Tuesday 1st January 2019 - New Year’s Day - The Cloud G/SP-015
I was very organised during the day. This in spite of only getting in from the previous night’s gig in Milton Keynes at 7am, and later spending New Year’s Day afternoon at the football (Macclesfield 1, Tranmere 1). I got my rucksack packed ready, complete with rotating guying kit and SOTAbeams SB5. I had charged up my headtorch battery, and the Windows 10 tablet. Imagine my horror then when completing set-up on Cloud summit and discovering that the tablet had only about a quarter charge in it!
I knew that the tablet would run out of charge before the hour of the MGMAC was through. I decided just to do as much as I could, then switch to the concurrent FMAC, before going to SSB for the main event at 8pm. Ten QSOs were made on 2m FT8. A potential eleventh contact was looking tasty - but alas that was when the tablet ran out of charge - during the commenced QSO with a PA station, but before completion. Thirteen minutes of the FMAC remained - and I made 13 contacts on 2m FM. On 2m SSB, I added 90 QSOs, making a total of 113 for the activation. Despite the battery issue, I won the MGMAC!
Sunday 6th January 2019 - Gun G/SP-013 & The Cloud G/SP-015
Following Gun G/SP-013, and a warm-up in the car, I couldn’t resist popping over to The Cloud G/SP-015 on the way home. This time however, I left the rucksack and main portable gear in the car and just took a quick stroll up to the summit with the Yaesu FT70D handheld. First up was a S2W with Mark M0NOM/P who was on a subsidiary top of Top o’Selside (but not G/LD-048 itself, which he had done earlier). This had WOTA reference LDO-106. In total, 9 stations were worked, all 2m FM. SOTA from Cloud summit is pretty easy, I must admit!
Tuesday 8th January 2019 - The Cloud G/SP-015
Well that "Fun Evening" wasn’t much “fun”. I was on summit and fully set up before 1900z. That was as successful as the night got. Despite a good VSWR indication, it was soon clear that signals both in and out were well down on what they should be. I couldn’t find any issues. I stumbled along making 8 QSOs on 70cm FM and then just 5 on 70cm SSB. It was now 8.20pm, and I was freezing cold, hungry and fed up. I suspected the coax extension might have a problem, so I thought I’d remove that and compare how things sounded with just the short length of coax to the croc clips directly between the 817 and antenna. As I set about doing this, one side of the coax freed itself from the crocodile clip! Looks like that was the problem. That meant I could go home early, get into a warm house, and have my dinner. I don’t think I’ve ever been so pleased to admit failure and have to abandon an activation early! Still, 13 contacts, so ignoring the contests, in purely SOTA terms, the activation was a rip-roaring success.
Dad’s Taxis was running with a 1930 drop-off and 2130 pick up. Time therefore for G/SP-015 & G/SP-013 in between - if I got my skates on. I invited the local FM chasers to be at their radios! Well Paul M0PLA in Telford got them both! I made 7 QSOs on The Cloud and 4 on Gun. All 2m FM with the handie. Pleasant couple of walks. The gales had calmed right down.
Next, it was time for a different type of FM radio - my son Liam’s weekly programme on Canalside Radio 102.8. It’s a small scale station and the signal only covers Macclesfield, Bollington, Wilmslow and Poynton, but the internet means you can listen from anywhere in the world - so if you like proper old fashioned radio and good interesting music, have a click on the link.
A similar routine to the previous night - a bit of a time window between dropping Liam off at the pub (on this occasion) and picking him up. Remarkably, it was 7 contacts on The Cloud, then 4 on Gun. Again. All on 2m FM with the handheld.
I took the headtorch just-in-case, but in the end it wasn’t necessary. Again, I got four quick contacts, then no other interest, using the FT70D handheld. Back in Macc to meet J & L for a Burns Night themed tea in Wetherspoons. My Fitbit watch indicated just over 9000 steps - obviously setting out an 80m dipole makes the difference. I’d have to go for a “constitutional” later. Thanks to Pete 2E0LKC, Anne 2E0LMD and Greg M0NZO who worked me on all three summits.
Gig: Funktion & Co.
