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Harris 2009 Diary

Wednesday – April 22nd 2009: 2305pm (By GM4HUN)

The 3000th contact has been made – with LA8BCA!

Wednesday – April 22nd 2009: 1545pm (By GM4HUN)

The numbers have all gone a bit silly, really. Over 2700 QSOs in the log as I write this; 5300 lookups on QRZ.com (If you’re checking and you see 7800, remember to knock off 2500 from last year); and literally thousands of individual hits on the camb-hams website.

Despite a turn in the weather today we have continued our program of SOTA and WAB activations – Voi & Allan are doing a grand job between them, and at times we’ve had three HF stations running. The wind has picked up this afternoon, so we’ve had to lower the Spiderbeam and the VHF aerials, but we’ve still got HF wire aerials that we can use as well as the HF vertical. This afternoon we worked several Japanese on 20m, as well as another Australian. There are quite a lot of stateside calls in the log as well.

It’s Gavin’s birthday today, and he’s off to the big city of Tarbert to celebrate tonight!

Bob’s Tale.

Someone who hasn’t been mentioned much in this diary is the legendary Rob Warner GM1SAA. Bob has had a huge amount of involvement in the planning and preparation for this trip; he & Gav built the Spiderbeam – that added up to many, many man hours between them; he has spent hours on the internet researching the cottage and the surrounding area, and buying all the necessary bits that we need on eBay. Bob towed the trailer up here (OK, I helped a bit – but he still covered the lion’s share of the journey), and he is a stalwart in the shack. If anything needs doing, or a band needs working – you can rely on Bob. Last year it was Voi who seemed to have a car boot full of everything we needed – this year it is Bob. We thought we’d lost him yesterday evening – but it turns out that he, Seamus, Gavin and Rob were outside until three in the morning trying to photograph meteors.

On the subject of stalwart operators, another rare find has been “Other Rob” – MM0VFC. This young lad has clocked up more hours on the air this week than the rest of us put together. Yesterday he was left to run HF singlehandedly all afternoon whilst the rest of us went to Callanish; this afternoon he’s back on the air again. You’ll have seen earlier on in the diary that he knocked out a neat piece of logging software, as the HRD version we were using was unreliable. This software is so easy to use that even an old Luddite like me has thrown away the paper log. He’s working on v2.0 at the moment. Rob is also a member of CUWS – but we’re going to start pointing out that he is a Camb-Ham now, and we get first dibs when it comes to contesting!

Tuesday – April 21st 2009: 2115pm (By GM4HUN)

Radio highlights for today: Total contacts from the shack – 2200; Worked a few more locals including M1XZG for the first time; Worked VK (That’s Australia for those who don’t have a Prefix List to hand) on 20m; Voi activated WAB NA91; Allan MM1BJP made 29 contacts to activate GM/SI-165 a nice little one pointer, but yet another first time activation. In fact all the hills we have activated so far have been first time activations – only one SOTA on Harris GM/SI-129 has been activated before. Go Allan!! We’ve notched up nearly one hundred contacts on PSK31, and several on SSTV. Tonight is VHF night – Gav is trying to clear the sked list.

Non-radio highlights. The Standing Stones of Callanish – goodness knows how they manage to stay standing in the wind! If you do go there you must try the soup. Allan’s new hat (Pictures to follow); An excellent Spag Bol from Jim! And evening comparing favourite YouTube videos.

Weather was lousy this morning, but by lunchtime the sun was out and we all had a sunny afternoon and evening.

Tuesday – April 21st 2009: 0120am (By GM4HUN)

Another day – another Camb-Hams first! Aldo, 2M0TXY has just had our first SSTV contact on 80m with DJ1IJ. More SSTV to follow.

Monday – April 20th 2009: 2225pm (By GM4HUN)

We nearly had a Raynet exercise up here this evening. It was gone 8.00pm and Voi hadn’t shown up. We’d all had dinner and his mobile phone wasn’t responding (No real surprise, to be frank!). But in the end he finally pitched up around 9.00pm. Voi has had a busy day activating WAB squares – a couple of rare ones as well. He notched up NB40 (Not activated for two years); NB31 & NB21. These to be added to NG08 which he activated yesterday.

The good news this evening concerns the totals so far. Last year we had 1600 QSOs from the shack in the entire time we were there – today we passed that mark, after just two days on the air. MM1BXF and MM0VFC are running huge pileups on 40m and 80m, so goodness knows what the final tally for the day will be. Our QRZ.com entry has had more hits in two days than the whole of the trip last year, and so has the Camb-Hams website. We’re feeling really good – we’re having a good time and all the gear is working like a dream. Shurely shome mishtake??

