The World of LF
Guernsey 2000 on LF.
In November 2000 Graham G3XTZ, David G0MRF and G3YXM (me) took a trip to Guernsey to put it on the LF "map". We knew we would have trouble receiving signals through the Loran interference from Lessay on the nearby French coast, we hadn't bargained for the weather...... (stupid or what?!).
We travelled in my car, a Toyota Picnic mini "MPV" which makes a reasonable mobile shack.
Having stayed overnight at Graham's QTH near Staines we were to set of early Friday morning for Weymouth and the ferry.....
Up at 05:30 to load up the car with more equipment that David and Graham are bringing, it is already pretty full but we have learned a few lessons from GD last year and the inventory has been pared down a bit! Last to go in is David's loop aerial, a delicate device with an integral preamplifier.
On the road by 06:30 and away to Weymouth. Autoroute gets it spot-on with the journey timing and, despite a long queue into Weymouth we arrive in time to check-in for the 10am sailing by fast catamaran to Guernsey. The chap at the security hut looks askance at the piles of gear in the back but seems to understand when we explain that we are just radio amateurs. He gives us that look that says "oh I see.... they're all mad they are!" and we drive onboard.
The Condor Express is as good as its name and we travel in comfort arrive at about 12:30 to cloudy skies and a stiff breeze. Good kite-flying weather!
Guernsey is a small island, only about 12km long, and it doesn't take long to reach the hotel on the North West side. We decide to take a look around and find a suitable portable site, the hotel looks far too posh to allow us to hang wires all over it!
Travelling clockwise round the island from the hotel we notice one thing.. there isn't much unused space on Guernsey. Every bit of land has a house somewhere near, we can't go stringing wires up all over someone's back garden!
Eventually we arrive at a tatty rock-strewn cove next to a land-fill (waste disposal) site. There is nothing to support an aerial and we'd probably break an ankle trying to get down to the water-line to fix the earth, but it might do. We circle the land-fill site and emerge at "La Jaonneuse" beach, a small cove with a grassy area at the Western edge where we can park. It also has a wartime ammunition store which has a tall wooden lightning-conductor pole beside it. (they didn't want the ammunition store struck by lightning evidently!). This is much better! Back to the hotel to check-in.
A handy lifebelt with a Martello tower in the background.
David decides to bring his loop aerial in to check it over and see what we can hear from the hotel room. Funny looks from the staff as we carry what looks like something from a spy film into the foyer..
Can't hear anything in the hotel room except buzzing and other QRM but the loop seems to be working OK. After a sandwich and a beer in the bar, we decide to go to the site, put out an earth in the sea ready for Saturday and try the loop there.
Whilst David sets off across the sand and rocks with the earth rod and a roll of wire, Graham and myself set up the gear. Graham's transmitter, my TS850 and ATU, David's loop. It is very frustrating working from the back of a fully loaded car, the thing you want is always buried under something you don't want... later you find you do want it and now it's under something else...
Graham looks for something that's under something else..
Apart from occasional light rain its no too bad and we can null Loran (a bit) on the loop so I decide to test the rig and fly a kite. We decide to try Graham's mini parafoil, the wind is quite good and it flies well, not taking the wire up very high but it tunes OK and we put out a test call. Now that we have a tx aerial the Loran interference is worse, we have to disconnect the aerial whilst receiving. There doesn't seem to be anyone around (not surprising at 4pm on a Friday) so no QSO is made, then the kite crashes into the sea and has to be retrieved. Time to go in search of food. Things are looking good for tomorrow.....
Back at the hotel we remove a few non-essential items from the car to make operating easier. More funny looks from the hotel staff as we walk in carrying huge 73kHz loading coils, loops and boxes of rope etc.
Before going out "on the town" we look at the evening news for a weather forecast. Oh dear! Gale-force winds and heavy rain forecast for Saturday, "perhaps it'll get better on Sunday" I suggest.
Awake to gale-force winds and rain, great.