Venue: Flying Horse Hotel, Rochdale
So I got home from Shining Tor G/SP-004, caught up on a few emails, Marianne went out shopping, and Richard G3CWI messaged me suggesting an afternoon trip up The Cloud. I had nowt better to do, so I accepted, and this time he drove round and picked me up (I had driven for G/SP-004 earlier). The Met Office website indicated that we might have two hours to play with before getting a soaking. However, as we were setting up, we could see the grey bank of rain barely a couple of miles away - and advancing rapidly! We both set up on the lower ledge to the north-west of the main summit area, giving significant shelter from the strong wind. The rain arrived just as we both went QRV though, so we were soon both in our respective bothy bags to operate.
Richard was on 40m CW with his very old longwire antenna, while I went on 20m with my newly refurbished groundplane aerial. Conditions were shockingly bad. Richard just about limped to four QSOs, but conditions were the least of my problems. My tablet was not hearing the FT8 signals through the cable, and was not keying the rig in the other direction. It was able to hear the signals - and indeed decode them - through the tablet’s built-in microphone, but not via the cable. I double checked all the audio settings and poked around, but to no avail.
I concluded that another cheap OTG USB to micro USB converter lead had failed, so no FT8 for me. So, CW then. I got my Palm Paddle out of the Exped Drybag. Then I got the Palm Cube. And finally, I didn’t get the mini jack cable out - because it wasn’t there - it was still on the dashboard of my car - where I had sensibly put it after using it in the house for something else earlier in the week - and we’d gone to The Cloud in Richard’s car so it wasn’t there. Eek. SSB it would have to be.
Still, with a self-spot, I’d surely have a pile-up in no time. I turned the radio on, and the band was so quiet I had to double-check the antenna was connected. It was. I then had to double-check the SWR. It was fine. Brilliant - highly unbrilliant conditions. I called CQ SOTA a lot, with a self-spot - but it was a waste of time. I replied to a powerhouse LZ contest station, who replied “Mike One Echo Japan?” - and that was as good as it got. The rain was coming down heavier. I could hear Richard chuntering something in my direction. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but got the distinct impression he’d had enough and wanted to call it a day. Me too, to be honest.
I called on the handheld, got a couple of 2m FM QSOs so I could at least call it an “activation”, and swiftly packed up. Rubbish activation. But an activation nonetheless. Now it was time to cheer myself up by playing covers of Abba, Spice Girls, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, S Club 7, Dolly Parton, Shania Twain, Queen, Bon Jovi and Robbie Williams to a load of inebriated revellers in Rochdale…
Woke up at 1130. Went to big Tescos in Congleton to get the shopping for Sunday dinner. Via Bosley Cloud. Very windy and gusty. It was hard to stand up on the summit never mind write logs in the notebook. 2m FM HT - 4 QSOs. Thank you to the station that reported the wind noise to me. M0HGY and I would now be on cooking duties so that dinner was on the table when the Station Manager got in from work.
Last time out, my system didn’t work properly. I suspected the cheap USB female to micro USB male adaptor cable, as a previous one the same make had failed. While up town, I bought a new adaptor - one not involving a cable, so a very compact piece of kit. Lunchtime involved a visit to the SOTABEAMS factory where I met Richard G3CWI and Sean M0GIA, followed by Thursday Curry Club lunch and a pint with those two OMs at the local Wetherspoons. Very good it was too!
The walk to the summit was tricky with compacted snow on the path and steps turning to ice, and hard ice at that, with very low temperatures. It was subzero all day in this end of Cheshire. At the summit, a very icy wind would have made operating uncomfortable to say the least, so I dropped down to the north-facing ledge. After setting up the 20m GP, I hunkered down in the cave-like hollow beneath the rockface, for good shelter from the wind. With the new adaptor, the full tablet-WSJT-ZLP Mini SC Pro system was working flawlessly, so it appeared my diagnosis had been on the money.
It was, however, a good long time before I could be sure everything was working properly. Despite several self-spots, I couldn’t buy a contact when calling CQ. Ultimately, I resorted to answering the CQ calls of others, and scraped together the nominal four QSOs this way. No exotic DX, no rare DXCCs. It didn’t bode well for the DX S2S event coming up that next Saturday, but being on 14.092MHz, and away from the mush on 14.074MHz, would probably help us out in this respect. We could but try!