So far we’ve worked the following locals: 2E0JYK (Loads of times!); 2E0LCM; G0HEM; M0VMC; M1MAJ; M3ZCB; G8UFR; 2E0MVB; G6FSU; G8IDL; G6YQJ; G4ERO; G0KRB. Those are all we can remember at the moment – sorry if there’s anyone we have missed; we’ve been a bit busy!! If we haven’t worked you yet – please check the online logbook, it will give you which frequencies we are on at the moment.

Monday – April 20th 2009: 1630pm (By GM4HUN)

As you may know – I lead a fairly stressful life running my own IT company. Every now and then you get given a day as a present; to make up for the hard work. Today has been one of those days!  It started in a quite unpromising way. I awoke on the sofa in the lounge at around 8.40am (I’m sharing my room, and my co-habitee was a little noisy). We’d had a dribble of rain overnight, and the clouds were low over the tops of the hills – in fact Beinn Dhubh, which I climbed yesterday, was completely shrouded. I then had to drop Allan and his dad Jim round to the drop off point for their SOTA activities today. The drive back through the hills was pleasant enough, but the best was about to start.

I got back to the cottage to find Aldo and Neill cooking a full Scottish breakfast, which tasted absolutely wonderful. I then split the morning between relaxing in the cottage and running a pile-up on 20m.

By early in the afternoon the sun had come out, and so I decided to do a short local walk to test out some new software with my GPS. I walked about half a mile to the hamlet of Likisto, which lies by the side of the Loch. I sat on a boulder in the sun for about half an hour just looking down the Loch admiring the view, and watching the wildlife. Sheep mainly. Strolling back I passed a cottage where I was greeted by two dogs, followed swiftly by their owner – a chap called Harvey who moved to the Island from Leeds in 2007. Harvey and his partner run a salon in Tarbert, and are setting up their croft as a campsite. They also have a black house (Look it up on Wikipedia), which was originally a weaver’s cottage. This is being renovated with the help of Channel Five’s “Build a new life in the country”. Harvey showed me the cottage, and we chatted at length about life on Harris, the locals, etc. Everything on the island is imported, so the cost of living is about fifty percent more expensive than at home – but Harvey bought his croft, the black house, a couple of other properties and 13 acres of tenanted land (Rent £11 per annum for the lot) for just over £100k. Worth a thought!

Harvey also pointed out “The Sleeping Woman” – if you look at the ridge line of the mountains opposite our cottage you can clearly see the shape of a woman lying down. Apparently a local artist has sculpted out her navel, and tiled it, etc. A few of us are going to seek this out in the next couple of days. Harvey also recommended a couple of restaurants we might like for our Thursday meal – so I’m off to try and make a reservation.

On the radio front, the stations continue to perform well, especially on 80m, 40m, and 20m. Best DX so far is South Africa on 20m this morning. The QSO count has passed 1300 – so we might break last year’s overall figure of 1600 shack QSOs by the end of the day if we stick at it!

Allan, MM1BJP has just staggered in from his day on the hills. He successfully activated GM/SI-117 and GM/SI-116 – knocking out around 18 contacts each into UK and Europe on 5MHz, 40m and 20m. After three summits in two days, he’s reserving judgment on tomorrow!

Sunday – April 19th 2009: 2345pm (By MM1BXF)

We have had a good run of contacts today, both on HF and VHF.  As I write this we have broken the 750 contacts mark with 753 QSOs on all bands, all modes, see our logbook here for a breakdown.  We moved over to Rob M0VFCs own logbook today (which he made in less than 12 hours, that included 9 hours sleep) and it has made computer logging so much easier for everyone.  HF has been so good we have re-tasked the 6m station to HF so at one time we were on 20m data as well as 40m and 80m SSB, we are still on 80m but have pointed the spiderbeam to America on 20m and contacts are going into the log right now.

Talking of the spiderbeam here are some pictures from today to give you a flavour for it, and the general antenna setup around the cottage.

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(The Camb-Hams spiderbeam – Look at the clear sky!)

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(The antenna setup around the cottage, VHF on the left and spiderbeam on the right)

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(Both HF SSB stations in action. Rob M0VFC left and Neil G4HUN right)

Sunday – April 19th 2009: 1650pm (By GM4HUN)

Today a team of us: Allan MM1BJP; Seamus 2M0OVV; Neil GM4HUN; Jim the chef and “Other Neill” started the week’s SOTA activities. In true “Allan” – style we started with the biggest hill on Harris, Beinn Dhubh- at 1661ft (Or half a Monro as Allan pointed out). The climb started from sea level – and took about an hour and a half to ascend. At the top the Trig point was surrounded on three sides by a low dry stone wall – which meant we could all hunker down and get some shelter from the wind. Allan hit 40m, Seamus took 2m FM and I tried out my 5MHz setup for the first time in anger. Although HF wasn’t in brilliant shape we all managed valid activations. We enjoyed a packed lunch admiring the stunning views of the north Harris shoreline, before heading back down. Once back at the car we spent another three quarters of an hour just sitting looking at the coastline, and basking in the warm spring sunshine. Thankfully (Like last year) we have come early enough to avoid the midges.

