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The GS3PYE/P trips always involve two sorts of operator: those who are eager to make as many QSOs as possible, and those who want to try new things or just gain some experience. With 13 of us on Mull this year, there’s plenty of room for both.
Traditionally, those of us who are interested in getting high rates have a mini-competition to see who can reach 1000 QSOs in the week first. The custom logging software we use, M0VFC’s CamLog, lets us see how many QSOs each operator has made but this year we wanted a more public display in the shack.
One of the advantages of running your own logging database is access to all of the QSO information, which makes creating dashboards to display information relatively easy. As a result, I was able to write CamLog Dashboard, which runs permanently on a screen in the shack. Every 8 seconds, a new ‘slide’ is displayed, which includes not only the number of QSOs made by each operator, but also total QSOs, incoming tweets about the DXpedition and mode split, as well as the current operating frequencies of all active stations.
To ensure your tweets to us are displayed in the shack on the dashboard, you can mention @g3pye or use the #mull2013 hashtag.
One of the first antennas up after our arrival was the 80m vertical, mounted on an 18m fibreglass Spiderbeam pole.
Our cottages are right on the shoreline, which is great for take-off but less good for the practicalities of guying antennas, as there’s rock within a few inches of the grass. In the case of the 80m vertical, we had it tied off on some helpfully-positioned metalwork on the pier on two sides, and a stake we’d managed to get into the ground on another side, but the fourth guy had to be tied to large rocks because there was no other suitable place.
Having got 80m up, we got the 40m vertical erected and were about to start work on the 20m vertical when there was a loud crash, at about the same time as a particularly strong gust of wind. We looked up and quickly realised the 80m vertical was no longer… vertical.
This is obviously a bit of a blow [deliberate pun] but we have a spare 18m Spiderbeam pole we were planning to use on 472kHz, which we’ll use on 80m once the wind has dropped a bit. We can use alternative supports on 472kHz, so we’ll still be on there too.
Until the wind subsides, however, we’re just using an 80m dipole.
The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed that many of us were beaconing on APRS on our journey to Mull, and you might have wondered how we had such good APRS coverage, even in the middle of rural Scotland.
The trick was that M0BLF-9 ahead of the convoy, and M0VFC at the back of the convoy were both acting as APRS igates, able to relay reports from the other cars straight onto the internet. This meant that we could be entirely independent of any local APRS infrastructure.
M0BLF-9 was probably the more complex setup, so that’s what I’m going to explain here:
On the RF side, it was a Kenwood TH-D92 handheld, but with the handheld’s own beaconing and GPS disabled, so it was just acting as a TNC+rig. The handheld was connected via USB to a laptop running APRSIS32 (running off an inverter). The APRS software was set up to gate received packets to APRS-IS. In order to beacon itself, however, the laptop needed to ‘know’ where it was, and this was achieved by a Bluetooth dongle in the laptop, communicating with a Bluetooth GPS receiver (this had the added effect of improving the D72’s battery life, as the rig’s GPS could be disabled). The internet connection to the laptop was provided by a mobile phone set up to allow Wifi tethering. The theory was that, with several miles between M0VFC and I, and with our phones on different networks, the effect of any holes in mobile phone coverage should be minimal.
The result was that we had pretty good coverage across the whole journey, and we’ll be repeating this setup on the way back if you want to follow our progress.
On Saturday, G4BAO, M0VFC and M0BLF met at the normal G3PYE/P contest site at Worts Causeway, to the south of Cambridge, to test the 472kHz equipment we’re taking to Mull for the first time.
We’re using an FT-817 as the receiver, and transmitting with the FT-817 on 80m with a transverter down to 472kHz. For an antenna, we’re using a 20m Spiderbeam pole with a vertical driven element (ending in a large coil on the ground), plus three wires coming 2/3rds of the way down the guy ropes, which form a capacitance hat.
It took quite a long time to get the tapped coil just right to allow the system to be tuned across the band, not helped by the short but sharp showers, which periodically forced a coffee break upon us. With the help of a mini-VNA, however, we did finally get a resonant antenna.
The next step was to start transmitting a beacon on WSPR, and we were soon reported on WSPRnet as being heard by G0MJI, G4WMZ, M0LMH, M1ACB, PA1GSJ and PA3ABK. This was very encouraging as it means we were heard by stations over 300kms away during daylight, despite only using 20W. On receive, we only heard G3XIZ (who is relatively close at about 30kms) but we don’t know what power the other stations were running, if, indeed, they were transmitting at all. Still, it’s a good sign for when we operate during darkness hours from Scotland.
A group of seventeen amateur radio enthusiasts from the Cambridge area, part of the group known as the Camb-Hams, are operating eight ‘ham’ radio stations around the clock from a site on the Isle of Mull off the west of Scotland, until 5th May.
