SOTA NEWS JUNE 2008
EDITORIAL by Roy G4SSH
Welcome to the June edition of SOTA News. This is normally published around the 1st of the month, but I unfortunately suffered a computer crash mid-May as a result of a corrupt hard drive. This had to be replaced, involving re-installation of software and programs, however we are now up and running once more. Thank you for your patience.
My thanks to contributors:- Roger MW0IDX, John G4YSS, Phil G4OBK, Rob G4RJQ, Chris F8DZY, Norby LX1NO.
SOTA AWARDS ISSUED by Roger MW0IDX. SOTA Awards Manager
1000 Chaser points achieved 11th February 2008 John G4WSX
2500 Chaser points achieved 28th April 2008 David G4CMQ
500 Chaser Uniques achieved 27th April 2008 David G4CMQ
100 Chaser Uniques achieved 18th April 2008 Hans SM3TLG
1,000 Chaser points (Shack Sloth Trophy) achieved 4th May Hans SM3TLG
250 Chaser points achieved 2nd May 2008. Daryl G0ANV
500 Chaser points achieved 26th April 2008 Aage LA1ENA
100 Chaser Uniques, achieved 11th April 2008. Aage LA1ENA
100 Chaser points, achieved 10th May. Martin M3VQE
10,000 Chaser points, achieved 10th May 2008. Geoff G4CPA
100 Chaser points, achieved 5th May 2008 Roy G0SLR
1000 Chaser points, achieved 11th May. Eric SM1TDE.
100 Chaser points, achieved 17th February 2008. Gunter DL3YA
250 Chaser points, achieved 3rd April 2008. Scott 2E0RCS
100 Chaser Uniques achieved 19th May 2008. Jeff G4ELZ
1,000 Chaser points (Shack Sloth) achieved 19th May. Geoff G6MZX
2500 Chaser points achieved 24th May. Geoff G4WHA
500 Chaser points. Achieved 3rd May Bohus OK8PKM
500 Activator points achieved 2nd May Bohus OK8PKM
Congratulations to all of the above on the award of your Certificate/Trophy.
Congratulations also to Stewart G0LGS who recently reached 250 Chaser points when in QSO with F/G6SFP on F/AB-362. This was Stewart’s first French SOTA and his first on 14 MHz.
ISLE OF MAN SOTA ACTIVATIONS by Phil G4OBK
I shall be active as GT7OOO/p from several of the GD summits between the 23rd and 27th June. I intend to concentrate on 7 MHz CW, but will also try to be active as GD4OBK/p on 5 MHz SSB. For some of the time I will be walking with a group so there may be a “Smash & Grab” activation on 2m FM.
My personal target is to reach 100 activator points by the end of the year – which is part of my 10-year ambition to reach Mountain Goat before I am 65 !
73 Phil G4OBK
Slovenia (S5) will become the next SOTA Association on Sunday the 15th June, when Milos S53X will be activating S5/BR-023 and S5/BR-025.
He will be active around 7032 and 10117 KHz. Many thanks for including 30m in your schedule Milos, I am sure you will have many chasers
Congratulations to Frank G3RMD who recently completed activation of all the GW/SW summits. A magnificent achievement.
John, using club call GS0OOO/p activated three of the most distant SOTA’s in Northern Scotland, NS-060, NS-042 and NS-004, giving many chasers 3 valuable unique SOTA’s.
(As a Marconi Marine Radio Officer from 1954-1963 I sailed on many Ben Line ships, such as “Benlawers” GKYX and “Benarty” MAGE and I find that I am now working these names as GM summits on the air – Ed)
ACTIVITY REPORT By Chris F8DZY
Hi, this is my little report for the June news bulletin.
3 activations only this month for me (I was in Paris till May 18th), with 2 new ones (PO-247 & 235). The weather was ugly here during my stay and impossible to do more.
