Saturday, 17 September 2011

Saturday - The journey (part way) home

Having weathered a storm on the way in nature repeated itself. This time though we managed to get a through soaking twice on the little ferry between the islands. A round of cooked breakfasts in St. Mary’s helped lift the spirits again before the Scillonian III took us back to the mainland rather more gently than it had before. While on this voyage we overheard the Captain explain that the Harbourmaster had thought him mad to set out straight into Katia the previous week. He was clearly right, but thoughts of those YouTube videos came back.

SO with a curry back on the mainland and some tea and a shower - we were all pretty knackered and we had hoped to visit Poldhu the next morning, arguably the birthplace of radio communications on the way back to Wiltshire, but with an 80% chance of another soaking before hours in the car back, we decided to head back home.

Friday - closing down

An enjoyable week had to come to an end. Tearing down the station caused a mood of sadness and thoughts of philosophy again. What would we want to get out of another trip like this? We had tasted the dizzying excitement of high speed & sheer numbers of contacts. But some of the most memorable operating involved quality or really long distance QSOs.

We concluded that we wanted a bit of both as long as we’re having fun doing it. Remembering it’s all meant to be fun was rule no.1 this time and will be on any future trip. it did feel odd though, and the accomodation just didnt look the same without radios, solar panels and a map on the wall.. this made us all feel pretty sad !

The final meal out at the hotel was relaxed and enjoyable with toasts to a great week of radio made a variety of drinks including the local brew.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Thursday - Repeater fun from the island

After a good night’s sleep the appetite for highly frenetic operating had dies down, so Dan settled down for some nice gentle unassisted operating. For a change of scene, Dave & Simon went for a hike out to the Day Mark at the Eastern tip of the island to try out 2m again. After no joy calling CQ on SSB or FM, the SOTA Beam was pointed at the nearest repeaters. All the Cornish ones were possible but Dartmoor proved too much of a barrier for any further in that direction.

Sometimes you just have to make your luck, so with no thoughts of success, the beam was pointed towards Wales and GB3WW, which Simon had in the past picked out from just by the Hackpen White Horse in Wiltshire. Good as gold it responded and a nice QSO ensued with a well impressed Welshman.

So far so good, what about the South Coast? Well we also got into GB3DR near Dorchester, 175 miles away. All this with just 5W powered by a solar panel. Another QSO there taught us that we were a little scratchy, but definitely readible. So the QRP experiments could also be declared successful after all. Buoyed by that success the away team then found the only normal Geo-cache on the island and enjoyed an interesting walk back to the shack as a result.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Wednesday - pile up

So armed with access to the clusters we decided to go for maximum QSO style operating. And did we ever get a pile up. The effort to keep the rate going took all three of us busy. One operator on the mic with notepad scribbles, one keeping the official log and supporting the mic holder and the third flying around providing the tea, nibbles & lunch, while ‘relaxing’ ready for the next stint on the mic.

After a few hours of this, the apparently inexhaustible supply of stations finally gave way.

Time for the adrenaline to die down and for some serious back patting. It was an experience of what is must be like for the really big contest and activation teams. This was only one “shift”, but it was draining.

Undaunted (probably thanks to that adrenaline (or maybe the beer)), happily the right side on a very nice omelette extraveganza thanks to Dave and on the advice of Robin, G3TKF, we hit 40m early for the evening shift. This time the Buddipole was set to point right at the UK. The result was instant success with the 2nd pile-up of the day and many contacts & conversations until more powerful stations set-up just 1KHz or so away from us meant we had to give up.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Tuesday - On the beach

The weather finally died down again on the Tuesday, so the beach called again. In addition to Simon’s familiar portable kit, Dan carried his very ex-military looking Clansman down and set up long wires and counterpoises on the mostly deserted shore. Japan had disappeared again, but a very enjoyable few hours were spent chatting away to distant on various bands. Simon stuck to 40m reaching many UK stations for a lengthy chat including a group from Essex activating the Isle of Skye. Dan did manage a couple of Phone QSO’s on the low power setting of the Clansman proving that power isnt everything. one such QSO was into Belarus using 3 watts to contact them, the operator the other end was just using 5 watts.

The day saw more victories. Dave had his first QSO on CW with the Clansman on the beach and Simon started with digital modes. Over the week, whilst most of the QSOs were using SSB, PSK31 was a strong 2nd in the end. The set-up was not ideal, but balancing a small speaker on top of the fist-mic worked surprisingly well.

The most significant result of the day was finding a location where 3G access to the Internet worked. With e-mail and access to FaceBook & Twitter we were able to allay more fears of our drowning, finally set a sked and post spots on the clusters. It caused us to contemplate how the more distant island activations could pick up large volumes of contacts without net access.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Monday - CW & Digitail and other firsts !!

One issue that became clear after a couple of days was that our call sign was being misinterpreted. The ‘X’ in MX0WCB was being translated as ‘W’ or simply missed out altogether. We tried varying accents and alternatives to the NATO phonetic alphabet with mixed success, but the X-Ray stuck, having no real alternative, and continued to be problematic.

