The LF expedition to the Isle of Man.
It was David G0MRF who suggested that we should mount an expedition to the Isle of Man in order to put it on LF. He felt that the GDs had had ample chance to get on but no-one had appeared so someone ought to do it!
The ferry and lighthouse-keeper's cottage were booked for the 19-22nd of November (cheap winter rates!) and the plans were made. The idea was that we would string a nice big aerial from the lighthouse over to a portable mast and put out a whopping signal whilst sitting in a warm cottage drinking coffee.....
The three operators, David, myself and Graham G3XTZ were all to provide equipment for the trip, we ended up with 4 LF transmitters, 3 receivers, miles of wire, 5 power supplies, loads of poles, guys, pegs, stakes, coils, keyers, keys, tools, meters and some "nutritional" cherry bars which Graham brought along. Here's the story....
Friday 19th. Graham and David empty the contents of their shacks into Graham's car and set off at 7am for Birmingham to rendezvous with me. They arrive at about 9:45am and we set about transferring all the stuff from Graham's car into my, already half full, MPV thing. I had been making trip after trip down the garden to the garage with wheelbarrows full of equipment all morning!
We just manage to get it all in, and the three of us, already worn out, set off up the M6 on the 150 mile journey to the port of Heysham. Someone thinks it's a good idea to crash in the centre of Birmingham causing us to make a detour round the inner ring road, then the M6 suffers its usual disasters and we are held up for half an hour by a jacknifed lorry near Sandbach. We eat the first nutritious bar in the traffic. Later in the trip a large pebble comes hurtling into the windscreen and takes a chunk out of it, great!
After the horrors of the M6 we roll into Heysham with plenty of time to spare and I partake of a not-so-nutritious bacon and egg bap at the ferry terminal. You need plenty of greasy food to settle the stomach for the Irish sea crossing...
In the event, it is a very pleasant crossing with sunshine and calm seas and we arrive in Douglas at about 1830. Well past sunset. We set off for Point of Ayre at the Northern tip of the island.
I had seen a couple of pictures of the area on the "music man" radio station site http://www.longwaveradio.com You know, the ones who are going to use a CFA, their proposed transmitter site is near Point of Ayre. The place looked awfully barren, just scrubby vegetation on a flat landscape. I wonder what it will be like in the dark..
We wind our way out of Ramsey along miles of country lanes masquerading as 'A' roads until we reach Bride, where there is a sign to Point of Ayre. Sure enough, the land flattens out and we can see the lighthouse ahead, the only thing rising above the landscape.
A little closer and we can make out some more buildings, the cottages around the lighthouse and a couple of other structures. The road eventually comes to an end in the lighthouse grounds. We go looking for the "assistant lighthouse keeper".
He shows us to our accommodation, on the first floor of the nearest house to the lighthouse, but when asked about the promised access to the tower he says that we'll have to speak to Albert or Fred or someone about that. It's all locked up and he doesn't have a key.....
In somewhat gloomy mood we survey the area. We won't get access to the lighthouse for at least a day whilst this other chap is contacted, what other options are there? I suggest a cup of tea. Graham proffers another nutritious bar, err, no thanks it's not time for breakfast... We unload all the gear from the car and set up the Racal rx and Graham's superbly rebuilt tx on the table in the living room. We may not have an aerial but we have a shack!
Suitably nourished by a cuppa and some biscuits, we consider the options. Bad points; no access to lighthouse, the sash windows of the cottage are all newly painted and won't open, making it difficult to get wires out. Good points; we are very near the sea, about 250m, the old fog-horn building will make a good support for the far end of the wire so we can use the 40ft portable mast to support the near end. We may even be able to stand the mast on the stairway up to the door and gain another 15ft.
That is all for tomorrow in the daylight. Right now we have some pretty good moonlight and enough breeze to fly the kite, we are going on the air tonight by one means or another!
A short drive outside the gate there is a turning with a sign reading "shore" so we drive along that and found ourselves at a small carpark by the pebble beach. David and Graham unroll a couple of hundred metres of cable across the beach and throw an earth rod into the water whilst I launch the kite and set up the portable gear in the back of the car.
A quick tune up and we can get a couple of amps of aerial current up the wire and the band sounds quite lively. We put out a CQ. Switching back to receive, the band sounds like 20mtrs! A pileup! What's that station with the loud signal, something-TN no it couldn't be.... yes! OH1TN! 589! Good grief!
After Reino I go on to work SM4DHN, G4GVC, SM6PXJ and G6RO before handing the key over to Graham and David. Thereby hangs a tale... They both use paddles, mine is a Marconi straight key which they both hate. It's not just the cold wind that makes the sending a bit funny, it's my grotty key!
David fights the G3YXM key.
During the evening the kite rises and falls giving rise to much of the QSB that stations are reporting. There is no attention required though, it stays up by itself. The only problems are changes in wind direction causing the wire to touch the car body and de-tune everything. I have to stick some expanded polystyrene to the side of the car to stop the sparks.