On May 21st : SOTA F/PO-247 Ihisu with 42 QSOs : 27 on 30M CW (tnx HB0/HB9BFN for new one in SOTA !), 1 on 40M SSB (G6WRW Carolyn) & 14 on 40M (tnx DF2GN/P Klaus for S2S QSO !), see : http://fr.youtube.com/watch?v=Eb0Zc68wgi0
On May 27th : SOTA F/PO-237 Pic d’Arradoy (under the rain ! I tasted the “wet SOTA attitude in altitude” HI) with 10 QSOs all on 40M CW, see : http://fr.youtube.com/watch?v=ihuPebfH5uU
On May 29th ; SOTA F/PO-235 Ibanteli (680m.ASL) with 31 QSOs CW : 20 on 30M (tnx OK/DJ5AA/P and DF2GN/P for consecutive S2S QSOS again !) & 10 on 40M nobody on SSB, see : http://fr.youtube.com/watch?v=y2n5TmjUJSU
It seems propagation is now better on 30M and up… to be confirmed in the next months !
See you in June.
Vy 73 de Chris F8DZY.
MY FAVOURITE SOTA BAND.
The story of 160m SOTA Part 1 By John G4YSS
Stats: As a growing number of SOTA ops are realising, it is possible to use the 160m Band for SOTA activating, though it’s not without its difficulties. In April 2008, database statistics showed that 291 QSO’s, associated with 3 activators, had taken place from 66 summits, on 1.8 MHz. That’s roughly equal to the scores for 18 & 21 MHz but less than 3% of the tally for 160’s ‘noisy neighbour,’ 3.5 MHz. Lately another three activators have joined Jon, DO7AG and I, in the 160m activators club. These are: M1EYP, M0GIA and 2E0RXX.
Background: The pioneering spirit for Top Band SOTA came from Jon GM4ZFZ, who is well known these days, as a member of the SMT. Back in 2004, Jon was keen to try the band out and he intended to ‘start big’ with no less impressive a mountain than (GM/WS-001) Ben Nevis! For my part, I’d had experience of 160m portable activating from rare WAB square OV00 on a cold, dark New-Year’s night in 1990 and again in 1997. Somehow, Jon & I got our heads together, swapping ideas, experimenting with antennas, and eventually conducting tests with one another from our home QTH’s.
Antennas: Jon’s initial idea was to deploy a quarter-wave radiator on a (2 x walking-pole) mast running uphill, coupled with a quarter-wave counterpoise, laid on the ground in the opposite direction. Despite the whole thing being some 80 metres long, it sounded attractive for its simplicity. It would also be fairly light and as efficient as you might hope for use on 160m in difficult surroundings. The rig was to be an FT817 along with a tiny ATU for tuning. However if memory serves me well, Jon later made a more compact radiator, which employed a spring-like kid’s toy which goes by the name of ‘Slinky.’ This was extended vertically and connected at the top to the centre a 40m-band inverted-vee which had both of its ‘legs’ strapped to provide ‘top-hat’ capacitance. In order to support this arrangement Jon’s SOTA pole, lately abandoned in favour of a ‘walking stick mast,’ needed to make a comeback.
In 1990, I used a homebrew, loaded vertical G/P and modified FT77 to reach WAB chasers on 1.933 but results weren’t that great. A some years prior to that I’d built what has now come to be known as a ‘link-dipole.’ This was put to exhaustive use on 80-40-20m, from ‘back-of-beyond’ rare WAB areas, mostly on Scottish Islands and mountains but it was also used abroad. By 2004, I was using this aerial for SOTA so why not modify it for 160m? I now owned an IC706 2G; lighter than the faithful old FT77.
Though it appeared straightforward, I found that whichever road was explored, getting a workable, repeatable, lightweight and manageable system for SOTA at these wavelengths took lots of time, effort and R & D! Since an 80m half-wave dipole was as much as I wanted to deploy on a summit, that’s the physical size that I decided to stick with. Each leg, a mere eighth-wave on top-band, would have to be loaded to pull it down from 3.65 MHz to nominally 1.83 MHz; something a dipole which already had link-points could lend itself to pretty well. There were choices. Loading coils could be positioned near the feed-point (smaller coils, less efficient but more bandwidth) or near the ends (big coils, more efficient but less bandwidth). This was easy to decide simply because amateur radio thrives on compromise! The coils would be inserted at the 40m-band break-points (half way down each leg) and would be made easily removable. After that I had to address the inevitable problems of narrow-bandwidth necessitating some form of tuning to accommodate different ground conductivities, varying AGL’s and multi-channel usage.
