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 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
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 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
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…