Friday, 25 April 2014

Summits on the Air (SOTA), Firle Beacon

I have been off the air for a while. Building works at home meant I had to dismantle my station and it has taken me a while to get it back together again. I have also not done much portable operation for while so I decided last weekend that I would activate a Summits On the Air (SOTA summit, Firle Beacon, SOTA reference G/SE-010 (WAB TQ40, JO00BU) on the South Downs Way south of London.

When doing portable operations, I do not believe in driving to a car park, walking 50m or worse still operating out of the back of a car. For me portable is  public transport and boots. So, first thing on Saturday morning saw me at my local station en route to Firle. Unfortunate it was a week of ‘Engineering Works’ so the journey took longer than usual. My train pulled into Southease station at 10:30am. After a quick trip to the near-by YHA cafĂ© ( to top up food stocks it was time to hit the trail. The walk to Firle is about 8km. The first part is quite steep with a 200m climb up onto the downs. 90 minutes later I arrived at Firle. On the way, I put out occasional CQs on 2m and 4m, but no one responded.

For this expedition I took a Yaesu FT-817, two hand-helds (Yaesu VX-5R for 2m and a Wouxun KG-699E for 4m, which I review elsewhere in this blog). The antenna was a Super Stick and the power was provided by a 7Ah SL AB. That, plus a small tool kit, First-aid pouch, food ‘n’ drink took my pack up to my self-imposed limit of 10kg.

Set up took about 40 minutes and I started with CQ on 40m. This did not produce any response, but I heard M0SIY/P, Simon, so I called him and got a 3-3 report from him. The Super Stick does not produce great results on 40m, but considering its overall length, this is not surprising.  I switched to 20m SSB and rapidly logged another five QSOs – enough to ‘qualify’ the activation for SOTA. I tried 17m and 15m with little success.

M0BGR/P at Firle Beacon, Easter Weekend
The early part of the day was bitterly cold and dull, with a northerly wind, and I considered moving on to another summit, or even retiring to a local pub especially when rain threatened, but I decided to stay put and do some more operating. By mid-afternoon the sun came out and the wind veered little which made everything more pleasant (except for a radio-controlled glider pilot who lost his lift!).  Later in the afternoon, 17m became a lot more active and I was able to work a few stations on CW and by 5pm, when I needed to pack up, I had 17 QSOs in the log. Best DX was UT7IA on 12m SSB at 2255km – not bad for 5W and a small vertical. You have good ears Uri!

A real disappointment was VHF/FM. I took along a couple of hand-helds to cover 2m and 4m. I broke off operating HF about every half hour to call CQ and did the same while hiking to and from the railway station. From the top of the South Downs I should have been easy to hear up to 100km away, which means most of SE England and parts of France, but I got only one response for my troubles, G3VPS on 4m – thanks Peter. VHF FM is the entry level for many newly qualified hams, but they will soon be put off if no one comes back to their early calls. Can I ask that you monitor FM whenever you can and reply to any calls you hear?

My equipment worked well during this expedition. I had a minor fault with the FT-817, the narrow CW filter stopped working, but as I could live with this I decided not to dismantle the radio on top of the hill. I was very impressed with the Super Stick antenna on 20m and above. A nice thing about operating on top of a hill is how quiet the HF bands sound, compared with my usual urban location.  It was also nice to take some time to chat to other walkers who were on the South Downs Way and explain why I was doing amateur radio on such a cold windy day.

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