Myself (Mike MM3NTX), my dad George (GM1OPO) and Brian (MM7OYD) got to the site at about 0915 local time, coming through some light rain showers on the way from Peebles.
The wind wasn’t as strong as expected at the top of the hill.
We manoeuvred the vehicles and initially mounted the antenna pole base under the van wheel, but the poles were going to be too close to the (brand new) van bodywork when swinging in the wind, so we switched to mounting the antenna base under the wheel of dad’s Honda Jazz, then built up the antenna and mounted it on the poles.
Nigel (GM7GRH) arrived with a car battery and cable for connecting to the Yaesu FT-991A. We did have some 7Ah sealed lead-acid batteries but with a receive minimum current draw of 1A a bigger battery would be more suitable.
We set up the table and chairs in the back of the van, and set up the FT-991A. Slight panic when pushing the power button didn’t do anything, but then we found the crocodile clips weren’t gripping the battery terminals tight enough to get contact. Small adjustment and we had a lit screen and familiar SSB background noise through the speaker.
Tuning around 144MHz we immediately we started hearing stations and made our first couple of contacts, including a 5/4 report from the JO00 square East Sussex/Kent. I did like when finishing our first QSO, another station called in “GM4YEQ, can you QSY to .350?” and gave us another good QSO in IO84 (5/9 both ways). If only they were all that easy!
A few other contacts were heard that we weren’t able to get contact with, but otherwise the band seemed really quiet. I expected there to be dozens of stations heard while the antenna was pointing roughly south or southeast. So the bands seemed disappointingly quiet. I thought after previous days of VHF E-skip there’d be signals from all over England and even into Europe.
It is annoying when you’re 5 or 6 QSOs in, and then every time you hear a signal and zero-in on it, it’s a callsign you’ve already worked. Nothing heard while pointing north or northwest into the Highlands or even Edinburgh, Fife or Glasgow.
A couple of instances of hearing a QSO then both stations disappear into the QSB then never come back. We also heard what sounded like 2 simultaneous QSOs on the same frequency.
I did spend some time sitting on a frequency and sending CQ calls but nothing heard back.
It did really help that we were able to operate from inside the back of the van when there were frequent, sometimes heavy, showers and some gusty winds at the leading edge of the showers. It also saved any logging paperwork being blown around in the wind or smudged with raindrops.
Logging was done on paper, with a scratch sheet for taking the initial details of the QSO, then those details copied into the main log sheet. This meant that I could listen to a station talking to someone else and note down their callsign, locator and signal strength all ready for when I had my own QSO with them (if they heard me) and it just meant confirming the details I’d already overheard, adding the signal and serial received from that station, then adding the time logged.
I did have a logging spreadsheet on my tablet but ended up not using it as paper worked fine. If we’d had a higher volume of contacts (or daresay a pileup) I’d have switched to the tablet.
Operating with the Yaesu FT-991A was easy once I’d figured out the menu options for audio filtering. The waterfall display wasn’t as useful as I’d hoped as only the strongest of signals were showing up on the display and no sensitivity adjustment available (unless there was a setting I missed), so it was back to mk-I earhole and listening to the whistles of passing signals while tuning around. The voice keyer was useful though, recording a CQ call with callsign in letters and phonetics with locator square, then just needing to hit a button to send the call, leaving a few seconds to listen for any reply. It saved the voice and also avoiding tripping over words when repeating the same phrase over and over again hundreds of times.
Around 1330 we started to transfer stuff to cars and pack up Brian’s FT-991A as he had to leave early for family duties, so we moved to the Honda Jazz dashboard and my dad’s Yaesu FT-817 running off 7Ah SLA battery. Still sheltered from the continued heavy rain showers and wind gusts. No voice keyer so manual CQ calls done every minute or so for a while when not scanning around the band. I did send some CQ calls out on FM simplex channels in case any local club members were scanning around but with no response. Maybe using a non-directional vertical antenna would have been better for FM.
We didn’t make any more contacts after switching to the FT-817 (or even the last 20 minutes with the FT-991A) so by 1530 (local time) we decided to pack up while we were in a dry spell between showers, so the radio and antenna was dismantled and packed into the car.
It was disappointing that we only made 9 contacts, in 7 squares but I got my first experience operating the club station in a contest. Usually I’m helping with logging or just assisting as other members set up and operate the station but this time I was operating so I learned a bit about that. It was also recent club member Brian’s first experience seeing the club station operating a contest, giving him some new knowledge and ideas in mobile operating and amateur radio in general when seeing my dad doing some HF operating with the Yaesu FT-817 and Alinco DX-70.
Many thanks to Brian for letting us use his new FT-991A and his even newer van for working in, my dad George for the antenna, poles, and the FT-817 backup transceiver, and Nigel for the big battery with cable, and guidance for when I was on-air, and basically everyone for helping get everything set up and running with no hitches. We even remembered to plug the coax onto the antenna before erecting it this time!
It would have been better with bright sunshine and no wind and we’d been able to operate outside, and of course if band conditions were more favourable, but it’s always good to get out operating and catching up with with club members for the day outside our normal 2-hour meetings on Wednesday evenings.
Hopefully with the RSGB VHF field day at the start of July we’ll have better weather, better propagation and more club members out with us.
Location: Yarrow/Ettrick Swire IO85MM
Rig: Yaesu FT-991A (also Yaesu FT-817 but no contacts made)
Antenna: 2m 7-element ZL Special Yagi
Unfortunately didn’t get a chance to take photos of the station in the back of the van.