Having now purchased a season ticket for Parking at Upton Country Park (G-0443) I wanted to make a site-visit to check it out.
I first looked up the map available on-line to see what kind of walk I could have.
I parked up and headed off with my little Maltese / poodle cross Sweety to enjoy the survey!
My objective is to find somewhere where I can work, ideally near the shore/sea as I’m sure even with a magloop that will help with the DX, as shown when I had a fantastic activation down on the Jurassic Coast at Weymouth (loads of Data and Telephony contacts!), I followed the red-path but with the purple de-tour across the bay.
Our route took across a specially built path that crossed a marsh/bay. It was fantastic view across to Poole and many birds could be heard. I immediatly thought how nice it would be to try out the wire-meshing as a counterpoise and right next to the sea ! One to try out for sure. Sweetys paws had no problem on the wire mesh and infact made quite a nice tempo beat as he walked across.
It really is an idealic environment, its hard to image that an massive urban environment is only minutes away, its pure escapisim coming to the country park. The park/council had installed a lovely ‘frame’ to capture the scene (full pic here) I was really in my element enjoying the weather and taking my dog for a walk. There was few but nice people around (Monday evening 19:00 approx) The Corgi pictures with info about The Queens dogs was lovely touch on the Platinium Jubilee.
As Sweety and I’s walk came to end we reached the lovely ‘picnic’ spot – which is a set of lovely wooden seat and table. Whilst its far from the sea, just thinking about operating from here made me really excited. The view was fantastic, a few pylons down the road was the only negative, not sure how much they would effect my experience. The woods was lovely.
I cannot wait to get back to Upton Park with my radio, it is so near and fantastic location to operate from. I am sure it will get me lots of contacts !
After a while away from PoTA and a previous experimentation locally with the AlexLoop only bag, it was time for my next PoTA activation. Based on my QTH location (IO90BS) I used the POTA site to find near but inactivate sites. This is becoming harder as PoTA becomes more popular (a good thing) but its always great to go out and activate a site, as the ‘hunters’ will be on the look out for a new location.
I carefully planned my trip, starting with the day before. I relinquished my beloved IC-705 purpose built bag (LC-192) for going fully Alex-Loop ham pack native. The main drawback of this bag is the lack of padding and overall robustness compared to the alex-loop bag, but I was determined to minimise what I was taking.
Not withstanding the mount itself (I used a bike repair stand) everything fitted nicely in the Alex Loop Hampack bag. This includes in the ‘accessories’ my LiFo battery to keep the IC-705 running for extended time over the internal battery, which as shown in my previous ‘test’ is only good for about 2-3 hours on 5W SSB. The observant will also notice I have my iPad in there, rather than my WinTel based laptop.
I had setup and tested SDR Control back at the QTH, so it should be no surprise that it works well out in the field. What I did notice is that (to its credit) it sets the ‘connectors’ all to WLAN in the app, thus when using the IC-705 microphone (which I currently still prefer), this needs to be set back, else no telephony contacts can be made without the iPad.
Whilst the WX (Weather) wasn’t the best to be operating outside, I got setup in the Bongo quite well, at least I was warm and dry, and the IC-705 was at no risk for rain damage (one of the main issues for SoTA, its just not that rugged compared to the KX series of radios). I set about going across the different FT8 frequency/bands. At least this would be a decent propagation test and also make some contacts. I was able to tune in 40M and get the SWR down to 2:1, which resulted in 2 FT8 contacts on 40M. For a magloop I am happy with those results and on a Data mode where the key-time is longer than that for a typical HF QSO. 17M gave excellent SWR readings and resulted in 3 DX contacts. I returned to 20M and worked a further 4 DX stations via FT8, all on 10W of power into a mag loop in pretty grim WX (rain, thunderstorms)
Whilst not the activation I was expecting due to the weather, being able to diversify and setup in the Bongo resulted in plenty of contacts and being able to (TBC) activate the park. I was really glad to start out on telephony contacts and people thanking me to activate the park, it really makes it worth the time and travel to enjoy PoTA.
