I was invited to participate with the Capel Battery Contest Group at their cliff top site at Capel le Ferne by Ian 2E0IJH. Arrived at the site on Friday afternoon waited for a short while for Ian to arrive. The bright spring sunshine was rather deceiving, as the keen breeze was decidedly chilly. I sat in car whilst waiting.
First job was to erect the trailer tent that Ian had towed onto site, this was to be for the 70cm station. After completing this whilst waiting for Trevor G6ALJ to arrive to tow out the towers & open up the secure storage to release the other required kit, we erected the first of the 2m arrays.This was a four over four. Four, four element stacked yagis mounted on a 30’ scaffold pole mast. The purpose of this array is to provide a broad lobed beam, which would be used to work local, & semi local stations.
Just as this was completed & ginned up into the air, Trevor joined us. In short order the secure storage was opened the on site Landrover fired up. The Landy was then used to tow out two more towers, one more for 2m & the other for 70cms & possible 23cms. Also towed out was another trailer tent, this one to house the 2m station. Trevor then had to disappear off on other duties.
One of the benefits of having an ex WW2 gun battery as an operating site is secure storage, a rather deceptive small opening reveals an underground complex which is more spacious than the average 3 bed semi. The underside is that access is via a vertical ladder, so required items had to be attached to a rope & hauled up by hand. After much hauling, a short & very welcome break was taken in the onsite ‘workshop’ to enjoy a much-appreciated cup of coffee.
Ian & I then set about putting the second 2m array together. We fitted the head unit to the tower along with the stub mast, onto which we attached the two long 13 ele yagis. The mechanical fit went quite sweetly if only the same could be said for the electrical fit, of which more later.
As light was now fast fading, I decided to call it a day & returned home for the night. My reasoning being a night in my warm bed after a hot meal would better prepare me for the rigours of another day in the cold followed by possibly a partial night of operating & a few hours in a sleeping bag.
After a restful night in that warm bed I was back on site for 9am the next morning. I found Ian had erected the second trailer tent single-handed & had spent a reasonable night on site. As Ian & I were about to begin we were joined by Adam M0CVN, who I had met at last years VHF NFD, he was sent to stow his gear in the 70cms tent & when done to join us.
We then continued with the completion of the 2m station, this is where the trouble started…. The two yagis are fed via a splitter; new after the old one was found to be faulty last VHF NFD, Ian had also rebuilt the pre-amp & relay unit, it had performed admirably on the teat bench. The array has separate coax feeds for Tx & Rx. After getting odd Vswr readings all connections were checked & rechecked. The relay/pre amp unit opened checked & still no obvious fault could be found. After several feeder swaps, each time requiring the tower to be luffed over, an exercise requiring much cranking on the winch to lower it do the job & then raise it again to test, we found we could get what appeared to be a working solution using a single feeder direct to the splitter. The mast was then cranked up to working height about 40’.
It was at this point we discovered the vagaries of the ground, despite having checked when we placed the tower & pulled out the stabilising legs & adjusted them to ensure the trailer mast was level. As the mast reached working height the whole shebang started to tilt with the towing hitch end lifting up a good 8”. Placing my entire weight on the towing hitch just about brought it back down. It appeared that the wind pressure blowing on the array & extended mast was sufficient to drive the rear leg down into the ground collapsing the rabbit/mole burrowed ground. With the rear leg temporarily jacked up using a highlift jack several short lengths of scaffold board were used to pad the foot & spread the load on the soft earth. The whole rig was again checked & reset level.
Just in time, as the contest was about to start. The 70cms station was abandoned, through lack of time & operators. So we had 200w into a pair of long yagis but without a masthead preamp, not perfect but workable…. A decision was made to ‘hunt & pounce’, after five minutes of not getting a response to our calls a contact was made, only to be told we had a distorted signal. Quick rechecks of the FT726 were made, drive level, ALC setting along with the connections to the 200w solid state amplifier. A few more contacts made but again told we had a poor signal. On monitoring our output on a spare Icom set, yes we had a horrible signal.
Again we cranked down & luffed over the tower rechecked the feeders & connections a decision was made to run a single Yagi after we got a strange difference in received noise between the two Yagis . The mast was again raised to vertical for checking. Still we had an awful signal. An attempt was made to fire up the reserve FT726, but probably due to the cold temperature, it was about 3c outside, it didn’t want to play so the Icom was pressed into service reducing our output to 100w, as the amplifier couldn’t be immediately configured to be run from that rig. Later the amplifier was put back inline raising our output to a nominal 200w.
However we were back on the air & started making contacts, the received signal reports even improved when we remembered to crank the tower back up to its working height!
Slow but steady progress was made, every station we heard we managed to work, if not immediately but within a couple of calls. After a session of operating I noted that it was now very dark outside & as I stepped out of the operators chair I realised how cold I had become, I was shivering & it wasn’t stopping when I moved about to get the blood flowing. I decided to again go home, as I doubted I would get very comfortable in a sleeping bag that night. I bid Ian & Adam good night.
After sitting in the car with the heater on for a few minutes, I felt comfortable enough to drive home. I had just about warmed up after the 40-minute journey home. Upon reflection I obviously hadn’t fully recovered from a viral infection the week previous.
A warm shower, a hot meal & a good nights rest, I was again fit the next morning to return to the fray. I re-joined Adam & Ian on site & worked the rest of the contest, again a slow but steady rate of contacts, finding new stations who were operating in the 6 hour section & one or two weekend operators who were checking out 2m happily finding the band occupied with signals & were willing to give away points to the rabid band of contesters. But the supply of workable stations gradually withered as contest came to an end at 1400UTC.
At contest end we put the kettle on & discussed our woes, but we were satisfied that despite the difficulties we had put on a working station & had completed the contest even if we hadn’t been as competitive as we would have wished.
We then set about dismantling the station. First was the trailer tent for 2m, followed by the four over four then the trailer tower mounted long yagis. It was as we started dismantling the feeders from the tower that Ian noted that one of the N type connectors had moved forward on the end of the cable probably causing an incomplete connection with the outer as the centre pin was still soldered, had we finally found the fault. Ian found another connector possibly with the same fault. Too late now, but Ian is investigating the feeders.
Just as we had completed the dismantling & were returning items to storage the first proper precipitation of the weekend arrived, wet snow & the breeze picked up as well. So it was a well-chilled, frozen handed & externally dampened G0PDZ who thankfully turned on the car heater to again thaw out on the journey home.
But it was fun, hard work, but fun. Lessons learnt, experience gained & hoping that it will be warmer in May for the next 2m contest, yes I’m going back!
In the end we made 79 claimed contacts, making 30,082 claimed points possibly placing us at 5th place in the open section. Our most distant contact was at 862km with OL4A in the Czech Republic.
It was a pity that this contest, like many weekend contests it appears to being less well supported within the UK & it is sometimes hard to work the EU stations who don’t beam towards the UK routinely or don’t try to work G stations not realising we are also contesting.
The feeders are Westflex giving low loss at VHF, but are fairly stiff & do not like being coiled & uncoiled the long lengths requiring careful handling so as not to damage them by loose coils crimping themselves under their own weight when being managed. Ian is also investigating the crimping N types on this type of foam cored metal foil sheathed type feeders, he has already identified reports of connectors slipping just as we have found due to the foam core ‘creeping’ when the coax moves. It could be that new feeders are required or additional efforts are required to ensure reliable termination of this type of cable.