Fortified by an enormous hotel breakfast, we set off for the site. Stopping for diesel on the way, I am amazed to fill up for less than £20.. it's only 38p a litre here! We will need to run the engine all day to keep the battery charged and the heater going! The earth wire is still there and we connect up the gear. Dodging the showers we decide to fly Graham's kite again, it worked OK yesterday and it can't break if it comes down as it has no rods.
It will NOT fly. It just twizzles round like an old supermarket carrier-bag on the end of the line.... Maybe the wind is now too strong for it.
We try various kites and eventually have success with a small delta. It flies good and high and we get into QSO with G3GRO/P. The next moment the kite is down, then up again, then it starts raining heavily.... we go onto transmit and the wire falls out of the sky and the kite sails off over the sea. Looking at the end of the wire shows a black mark. When the rain soaked the kite string attached to the top of the wire it became conductive and the RF arced to it and burned it through. Two kites down, three to go.
I try my, slightly larger, box-delta. It pulls very hard in the freshening wind, too strong for this kind of kite, but it goes up and, apart from occasionally diving to within a few feet of the sea, stays up. This time we have added one of the famous toothbrush insulators to the top of the wire.... another lesson learned.
The kite flies majestically before crashing again!
We complete the QSO with G3GRO/P, it took half an hour! We then work GW4HXO (we later hear that Steve GW4ALG had been waiting to call us but his loading coil blew over at the crucial moment and Mike pipped him to the post!) followed by G3AQC, GI3KEV/P and MM0ALM.
All these QSOs are made using the TX aerial to receive on, we are trying to use my loop today, David's is back in the hotel, but my loop will not tune. It seems completely flat, perhaps some dampness has got in somewhere? So we give reports like "479" as anything below S8 is a struggle through the Loran.
A grumpy G3YXM fails to get his loop working.
The kite makes a last dive for the sea and crashes. I go and brave the waves to get it back, the back spar is broken, repairs will have to be made...
Some gaffer-tape and an arrow make a splint for the broken spar and we are on again. We work G3LDO, G6RO and GW4ALG. Then we get a call on 10MHz from G4FKK followed by PA0BWL and G0AKY on 136. We are just using a 20 ft piece of wire strung from the roof of the car on 10MHz but the signals are coming in very well. It is the weekend of CQWW CW so we are keeping off the contest bands!
Next up on 10MHz comes some DX from Jersey, GJ4CBQ is getting us at 599, then DF0WD who gives 559 so we are getting out, pity about the receive situation....
A weak signal in the Loran turns out to be DK5PT, we manage to exchange reports OK so there is hope, but it really makes your ears ring after a while!
The operating position in the back of the car, the arm is David's!
G3BDQ calls next followed by G6NB, G8RW and G0AKY again (David is on the key now, so we are using GU0MRF with no /P as he has informed the authorities so that we can use 73kHz). F6BWO calls on 10MHz and asks us to listen for him on 136 but the noise is too bad and no signals can be heard.
By this time the wind is getting even more blustery and the kite keeps crashing, finally breaking one of the side spars. We have to be on 73kHz later to work GW3XDV who is driving over to West Wales especially to work us (A story in itself... read Mike's tale). We will need a fixed aerial. Better put it up whilst its still light.
The lightning-conductor pole looks tempting for a support but Graham and David can't get a line over it in the strong wind and rain. We decide to use the aluminium masts we have brought. The 11mtr "Sandpiper" telescopic mast is tied to the fence around the land-fill site, near the car. We then erect a 7mtr pole about 80mtrs away and run a wire over it and on toward the sea where we tie it via some fishing line, to a rock. The wire is about 120mtrs long and tunes OK on 136 with about 3A of aerial current. We work M0BMU who gives us 559 so it's not great but its all we've got.
Two mad amateurs wobble along the rocks at dusk to attach the aerial.
I set up the PC ready for QRSS on 73 later and we see OK1FIG calling CQ on 136 with a very clear "O" signal. Whoopee! he's bound to be workable at that strength..... no reply..... One that got away.
DK8KW is in there somewhere too but I can't tell whether he's calling us or Petr or what so there's another one got away.
It is now nearly six o-clock, time to get some food (first since breakfast!!). Mike will telephone us when he is ready to go in West Wales, there's nothing for it, we'll just have to sit in the pub and wait for his call, what hardship!