The descent was a bit dodgy in places, with any earlier weaker parts of the ice now frozen hard again - plus the fact that the gradient was negative - which tends to be more slippery than positive! Same observations for the initial part of the driving - downhill, down Red Lane and down to the A54. I progressed very gingerly and slowly throughout that leg of the drive. Now I needed to get the gear on charge ready for Saturday.
5am get up and breakfast. A necessarily slow and careful drive to Bosley, negotiating the roads that were covered with black ice. I was on summit and setting up before sunrise. This was difficult with frozen ground but I found a way. It was -4 degrees Celsius - and I felt it! Use of the bothy bag soon added 3 degrees to my immediate climate, and the temperature actually rose as far as +6 degrees as the bothy bag soaked up the bright sunshine later.
It was a slow start on 20m FT8. Use of the non-standard QRG of 14.092 MHz made working chasers a more realistic prospect. I could see M0HZH/P and JI3BAP/P on the band activity window and receive their transmissions, but they didn’t hear my calls. A couple of FT8 SWL at least. Same goes for chasers GW0PLP, G4OBK and DL4FO - I heard them; they didn’t hear me!
It was turning into a stunning morning on The Cloud, and inevitably the summit was soon busy. A few chasers were worked, then I reverted to the more standard 14.074MHz FT8 frequency. A few stations responded to my CQs but it was very slow going. Plenty of JA, HL, HS, BA etc DX was now populating WSJT-X, but my level of success in working it remained “constant”. I made a total of 9 QSOs, all 20m FT8. No DX. No S2S. But we’ll try again sometime, maybe when it’s not so cold!
At least it was dry - no precipitation and very low humidity. Therefore, thankfully, I was able to collapse my SOTA Pole on the summit this time. Many thanks to all activators and chaser that took part. I intended to try this event again shortly.
Sunday 3rd February 2019 - The Cloud G/SP-015
Gig: Stu Clark & Friends
Venue: The Venue, Lymm
It was still a winter wonderland on our local hills in Cheshire. No snow had fallen the past few days, but temperatures remained mostly subzero to keep the white stuff on the ground. On the popular paths though, it was getting very compacted, icy and slippery - so bring on that thaw that was due in the next few days!
It was the 70cm AFS event on the Sunday morning and my contest group (Tall Trees) was asking for participants in order to have at least one full team of four operators. I had a busy Sunday ahead - including the teatime gig above - and also didn’t fancy sitting out in the snow and subzero temperatures for four hours, knowing that three of them would be mind-numbingly slow! So I figured I’d just go out and do the first hour - I’d get at least 50% of all the contacts I was ever going to make then anyway!
My hands got very cold very quickly when I took my gloves off for setting up, but then warmed up during the setting up process. Then they got cold again when resetting the mast which had collapsed, and wouldn’t warm up again. So back on with the gloves, which were on and off frequently for the next hour! 23 QSOs were made, all on 70cm SSB. Squares worked were IO74, IO81, 82, 83, 91, 92, 93 and JO02. So a very modest contribution, but sufficient to keep the contest manager (Reg G3TDH) happy.
The descent was tricky in places, with the path down The Cloud resembling (and behaving like) a cresta run. I think the cold got to my brain as well. I was focused on safely negotiating a nasty patch of black ice on the hill down to the A54 (Congleton to Buxton) road. I then heard a strange noise from the roof of my car. I stopped and got out to inspect. And there was my SB270 antenna, set as a 6-element beam for 70cm, loose on the roof of my car. Quite remarkable that I had driven a mile from the parking spot and it was still there. I took a photo of it, as one does in this Facebook-obsessed age and got back into my car to resume the drive home.
I heard the same noise again. I stopped again, got out of the car, took the antenna off the roof and actually put it away this time! Yes, previously, having taken the photo, I actually hadn’t bothered to then put the antenna in the car! What a spoon. It’s not really one of my gigs tonight, but my good friend and superb fingerstyle guitarist Stu Clark had invited Liam and I to perform a guest spot in his show later. That would be good fun, but first we were off out for a Chinese Sunday lunch. Yum.
I was looking forward to 2m contest / activity night. Then I spotted this:
I was still going for it. But I reserved the right to wimp out of the main UKAC before the 2.5 hours were up! I would try and stick it out for the duration of the MGMAC (1900-1955z), but couldn’t promise how long after that I’ll stick it out for. My headtorch, LifePO4 battery and Windows 10 tablet were all fully charged up though at least!
