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My first activation...

I’ve been interested in SOTA for a long while but never actually gotten out to try it…so when Mark 2M0IIG organised the 1st Annual OARC Sota Day as part of the Online Amateur Radio Community, I decided to use it as an excuse to put together what I need and try it out!

Now, there’s a bit of a complex backstory here; I’m somewhat limited physically at the moment. Last year I spent six months in a wheelchair, thinking I’d likely be stuck like that for the rest of my life, but thanks to two absolutely incredible spinal surgeries in November I am now able to walk. My walking, however, is far from perfect; I am slow and tire easily and am not allowed to carry much. So I had choose a summit that wasn’t going to be too physically taxing, and to build myself a setup that wasn’t too heavy but was capable of what I wanted to do.

In terms of summit choice, my QTH is Sudbury in NW London (on the border of Wembley and Harrow), and the nearest summit to me is G/CE-005 Wendover Woods. This also has a reputation of being “easy” to get to, so I decided that I would try it. There were some concerning reports of not being allowed to put up antennas at the “best” point near the triangulation point, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask (and if they say no I could find somewhere else in the activation zone and try there instead).

As for kit, I’ve previously owned a Yaesu FT817, so picking up a second hand FT817nd that became available from my local club, the Radio Society of Harrow, was a no brainer. This came with an internal LiPo battery (branded Windcamp) and tested out very well, putting out the full 5W of power even with the internal battery which was a welcome surprise to me. I dug out some old bits of poles that I had and put some together to make a solid temporary support, and bought a holder that screws into the ground to hold it up. I then had to start thinking of antennae.

I wanted to be active on 2M (both FM to talk to other OARC members and SSB) so I decided to build myself a Moxon out of 15mm Copper Pipe. I’ve built many Moxons and the big problem with mine is always that they are flimsy and fall apart, so I wanted this one to be reasonably light but very solid. Soldering copper pipe is different skill to electrical soldering, but I worked as a plumber’s boy when I was young and it didn’t turn out too badly:



On the HF front, I wanted to go as light as possible, without a tuner, but still be able to change bands. I therefore home-brewed a very light End Fed Half Wave antenna for 40/20/15/10m, which I think turned out very well indeed:




So, the final kit that I went with was:

  • Yaesu FT817nd with Windcamp lipo battery upgrade
  • Speech compressor and DSP audio filter for FT817
  • 2m Moxon, with attachments for horizontal or vertical polarisation
  • homebrew EFHW capable of 40/20/15/10
  • 8m pole (doubles as walking pole) and ground spike to stand it up
  • lightweight foldable seat (needed due to my back)

Total backpack weight 3.7kg (heaviest thing is the ground spike), however I then added on:

  • external 8Ah LiFePO4 battery
  • spare HT (wouxon) with rubber duck antenna
  • blanket to sit on

Making the total closer to 5kg on the back. Probably more than I should be carrying, but I was determined to get this done right! Here’s the kit ready to be taken:

So, I set off from home in the sun, all ready to drive to the chilterns and enjoy the beautiful sunny weather:

and the moment I left, it started pouring and I got stuck in traffic for an hour! The joys of living in London :slight_smile: nothing you can do but relax and drive. Thankfully by the time I got to Wendover Woods, the rain had cleared and it was looking just fine.

I walked (very slowly!) from the car park to the triangulation point; it’s probably a 10 minute walk but it took me twice that easily. I stopped off at the campsite to double check that there was no issue with me putting up an antenna, and ended up being made coffee by some of the campers there from the Berkshire Caravan and Motorhome Club, a truly friendly bunch as it turned out who told me that the folks that run the site weren’t around but they were happy to adopt me into their midst and let me put my antennas up :slight_smile:

I started off by lashing my pole to the triangulation point with the moxon in vertical mode, to try and make some FM contacts with other OARC members:

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to reach anyone, except for a very weak signal from Gavin G5HOW, sitting at G/CE-005 that neither side was quite able to copy. Chatting over discord, Gavin said that he can try SSB but only vertical (he only had a vertical antenna with him), so we switched over to SSB and were able to make contact – my first QSO and a Summit to Summit to boot! Gavin then swapped in Dennis G5NLD who was with him and that gave me my second QSO.

After calling CQ on 2m FM for a while, I decided to try 2M SSB and flipped the moxon to its natural horizontal orientation, but I was unable to make any contacts. The wind started blowing strongly and the antenna was moving alarmingly, so I decided to take it down and swap into HF mode:

Unfortunately while taking the antenna down I managed to knock the radio and break off the AF dial, so I no longer had any control over the volume :frowning: thankfully it wasn’t fully down, but it was irritating not to be able to make it louder if needed!