The solution gradually evolved and in the end I had a pair of adjustable coils of 2cm dia. x 9cm long and each weighing 38gms but please don’t ask me their inductance values! Based on PVC tubing, over-sleeving hypodermic syringes with an 115 turn external coil (0.4 mm dia enamelled copper wire) tuning is achieved by adjusting an internal, sliding slug, formed by just the right quantity of ferrite along the syringe plunger. Ferrite rings provided the raw material for this but they had to be smashed-up to powder, mixed with epoxy and evenly applied to the plungers. The hard part was testing and calibration, which had to be done over representative / average ground (whatever that is?) and on the SOTA mast in use; in this case 5m high. The airstrip at work came in handy for this but it took 5 or 6 of my half-hour lunch breaks and a wary ear for incoming aircraft! Finally, I had a system that could be tuned to cover any 40 kHz ‘channel’ (3:1 VSWR points) between 1.8 and 2.0 MHz.
‘Historic’ S2S: Jon & myself were ready at around the same time but Jon first air-tested his system from home. After that, what better way to prove 160m was workable than with a summit-to-summit QSO? After putting Carn-Mor-Dearg (GM/WS-003) on HF in the afternoon of 30-July-2004, Jon GM4ZFZ crossed the Carn-Mor-Dearg Arete and onto Ben Nevis (GM/WS-001) carrying basic bivvy equipment. He took with him a 7 Ah SLAB, an FT817 and his latest antenna, whilst I settled for the modest Fountains Fell (G/NP-017) but with the added luxury of a tent and QRO. There was little point in trying 160m before dark; SOTA chasers for that band were completely non-existent and no ‘ordinary’ op would bother to listen in daylight during the summer. However, we had rehearsed well and though signals were pathetically weak at around 10:30pm local time, Jon & I made it on 1.836 CW, using 5W (GM) &10W (G) with 339 both ways. I stand to be corrected but as far as I know and according to the SOTA database, this was the first ever SOTA QSO on 160 but better still, it was an S2S! What excitement and as conditions improved we ‘scraped’ a (5W/100W) SSB contact too.
After going off to work a couple more stations, I just couldn’t resist returning to see how Jon was fairing. With sporadic encouragement from me and after long, unanswered CQ’s, though it took him into the early hours of 31st of July-2004, history was written in Jon’s log as he went on to make the first ever qualification of a SOTA summit on 1.8 MHz! On that night, 160m SOTA certainly got the best of flying starts! Jon’s & my activation reports can be read at: http://www.gm4zfz.com/2004/07/ben_nevis_carn_.html http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Summits/message/6487
Onward and upward? Not really! It can happen, even after good beginnings that interest wanes. So it was with 160. Jon joined the SOTA management team and then got far too busy. I was much encouraged by our efforts but thought I’d learned (falsely as it turned out) that 160m SOTA was only going to be useful after dark.
2004-05 New-Year Camp-over: Largely as a result of this misjudgement, it was not until late the same year that 160m-band CQ’s would be heard from another summit. The QTH was a tiny tent pitched on the cold, dark, windy summit of Nine Standards Rigg (G/NP-018) on 31st December 2004. After struggling up there with a 28kg pack, I settled down for a long night and because of what I had learned, the choice of 1.8 MHz came naturally enough. Nonetheless, a review of my log shows that I made just three 160m QSO’s all night. Two were in CW, one of which was with the famous GM3OXX (George Burt of G-QRP Club fame and inventor of the OXO TX.) The third contact was an SSB one but none of the three ops were ‘SOTA people.’ 145-FM carried most of the traffic along with a handful on 40m SSB. So it was now a case of ‘two sparks…smoke… but no fire’ so I just forgot about the band for the next 12 months or more.
See the July SOTA News for Part 2 of the 160m Story.
73 John G4YSS
SOTA CW REPORT by Roy G4SSH
The month of May saw propagation change from spring to summer, with high pressure and sporadic-E conditions allowing SOTA contacts to be made throughout Europe on all HF bands up to 50 MHz. including the WARC bands of 10, 18 and 24 MHz. There were also many days of short-skip, allowing local stations to be audible on 30 and 40m.
