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GM0b : CQ WW 2001 - Dunnet Head

from Brian Devlin GM0EGI on December 19, 2001
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by Brian Devlin GM0EGI

The contest group of the Mid Lanark Amateur Radio Society once again took part in the CQ WW SSB contest, but this year we operated from Dunnet Head, the most Northerly point on the British mainland.

Our plans for the CQ WW SSB contest 2001 took an early change as we had originally planned to return to the Island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides, where we had operated the previous year.  However, Derek GM0EEY phoned to say that he had moved to the Island of Grimsay and now did not have enough accommodation or space for the antenna farm.

I quickly sent an e-mail to the GM0B members and told them that we had a problem.  We decided to have an emergency meeting to discuss our options as it is not easy to find a suitable multi-multi site at short notice.   I obtained holiday cottage brochures and took them to the meeting for discussion, but none of the accommodation seemed suitable, either no land for antennas or not enough room for ops and how do you tell the owner that you want to bring mobile towers, etc., onto the site. 

We were discussing this serious blow to our plans when I happened to mention the advert in Radcom for the bed and breakfast ( with shack ) at Dunnet Head.   I had seen this advert several times previous, but had never really taken a great deal of notice of it, however, Tom MM0BHX said I'll give them a phone.   So Tom went off to phone, while I said to the others that Murphy had struck early this year.   Murphy had been an all too well known member of our group last year and unknown to us, at that time, he was planning to play a several tricks on us again this year.    After about 10minutes Tom came back and said I have good news and bad news.   What's the bad news, I asked,  Tom said the bed and breakfast has been sold ! and the good news ? I asked, it's been bought by another radio amateur and he is willing to have us for the contest.      

It turned out that the bed and breakfast accommodation with tearoom, had been purchased by another radio ham, Brian Sparks GM4JYB and his Partner Tina Irving.    The accommodation was situated right on the top of a cliff overlooking the Pentland Firth towards the Orkney Islands and that it had three fields to the rear which we could use for our antenna farm.   

Brian Sparks advised that as the B&B/tearoom season closed at the end of September, we could virtually have the run of the place during the October contest and as there were two double bedrooms, one triple bedroom and a four berth caravan available there was plenty of sleeping accommodation for the team and space for the six stations.    Four of the stations could to be located in the tearoom and other two in Brian's own shack to the rear of the premises.   

Hoping to increase our score this year we planned to improve our contest equipment, particularly our antenna systems, by purchasing Monoband Beams for 10m, 15m and 20m.   To this end we bought a 3 element 20m Monobander and a 4 element 10m Monobander directly from WIMO in Germany, i.e. ZX-YAGI.  ( We very much appreciated the serious discount afforded to us by ZX-Yagi and plan adding their logo to both our website and our QSL cards. )  We also purchased a second-hand HYGAIN 5 element 15m monobander from the Crawley ARS.   In addition, we bought a good 60ft lattice tower, unfortunately it was affixed to a rather dilapidated trailer which had neither wheels or an axle.  However, after the team's hard work renovating our purchase, it was a work of art, complete with metal storage boxes, fixed climbing ladder, antenna transport brackets and few other niceties.  A real custom built contest trailer, although perhaps a little heavy with all the extras.   

Another improvement, deemed essential by the group, was that Kenny GM1MMK got a LPG gas conversion kit fitted to his Range Rover ( See last year's story about the 12miles to the gallon ) so it would save us a fortune, and I mean a fortune, in fuel costs.  

Whilst we were changing our equipment for the better, unfortunately there was going to be team changes for the worse.   It would be impossible for Derek GM0EEY, a teacher, to leave Dunnethead on Sunday night after the contest and return to Benbecula in time for school first thing Monday morning, so he had to drop out.    Also, Craig MM0BUL who is in the R.A.F. and based in Lincoln thought he may be in either ZD8 or VP8 at the time of the contest, so we would have to wait and see.    That was worrying as we would be two good operators down from the previous year.  

During the year our club had held a couple of rallies and open days where I had given a slide show of our efforts in the CQ WW Contest 2000 and at one of these events Graham GM3RTJ intimated he was very interested and asked if he could join us.   I said that I would discuss his request with the rest of the team and let him know, however, as he mentioned he could provide another 60ft mobile mast, his possibility of joining had dramatically increased. 

Our contest group had also put a web site on the net and Mark GM0WIB having come across it, sent an e-mail to Tom MM0BHX advising he would love to take part in a multi-multi contest and if there was ever a place on the team he would wish to be considered. 