Unusually for a bank-holiday (National holiday / day off work) the weather was quite nice, I had already planned my trip to my nearest PoTA park, namely G-0362 Avon Heath, and headed out. I wanted to take a minimal setup to see how I would do !
QRP & Minimal Portable Setup
Alex Loop Hampack antenna
Trolly for bags
I didn’t bring an external battery or even a chair to sit on, opting to just use the bench/seat at the location I was familiar with at Avon Heath. I was interested to see if I could make any contacts and for how long on only 5W and the Internal IC-705 battery. This made getting setup and on-air really easy, using a bungee to attach the loop antenna to the seat.
I’m now starting to start-with telephony QSO’s over FT8 to get started, as such I started out on 20M as this band has plenty of activity and easy to slighty tune the Alexloop between FT8, SSTV and the Phone section of the band.
I was quickly rewarded with QSO’s into Italy and Spain, with my furthest QSO being with EA4GJP with an amazing 860 miles ! Using the MPW calculator I was getting 172 miles per watt for a 595 QSO !
Once re-spotted on the PoTA app I had a flurry of QSOs into Spain – I was rapidly getting used to telephony contacts and logging with pen and paper !
I turned my hand to FT8 but faced computer difficulties again and not having a table/chair didn’t fancy fiddling about with a cable/computer on a bench, reverted to Telephony on 20M again. I did go searching for other PoTA activations, but no chance of a park-to-park today.
With around 2 hours of operating on 5W the battery on the IC705 was almost entirely drained, but with a good set of contacts I felt happy to pack up and head home, whilst I didn’t get 10 this time out, i was glad to see just how good the IC705 and Alexloop antenna is, making it a viable QRP setup which can be easily setup and transported.
I did learn that having a battery will not only extend the life of my operation, as to be expected, but I can operate with only 5W on SSB outside the noise of QTH, which makes doing PoTA all the worth while. My next planned activation is in a very exciting/interesting place and am really looking forward to that !
Firstly the Mazda Bongo is back from Wales after the brakes have been repaired in Bangor ! Very grateful to Kevin at Bangor Kwik-Fit for sourcing all the parts required to get the Bongo back on the road.
When I returned home I found a package from America waiting for me, which turned out to be the connector cable between the Garmin eMAP and Kenwood TH-D7. The only place I was able to find this was an on-line shop in the USA.
When I contacted them they was unable to ship to the UK ! I contacted a friend in Portland who was kind enough to order it for me and send it on to me here in the UK, I was really grateful to get the ‘final’ piece of kit required to use APRS and GPS with my Kenwood TH-D7.
I setup the emap and TH-D7 to produce packets via the beacon method and setup my home computer and IC-9700 to relay APRS packets.
Whilst I have a dual-boot machine, for simple reception and digipeating I’m able to use Direwolf in Windows. I was able to ensure my APRS packets are being transmitted and received before going out and doing a field test.
I headed out with the Mazda Bongo on a trip to one of our local farm shops and then to Poole harbour which made a nice way to spend a trip out and combine with some real data creation.
On return to home I was able to look at APRS.FI and see my route had been nicely recorded and received via various Digipeaters around the IO90BS area. I was quite suprised that the coverage was as good as it was giving the hilly nature of the route and small low-powered 2m/70cm antenna on the side of the Bongo.
Clicking on anyone of the data points will show all the data received and relayed, and from where. In this case we can see I was doing 22MPH on a heading of 101, this was received by M0VPN-1 whereby it was then put into APRS.FI website.
Whilst it took some time to get all the components I needed to get GPS and APRS working with my older Kenwood TH-D7, it has been well worth the wait. I can now setup position reporting and include useful messages, this will be in particular use when en-route to amateur radio activities (weekly club, conventions, POTA activations) and to send messages to other APRS users.
I would recommend that if you are looking to get more from your 2m/70cm experience and have the budget invest in a radio that has GPS & APRS, it may not seem obvious as to why it could be useful to start with, but certainly could be something you may well find yourself using when you have it.
With the weather arriving as predicted, a productive day was had in the shack tidying away whilst the rain poured down on Bournemouth.
