This was my first “proper” activation using HF. My first activation (last year) was using a 2m HT which does seem a bit like “cheating” so with good weather forecast this morning I drove for an hour from home to the Meldon Reservoir car park near Okehampton, Devon. I was briefly thrown on arrival because it was a pay car park and the machine wanted actual coins. Who carries money in the Covid era? There was no option to buy by phone and as one car already had a parking ticket stuck on its windscreen I decided not to chance it and parked on the side of the road at the entrance to the car park where there was just room to fit my 6m long campervan.
It took me about an hour to walk to the top of High Willhays, the highest point on Dartmoor after a false start when I realised after crossing the dam I had forgotten my hat and as the sun was shining there was no option but to return to the ‘van and collect my hat and while I was there pick up my walking poles which I had also forgotten. (Memo to self #1: Engage brain before leaving vehicle in the future.)
I took a fairly direct line to the summit. It has rained so little recently the ground was very firm and I could walk over bits which would normally be a bit boggy I think. Once I reached the summit I looked for a flat spot to activate and also decided to check I was at the actual summit and within the AZ. Using the OS map app on my phone I was reassured I was at the summit but unfortunately I was on the summit of Yes Tor which though only a few metres lower than High Willhays isn’t a SOTA summit. I had only made a detour of a few hundred metres and as I hadn’t been on Yes Tor before (as you can guess) I wasn’t bothered. (Memo to self #2: Use the compass and paper map in your rucksack next time.)
High Willhays was about 500m away and an easy walk. Setting up went smoothly which was fortunate as I was using for the first time the SotaBeams Bandspringer antenna with my new Icom AH-705 antenna matching unit. I had intended to have a practice in a local field yesterday but it rained all day so the first unrolling of the antenna was done on a summit. This is not recommended but I got away with it. I also used the SotaBeams guying kit but next time I think I will set the antenna in a shallow V and tie a single length of cord to the top of the mast and use this as a guy in the same way you would erect a dipole.
One of the things I wanted to try was the tuning range of the AH-705. The Bandspringer is supposed to be able to cover 10m to 60m with most ATUs but I had a feeling the AH-705 could do better.
So my first act was to send some CW calls out using the IC-705s memory channels. I had loaded these in yesterday and one used the words TEST TEST TEST at the start which I had read the RBN network would recognise. The key phrase here is “I had read” and not “which I had tried successfully before”.
The ATU tuned to the 80m band after a few moments of clicking and whirring and I fired off the first message. Using my mobile phone I scanned the map on the RBN website. Nothing was seen. I tried again on 40m with the same result.
So I decided to send a normal CQ message and rather than tap it out by hand I used the one stored in the radio. Again I tried a few bands and was delighted to see spotters appearing on the RBN map. The last band I tried was 20m and when it had finished instead of the silence I expected as I had selected a frequency no one was using I heard quite a lot of CW traffic and to my discomfort I picked out my own call sign. A glance at the SOTAWatch alerts page revealed that RBNHole had spotted me and posted a spot! I had posted an alert yesterday and of course RBN was on the lookout for me.
At this point I will confess to chickening out and I mentally swept this aberration under the carpet. I wasn’t mentally ready for a CW QSO Having only just arrived on the summit and I planned to work SSB for a while first to get my brain in SOTA mood. So my sincerest apologies to those who replied. (Memo to self #3: Improve your CW skills further before wasting folks time!)
Undeterred, or at least not too badly mentally disarranged I switched to SSB and spent the best part of two hours on 80m, 40m and 20m. I didn’t get much response initially but the 20m band became busier as the morning progressed and I was pleased to get a couple of QSOs on 80m. The AH-705 really can tune to this band. In slower time I must see what it can do at the other end of the scale, perhaps 6m?
I didn’t make many QSOs compared to what others report on here but I was happy my kit all worked and I’ve made a few notes of changes I need to make. One discovery I made was it wasn’t easy to wear my folding headphones under my hat (remember the hat?). I could wrap it round the back of my neck but even on a summit there are sartorial standards. Fortunately, I had some ear buds as a backup and used those although they had a tendency to fall out. I must get some sports one with a loop to go around the ear.
My IC-705 has an SD card and can record what the radio is hearing and being sent. I had this running the whole time and listening to it afterwards I was a little mortified to hear me asking for a caller to send their call sign again when on the recording it was very clear the first time! This facility proved very useful because I incorrectly recorded one call sign but listening to the QSO again I could pick up the correct one.
My first ever S2S was with G4IPB/P on G/NP-008. I later heard someone else calling “summit to summit” several times but I couldn’t hear a call sign and they did not respond to my calls.
And I did try 2m with an HT (its not really “cheating”) but with only a rubber duck antenna I had no replies although I could hear others chatting away on other frequencies.
These were the QSOs and very many thanks to everyone. I learnt a lot today and I am sure I will get slicker. Thank you for your patience – and apologies again to the CW operators!
Meldon Reservoir on a still morning.
The summit of High Willhays. This was taken looking back as I left. I was on my own at the start of the morning.
My “station” with the guyed mast in the foreground. And yes that is a Helinox chair and very comfortable it is!
The impressive AH-705. It’s bulky but seems to work well.
Looking towards Yes Tor with typical Dartmoor rock formation in the foreground.