I just about kept everything dry. With difficulty. Great difficulty. Even with a bothy bag. The wind and the rain, and the very damp mist that preceded the heavy rain, proved too problematic in the end and I abandoned the activation. I had problems with the interface again and kept getting error messages. Combine that with one wind-induced antenna collapse and a station incorrectly using the VHF EU Contest mode - causing it to be auto-enabled on my WSJT-X - causing more wasted time as I hunted for a way to disable it - and I made only 5 QSOs on 2m FT8 in the MGMAC.
I squeezed a single contact in on 2m FM before 8pm, so there would be a token entry in the FMAC. The rain became heavy as the UKAC began at 8pm. The wind buffeted the bothy bag msking it noisy, and making it difficult to keep the damp out. I made 6 QSOs on 2m SSB before losing the will to live and deciding to call it a night. I got a bit wet during packaway and descent. A terrible contest effort, but at 12 QSOs, I guess a perfectly respectable SOTA activation!
I was glad to be back in the car at the parking spot with the heater on. I was now thinking of popping into the Harrington Arms for a pint on the way home!
Good news. The FT8 system was all working perfectly again. I’d been having audio problems, traced to cheap adaptor cables, and then to a replacement adaptor that provided only a loose and wobbly connection. From Amazon, I ordered a USB-B (printer type) to micro USB cable, meaning adaptors would no longer be required. Well it all worked like a dream. The weather forecast had indicated 60mph+ gusts from the departing Storm Eric, in a WSW direction. I figured therefore that the NE ledge below the small cliff face would provide almost complete shelter. And indeed it did. I would have been unable to operate anywhere on the summit plateau with a fishing rod mast!
11 QSOs, all 20m FT8. YL, SP, ES, ER, RA and 6 x UR. A sunrise photographer took great interest in my activity and equipment, and asked if he could take photos. He took loads! I later learned that EU to VK opened right up about 0900 as I was driving back to Macclesfield! Oh well, never mind, another time!
76 QSOs - 20 on FM then 56 on SSB.
5 DXCCs: F, G, GD, GI, GW.
12 QRAs: IN99, IO74, 80, 81, 82, 83, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, JO01, 02.
1 S2S: Simon G7WKX/P on Shining Tor G/SP-004.
It was slow going by 2145z, and I was feeling very cold. An early finish and a trip to the pub trumped the prospect of eking out another 5/6 contacts in that final three-quarters of an hour! I’m slacking in my old age.
The main walk of the day was a favourite of mine and Marianne’s. It’s a 12 mile circular via Macclesfield town centre, over the Hollins to Langley, then up over Tegg’s Nose to the cafe, before walking back down Buxton Road to town and then the remaining couple of miles home. The occasion was Valentine’s Day, and the Valentine’s afternoon tea event at Tegg’s Nose Country Park cafe.
And what a feast it was - soup, sandwiches, cakes, more cakes and even more cakes, scones with jam and cream, coffee, chocolates and shortbread - amazing! Red roses on the table, and decorated with rose petals. Add to this the fact it was a glorious sunny day with clear blue skies making hillwalking a total delight. Plenty of brownie points in my rucksack today.
But after 12 miles, and over 20,000 steps, I still hadn’t actually done any SOTA. That was to be rectified with an evening jaunt up The Cloud for the 6m MGM and UK activity contests. I was feeling perfectly organised, and arrived punctually at the parking spot with all batteries freshly topped-up. I inserted the rechargeable battery pack into the Petzl headtorch - but it wouldn’t turn on. I tried it with normal AAA cells instead, but it was the headtorch itself that had failed. Very disappointing - and infuriating. So my being a little ahead of time soon morphed into my running half-an-hour behind schedule, by having to drive down to Congleton, and pick up an Energiser headtorch from the big Tescos there.
I managed to get QRV on 6m FT8 just after 1930z. I had only about 40% of the full contest period to work with. As such, 11 QSOs was not too shabby, but it was annoying not to be able to do the full 55 minutes despite thorough preparations. In the main UKAC, I made 75 contacts, all on SSB except for one (MM0CEZ) on CW. At least the RSGBCC has done away with the silly requirements to use vertical omnidirectional antennas for the short contests ahead of the main UKACs, so I didn’t have to lose even more time by changing over aerials. So all QSOs in the maps above were made using 5w from the FT-817 and SOTAbeams SB6 (Moxon).