With another park activation completed for G-0079 with my 10 FT8 QSO’s recorded, I set about looking for the next park to attempt another activation. It was also good to be spotted by a fellow PoTA operating from Germany (DK8MT).
Even with the bad weather and apart from the early morning walk with Sweety being the only time I had been out, a nice drive survey Holt Heath looked a good way to enjoy a local ride out.
With some online investigation, I was able to determine a position still within the park boundary and a good place to park the bongo.
With the location found, Station Manager and I headed out to investigate first hand. Despite the rain, we enjoyed the lovely ride out and finding a new area we hadn’t previously explored. This is a great benefit of PoTA in exploring and finding these new places, and something we can enjoy doing together irrespective of the weather conditions thanks to the trusty Bongo.
With the rain coming down I didn’t want to venture too far from the Bongo, it was enough to see the heath land with the gauzy bushes which would be a challenge to operate in, but also the decent paths that could provide a good place to setup if the conditions are good enough. There is plenty of space to setup the End-fed antenna as an inverted V or a sloper configuration for sure. Whilst visibly there was no ‘height’ to give any take-off there was also no obstructions nearby, in the distance some pylons could be seen around a mile away.
The drive was short, and interesting, the location viable for both mag-loop from the bongo and also the end-fed antenna depending on the conditions come the day. I am looking forward to see how well the IC705 and either antenna will do in this beautiful location.
It is done ! I have become part of PoTA History by activating Avon Heath Country Park (G-0362). There are plenty of other parks in the area and I’m really excited to continue my PoTA activities.
I have since reverted my Laptops OS back to Windows 10 – I found the USB Driver for Linux wasn’t working correctly with the IC705. Going to Windows and running the default Icom driver I found no issues at all ! This also means I am using recommended logging software for PoTA as seen in the video below.
This will make logging much easier going forward.
I am planning to go out again 13th Feb 22 @ G-0079, which is quite near me and a familiar location to me.
So after a week away I decided to try my luck at Avon Heath Park (G-0362) again. This time I was determined to activate the park in any way I can with the IC705. I really wanted to prove the HFJ-350M toybox antenna was a viable portable antenna. With the Comet CGW-560 radials connected I have tuned it before at the QTH, but never out in the field, where anything and everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
I had purchased a pop-up privacy tent, i had tested and set it up at home, it was really easy (of course). At Avon Heath I encountered two problems. High winds and very stoney ground. The pegs I had would of been fine on firm soil and no wind, but the winds kept the tent blowing away. With one huge gust my tent was gone but i captured it, only for one pole to snap ! I am hoping it can be repaired and used on other less windy trips. I will have to find some of the good ‘corkscrew’ pegs I have used camping before, but have mostly used up/used at home.
The ground at Avon Heath is very sandy, I’m not sure if its a good conductor or not, but I lay the radials over it as I had little alternative. I also found I had left a connector to allow using my rigexpert directly to the antenna at home. This was very frustrating as I was sure I had packed it ! I was able to tune the antenna using the IC705 in built SWR graph, and on 40M FT8 frequency got the SWR down to 2.0 – 2.5, whilst not ideal, it was at least workable.
I was able to check on-site using PSK Reporter that my signal was getting out good enough to be received – the above screen shot is from when I returned home. I did find the mobile app took some getting used to, but still workable (with gloves on !)
I spotted myself on the POTA app page and for 40M FT8, and sure enough I was getting quite a few contacts quite rapidly – not sure if it was because of POTA or just people making FT8 connections, I was just grateful to be making QSO’s on a very compromise antenna and relatively low power.
I had one major annoyance in that when my laptop booted up, the date on it was incorrect, thankfully I could quickly use the wi-fi on my iphone and sync my clock against rolex.ripe.net to get my time correct, however this would mean my 1st contact via WSJTX would need its log entry corrected.
I continued to stick with FT8, determined to activate, i had a great flurry of activity, then the longest time calling CQ, I think this must of been band conditions. When i was making QSO’s I would get to received signal report, but not the import RR or 73 to log it. This was really frustrating as both my computer and mobile phone battery where becoming depleted much quicker than anticipated. I only needed one more QSO to get the 10 needed to activate the park.