Back at base the HF station now has the Spiderbeam available, and we have been busy notching up over 300 QSOs on 20m. This evening we’ll be back on 80m for another run – but only after roast turkey and trifle: thank goodness for Jim!

Sunday – April 19th 2009: 0030am (By MM1BXF)

Well, Neil G4HUN is still hammering away on 80m after Rob M0VFC did a good stint from around 18.05 till 20.55 UTC.  As I write this we have managed QSOs totalling 173 on 80m, 1 on 6m and 5 on 2m.  We have a realtime live logbook on our webpage here where you can see who has worked us and when and and what band and mode.  You can also sort it by callsign, mode, band and operator – this was all written by Rob M0VFC who is, as I write this, coding a new logging interface as we have found our beta version of HRD ‘buggy’.  The VHF setup seems to be working really well although there have not been much takers, hopefully that will change tomorrow.

Here are some pictures to give you a flavour of the setup here.

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(The Camb-Hams trailer mast with the 2m and 4m/6m beams)

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(Setting up the fullsize G5RV – across the sea loch!!!)

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(Gavin M1BXF at the 4m/6m and 2m station)

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(Neil G4HUN operation the HF station on 80m)

Time for bed!  Some of us have been up since 2.30am yesterday…

Saturday – April 18th 2009: 1745pm (By GM4HUN)

Well this has to be a Camb-Hams first – what a brilliantly successful first day!! Albeit after a very short night with negligible sleep (As usual!). Bob, Geoff and I set off from Gavin’s mum’s at 0308am for the long drive to the port of Uig on the Isle of Skye. The road was absolutely clear – apart from the odd deer – and we made excellent time, arriving an hour early at Uig. The views as the sun rose over this magical isle made getting up so early seem very worthwhile.

The others duly pitched up, and we all enjoyed a good breakfast on the ferry crossing to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris. The sun shone and the sea was a mill pond. Things were going well. They went even better!

We arrived at Liceasto expecting to have to wait until 4pm before we could get into the cottage, but we got in straight away. So at the time of writing we’ve got  the G5RV strung over the loch; the 6BTV vertical up for HF Data modes; the Tonna and 6/4m Yagi up on the mast, and we’re about to make a start on assembling the Spiderbeam.

We’ve good internet access and Rob, M0VFC has done a splendid job getting the online log system running. So you can work us, and pretty much see the entry in the online log straightaway.

We’re underway on 6m datamodes and 80m SSB at the moment – running full power throughout.

The others are planning their SOTA’s and we’ll let you know what’s planned ASAP; Voi has been out mobile – working HF and into this weekend’s GlobalSET exercise.

Jim – the team chef has made a great start in the kitchen, with some wonderful cooking smells wafting around the cottage already.

The only downside is that mobile phone coverage isn’t great. But, hey – can’t have everything.

Friday – April 17th 2009: 2320pm (By GM4HUN/Portable: on a sofa – not SOTA)

The English contingent arrived safely in Scotland, and we met at the Tullie Arms for a meal this evening. Alan, MM1BJP, his XYL Vicky MM3somethingorother, Jim – the Chef, Gav’s mum, were all there – and we had a great time.

We’re now hunkering down for a few hour’s kip before heading off for Skye in the morning. Gavin has just pumped up his bed with what looks like a used breast-pump. We’ll see how long that lasts! Night, night all – speak to you from Harris.

Friday – April 17th, 2009 (by G1SAA)

I have set up an online GPS tracker using a mobile phone that will be in my car for the trip north, this will give near real time tracking. You can see where we are here.

Friday – April 17th, 2009 (by M1BXF/M)

Well the dx’pedition has started.  Bob G1SAA, Geoff G0DDX and Gavin M1BXF left Melbourn at 06.28 this morning only to promptly return an hour later to collect Gavins wallet which he left in his other pair of jeans!  We are passing Peterborough as I write this on my netbook, an hour later than we hoped, not to worry as we won’t be late for anything at Helensburgh.