Towards the end of the session (pretty late for 136!) the aerial current has dropped to only 1A with the rig at full power, I fear that something has gone wrong with the tx but the explanation comes when the earth is retrieved. The tide has gone out, leaving the earth rod high and dry.
Graham demonstrates how cold it is at 11pm.
Saturday 20th.Up at 7am to put up the aerial, look out of the window, still pitch dark Time for a delicious breakfast of nutritious bar and toast. We really must do some shopping today!
A good look round as day breaks reveals that the disused foghorn tower is about 250mtrs away from the house and easily accessible. Although it is only 30ft high it should make a good end support for the 200m long wire. We plan to put the portable mast up on the outside stairs, giving a height of about 55ft (18m) which should be interesting in the stiff breeze.
The view from the landing to the fog horn tower where the far end of the wire is attached.
Having assembled the 40ft mast, two portable slot-together things, a 2" one with an inch and a quarter one on top, we attach guy ropes and stand the thing up against the house. It looks very wobbly. Graham finds a dodgy looking wooden ladder and, with great trepidation, we carry the thing up to the top landing of the stairs and tie it off to the railings. Guys are attached to various hooks, pipes and tent pegs. Although it's far from straight, it doesn't look too bad!
The bendy mast seen from below.
We then run out 200m of the wire which is attached to the top of the mast towards the foghorn tower and try to pull it off the ground. There is no way that the mast will withstand the tension required to get this, quite thin, wire into the air Back to the car for the thinnest wire I've got. This stuff is easy to snap just by pulling it, we'll have to be careful with it.
A YXM toothbrush insulator is fitted to the end of the wire, then a reel of lightweight kite line to reach the tower. Graham uses his catapult to fire a line over one of the old foghorns on top of the tower and we pull the lightweight wire gently into the air. It sags a little but I reckon the average height to be about 10mtrs, not too bad for a 200mtr wire.
David meanwhile has run out about 250mtrs of wire from the house to an earth stake in the sea. This is weighted with stones to stop passers by from tripping up (It is a testament to the honesty of the people of the island that nobody interferes with the wire all weekend) and By 9:30 am we have an aerial and earth system. Various bits of ATU are assembled on the top landing of the outside stairs and coax is run through the house to the operating table.
Being quite long and low, the amount of inductance required to tune the aerial is much less than usual and my coil doesn't have enough taps. I have to scrape some insulation off it and we tune up.
Sophisticated ATU on the landing.
The first problem is that Graham's newly rebuilt (and beautiful looking) tx won't produce more than a couple of hundred Watts without going unstable in some strange way. It could be my PSU but we just change to my tx and try again. With the ATU set, we can get about 4A max current up the wire, probably a bit much so we back it off to 3.
Switching back to receive reveals the awful truth; the noise level is disastrous! We learn later that the lighthouse is full of electronic control gear and uses an inverter to power the light from a bank of large lead-acid batteries. All this stuff is producing the hash and burbles that all LF operators are familiar with. We'll have to use the loop.
We run out about 50mtrs of coax (all we have) to the "garden" beside the cottages and connect the loop up. It works tolerably well but I'm sure we're not going to hear any DX on it. Putting out a call we work GW4ALG, G3GRO and G6NB and then we get our heads blown off by Finbar at 599! 3 countries on the "home" station, not too bad for starters. Time to get some proper food or we'll have to eat another nutritious bar!
G3XTZ, G0MRF and G3YXM.
We explore Ramsey, the delights of Safeway and a rather nice restaurant who's name escapes me. Then back to the house to set up for the record breaking attempt to work G3LDO on 73kHz.
It's a very nice sunny day and lots of people are walking around the beach and surrounding area. I don't fancy trying to get the kite set up in a full carpark so we concentrate on tuning up on 73kHz until it gets dark. We can get about 2.5A up the wire which should get us somewhere. The laptop PC is also connected up and QRS and Spectrogram all seem to be working fine.
Back in the carpark after dark and the wind is a bit variable but the kite goes up OK. We work the IK5ZPV and I5MXX at good strength as well as many others. David is listening back in the house and we work him for our first GD to GD QSO. I wonder how the signal strength of the kite and longwire compare at a distance? The wind drops further and it is difficult to keep the kite in the air so we return to the shack to try some QRS on 136.
Graham in the shack.
I'm sure we saw HB9ASB on the screen but a call brings no results. Toni remains the "one that got away" all weekend.
The big news of the day is the 73kHz tests. We set up to listen for Peter and are amazed to discover that the moise level is not too bad on 73, just as well really, the loop may not tune down that far.. Come the time of the sked and Peter's signal can be seen on the screen, his tx is not too stable so we can't use much averaging on Spectrogram but it's pretty good and we are confident we can make a QSO.
Peter manages to see our transmission but the signals fade before we get the report across so we decide to have another go in the morning. Time to set up the 136 tx for the overnight QRS beacon transmission that the Americans are going to look for.