Sunday 17th February 2019 - The Cloud G/SP-015
I was up with the 0500z alarm, but wasn’t really getting things done very quickly after that. By the time I’d got out of the house, drive to Bosley, walked up the hill and set up on the ledge beneath the cliffs (essential for shelter for the 10m mast & GP on such a blustery morning), it was gone 0730z. An hour later than my intended alert time, but still about right to hit any propagation that might be on offer. The new GP aerial, radio-wise, was working well. It received well, and got out well. But practically, it didn’t work well. I’d chosen to use some very lightweight wire - superb for dipoles, but not really robust enough for groundplanes, especially great big ones like this. I was concerned about the strain on this wire, particularly the radials, so I used a mast guying kit to try to get around that issue. That seemed to work on the GW/NW-043 activation a couple of days earlier, but I suffered several breakages on this morning.
The good thing was that I had now worked out everything I needed to do - and materials I needed to use - to rebuild the antenna, which I hoped to do that week. It was unfortunate that the first breakage occurred just as the signal from Andrew VK1DA on VK2/ST-053 was really starting to come up. I listened to him working John ZL1BYZ, who was a big signal with me. By the time I was QRV again, Andrew had QSYd to 20m, and I never found John again. The activation wasn’t a complete failure though. I made a total of 56 QSOs as follows:
30m FT8: 10
30m CW: 43
2m FM: 3 (including S2S with Bill G4WSB/P on Stiperstones G/WB-003)
The last QSO before taking down and packing away my crumbling antenna, was T45FM, a special event station for Punta Maya Lighthouse, Cuba. So there was a little bit of DX at least. Now to put the lessons learned into practice and rebuild the 30m GP so that it was more fit-for-purpose!
Friday 22nd February 2019 - The Cloud G/SP-015
Nice activation lapping up the sunshine under the cliffs on the north-eastern ledge of The Cloud. Very happy with the new antenna and the design modifications I made after the first couple of outings. These were:
It was because of the wind that I went down to the sheltered ledge at the edge of the escarpment. The only issue here was space for the radials - this is a large antenna. I managed to deploy the antenna, but two of the radials were angled upwards from the feedpoint (ie pegging point on higher ground), not down as is customary, and three of the radials were all directed within a 90 degree angle! So far from the optimal groundplane, but it still did it’s job, and importantly, there was no windload on the mast.
The main objective of working DX on 30m was met, with the bonus of working a DX S2S on 30m, and a S2S on FT8. Some DX on FT8 would have been the icing on the cake, but the phrase “water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink” springs to mind…
30m CW: 23 QSOs - DXCCs: DL, EA, F, G, HB, I, LA, OH, RA, SM, SP, VK, ZL
30m FT8: 29 QSOs - DXCCs: 9A, DL, EA, ES, F, G, HB, I, LY, OE, OH, OK, SM, SP
2m FM: 10 QSOs - DXCCs: G, GW
Total: 62 QSOs
3 S2S: VK1DA on VK2/ST-053 - 30m CW F5LKW/P on F/AM-337 - 30m FT8 G7OEM/P on G/SP-014 - 2m FM
An interesting thing to note as I was about to walk off the summit, there is a new marker post up there on one of the paths, designating it as a “shared trail” for walkers and mountain bikers. Cycling until recently was entirely prohibited on The Cloud, though a great many ignored that restriction. Other than that regrettable development, a very pleasing activation. I was feeling gruntled.
Sunday 24th February 2019 - The Cloud G/SP-015
Gig: Biscuit Brothers Bandeoke
Venue: Station Bar & Grill, Clitheroe
Easington Fell G/SP-012 might normally be the obvious SOTA to bag en route to this one, but Marianne was cooking roast beef Sunday dinner, to be served at 4pm. I couldn’t miss that! So I nipped out mid-afternoon while she was busy in the kitchen for a rapid activation of the usual. On another glorious and amazingly mild day, it was no surprise that plenty were out on the hills. There was even a bit of enhancement too, and I received something French on my handheld as I scanned through the 145.350MHz FM frequency. So, just lolloped against the topograph with my Yaesu FT-70D handheld, I made nine QSOs on 2m FM.