I turned on the THD7 and called CQ on 2M for POTA, thankfully and with much joy on my part I contact M7PBT and we quickly moved to 145.575 on 2M. I got a great 59+20 reception report from the higher location, and the final contact needed to activate the park !
I re-spotted myself to say I was going QRT as the weather was going decidedly southwards, so I packed up as quickly as I could, but ensuring there was nothing left behind and keeping the park tidy.
I know FT8 isn’t every ones ‘flavour’ but for me today, it done what I set out to do, activate the park. I also proved that the toy-box antenna is at least viable in data modes on 40m and was very easy to setup, just a case of laying out the radials.
I again with hindsight realised that I took way too much and my initial plan of just my backpack with the IC705 and my laptop would of been more than sufficient for todays digital operating. The backpack really proved its price tag in being strong, comfortable and able to take all my equipment and has space for the THD7 to clip on.
In the cold weather having a cup of coffee and boiled egg really kept me going and energized. I was annoyed at being out in the open with the IC705, I didn’t want to get it wet, but with light rain it was perfectly ok. I think a big poncho will be my best bet.
I did find my laptop was really lacking, the battery almost running out only after a few hours operation and the poor mouse control really shows how I’ve become a ‘touch here on the screen’ person now if I don’t have access to a mouse (laptop only has 1 USB port for IC705 connection). I think a Windows Tablet will help me allot with digital modes and logging software.
My other main learning was that the logging software I had come to depend on wasn’t very good, in its 2nd outing it messed up the log files, resulting in me having to manually craft them. PoTA only except ADIF format, whilst text readable and not binary, can be edited. In my case I had to add my 2M QSO to the WSJT-X export.
I’m awaiting confirmation of my activation but again have learned a huge amount and had a fantastic time out. I want to do at least one activation a month, so am looking for another nearby park which has yet to been activated. PoTA is addictive !
So today was my first Parks on the Air. Armed with the IC705, THD7 and a variety of antennas I set out early from the QTH. The morning walk with Sweety told me it was a cold day, but mild for January, I still wrapped up warm tho.
I had 3 bags of equipment, but the trolley handled it really well, making it quite easy to get to the location I had planned. I started setting up the end-fed antenna, but sadly my enthusiasm got the better of me and ended up snapping the mast when pulling it up ! I quickly setup on the loop and the THD7 on 2M and was pulling in signals from both. It wasn’t a long wait before I had a great QSO with M7PBT on 2M, so was happy to start with that.
When trying HF I could pull in the signals ok. I got a helpful text from G1TEX who was actively listening to me on the HF bands, but sadly I couldnt make a contact. On Tex’s advice, i packed up and moved location away from the Trees. Again the trolly really helped in moving.
Location #2, which was just around the corner, whilst missing a table did have a decent sized bench to sit on and get the equipment on. I could even get me flask out and have a much needed coffee ! Before long G1AJH (Andy) made contact, first on 2M then we coordinated across 17m and 15m, with a weak, but sucssful QSO on 15M. It was just the injection of encouragement I needed to keep going and I continued to persist with calling on 15M, by mid afternoon 15m and 17m had really opened up, I was easily receiving Canada, France and Scotland, trying to break into the pile-ups was really hard work thou, but I kept trying ! Thankfully IT9YAO was amazingly patient and got my callsign and report, I was really made up with making a DX contact on 10W and the loop !
After all the coffee it was time for ‘BoTA’ maybe 🙂 anyhow, I could only giggle at the suggestion made on the G4PRS net last week and felt compelled to take a picture 😀 (Actually it shows how well the facilities are maintained at the Park, its clean and tidy for sure)
I got back home and transferred my paper log to ‘Hamlog’ on my phone, so i could create the ADIF file for submission. Whilst I wont activate the park this time, i will at least show the attempt, where currently there are none.
I really learned allot from today and had huge amounts of fun doing it, yes there was some times of frustration, especially the mast and end-fed not going to plan, but that didn’t deter me from keep trying with what I had.
I think for future activations or any kind of testing, its best to go with the whip and one other antenna, I think taking the whip (attached to the bag) and 2 others was to much, as is, I only stuck with the loop in the end, and not even testing the whip, the time went very quickly !
