pack with its painful lumpy cargo ruled out any form of rushing but the tennis on 5-live 909 took my mind off the pain. The dark clouds gave way to sunshine and I was back at the car by 18:21. While tying the masts and beam onto the roof rack, a curious onlooker (from Nelson) came over, ‘Excuse me.’ ‘I hope you don’t mind me asking but……….’
VHF NFD: 20W on 70cm, mostly 50W on 2m and 3.5W on 4m FM.
SOTA: 30W on 40m CW, 100W on 40m SSB and 160m CW, 60W on 80m CW. 50W on 2m CW).
Three 7.5 Ah Lead-Acid batteries 100% depleted. (SLABs 1, 2 and 3 depleted at 12:15, 14:01 and 16:50 BST)
One 8.8 Ah Li-Po 16 % depleted.
One 8.8 Ah Li-Po not used.
24 Ah used; leaving 16 Ah unused from a total of 40 Ah.
In approximately 6.75 hours (gross) of contesting, 83 Serial numbers had been given out which works out at over 4 minutes per QSO. This sounds poor but it must be remembered that a much of the time was spent ‘hunting’ up and down the bands, QSYing or turning the beam. From my viewpoint conditions and/ or band occupancy must have been better than 2008 (59 contest QSOs) and 2007 (54 contest QSOs). Better results may have been partly due to more proactivity in ‘palming off’ serial numbers on a few operators who were not really contesting (e.g. on 4m FM). Also from what I could gather, IO94 is not a common QRA in this contest. One station hunted me down near the end having ‘not yet worked a single IO94 station.’
Another advantage with being at a summit for NFD is that SOTA stations want QSO’s too and are quite willing to participate in the serial number exchanges. Also, I ‘cherry picked’ Sunday which must be the best day. Even so, if I had gone off for a leisurely walk around the various aircraft wrecks on the summit and placed G1INK in my tent, we might have seen an entirely more impressive result!
The stations calling CQ didn’t seem to be getting answered all that frequently and it was noticeable that many were using voice chips to call for them. That said there was considerable success in some quarters with the highest serial numbers around 300 to 400 or even approaching 500 by mid morning.
Generally speaking, the time and effort taken to get the exchange correct and confirmed, especially for marginal contacts, was commendable. One thing that should be remembered is to periodically turn the beam north to give our GM friends a chance. From my side, NFD is just for fun, to give out points and the SOTA summit without the bureaucracy of submitting a contest entry.
I looked on 6m a few times but each time it was dead. If I was looking at the correct website I read something about 6m NFD activity being limited to the Saturday but it takes some believing that they would make this restriction when either day could have E’s etc.
Once again operating was gentlemanly and hassle free throughout but few had time to give out names this year. For strong stations, I often ‘threw in’ the SOTA Ref with the LOC in case any one wanted to chase it and far from being annoyed by the extra time this took, quite a few contesters reacted positively and were interested, though probably purely from the viewpoint of the enhanced VHF capability that a 2310 foot QTH can offer.
As usual, there was plenty of reaction to the callsign GX0OOO/P. A few commented ‘wow, what a callsign,’ others ‘a tongue twister,’ one merely chuckled and I suffered with one op writing it down then coming back with ‘GX Zero Zero Zero Zero.’ That’s nothing new to me of course but to be fair this wasn’t a contest station or SOTA chaser, more a casual caller who went on to give me great detail about his station. I didn’t get upset, the break was welcome.
GM6MD/P (2m SSB – 09:08z – IO75VG) was also operating from a hill QTH of 2300 feet. He did say that he knew not the SOTA ref nor even if it had one, commenting in addition that he had ‘arrived using vehicular transport’ and so ‘it wouldn’t count.’
Great Whernside is chosen each year for its easterly position which provides good radio paths up and down the east side of the Pennines relatively unhindered. It’s simple to climb from a 1500 foot parking spot and there’s a huge amount of space up there. Grass on peat makes it quick and easy to install a comprehensive station. The ‘big lift’ required for NFD can be tolerated for the short time it takes to get up there. Route-finding and paths are generally good and for once the WX was kind. Mobile phone coverage is unreliable to say the least. Another down side (literally) to all this is the ‘accommodation.’ You cannot stand or sit very easily in a small ridge tent. The fact that ‘my side’ and Great ‘Whern’s side’ were in intimate and crushing contact all day caused much discomfort at the time and made me ache all over the next day. I must speak to the landowner about getting a shed put up there.