This included two S2S - Mike GW7HEM/P on Y Garn GW/NW-004, and Viki MW6BWA/P on Fan Nedd GW/SW-007. After dinner, I was on the road to Clitheroe to see what people wanted to get up and sing with the band. (The kids in this band - the other two are nearly 20 years younger than me - think they’ve invented this ‘Bandeoke’ concept. I haven’t the heart to tell them it’s been going for donkey’s years and used to be called ‘Free and Easy’…!)
Friday 1st March 2019 - The Cloud G/SP-015
I was on my way home from a day’s supply teaching in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and wondered about getting stateside on my newly built 30m GP vertical antenna. So I repeated my regular old trick of the past when teaching in the Potteries, and visited The Cloud G/SP-015 on the way home. There was only a light breeze, so I was able to set up this enormous antenna right on the highest point. There was no issue with windload, but the radials had to be carefully placed not to block any paths. I operated on FT8 on 30m, but I don’t think conditions were particularly favourable. DXCCs worked were EA, G, HA, OH, RA and several URs. I also put out a few calls on 2m FM with the handheld. A total of 17 QSOs were made in the activation, 10 on 30m FT8, and 7 on 2m FM. Many thanks to all chasers.
It was too windy for 17 candles for SOTA’s 17th birthday, so an activation comprising 17 QSOs it had to be (well not really, that was just a coincidence I noticed after getting home…) I had a couple of hours free between taxiing Liam to Congleton and back where he was meeting a mate for the afternoon. Obviously that would be spent on Cloud summit, doing FT8 on 30m - mainly. On the ascent, it was noted that the pathworks had progressed higher up towards the summit after a dormant few weeks. The reworked path, with tree-trunk borders, now extended just into the activation zone.
I set up beyond the summit rocks, just above the north ledge. It was a little breezy, but not so windy as to feel the need to actually drop down to the ledge to set up. As it was, there was a “courting couple” down there who looked like they would prefer not to be disturbed. The only problem with erecting the huge 30m GP antenna where I did was that loads of walkers passed within a few metres of it, and without exception asked me to explain what I was doing. Of course, I was happy to oblige, even if it did hammer my QSO rate! Not that there was any potential of a mega haul in the log anyway. There were no signs of any proper DX, and the band was closed to North America.
The first 25 minutes of operating saw me scrape to the nominal four QSOs in what was looking like a total yawnfest. It reminded me of those initial activations 17 years ago in 2002, using a 230mW Standard C108 handheld and taking half-an-hour to complete four good contacts! In protest at the embarrassment that is FT8, and its pathetic QSO haul, I switched to the entirely superior CW mode - and made three QSOs in the next twenty minutes… Maybe the 30m band wasn’t playing today?
I started, out of sheer boredom, putting out occasional calls on 2m FM, but that was pretty quiet too. 30m FT8 then picked up at least, and the QSO rate actually increased to the dizzy heights of one every three minutes! Eventually the call came from Liam to say he was ready to be picked up. I told him I’d be at least half-an-hour, and to go in somewhere to sit down and have a hot chocolate while he waited.
Total QSOs: 17 (as if by design for SOTA’s 17th birthday)
30m FT8: 12
30m CW: 3
2m FM: 2
I can do this walk with my eyes shut, so the darkness of night is not really a problem. Especially not with a fully charged Petzl headtorch illuminating the way. What I forgot to do was take any photos at the actual summit. At least my activation was on 2m FM though, so it was obvious I was up there! It was windy on The Cloud, but significantly less so than it had been on Gyrn Moelfre GW/NW-049, so maybe Freya had now passed through and heading north. Four QSOs made, all 2m FM with the handheld, before moving across to Gun G/SP-013.
Tuesday 5th March 2019 - The Cloud G/SP-015
As I arrived on summit, it was less windy and less damp than forecast. That was good of course, but the forecast was crystal clear that things would, at some point, deteriorate sharply. It was therefore a bonus I guess that the deterioration didn’t really start until around 2130z. But when it did, I knew things were only going to get very much worse from that point, so I called it a night and packed up.
2m FT8: 9 QSOs
2m SSB: 54 QSOs