Soldiering on, I moved to 40M…and quickly became aware that there was a Spanish contest on today. Spaniards were everywhere on 40M, and whenever I tried to call I was quickly overruled by a Spanish Contester choosing that frequency or somewhere nearby to use for their contest! This was extremely frustrating, the moment I started calling for a while someone just came along and knocked me out with a fight my 5W couldn’t defend against. The frustrations of QRP during a contest!

After about half an hour sitting on 40M without a single contact, and on the verge of giving up, I decided to switch over to 20M. Wow, I should have done that earlier! I tried a couple of frequencies and also got knocked off by Spanish contesters, but then I spotted myself on the sotawatch alerts and a Spanish station, EA2DT, instead of taking over my frequency picked me out of the noise and gave me my third contact! This was an amazing feeling, especially as I was very weak for him (although he did come back to me later and say that I was stronger then). A few minutes later I had HA7WA from Hungary, booming in like he was sitting next door, giving me a 5/5 signal report, and then SV20XS from Greece also 5/5! That’s five QSOs from four separate locations – the activation was successful!

The next two contacts were, for me, awesome. I have Polish blood (although I look nothing like a Pole) and my wife is Polish, we speak Polish at home and we met in the Polish Tatra mountains and know many of the Polish mountain ranges…and my next contact was another S2S, Leszek SQ9MDF from Poland who was in the Beskidy mountains on SP/BZ-002 and gave me a 4/4 report! Even better, he put on his other half Wioletta SQ9NOT who also gave me a 4/4, so that’s two Polish contacts. Unfortunately my XYL (M6VAC) was unable to come with me today, if she had been there it would have been great fun as her name is also Wioletta (spelt the same, with a W and two t’s). Licensed hams called Wioletta are awesome :slight_smile:

Rounding out the day I managed four more contacts in the space of a couple of minutes (EA3EVL gave me 5/1, EA1DHB 5/4, EA2DDG 5/5 and IV3RVG 5/3). Unfortunately at that moment a contester decided to start broadcasting 1khz up above my frequency and that was the end of the mini pile up. That said, this wasn’t bad timing as it started to drizzle, so I packed everything up:

and headed home.

So, did I enjoy the day? Absolutely – full marks, would do again! I’d probably not take the extra battery next time (the built in battery lasted just fine), even though it’s only a very light LiFePO4 8Ah it was extra weight I could have saved. I’d probably also only take the Moxon if I had someone with me to help carry (if I can convince my Wioletta to go next time I’ll probably even take a small HF amplifier to give me that little extra bit of power – I think maybe 30w would make a difference, although in the end I did OK with 5w). This was an awful lot of fun, and I look forward to planning my next activation at some point in the future. Now I guess I better go and work out how to submit the log… :slight_smile:

-simon

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Don’t forget the wiki site I made Simon! Full details on there for logging.

And thank you so much for your report, it’s exactly what I hoped for when I invited you all to do this. Lovely photos and thank you for your efforts, which I know would have been not the easiest physically, despite your excellent recovery.

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Well done on your first activation.

5W is very difficult on crowded bands, I tend to use around 20W now and it does help a lot.

That summit is difficult on 2m but well done for trying and going for SSB.

I also asked at the camp site if it was OK to put an antenna up at the trig point but was told no, the farmer doesn’t like it (suggesting that it’s not their field!) but they let me into their field next door and said I could set up there if I wanted - like you said they’re really helpful.

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40m ?

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Yeah must admit that threw me for a loop too, but I assumed it was 7 Megs

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Hahaha I meant 40M / 7Mhz — my bad! 7 mega cycles now updated to 40 metres :wink:

Well done Simon. It amazes me how folk who have had major surgery etc can manage to get up them mountains etc. so once again well done.
Best 73

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@M0GZP well done on your first activation Simon, looks and reads like you really enjoyed it! I found the 40m band to be dreadful today as well, it was full of contest stations bleeding all over you, not mattering what frequency you tried to call out on. 60m & 20m were the bands to use :blush: Look forward to hearing about your next activation, and maybe we might make a future contact.

73, GW4BML. Ben

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Well done and many congratulations. Unfortunately, the south of England is a bit of a VHF desert. It can be done but advertising on here before the activation and of course spotting helps considerably.