The improved conditions and two public holidays ensured that there were many cross border SOTA expeditions from Norby DL/LX1NO & ON/LX1NO, Hannes DL/HB9AGO, Hans SP/DL6UHA, Hans ON/PA0HRM, Frank OK/DL6UNF, Miro DL/OK1CYC, Mario, Alain ON/F6ENO, ON/DL4MFM, Peter ON/DL8YR, Kurt F/HB9AFI, OK/DL2HSC, Thomas OE/DL1DVE, Dan LA/DH8DX, Aage EI/LA1ENA and Al, SV5/DJ5AA whilst on holiday in both Rhodes and OK/DJ5AA in the Czech republic.
The improvement in propagation and QRM from contest weekends brought increased activity to 10 MHz during the month. It was a pleasure to hear excellent signals from some OE, ON, OK and HA stations active on 30m for the first time who are very weak on 40m. Heard on this band were DF2GN, DH8DX, ON/LX1NO, OK1DDQ, HA5CQZ, HA802VR (HA2VR), OH7BF, F5IUZ, F8DZY, F5UKL, DL4FDM, OK/DJ5AA, OE8GBK, OE5EEP/5, LA1ENA, F5TIL, G4RJQ, DL4FO, HA5TI, GS0OOO, and DL3VTA. Mike, DL/G4DDL was putting a good signal into the UK on 10116 from the Harz mountain region, with his K4 and FT-817.
Many activators , including the new SOTA countries, also took advantage of the change in conditions to call on 14058 KHz, which resulted in good contacts all across Europe. The 20 and 30m bands should improve as we move out of the bottom of the sunspot cycle, to become regular calling spots for SOTA activations, which will relieve some of the congestion from 7032 KHz (and allow smaller antennas to be carried).
The month started with a feast for CW enthusiasts. May day –Thursday 1st was a remarkable day with 55 CW spots and over 100 chaser points activated. There were first time activations from new SOTA countries by Bjorn LB1GB, Aage LA1ENA, LA1TPA, Hans SP/DL6UHA and Jaakko OH7BF.
The scheduled OE Activation Day on the 18th May was a great success, with OE3KAB, OE6GWG, OE5EEP, OE5PGL and OE5EIN all heard active on CW from Austria, in spite of bad weather conditions.
Klaus DF2GN spent the month experimenting with QRP and various antennas, including verticals and long wires. The reduction in power has little effect on CW contacts, where Morse signals are either readable or not and signal strength is of little consequence. I have often exchanged 229 signals with Klaus for a perfectly valid QSO. However, his 5w signals were easily readable with 559 to 579 both ways to my indoor six foot vertical whilst I was operating /A in Cornwall. Klaus made the best of the unusual propagation conditions to work stations throughout Europe on all HF bands and I was delighted to have a first SOTA QSO on 28 MHz CW with him.
During an activation from BW-519, Klaus made no less than 22 S2S contacts, which is probably a CW record from a single summit activation. Klaus has also introduced a variation in his working procedure. On initial calls and when the pile-up has depleted, Klaus will use his K2 rig to call CQ SOTA DE DF2GN/P QSK continuously. For the benefit of newcomers QSK means “I am listening between my signals” and Klaus is inviting anyone to call whilst he is transmitting, at which point he will stop and listen.
John G4YSS has long held the title “earliest SOTA activation riser”, so I was intrigued to note that Jaakko OH7BF was active at 0529 UTC on the 4th May. It would be interesting to know who replied on 30m at that time.
Dan DH8DX activated 3 x TH-10 pointers on the 3rd May, followed by another 2 x 10 TH summits on the following day, making more than 100 QSO’s on many of these summits. A magnificent achievement which was much appreciated by many chasers. Thanks Dan.
Dan also joined together with Norby LX1NO, Lutz DJ3AX (and Benny), and Fred DL8DXL to complete a one day expedition around 4 TH summits on the 10th May, allowing multi-band activations for the benefit of chasers. Unfortunately they experienced severe cross channel interference when attempting to use 30 and 40m at the same time, so split up after the first activation, but returned the following day with another 3 TH summits for the benefit of grateful chasers.