After a delicious meal and a pint the phone rings, bother! it must be Mike we'll have to go out in the cold and dark... He tells us that the electricity supply has gone off in West Wales and they can't come on. He'll call when it comes back on. I try to sound disappointed but, sitting in a warm pub it doesn't sound convincing. Better have another pint.
The call comes at about nine fifteen, "the power is back on we're ready to go". Ah well, it was nice while it lasted, back out into the cold and dark.. and it is dark! No moon, no streetlights, lots of puddles and rocks to avoid very dodgy.
We tune up on 73k fairly easily, getting 2A current at best. The wind is really strong now, the aerial downlead is flapping all over the place and it's hard to stop it coming into contact with the car body. I fiddle about getting the laptop PC precariously balanced on the piles of gubbins in the back of the car. The internal battery doesn't have a very long life so I've made a bodge lead to run it from an external 12V source, a 7AH gell battery. We put out a QRSS call and get a lovely signal back from the two Mikes in Wales followed by a similarly good signal from M0BMU.
By this time (about half-past eleven) the PC is making bleeping noises to say its battery is flat, which it isn't, and the Spectrogram display keeps pausing. This makes copy rather difficult. We than have to take down the aerial system in the pitch dark and gale, no easy task I can tell you! There are brambles, gorse, big muddy puddles and rocks all ready to do damage to us... Chuck it all back in the car and back to the hotel. Not a bad day really, perhaps the weather will be better tomorrow?
I am awoken several times in the night by the sound of the wind howling round the hotel and the rain lashing on the window... perhaps it won't be better after all?
Breakfast weather forecast says "bright with heavy showers and strong winds moderating later", no hurry then, it'll be OK by the afternoon.....
Where do they get these weather forecasts?
The promised brightness is very fleeting. Huge showers of rain and hail whizz past horizontally, the wind rocks the car as we sit wondering what to do.
Foolishly, we choose to fly a kite. The only possible one is the delta we flew yesterday, now repaired with a bamboo pole we bought from a garden centre on the way here. Graham has a plan to build a smaller kite out of bin bags and bamboo.
Graham's kite factory
Today we have David's loop, strapped to a light pole it flails around in the wind and we have to guy it. Even so the signals sound "auroral" on receive due to the wires of the loop flapping about in the wind! Whilst setting it up and trying to fly kites we hear SM6PXJ with a lovely signal, if only we had a TX aerial.....
David's receive loop.
The delta will not fly, neither will Graham's parafoil, my parafoil, Graham's home made bin-bag special or my home-made bin-bag delta. We have wasted the entire morning on this. Time to put up the masts again.
In a final valiant attempt, David manages to catapult a line right over the top of the lightning conductor pole, this must be about 14mtrs high so should be better than what we used yesterday. It also means we can use the 11mtr mast for the other end of the aerial, better all round.
David fires a line over the pole.
We pull up the long wire and run the end down to the rocks via a fishing line as before (cold wet and windy all this time remember!) as the wave crash into the rocks below. Most impressive!
Tuning up gives us 3.5A, varying all over the place as the wind blows the wire into a horizontal arc. We have to disconnect the TX aerial on receive so as to stop induction into the loop which keeps going off tune every time it rains. During one receive period the familiar "cat screeching" sound of rain static starts and the disconnected end of the antenna emits 2cm sparks to the loading coil. We decide to short the ATU coil on receive next time!
Green shows the path of the aerial down towards the rock, blue is the feed to the car.
I have the brilliant idea of strapping one of the fiberglass fishing rods we have with us, to the rock at the far end of the aerial. This will lift the end of the wire considerably and increase efficiency. It is very windy on the rocks but Graham and myself manage to tie the rod to a big rock with a handy groove in it. the end of the aerial is now several metres higher and the current goes up to 4A on 136.
No I haven't fallen over.. I'm attaching a rope to a handy rock!
A car pulls up and a gentleman approaches, is he going to tell us to clear off? No, it's Alan GU4RUK who has heard us on 136 and driven out to find us. He almost drove past but saw the pole out on the rock and knew he'd found us.... Evidently we've hit upon one of the few suitable places on the island!