Why we do it
Radio amateurs enjoy the challenge of communicating with other people, specifically trying to contact every different country and island in the world. This challenge is a great way to improve your operating skills, your knowledge of how radio waves travel and the equipment you are using, some of which you might have built yourself.
A number of islands, and even some entire countries, have few resident radio amateurs, and so other amateurs will often travel to those ‘rare’ places to put them on-air for other radio amateurs to contact. We call these trips ‘DXpeditions’.
Of course, we could just use technology like a phone or the internet. But just as people take sailing boats out on the water even though engines exist, so we enjoy the independence that your ‘own steam’ brings. Like the sailing boat pilots, we are guided by nothing but nature and our own skill. Radio amateurs are not averse to technology, however, and indeed our licences encourage us to continuously improve our technical knowledge. Whilst amateur radio is a hobby, many of us have gone on to get professional roles in engineering, using the technical knowledge gained while operating our radio equipment.
The Camb-Hams is the ‘social side’ of Cambridgeshire Repeater Group (CRG), which operates a number of amateur radio sites in and around Cambridgeshire, allowing radio amateurs to communicate more effectively. The CRG was formed out of the PYE Telecomms Radio Club and is currently celebrating the 40th anniversary of our first site, which was also the first in the UK.
Every year, the Camb-Hams go on a DXpedition to one of the Scottish islands: In the last few years, these trips have included visits to Harris, Arran and, this year, Mull.
So far, we’ve made about 8500 contacts with stations in 104 countries for this DXpedition alone; 25,000 contacts and 150 countries from previous DXpeditions. You can find our current total in our Online Logbook, which also includes the callsigns of the stations we have spoken to most recently.
We make the majority of our contacts by bouncing our signals off the ionosphere, a layer in the atmosphere 200km above us, which allows us to talk to people around the world. Using this method, we’ve spoken to people in places as far away as New Zealand, Australia and Japan, and in unusual locations like Svalbard (in the Arctic Circle) and the Falkland Islands.
This year, we’ve also made some contacts by bouncing our signals off meteor trails and, in one case, the moon. This requires a great deal of technical skill and patience, because the signals are so random or weak, but in the last few days we’ve managed to speak to most countries in Europe, Russia and Japan this way.
Our visit to Mull has also been covered in the ICQ Podcast, from 25 minutes in.
How to become a radio amateur
Getting an amateur radio licence is fairly easy and requires you to pass a fairly simple examination to demonstrate that you know what you’re doing. This is required because the licence gives you a lot of freedom to experiment and to build your own radio equipment, and you wouldn’t want to risk causing interference to the emergency services or air traffic control!
The Camb-Hams can advise you on the steps you need to take to get your licence, help you to learn what you need, and put you in touch with the local teams that run the licence exams. Please do contact us if you would like to learn more.
On a national level, the hobby is overseen by the Radio Society of Great Britain, whose patron is HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. You can find out more at www.rsgb.org
We’ve made 1100 QSOs as GS6PYE/P from Lunga in the Treshnish Isles (EU-108). The boat’s here, and we’re on our way back to join the rest of the group as GS3PYE/P on Mull. 73s!
Yesterday (Sunday 29th April), a small group of 5 operators left the main team on Mull to come to the uninhabited island of Lunga in the Treshnish Isles (IOTA EU-108).
G3VFC, G4HUN, M0BLF, M0MJH, M1ACB boarded a tourist boat to Lunga at lunchtime. The boat comes to Lunga to drop off a number of tourists – mainly birdwatchers – who want to take photographs of the island’s large puffin colony. Unlike the tourists, however, we were staying the night, and so we had to bring a lot of gear with us.
Within about an hour of landing, our three tents (one operating tent, and two others for sleeping in) had been erected, as had verticals for 40m and 20m. We were soon on the air using an IC-706Mk2G and an FT-897. By nightfall, we had 822 QSOs in the GS6PYE/P log. (Note the number ‘6’; the team on Mull are using GS3PYE/P.)
This morning, as I type this lying uncomfortably on the floor of one of the tents, the weather has changed for the worse. Yesterday it was bright and sunny, if a little windy. The wind has died down a bit, but it’s now overcast, and we had some rain overnight. Unfortunately, the operating tent leaked slightly, and we suspect the Yaesu rig has water in it, so we’ll only have one rig for the rest of the day, until we can dry the affected rig out. We will be on later today, though; we’re off-air right now because we’re using the generator to cook our breakfast and heat our tea, but we will be back shortly!
We leave Lunga this afternoon, so if you need the Treshnish Isles, you have only a few hours left to work us. Please do call us; we want to get to 1000 QSOs before we leave.