The most important for me today was that I tried and got out with my radio and I can only get better and learn more by keep going out and trying, which is exactly what I will be doing !
I was originally planning my first Parks on the Air (POTA) this weekend, but circumstances changed and I’ve had to postpone the actual activation. Nethertheless I made good use of the time I did have by going to the park and checking it over. Sweety came along and we had a brilliant walk together.
Arriving at Avon Heath Park my Mazda Bongo will not fit into the regular car park due to height restrictions. There is a large parking area for HGV and PSV’s which other campervan/van type had parked in, so I went there. They should really raise the height of the barrier to 2m10cm like elsewhere in Bournemouth & Poole.
Carrying on from the visitors centre and amenities, there is a nice table/chair next to the reptile and bird lookout. If anything its a great place to sit and enjoy a rest, the pictorial ‘map’ is quite useful as well, but for a full map you can get one in the visitors centre with all the routes. I chose to do the “Viewpoint Trail” which is 3km long.
Sweety and I didn’t need to go far to find a lovely set of table/chairs, not only surrounded by lovely trees, but also a really nice passage to the next section of the park. The area around the benches has well spaced trees, allowing for either using the trees as a place to hook and end fed antenna up, or to put a pole up between them.
The route was easy to follow with well sign-posted arrows to follow, as well as nice posters of the inhabitants of the park. Sweety really enjoyed discovering the woods as well, making plenty of new friends on our walk around.
We had reached the furthest side of the planned walk, although not the park which extends further East from where the photos above where taken. Being the ‘Viewpoint Trail’ small diversions away from the trial give places to sit and enjoy the vistas across the heathland. Even on a cold Janurary day, it was a lovely view, and worth to come here just for relaxing and enjoying the scenery.
Continuing on the pathway I encountered the first real potential problem to operating, that being overhead powerlines. I am unsure if they would interfere with the radio signal by being in the proximity, but of course there is the very real risk to life should the mast fall onto the overhead cables, so that makes setting up in this part of the park a no-go area. We also encountered some very sedate English White Cows, I put sweaty back on his lead right away. Hes pretty good around other animals, but its best to play it safe, we walked by without problem and made it back to the car-park without issue.
In conclusion to the visit I now have a good idea of what I need, or more importantly what i don’t need, to bring with me and the quickest way to go there. Needless to say I’m really excited about coming out and doing PoTA for the first time !
I then came back home and as time allowed I could test the Sotabeams travel mast I had never setup before, even the ropes had to be cut to length for guying. This was quickly done in the space of my back garden and was really please to get the mast up so quickly and easily.
Whilst today should of been about going out and operating, I have made the most out of the time I did have, which I think will make my actual activation a really good experience.
Being a long weekend and an extended time off, it seemed right to head out and enjoy the good weather, albeit quiet windy ! After the excesses of Christmas and nice stroll along the coastline at Heingstbury Head would help me feel less guilty about everything I had eaten and drunk in the last few days..
Christmas Dinner and nice bottle of white wine.
Having packed my back-pack with the Kenwood TH-D7 and SSTV unit Sweety and headed off in the Mazda Bongo. It was quite busy when we arrived, but Sweety was quickly off his lead and enjoying a good run around ! The Wind was really strong but I got up the first hill and made a ‘test’ SSTV transmission back home, which worked really well !
I didn’t use the replay test this time as I was keeping warm and making it across the hill. Once on the other side towards the Isle of White clearly in view I setup for another test transmission using the repeat function, I got a great picture back, but I think moving the radio caused a few a few interruptions, but no complaints !
I settled down with a nice bottle of water whilst Sweety continued to enjoy running around and having a good sniff.
I had a nice QSO via the IoW Ventnor repeater, GB3IW some 25 miles away with a good signal report and newly licenced M7 called David, who was enjoying Echolink and how he was getting on the air with a UV5R as well.
I really enjoyed the THD7 in being able to do both SSTV and a QSO, the walk was really invigorating as well !
Hoping I will do more /P and /M in the New Year, in the mean time I have a couple of projects around the QTH to finish off as well… 🙂