I think you will find HF more reliable and 5W to 10W is more than enough. You can use more but need heavier batteries. :slight_smile:

Don’t forget the higher bands, 15m was very good today and there was a lot of digital traffic on 10m. I even managed an SSB QSO into Tenerife on 12m. :slight_smile:

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I’m not sure it’s a good idea to seek permission for erecting an antenna on somewhere with legitimate public access. Of course, public access does not infer entitlement to put up a mast, but it’s probably best to just do it - and take it down if requested (unlikely, but possible).

Using trig points to lash a mast to is not recommended as other walkers may want to visit the trig and maybe have their photo taken with it. Best to set up a few feet away from it and off the path.

Congratulations on the activation and welcome to SOTA.

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Congratulations on your first activation, and thanks for a great report. Good luck on the next one, and hope to work you S2S one day soon.

73 - Matthew, M0JSB

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Great report Simon and congratulations on your first SOTA outing, which seems to have been a resounding success.

73, Fraser

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Well done on your first activation. If you find yourself in the middle of a contest just work lots of contest stations. I know it’s not as much fun as being on the receiving end of a pile-up but it’s an easy way to get lots of stations in the log.

73 Richard

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Hi Simon,

Well done on your first activation. SOTA activations tend to evolve as you find what works and what doesn’t work quite as planned.

I also have that lipo battery in my ft817 and find it still (after 6 years) powers a 1 hour activation on mixed ssb and cw. I tend to use an HT for 2m fm as it can be boring making CQ calls and hearing no reply. So I self spot on sotawatch saying I’m monitoring the call freq while operating on hf. This works most of the time. I don’t often use the external battery. The 4.2 ah battery i have will power the 817 for many contacts, and probably 3 or more hours despite the current consumption of the 817.

Conditions on hf are improving as we head towards increased solar activity. Hopefully we may be able to work each other one day.

73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2DA

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Wow, thanks everyone for your replies :slight_smile:

To be fair it was a very very small hill and I walked from a carpark at the summit to a trig point on the summit :wink: but to me it was an accomplishment so many thanks for recognising that!

Indeed I wasn’t sure about this, but I saw a photo of someone else doing it and thought that might be a good idea. Next time I’ll stick to my ground spike!

I never really know how to work contest stations! They all seem to want a serial number and a 599 report and tend to be pretty short with people in my experience. Soda seems much friendlier! (Although I have to say I regret not spending more time talking to people – I kind of felt like I shouldn’t hold people too long which thinking back back doesn’t make any sense at all, I guess it’ll come with experience).

yes I’m realising it has to be dynamic and react to changes to work out what works :slight_smile:

I’d love to work VK on SSB 5w – I know it’s possible with the right conditions, I’ve worked VK with 50w before under my intermediate call (2E0LHR). Look forward to working you one of these days!

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Congratulations Simon! I am happy that I QSOed you on your first SOTA activation.
My call sign SV2OXS NOT SV2-0-XS. I hope to hear you soon again!

73, Christos.

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Working contest stations is actually pretty easy - they want your points. But you do need to know the exchange - usually a serial number but sometimes your age or zone or something else. Also, in some contests you only get points for working stations from a certain country so they may not want to work you.

I usually activate during the week so there isn’t normally a contest on, but if I am going to activate at the weekend then I will either use a non-contest band like 30m or check what contest is on so I know whether it is likely to be a big one and what the exchange is.

As Tom says, it’s best not to use the trig point to support the mast. I prefer to set up a short distance away as not only do I not risk getting in the way of other walkers but it’s less likely they’ll come and annoy me! For the same reason, I don’t use summit shelters. It’s not usually hard to find rocks or a peat hag for some shelter plus I always carry a tarp so I can set up a shelter anywhere.

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There’s a useful website contestcalendar.com and there you can see brief and full details of contest rules for almost all contests, ordered by date. Once you know what the exchange is, its much simpler to say 59001 thanks than go into a spiel about not being “in the contest”, which inevitably has the caller trying to explain the exchange, begging you to give him a contact for his log. Once he has that his dial will spin rapidly away. And what’s in it for you? That is a valid contact in your log towards the 4 you want. Sometimes very handy.

73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2DA

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Sorry Christos, this was me making a mistake transcribing my writing from the paper log! I write 0 with a crossed through line so I’m not sure why I transcribed this as a 0 rather than an O. I’ve updated the entry in the log so that it’s now correct :slight_smile:

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Fair enough – I can just start the serial number from 001 and increment each time I do it so they don’t end up submitting duplicates, and they’ll remain happy :slight_smile:

You know, I kind of didn’t twig that I could do this to get QSO’s for activation! I guess it felt a little like abuse of the system, but I suppose a QSO is a QSO and it just needs an exchange of callsigns and signal reports. Next time I’ll do just that, thanks!

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