2m SSB: 66
70cm SSB: 15
6m SSB: 0
4m FM: 3
Total (Contest): 84
Non-Contest / SOTA
160m CW: 5
40m CW: 27
40m SSB: 10
80m CW: 7
4m FM: 5
2m CW: 4
2m FM: 1
Total (SOTA): 59
Grand Total: 143 QSO’s.
5.5 km (up and down) and approx 211m (692ft) of ascent.
Pack weight: 25kg (55 Ibs).
Drive home: 18:32 to 20:34 (inc. diesel stop) - on empty roads possibly due to the Wimbledon Final?
This was SSEG’s 6th successive VHF field day on NP8, Scarborough’s closest 2k at 63 miles line of sight and only 154 miles round trip by road.
Thank you to spotters: Roy G4SSH and Mike G4BLH. You did a great job.
Thanks to all SOTA chasers and contest stations for a really enjoyable day.
73, John G4YSS
(using Scarborough Special Events Group callsign; GX0OOO/P).
The Home-Brew 4m band vertical half-wave used on this expedition:
This was inspired by M0CGH. I’ve been in touch with Colin via email lately regarding an ambitious expedition he is planning. Colin mentioned an antenna construction method that I got around to evaluating experimentally with some success on 2m then on 4m.
The aerial is a simple half-wave dipole but the trick is in the feeding. One length of coax is all you need. Strip the outer sheath and braid off for a quarter of a wavelength and wind the coax into a choke at the half wave (feed) point. That’s all there is to it. The half-wave dipole is still effectively being fed at its centre. The coax inner forms the top quarter wave section and the braid as far as the choke below becomes the lower quarter wave. The choke is there to RF-isolate the feed from the aerial just like a choke balun which ‘kills’ RF coming back down the outside of the coax braid but does not effect the signal going up the inside. (Simplistic theory which I hope describes it.)
I used RG316 (a high quality PTFE, miniature 50 ohm coax) and 14 turns on a 20mm PVC pipe for the choke coil. Dimensions have to be experimented with depending on what materials (if any) you chose to surround / support the antenna with. Dielectric materials in close proximity to antenna elements tend to lower resonance.
Mine is offset-fed to enable the use of a 933mm whip that I already carry for my SOTA 2m band J-Pole. I built the aerial into an 8.3mm OD x 3.4mm ID GRP tube (0.5m tent poles joined together) so that it can be used to replace one or two of my carbon HF dipole mast sections. In that configuration, the whip has to be shorter and encased in GRP tube so that an HF dipole hanger can be added at the top. The 2:1 VSWR points came out at 67 MHz and 73 MHz with a minimum of 1.3:1 on 70.4 MHz (MFJ-259). I painted it a nice shade of blue.
This form of structural design intended to substitute for other mast sections and the use of an existing whip in theory at least, saves overall pack weight. In practice it falls down on inferior stiffness and greater weight of the glass composite compared with the home-brew carbon rods that I traditionally use for the HF dipole support mast. Unfortunately, the latter are neither insulators nor good conductors so cannot easily be used as a dual purpose item.
Having made no comparisons with my old 4m aerial (i.e. extended 2m duck) I cannot say whether or not the aerial performed well on NP8 or not. It did pull in Rob from IOM however and he gave my 3.5 W a 52 report and that’s with some of the LD region in the way. Time will tell how effective it really is but I won’t always have it with me because the added weight is around 0.3 kg.
I’m sure Colin won’t mind me passing on an excellent link which he sent me regarding this type of antenna construction technique. http://vk2zoi.com/flowerpots/half-wave.php
Another option is the Slim-Jim made from ‘window’ feeder and which can be suspended from a bent over mast. Mike G4BLH has some dimensions for this but I think these antennas can be harder to get right.