Successes still kept coming along with Monday seeing Simon’s 1st ever Morse QSO and Dave’s 1st on PSK. Fuelled by this (and Dan’s excellent carbonara) the evening session saw another assault on 40m. We had agreed to try it on a sked, but it had been so full on previous evenings to make it unusable. Luckily this time we found a familiar call-sign, Russ, M0WYB and managed to get through to him. Very generously he suggested we take over his frequency and we finally got our opening to the UK. John, M0OTM who had also heard us in the meantime popped a spot on the cluster for us and we were away until the conditions and band congestion meant we had to call it a night. In the meantime we had at least been able to assure people we hadn’t actually drowned on the way over.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Sunday - First full day of operating !

A short walk and check of the portable set-up had added to the count for the 1st day, but also whetted the appetite for exploring the island. A glorious strand to the North-East seeded thoughts of Japan using proximity of the sea to help the QRP signal. As expected next morning, Japanese stations thundered into the Buddipole at 59+ on 17m. However, despite best efforts, stronger stations were always heard ahead of us. Still, it was a beautiful place to wait for a gap in the stream of QSOs and contemplate the battery life using the more powerful radios that may or may not have been more successful.

Alas a change in the weather called a halt to portable proceedings as the rain and wind picked up. Katia hadn’t finished with us. The forecast was still for strong winds. Back at the shack we kept the antenna farm to a minimum to avoid breakages. The vertical had taken a bit of a pounding, but was looking good. The long roach poles stayed down for safety’s sake.

Once the contest had finished and night-time propagation was in place we saw a change in DX fortune hitting South America and the Caribbean with the 897 and trusty vertical and getting encouraging reports. The lift was clearly still on so a bit of a late session ensued, mostly on 20m.

One of the main things to hit us early on was the lack of reliable access to the Internet. Only one mobile phone worked & with edge coverage, that was unreliable even standing outside on benches. It was curious being able to talk to exotic places around the world now, but not back into Britain.  Indeed once we managed to get some connectivity it seemed that folks back home were quite concerned as they hadn't heard from us.
Anyway here is a short video tour of the shack

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Dxpedition Day 2

The local nickname for the Scillonian 3 didn’t disappoint. “ the great white stomach pump” really did its job as the backlash of the recent hurricanes in America provided our sea crossing a unique adventure. Simon decided that he would try to get to the bottom of the boat while Dave and Dan endured the crossing outside in the spray, cold and wet weather.

We made good time too, only arriving at St Mary’s 20 mins late so it was time for our first taste of Cornwall, a pasty while waiting for our luggage to be transferred from boat to boat.
To say we were a little concerned watching all our kit being thrown from the cargo hold of Scillonian to the Voyager was an understatement but the pasties did taste good. In fact very familiar as Dave recalled!

As we headed out of St Mary’s onward to St Martins the views were spectacular. If you have never been its something we would all recommend ; a boat trip around the islands is something to behold. In comparison the trip to St Martins was ab absolute joy, no rough weather, just warm sun, blue skies and a gentle bobbing of the boat as we headed out to wards St Martins.

On arrival we met Carl, who would collect us and our overweight luggage (sorry) and deliver us to the Cottage. The Stables on St Martins are right slap bang in the middle of the island and pretty high up. It offers a rare opportunity to view both the south coast and north coast with relative ease.

Within 30 mins we started to erect the shack, the idea that we would all be super knackered (indeed Dan was). So the vertical antenna supplied by Snowdonia Radio went straight up and we had our 1st QSO on 15m straight into Brazil. Lucky really as the entire world wanted to speak to us (and the rest of Europe) as it was Worked All Europe contest. We quickly managed to get a   few QSOs in and each of us managed to get some written in the book.

Rumour had it that you could walk around the island in 15 minutes. We’re not really sure where Dan got that gem from but 25 mins walk to the Hotel was good going for our tired legs, and we settled in some cozy sofas (rather under dressed I must confess) and sipped away at some local beer. WOW the beer… We will return back to that later !

Friday, 9 September 2011

Friday - Off we go

We had been planning this trip for months. The itinerary had been growing steadily with arrays of antennas planned, built & tested. Oh and there was all the portable stuff for day’s out to even more exotic parts of the islands.

Then we got the news from the ferry people that there was a weight limit of 20Kg each. QRP became the order of the day. Little hand-held devices and FT-817 based configurations looked very appealing. In the end only Simon just about got in under the limit so was volunteered to take the pole bag to even things up.

We watched the forecasts with trepidation as the remnants of hurricane Katia travelled over the Atlantic right into our proposed path. Perhaps watching videos on YouTube of the Scillonian bobbing about in a storm was not such a great idea. Watching videos of other ships foundering was... well.. worse things happen at sea it seems.

In better news, we learnt that solar activity had got going, which had us even more excited about the prospect of a week’s radio. When we fired up the radio in the car at Exeter services and heard the States thundering in, we were “keyed up” to put it mildly, ‘scuse the pun.