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(Gavin M1BXF enjoying his traditional 06.30 am Camb-Hams beer)

Rob M0VFC and Neil G4HUN will be following on at around 12.30 from Cambridge and we will all meet up in Helensburgh later.

Wednesday – April 15th, 2009 (by M1BXF)

We all got together yesterday and done a final equipment check.  We also made up a good run of cable for the VHF rotator as we thought it necessary to upgrade from the light duty one we used last year.  We only got our hands on our new (literally new, it was still in the box when bought) Ham IV rotator last week.

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(Gavin and Bob attaching the Ham IV rotator to the base made by Geoff G0DDX)

The trailer was also fully packed yesterday and all the antennas firmly cable-tied on.  Bob G1SAA’s radio and amp are with Voi for transport.  Gavin M1BXF’s radios and amp are now ready for collection by Voi tomorrow.  I’m glad the radios were packed yesterday as last night a big thunderstorm came through Cambridgeshire at 3.30am!  There is more lightning tonight but further to the north as a write this.

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(All this needs to go onto or in the trailer)

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(Amazingly all that did fit on or in the trailer)

Also, as promised I’ve done the plots for the bandpass filters;

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(80m / 40m / 20m / 15m bandpass filter plots)

Only one more day to do till we leave!

Easter Monday – April 13th, 2009 (by M1BXF)

Today the Cambridge boys got together and started to sort out bits ready to pack up and load up the trailer and cars tomorrow.  The spiderbeam came down and dismantled OK but we had to think about how best to keep the wire/string elements in an untangled and orderly state, step up food bags…  The new for the dx’pedition 17 element 2m F9FT beam was still in its box so we had to open that to check all parts were there!  There aren’t many hardware radio stores, never mind ham radio outlets on the island so we thought we best check before we left.  We put the the elements onto the beam to help speed up assembly when we get to the island and checked we had all the brackets and fixings, check.  The 4m/6m jaybeam is down and in bits ready to go, all the ropes, guy stakes, pegs, cable ties, duct tape (can’t forget the duct tape) and brackets are in one place ready to go into the trailer too.

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(Voi next to the Camb-Hams trailer)

Rob M0VFC appeared after the hard labour of the afternoon but soon got his laptop out and made up for it by writing PHP/HTML code to allow us to display the dx’pedition HRD logbook ‘live’ on our webpage!  This is a feature of the new HRD logbook which is still in alpha testing. We should manage to update the online log around every 15 minutes which will allow searches by callsign, date, band, mode and Camb-Hams operator.

Rob also handed over the bandpass filters for 80m, 40m, 20m and 15m.  A quick check on the miniVNA shows them to be good for each band!  Well done Rob (and your dad, G3VFC)! I’ll try and post the plots of them tomorrow if I have time after packing the trailer.

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(The 80m bandpass filter)

Easter Sunday – April 12th, 2009 (by G4HUN)

The countdown has started! This week sees the group loading up ready for Friday’s start on the journey to Harris.

Several of the team members have been putting in huge amounts of preparatory work: Gavin M1BXF and Bob G1SAA have built and tested a Spiderbeam, which will be used on 20m, 15m and 10m. It has now been fine-tuned, and has an excellent SWR in each part of the three bands that we aim to be using. Robert M0VFC and Geoff G0DDX have been finishing the filters. The T-shirts have been printed.  Here at HUN Towers the Hustler 6BTV six band vertical that is my main HF antenna has been labelled and dismantled ready for loading, and generally things are being pulled together in one place. But there seem to be boxes of stuff everywhere – I hope ‘VFC has a big enough car! I’ve been busy with the laminator – there are Great Circle DX maps centred on Harris; WAB maps of the island (Thanks to the sterling efforts of Dave M0VMC); and lists of frequencies used for IOTA and WAB. We seem to be a lot more organised than last year.

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(Spiderbeam plots for 20m / 15m & 10m)

Tomorrow we’re getting together for a final run through – then on Tuesday we pack the trailer.

The plan is that Bob, Geoff and Gavin will head off with the trailer early on Friday morning, around 6am with myself and Robert following a little later in the day. First stop will be Gavin’s mum’s QTH at Helensburgh near Glasgow. We’ll be kipping there and meeting up with some of the Scottish contingent for dinner on the Friday. It will be an early start on Saturday – we plan to leave there at 3.00am; we have to get to the ferry terminal on Skye for a 9.40am sailing! Unfortunately we can’t get into the cottage until 4.00pm, so don’t expect to hear much from us on Saturday although some of the team will try and participate in GlobalSET. Once into the cottage it will be a race to get some aerials up, and hope to have some sort of operation going by the evening.

So the question is – “Will I need more than one pair of pants”?

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