Tom M1EYP and his son Jimmy did a fine job activating summits in Southern England during the half term holiday. Tom’s CW signals on 3557 KHz were weak but perfectly readable on a noisy band at this QTH.
The month ended as it began, with Norby operating over the final weekend from the Saarland district of Germany and activating 8 x SR summits on the Saturday and 10 on the Sunday, mostly uniques. Many thanks for this superb achievement Norby. The following e-mail was received from Norby:-
Just finished the log. A bit of work with 18 refs and 777 QSO’s;-)But worth it.
Some stats to calm those who always complain about activities being too short and too fast.
I think, most who are willing to “invest” some time had a fair chance to work me since I usually only go QRT when there’s no-one answering my CQ.
Additionally, I have a restricted amount of battery capacity and I don’t see any good reason to call CQ without seeing it honoured.
777 Qs were made from 18 refs in 398 minutes. That’s 1,95 Qs/min, 43,17 Qs/ref and 22 min/ref.
I guess that next weekend (7-8th June) my next goal will be reached, if the weather is in good mood, when I will be the first to reach 1,000 Uniques in 2008 .
A warm welcome is extended to new SOTA CW activators Jan, OK1NF, Milan OK1DMP, Alain F6DYA, Lars DL8WJM, Paul F8DZO, DJ2JK, DL8RL, Aage LA1ENA, Bjorn LB1GB, Zoli OK1AOV, OK1BU, OK1ZE, Bert DF5WA, Vit OK5MM, Jaakko OH7BF, OK1JX, and Gun DL5WW, all 17 of which were heard using CW during the month of May. This constant influx of new activators is very stimulating for SOTA. When you consider that for every new SOTA activator there is probably at least the same number of new chasers, then this is a reflection of how rapidly the organisation is expanding. The pile-ups on 7032 KHz, especially at weekends, are getting quite formidable with some chasers having to wait for more than an hour before the feeding frenzy subsides and they are able to make contact.
There were also quite a few days during the month when data transmissions became active on 7033 KHz, wiping out SOTA activations already running. It is becoming increasing difficult to read QRP activators beneath the sound of SSTV and bubbling noises on this frequency.
CW CHASING TIPS FOR NEWCOMERS (Part 3)
- Become recognised by the regular activators.
When you work an activator for the first time always give your name. This only needs to be done once. The reason for this is that there are many instances on CW when the activating station is weak and fading and other chasers are causing QRM. Under these conditions your name coming back can be the one confirmation that the activator is calling you. I often hear …339…OY 73. That is all I need to confirm that the activator is replying to me (Roy). I am fortunate in so much that my first name is not only short, but contains a lot of dashes, which always punch through QSB better than the fraction-of-a-second dot, which is often lost.
It is probably too late to change your callsign unless you are about to upgrade, however, if so then choose a callsign that can be instantly remembered; this means that an activator hearing just part of your callsign will reply. I am doubly fortunate that suffix of my callsign is all dots because a single SSH will bring an instant reply from the activator. I could probably send 10 dots and still receive a reply. Other calls registered to me are 2E0OOO, G0OOO and M0O; my daughter is licenced as M5OOO and my son G4UUU, all chosen for instant recognition. Once heard, these calls are never forgotten and I estimate that they are worth 2 S-points in a pile-up.
- Keep a profile list of all activators.
This is the most important working aid that you can devise to increase the success rate of your station. Activators are creatures of habit and a knowledge of their individual working procedures, favourite frequencies and habits can give you a tremendous advantage when attempting to make contact.
Basically, you need a note of callsign, first name, usual working frequencies and any comments. This does not have to be extensive and can be just jottings in a notebook or on a single sheet of paper. I include any information about the rig, antenna, power, and input information from the QSL card when it arrives.
So how do I use this information? I make a list of any alerts posted for the day and by consulting my profile sheet make an assessment of which stations are likely to be audible. I am unlikely to make contact with stations in southern Europe with 2w output to a small antenna around noon, but other stations using 10-100w are going to be certain contacts, so, if possible I can plan to be around the shack at that time.