GU4RUK, GU0MRF and GU3YXM
We work G4CNN, G3AQC, ON7YD, PA0SE, G3OLB and GW4HXO. Then we hear Wolf DF0WD pretty well and work him 2-way so the loop is working for us.
We get a message from Geri DK8KW to say we are too weak on CW, could we try QRSS. Despite a couple of calls, we see nothing coming back.
Another visitor arrives, GU0SUP, we are popular today!
Next we work Mike G3XDV on 136 who has rushed home from Wales to work us on 73k from his home QTH. We are due on 73 at 17:00. It is 16:50 now, time to QSY. We get a call from Peter G3LDO asking when we will be on 73 and we say that we will be there in a few minutes.
Having fired up the PC again it still plays tricks and is making signals difficult to read, there are several signals on the screen. Listening carefully it seems that there is some normal speed CW, we can't read it through the Loran QRM, the loop doesn't seem to help on 73k like it did on 136.
The jumble of signals is indecipherable, David send "QRSS QRSS only" so that we have a chance of seeing something before we die of hunger and cold, (no food since breakfast again!). M0BMU is there with another signal slightly LF, probably Peter. We call Jim and exchange good "O" reports, better than yesterday on the improved antenna. We call several times but can see nothing now of Peter or Mike. Mike rings to say he is calling but we can't see his signal.. He QSYs a few Hz and there he is, he was originally slap on top (or underneath..) a Loran line on the Spectrogram display. He is now an "M" copy and we make a QSO.
Still no Peter so we put out a few calls on normal CW as the PC is playing-up horribly. Jim comes back and we work him on normal CW, I reckon the distance is just under 300km so it must be the new 2-way CW record on 73k. Later confirmed at 290km, new CW record on 73k.
By now it is half past six and the tummies are rumbling. We QSY back to 136 and put out a few CW calls with no success. We can't try QRSS because the computer is misbehaving so decide to call it a day. We still have to get the aerial down in the pitch-dark and strong wind.
Whilst David and Graham take down the mast and wire, I go to retrieve the fishing rod from the rock..... What I don't bargain for is that the tide is now fully in and, as I approach the rock, in the total darkness with my little torch, I can see the waves breaking nearby. I get to the rock and start to undo the rope, SPLASH! I am engulfed in a huge wall of water as a wave crashes into the rocks below. It's amazing how wet you can get in an instant. I manage to loose the pole and make a break for it, receiving another soaking in the process. I arrive back at the car to amused looks from the others. I sit in the car with the heater on full blast for a few minutes....
David doesn't look sympathetic enough as I drip..
Everything loaded back into the car we head back to the hotel to be greeted by more puzzled looks from the hotel staff as I walk in dripping wet. Time for a nice warm shower and some food.
The pubs aren't open on Sunday so we have to drive to St Peter for a restaurant meal (can't afford the hotel prices!) and a discussion of the weekend's successes and failures. We hope the weather calms down a bit otherwise the catamaran won't sail and we'll be stuck here! After stuffing ourselves at Graham's expense (thanks Graham!) we go in search of the Guernsey club station where a Finnish contingent are operating CQWW CW and are rumoured to have a huge Titanex vertical up. We arrived and found them on 7 million points! The vertical is still working but has suffered in the gales and is now more of an inverted L!
Graham looking happy to be warm and dry at the club.
The cat did sail, most impressive ship, smooth and fast. Why aren't all ferries like that?
We made 34 QSOs in all, 7 countries were worked on 136 and 2 countries and a new CW distance record on 73k. We learned that we need a bigger selection of kites to cope with strong to gale-force winds, we learned it's uncomfortable and inconvenient to operate from one car leaving you no way of going for supplies etc without de-rigging the whole station. We learned that Loran is a formidable enemy, we never did completely get rid of it. We found the SMS gateway very useful for getting messages to us. I learned that I need a better laptop PC and that it can be cold and wet and stormy in Guernsey at the end of November!
Thanks to all those whom we worked and apologies to those we didn't.
The home-made kites get their just reward.