Sunday 21st.Four O-clock in the morning and I'm wondering whether my tx is going to blow up so I go and switch it off. It's absolutely fine, aerial current still about 2.5A and the tx is cool. Back to bed for a few hours more, the alarm is to go off at 7am. David is going to get up at 6am to see if he can work DJ5BV, what dedication!
David fails to work DJ5BV but has more success with G3LDO on 73k (480km!). Reports are exchanged and, as I'm sitting looking at the Spectrogram trace thinking "I'm sure there's a signal there" Mike G3XDV rings to say he's seen us and can we have a look for him. Signals are weak but we can identify the call but not the report so we arrange to give it another try on Sunday evening.
We decide to go out and try another beach/kite operation, this time to the North of the lighthouse where the beach is narrower so we can get closer to the sea. There's a good wind and the kite goes up fine, the tide is in so only 100m reel of wire is more than enough to reach the sea. We throw a copper rod in as far as we can with Graham's famous "javelin" method.
Tuning up is interesting. The aerial current and Voltage is much better than before. I end up using only a few Amps of drain current to get 2A aerial current. Just being closer to the sea by 100m makes all the difference. We work GI3PDN, DJ5DI and DJ5BV as well as PA0SE and PA2NJN so it's working well.
On the beach with the kite.
We have a couple of problems with the kite during this session. It seems to like dive-bombing the sea and has to be hauled in like a fish! No damage happens except that the kite is wet. I throw it back into the air and we fire up the tx. Immediately the wire falls out of the sky and the kite flutters down by itself, fortunately not into the sea! The damp string at the top of the wire has arced through, I replace it with dry string and we're on the air again.
Back in the shack for lunch we have a couple of QSOs on the fixed station. EI0CF is a super signal and we tell him to listen for us when we go out with the kite again.
In the afternoon the wind has dropped quite markedly. The kite is reluctant to fly and eventually makes another kamakaze dive for the sea, breaking a spar. I have to resort to the new "box-delta" kite which is smaller and will only take the very lightest wire up. It flies very well though, now that the wind is more consistent, and we work G3BDQ and some others in spite of bad static build-up on the kite wire. This causes a hash on receive and much jumping about shouting "ouch" when trying to connect the ATU!
The big delta being retreived from the sea.
I have been looking forward to hearing Finbar's signal on the kite and, as he hasn't appeared and it's starting to get cold, I ring him on the mobile. He sounds terrible and informs us he's just come back from the doctors and has been ordered to go to bed. Like the true radio amateur he is, he goes to the shack instead and gives us a call, 599 both ways of course!
We decide to go out for the evening and sample some Okells Ales before returning to attempt G3XDV on 73k at 2200. Touring round a deserted Ramsey at 6:30 we learn that the pubs don't open until 8pm! David suggests a trip to Belaugh Bridge where there is a good pub. We arrived there at 7:15 and wander about a bit trying to kill time. At 8pm we enter the pub, only to discover that they'd been open since 7! The beer is good though, and the company convivial, so much so that we are almost late arriving back at the lighthouse for the 2200 sked with Mike.
Much eyestrain is caused trying to decipher the signals on QRS but we get the report from Mike OK and complete our second 73k QSO.
At 11:30pm the QRS beacon is put on again and we retire to bed.
Monday 22nd. I am woken at 4am by rain rattling on the window. I imagine that the match to the tx will be changing so I get up and go and switch it off, it's quite hot this time but still producing a couple of Amps of aerial current. I can't get back to sleep because I can hear the wind howling round outside and imagine all sorts of disasters about to befall our wobbly aerial mast.
I get up at 7am, the mast is still up, but as daylight dawns, I can see the aerial wire is billowing sideways in the wind. David works GI3PDN OK but the tuning keeps changing as the wire blows about. Time to go and see what's happened.
It seems that the very thin wire has stretched in the strong wind, as the wind drops it sags to within a few feet of the ground. No wonder the tuning was changing...
We have to vacate the cottage around 10am so we pack it all up and miraculously get the mast down without disaster in spite of the wind. A little more organisation means that everything fits in the car more easily than it did on the way up. We leave the house at about 11am in search of lunch, souveniers for the families, QSL cards etc. before catching the 7:15pm ferry back to Heysham.
How are we going to fit it all in?
It was a great weekend. What amazed me most was the reception. We worked stations that I can barely hear from home at 579, absolutely booming in! I'm sure people will think we were running loads of power, but the reciprocal signal reports must testify against that. G4GVC gave us 10dB over nine on Sunday afternoon, so I took all the attenuators out on the receiver (TS850, same as John) and his signal read 10 over nine as well! The same as I get him at home, only 50km away!
The message is clear, if you want to work DX on LF, move to the seaside, G3LDO knows this already!
Thanks to all those who made the trouble to listen for us, making our efforts worthwhile. Thanks especially to Graham and David who were great companions and have a wealth of experience. We made a great team. We'll be back!
Now all we have to do is the QSL cards! Oh yes, and I must stock up on those nutritious bars....