SOTA went live in March 2002, a few months afterwards, in July, there was a QRP gathering in Maine, USA, called Lobstercon. I don’t know all of the details, but somebody thought up of an idea to have a QRPp CW rig which would be able to communicate across the convention site. Dave Benson, K1SWL, came up with the RockMite design. The RockMite, so called because it was crystal controlled (‘rock’ and small ‘mite’), was given away as an attendance gift to all Lobstercon 2002 attendees. Apparently the RockMite was dubbed the ‘wireless code practice oscillator’.
Word soon got out about the rig and Dave started selling kits. It didn’t take long to establish that the RockMite was capable of much more than just wireless code practice across a convention campsite!
I built my first RockMite kit in 2007, I bought it direct from Dave, K1SWL, in New Hampshire, USA. I enjoyed building the kit but my Morse wasn’t really up to standard at that point. In 2011 I plucked up enough courage to try for my first CW contact with the RockMite whilst activating Ingleborough, G/NP-005. I remember a discussion on the old SOTA reflector suggesting that a RockMite would be worse than useless for a SOTA activation.
Then, along came the challenge put forward by Kjell, LA1KHA, and Åge, LA1ENA. The challenge was to find out how many QSOs would be possible on a standard alkaline 9v battery. The challenge was very interesting to me as I love building stuff, so I decided to build a Manhattan style RockMite with some minor modifications to improve the current consumption.
I credit the LA1KHA Challenge with getting my Morse to a standard where I could use it for SOTA QSOs. Kjell, LA1KHA and Åge LA1ENA were both using RockMites to take part in the challenge.
Unfortunately the challenge fizzled out because the batteries were lasting too long! One 9v battery in the hands of a CW master could last for literally hundreds of QSOs! I struggled to find the time to devote to enough SOTA activations for the challenge, but my confidence with CW improved enough to support my transition to a better CW rig- the KD1JV Mountain Topper - but that’s another story.
Eric, KU6J (sk), added the final magic ingredient by creating RBNgate. With RBNgate, activating with small CW rigs like the RockMite became much, much easier. The chaser was now armed with all the information needed to tease a tiny QRPp signal out of the noise. The RockMite had become a viable rig for SOTA activating.
Over the years I’ve added to my RockMite collection - yesterday I had a count up as I genuinely didn’t know how many I had. I counted 18 RockMites!
The RockMite has given me so much pleasure and was also my gateway drug into CW SOTA activating. I felt that it was/is fitting to mark the 20th Anniversary of the creation on the RockMite design by putting some on air.
My son had a college transition day today and I was tasked with providing transport. College is about ¾ hours away, so it didn’t make sense to drive back home and then back again, as my son was attending for 3 hours only. It was my wife who suggested that I should do a SOTA activation. As it happens, the start for Sharp Haw G/NP-029 is literally 5 minutes by car away from my son’s college.
Sharp Haw, G/NP-029 (left peak)
I decided to pack four RockMites, one each for 40, 30, 20 and 17m. The 17m RockMite is the latest QRPme version and was untried before today.
I started with my 40m K1SWL RockMite. I managed 3 QSOs, including a nice S2S with Chris, DL1CR/P on DM/NS-163.
I intended to move on to 30m next, but I found the ‘channel’ already in use and switching to the other ‘channel’ didn’t improve things much. I decided to skip 30m for now and go on to 20m.
The 20m RockMite I used was built by my son quite a number of years ago and he did a very good job of building it. Another 4 QSOs were added to the tally.
Next up I plugged in the new 17m RockMite][. I was called by Kostas SV2HJW but unfortunately despite trying many times, I couldn’t establish contact. After some more CQs, I was pleased add 2 more QSOs to my RockMite 20th Anniversary log.
Finally I revisted 30m and thankfully the channel was quiet enough to use (you can never be 100% sure of a free channel as the receiver is about 10kHz wide or feels like it!). I added 3 QSOs on 30m to the log, bringing the RockMite QSO total up to 12.
I overstayed a little bit, meaning that I had to pack up quickly and run back to the car! I reached my son’s college with 5 minutes to spare and picked my son up on time.
I think I will end by expressing my thanks to Dave, @K1SWL for creating such a wonderful and fun design!