Another advantage is that I can immediately reply to an activator with their first name, which is not always given on the spots page and many stations use a shortened name on CW. I also know who will call on 7030 instead of 7032, who will call on 7118 KHz CW during a contest weekend, who will stay on a summit for at least 2 hours, who will make just enough contacts to qualify the summit then QSY, who will always commence an activation by calling on 10118 KHz, who has a chirpy Tx that drifts upwards, which OK station will usually be active in the late afternoons etc. When two or three stations are active together this allows me to prioritise the order in which to make contact. The list is also invaluable in event of a crash of SOTA Watch or your own computer.
As an example, on the 30th May Andre F5UKL/p was active on 7032 KHz on F/PO-171, but he was just a whisper to me. However, his alert said he would be active on “7, 10 and 14 CW” (no frequencies were given) , but with the info on my profile list I was able to monitor 10.123 KHz, where he called CQ SOTA shortly afterwards and I was able to spot him as active here for the benefit of other chasers.
It is also possible to identify an activator if you are struggling to read the callsign. All I need from a chaser is (for example) “TNX Milan” and I can narrow the possibilities down to one or two activators. Most regular chasers will have some of this information in their head but it is difficult to instantly recall these facts without notes.
- One final tip for the month concerns signal reports. These are meant to be assessed by ear, not your S-meter, which are often “lazy”. This is compounded by modern rigs where the digital display actually displays an S-number. The majority of QRP SOTA signals I log never even move the S-meter needle off the stop, so if believed my eyes then most all my reports would be 519.
When attempting to make contact with a weak and fading activator always use the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Most stations could not care less about the actual report so long as this is received correctly for a valid contact. So in marginal conditions always double up on the figures. Reports of 229, 339, 559 (or 599) are the only SOTA reports I give. This doubles the chance of the activator receiving it correctly first time. I despair when I hear stations giving a “UR 329” report, which is a recipe for disaster when the correspondent asks for a repeat, which is swamped by the calling chasers.
LEARNING CW by Rob G4RJQ
Following the recent discussions on learning CW maybe a few details of
my ongoing struggle will help others not to make the same mistakes. I
started short wave listening back at the beginning of the 50,s and
tried to learn CW.
Some fool told me that N was the opposite of A and so on and being a
boy I believed them! This was probably the worst mistake I ever made
and resulted in huge “mental blocks” as I tried to work out which was
which. If anyone suggests this method to you TOTALLY disregard it!!!
Put off by this I continued as a SWL while following a career in
wireless as it was known, until in 1966 when the codeless B license was
introduced. Encouraged, I passed the exam and was issued with G8AOR,
70cms up only at that time. VHF now interrupted and several attempts at
CW fell by the wayside over the years. Computers came on the scene and
whilst playing with programs to decode Morse with a ZX81 I found that I
was copying 15wpm plain text in my head. This was due to endless
LISTENING, you cannot do enough of it! Leave plain language running in
the shack just above your copying speed and just follow it. This does
leave you weak on mixed letters/numbers, a problem I still have due to
being told “don’t worry about numbers they’re just so many dits/dahs.”
WRONG! Learn them mixed in with letters otherwise you will end up with
two copying speeds, one for letters and another for the rest…
I am still sometimes thrown by call signs that begin with a number that pops
up suddenly. On to sending, how to crack that? Once again I let the
computer help. I let it send known plain text to a speaker and tried to
send it simultaneously to another speaker keying a tone oscillator…
Try putting the output of your keyed oscillator into a CW reading
program which will soon show up any timing errors. I was once visited
by an old CW hand while doing this, he said “lets have a go”.
Unfortunately he had quite a pronounced swing and the program could not
cope, embarrassment all round!
Time came for the test and when I arrived at the coast station I found the key firmly bolted to the edge of the bench. I had learned using advice from an ARRL publication that recommended sending with the whole forearm resting on the bench. I couldn’t send a series of dots with my arm free! Happily the examiner was only too willing to help, he unscrewed the key and held it down in the middle of the desk while I attacked it from the other side. I passed!
Now came G4RQJ and a long period of straight key CW only
operation right up to the start of SOTA which got me back to a bit of
phone operation as well. My problems with a keyer in recent times I’ve
told you about before, it’s getting slowly better (groans from the
poor souls who have to copy it) but I still send far too many mistakes
and I’m still learning. Next might be iambic keying but I doubt it.
