Monday, May 6, 2013

Binsey and HF activation in general

Binsey is a favourite local fell for me, and today 6 May 2013 must be about the 5th time I've activated it. It's only about 1/2 hr steady plod from the car park to the top, so quite a good top to try HF activating, which tends to require more gear to be brought along than a traditional 2m WOTA activation does.

This was a bit of a dry run, because I'd like to use HF from some of the bigger fells to extend the distance beyond the typical 2m range. It worked out quite well - here's the story.

The plan was to major on 40m SSB. I have an old wire dipole for that band, but it's a bit much to lug around and awkward to handle, so I bought a linked dipole for 40m, 30m and 20m from SOTA beams. This is a great piece of equipment, nicely made, good quality components, light and easy to handle - and I got it at a sale price, too.

A telescopic pole is needed to get the wire up to a useful height - I have a 7m long windsock pole that is around a metre long when collapsed, making it reasonable to carry on a smallish outing (I see that SOTAbeams is doing a 7m and 10m pole as well, and they have a good video online to show the slick way of getting everything up into the air - it works!). Here's the basic gear:

The collapsed green windsock pole is at the back, with the rolled up antenna in front of it. The antenna bundle comprises two blue winders (for the two legs of the dipole) and a green one for both the third stay and the lightweight feeder cable (which has a BNC plug). The orange plastic plate is the dipole centre. Note the three tent pegs for guying.

The rig is a Yaesu 817, used with hand microphone and a pair of basic headphones. I plucked up the courage yesterday to take the covers off and de-solder one of the jumpers behind the face plate to 'wideband' the rig. Originally the rig only transmitted 7.0 to 7.1MHz for 40m. It now covers the whole band to 7.2. Well, up to 7.5 actually, even though 7.2 is our limit and I think the max is 7.3 in some other countries. Moving on...

I set everything up on the north side of the summit, a location which provided a little bit protection from the strong breeze. The antenna went up just as it does in the SOTAbeams instructional video - I recently had a practice in the garden and a couple of alfresco QSOs from there beforehand to check everything out. I think the antenna is close enough to being resonant not to require an ATU on the bands that it's cut for. I should check it out with an analyser some time, but didn't see any SWR problems today.

The location well within the 'activation zone' meant that the antenna and operator were a reasonable distance away from the folks visiting the top of the hill. Binsey is very popular!

Other essential / recommended equipment is warm clothing, something to drink (QSOs are thirsty business) and an insulating sit mat.

I also had 2m handheld gear with me. At one point I was being called on two radios at once - this was a bit chaotic: I need to get better organised.

Most contacts were England / Wales - just one in Scotland. The first contact was on 40m, an ON station portable at a lighthouse in Jersey. I received a 5/5 report, which is fine considering the rig was only putting out 2.5 watts. Next was a SOTA summit to summit (GW6DTN/P on NW043 Cyrn-y-Brain). Then a spot of 2m, using the handheld and short whip antenna to contact local WOTA chasers, then back to 40m, where there was a Summits-on-the-Air mini-pileup to work through - the activation must have been spotted somewhere beyond the WOTA website. I was on the QRP frequency for this burst of activity 7.090, which was tolerably quiet. Most stations were 5/7 to 5/9 with me. My reports ranged S1 to S 9, but several stations noticed pronounced QSB.

After that, 40m quietened down, I switched to 2m on the handheld for 2EOGDA/P Gerald who was calling from Sale Fell, local line of sight, for a WOTA summit-to-summit.

I lowered the mast and disconnected the crocodile clips to convert it the antenna to a 20m dipole. I cranked the 817 up to its maximum 5 watts. Conditions on 20m were a bit odd. There was a ZL station coming in at S8, but embroiled in a rag-chew, and Europeans looking for DX, but nobody responding to my CQs. Eventually I managed one UK contact on 20 - M0MWC/P, QRP as well, just about 5/1 both ways.

By this time I had been on top for about 1 1/2 hours, and the cold breeze was taking its toll, so I packed up and left.

Lessons: An HF activation is likely to be longer than a typical 2m activation because of the somewhat longer time taken to sort out the antenna and the numbers of stations that pop up. A resonant dipole is probably the best solution for hilltop HF (although I did once get out using a Miracle Whip). The 817 battery lasted OK for the 1 1/2 hours, but I know from experience that it could run down on a longer session: the rig just switches off. After my original Yaesu battery expired (probably from lack of use and poorly disciplined charging) I now use a replacement high capacity one- 2700mAH from W4RT. In average coolish drafty Lakeland weather, 1 1/2 hours is quite long enough on top unless you can get very well sheltered, so chilling down may be the limiting factor rather than battery life.

Clearly, if folks can put up with the investment and weight, a bigger rig and bigger battery will help things along, but there's fun to be had with a basic 817/dipole setup.

There's also an earlier post on a 2m-only Binsey activation on this blog.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Outlying Fells list - Revision 1

The Outlying Fells list is now available from two sources:

1. Follow this link:

2. As a page here, accessed via the link in Reference pages on the right hand side of this blog website.

The table in the blog page has a couple of formatting issues, but it works OK.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Monday, August 27, 2012

Binsey - Queens Diamond Jubliee Beacon Activation

As part of the many celebrations taking place over the Queens Diamond Jubilee , a very special event involving the lighting on hundreds of beacons on summits across the UK was to take place. This included many summits in the Lake District, with the final one to be lit other than that of the Queen being on the summit of Sca Fell Pike.

As this was an occasion that was very unlikely to be repeated in a very long time, the decision was made to attend one of the summits taking part local to home. In this case Binsey, overlooking the Solway and with great views towards Skiddaw and Hadrians Wall where over 200 beacons were to be lit along the length of the wall.

The evening was fine and dry and the sky very clear. Perfect for the event. Making the way to the top the summit, the weather was also promising to give a stunning sunset over the Solway. It didn't disappoint.

The pallets on the summit in preparation for the lighting of the Beacon

Looking towards Hadrians Wall and the Solway.
Sunset across the Solway with Criffel behind

As the sun went down, a large crowd gathered on the summit to participate in the event, bringing a terrific atmoshpere at the actual lighting of the beacon as the National Anthem was sung and flags flown.

Beacon on the summit

As the fire was lit the sumnmit was activated using only hand held radio. Sadly, this part was curtailed by the dampness in the air causing a problem with RF feedback after only 5 contacts. However, the setting and the event itself made up for this as the full moon rose and settled between the beacon and Skiddaw with it's beacon lit on top.

Photos really don't do any justice to the whole atmospheric occasion as simply could not capture the true beauty of the full moon rising directly behind and the beacon Skiddaw to the right or the whole crowd singing the national anthem as the beacon was lit.

 A great evening and certainly one to remember.