VHF NFD 2017 – G3WM/P (But no G0HRS/P)

A great report from Ian Lowe, G0PDZ...

As usual in recent years I joined my good friend Ian Hope, 2E0IJH in contesting during VHF NFD. One of the number of contests we enter as members of Kent combined clubs. However, this year unlike past years we did not compete from Capel-Le- Ferne, for various reasons the site is unavailable for use. Ian cast around looking for a new site & was fortunate to be put in touch with Hopehill Scout Campsite, by Kevin Richardson, G0PEK. Ian was happy to find that the warden there is an old friend from his scouting days; an agreement was soon reached.

Hopehill Campsite is near Meopham, JO01EI, just over an hours drive from Thanet, not much further than Capel time wise, but a lot closer for Ian Hope – more of which later! It is up on the North Downs at about 140m asl with a relatively clear take off all round, maybe a little shielded to the South & West by higher ground a few miles away, but not badly. The campsite is protected on all sides by trees making for good camping protection, but making a reasonable mast a necessity. With a water tap for each camping area & a toilet block it is a step up for those who have experienced the ‘Turdis’ at Capel!

Plans for this year were scaled back as we knew certain regular operators would not be unavailable, so a station for 2m along with a combined 4m & 6m station. 4m & 6m only run for limited hours, 6m on Saturday & 4m on Sunday, so in effect we intended to only run two stations at a time.

With a scaled back entry & less kit to put up we agreed to meet on Saturday morning early ready for a 3pm local contest start time. Due to domestic circumstances I was a little late on parade & arrived just after 10am to find Ian alone. But he had made a magnificent start at putting together the metal & rope confection that was to be our 20’ pipe mast topped by a rotator & a further 10’ stub mast to hold the pair of 9ele LFA 2m Yagis’. Now two handed the mast & antennas were soon put together & safely erected. We even managed to get North on the rotator to be pointing North, but later found the replacement rotator controller was wired incorrectly so West was East & vice versa!

Next was erecting the trailer tent, which would make the operating area, kitchen & sleeping quarters for what was hoped to be a short nap in the small hours between working the pile-ups! After 3 years I like to think that I am now more help than hindrance in putting the tent together with Ian. Once the tent was up & the 2m station was put together we had an executive decision to make do we put up the other station? Up to that point it was only the two of us, with only a couple more confirmed operators due to arrive before contest start. We decided to abandon the 4m & 6m station, rather than rush to build it & then still not have operators to man it, a shame as they would have operated under the call G0HRS/p. But in the end it turned out to be a labour saving decision as it transpired!

Matt Payne, M0LMK then arrived, shortly followed by Kevin Richardson, G0PEK, with his daughter Lauren, M6LHR. Witching hour arrived & we started contesting, with Matt in the operators’ chair & soon had a few contacts in the log but with some curiously weak signal reports; (doh!) we had backed off the RF gain when doing some tests & had failed to put it back up, quickly resolved with immediate improvement in reports. Matt then hopped out of the chair to be replaced by Lauren whose youth belies an operator of considerable experience. Lauren quickly grasped the unfamiliar callsign, G3WM/P & the more clipped CQ style used in contesting, soon putting a few more in the log. When resting her voice from calling CQ & using the ‘CQ parrot’ she surprised a few operators who responded, with her clear young female voice compared to the slightly less youthful & far more masculine tones of the call recorded by 2E0IJH.

It was at the next operator change, when I changed seats to operate & put Lauren in the loggist chair that we had the first indication of our generator problems. As I called CQ the genset spluttered & coughed, dropping power, but then fired back into life. A couple of calls later, it stalled. Thinking that my voice was overdriving the rig & amplifier we backed off the controls & rechecked everything, all was correct, but to no avail we started to get random stalls & backfires even when on receive. The generator eventually died & refused to be revived, so Ian drove off home to get a spare genset. Luckily Hopehill is not to far from Hope home-base. A long pause ensued….

Ian eventually returned, hot, sweaty & out of breath; his car had run out of fuel (New, second hand car with a number of on-going faults being repaired as time allows, one being a faulty fuel guage!) So Matt chauffeured Ian back home, collected the genset & a fuel can which they filled on the return to fuel Ian’s car as they drove back. Another long pause….

Both returned with the second genset, then with a cannibalised fuel tank from the first, we were again on the air, for a while…. After about an hour of operating the second genset started misbehaving like the first. Like the first it eventually died completely. Now dark, Ian & I using torches stripped down both the gensets trying to find the problem, without success, with the clock reaching midnight & beyond we called it a night & retired defeated to our bunks in the trailer tent.

At 6:30am I awoke to the abortive sounds of a generator attempting to be started, not sure how long Ian had been up but he had again stripped the genset, rebuilt it & was now attempting to get it going. Not now being required to stand holding a torch & unable to offer any further advice from my limited pool of knowledge on petrol engines, I decamped back to the tent & started cooking breakfast. Frying bacon & sausages to make breakfast sandwiches along with boiling the kettle for coffee is more within my technical skill set, but only just!

So after a substantial breakfast & a second cup of coffee we admitted defeat & started to dismantle the station. Contrary to the forecast we’d had only a little rain overnight & the early morning clouds soon broke giving good warm sunshine to dry off the canvas allowing for the first contest in a while where I can remember packing away kit dry.

The story sounds a bit dire & disappointing, but there are plusses to be taken from the weekend.

We have found a new venue to use & the campsite has already agreed to host us again.

The venue appears to have a good take off & not suffer too badly with splatter from the ‘Big’ stations in our corner of the land. We did manage to work a number of DX stations amongst our 41 contacts & they were from all points of the compass.

The campsite is easily accessible by road, is reasonably flat under foot & has good facilities, including for the disabled.

Working the radio station on our plot, we were separated from the other site users in our own area but clearly visible enough to attract interest. We had several visitors & Ian took the opportunity to explain the hobby & point them in the direction of local clubs who would be willing to assist Scouts & Cadets in gaining their communication badges.

So this weekend was not a successful contest for us this year & yes it was frustrating to have an unidentified technical fault shut us down, we are disappointed but not defeated….

Ian & I have already agreed, subject to getting a working genset; a more powerful genset is actually undergoing a professional service & renovation as I write, we intend to operate in the 144mhz & 432Mhz low power contests on the weekend of 5th & 6th of August. Six hours each, Saturday afternoon & Sunday morning, meaning full nights sleep in between…. You are invited to join us.

ps. Ian has now identified that both gensets are probably suffering from faulty valves in the engines. The damage probably, water damage, caused by condensation formed whilst long in storage, not having been needed recently.