(Thank goodness for that)
The moral is “as soon as you start you are a CW operator” ALWAYS
think of yourself as that. You may not be a very good one but think of
the best you’ve ever heard, once they were worse than you! Keep at it
and enjoy your progress because progress you will. Listen on the air,
not just to a tutor , master CQ CQ CQ DE , the next bit is going to be
his callsign and he’ll repeat it several times, you’re off. Make a note
of his country and look for the next one.
CHASING WITHOUT SOTA-WATCH BY Roy G4SSH
Being in my seventies, I am very much a computer user, not a programmer. I can operate one sufficiently well to get by, but the computer revolution came too late for my generation and what lies beneath the cover is a total mystery to me. Setting up new hardware and loading software is left to my son, who lives in the next village, and is happy to come around to sort out my problems.
My difficulties started mid May, when my computer began to lock-up at intervals and these intervals gradually became shorter, in direct relationship to the temperature. My son diagnosed a corrupt hard disk and advised me to ensure that any essential programs were backed-up. As an enthusiastic amateur photographer I had around 1000 images on the computer, which were all backed-up on CD’s, but I hastily copied all text files, e-mails, addresses and favourites.
The computer struggled on for a few days then crashed completely. I ruefully stared at the useless hunk of metal and mentally budgeted for a new one. Fortunately my son persuaded me that it could be brought back to life with a new hard disk, additional memory and an external hard drive as back-up, which were promptly ordered. Sure enough, he had me back up and running by the end of the month with a good-as-new computer at a fraction of the cost of a new machine. (I always knew that teenagers would grow up to be responsible citizens).
So how did I fare during the two weeks without access to SOTAWatch? As an enthusiastic chaser I was interested to see what difficulties (if any) this presented and how the lack of spots and alerts would affect my performance.
When I joined SOTA, a few years ago, I decided that in order to keep chasing to reasonable proportions as a hobby, and fit around ordinary life, I would select a single mode only. As my favourite interest was CW, this was my obvious choice. In those days very few amateurs had broadband, so most chasers used a dial-up, pay-as-you go connection to the internet to download a list of alerts for the day and HF SOTA activations had to be found by searching the bands around the recognised QRP calling frequencies.
On HF CW the situation has not changed much and I could therefore ensure a 90% success rate by monitoring 7032 KHz with a wide bandwidth, with an occasional check on 10118 KHz. However, without spots and alerts I missed those activators who use Spotlite to announce the use of a remote CW frequency, such as 7118 or 18095 KHz, used during the WPX contest weekend. However, overall, the loss of SOTAwatch had only a minor effect on my success rate. I missed the advantage of being able to walk past the shack and glance at the screen to see if there was anyone active, as opposed to switching on the rig and checking for a pile-up, which was much more time-consuming.
My one major difficulty was the problem of identifying the SOTA references of weak and fading activators. Time after time I would work a station then wait for the reference, usually sent at intervals every half dozen QSO’s, or so, only for this to be wiped out by the horde of chasers calling whilst the reference was being sent. I had to resort to a trip to the local library to access the SOTA spots history page to get the reference – and that produced quite a surprise, because I soon discovered that there were many activations which had been worked by a few dozen chasers, where not a single person had spotted the station.
One advantage of not having access to the spots page was that you are not aware of activations that you have missed !
So, to sum up, SOTA watch is a very valuable and remarkable aid to chasing which can save much time and effort, and on which we come to rely (with much credit to John GM4ZFZ). However, it is not a substitute for expertise and experience and it is quite possible, as a chaser, to manage without it, but at a cost of reduced efficiency. How much your performance will be degraded will depend very much on your personal experience.
The following scheduled contests are expected to cause severe QRM to SOTA activity, especially on the 40m band. Activators should plan accordingly with alternate spots/bands.
7th-8th 0400-0400 DIGIFEST Contest RTTY, PSK 31 etc.
7th –8th 1500-1500 IARU Region 1 CW Field-day
14-15th 0001-2359 ANARTS Word-Wide RTTY Contest
14-15th 1500-1500 GACW CW DX Contest
21-22nd 0001-2359 All Asian CW DX contest.
28-29th 1200-1200 Ukrainian DX Digi Contest
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