We discussed the prospect of allowing two unknown amateurs to join our group and decided that as we would be two operators down, we would offer the these places on a trial bases.     Both were suitably notified ~ Mark replied stating he would buy the new wire ropes needed to renovate our tower and Graham replied advising he would borrow a Raynet trailer tower and take it to Dunnethead.   Things were starting to shape up nicely. 

As the contest approached we started to get everything ready, rigs, coax, amplifiers, laptops, power supplies, poles, guy lines, pegs, etc.    I had rebuilt our 50ft high vertical for 80m which had been broken the previous year by gale force winds on the Isle of Benbecula and now the MK II version was decidedly Benbecula proof.   I had also made a 40m ground plane with 4 elevated radials to replace the previously used 40m array.   The array was good, but little too directional and it could not be easily rotated.  

The day of our departure had finally arrived and the group consisting of  GM0EGI, GM0LIR, GM0OQV, GM0XFK, MM0BHX, GM4VWV, GM7VYR & GM1MMK left the Stirling area at 8:00am heading north.   We had arranged to meet Graham GM3RTJ and Mark GM0WIB at 12:00pm in Inverness, as Graham was coming from the west near Oban and Mark was coming from the east near Fraserburgh.   We were in convoy and following Kenny GM1MMK in his newly converted Range Rover as he was doing a guided tour of all of the garages in Scotland that sold LPG.  ( Well it seemed like all of the garages ! ) 

As Kenny was towing the heavy trailer we were keen for him to get the cheaper LPG at every opportunity, so our first stop was Perth.   We found the specialist garage and as it was a tight squeeze with the trailer, we decided to unhitch it and let Kenny take the car in on its own.    With the trailer being a bit nose heavy, it took most of the group standing its rear to lift it off the tow ball.     Unfortunately when the trailer was unhitched the Range Rover shot off down the incline, driverless, and smashed into the front of Tom's Jeep Grand Cherokee.   Murphy again, thankfully the damage was minimal, no damage to the Range Rover and only a small crack in the number plate of the Jeep.   After this incident we once more headed off north in convoy, working each other on VHF and the DX of HF using an assortment of mobile rigs and whips.     

On arrival at Inverness and after refuelling with LPG once again, we suggested to Kenny that he raise the height of his towing hitch as the bottom of the trailer was just two inches (50mm) above the ground and there were some rough roads ahead.    So with gusto and without question Kenny whipped out his tool kit and started making the necessary adjustments.   During his labours he quietly mentioned the weld on this tow bar looks suspect    We all looked at each other, said nothing, crossed our fingers and hoped Murphy would stay away.     Kenny finished his alterations and we went for lunch before setting off on the final leg of our trip to Dunnet Head. 

We finally arrived at our contest site around 4:00 pm and decided to try and get the towers into position while we had some daylight left.    Kenny was first to drive through the gate and into the fields with his heavily laden vehicle and the heaviest of trailers.    However, he immediately ground to a standstill with wheels spinning, entirely blocking the entrance into the middle field.    The ground was so waterlogged by the previous month's rain that the Range Rover sank right up to it axles.  I had to attach a tow rope to my Isuzu Trooper and tow both the trailer and the Range Rover back out.  ( Kenny was mortified ! )    Fortunately, to Kenny's delight, the Isuzu Trooper also got stuck in the mud when circling back out of the field and Brian Sparks's Kerosene powered tractor was called upon to pull us both out.    We had a quick meeting to discuss this new development and decided to leave the heavy trailer on the harder ground near the field entrance and to take the lighter mobile mast into the middle field. 

Everything went to plan after that and we placed the two trailer towers and our ten metre free standing tower in position.   It was quickly getting dark now, so we all decide that we should stop the outside work and go in for dinner.  After dinner we decided to sort out the inside operating positions and set up our laptops for our logging system. ( all thirteen of them, we only needed six, but better safe than sorry ! )   It was not much later that a tired group of operators decided that it was time for bed, as we had   long busy days ahead.

The following morning we got to work immediately after breakfast.   We had an area of 600ft2 for our antennas and 1,000m of coax to ensure good spacing between the beams.  This would eliminate the break-through we experienced the previous year ( even with band pass filters ) which was due to the close proximity of the beams, ultimately the result of being short of coax.   We had decided to put the 80m vertical and the 10m Monobander 200m away from the  shack so that was 400m of coax used in the first two runs !    

The antenna farm consisted of a half wave dipole for top band up about 55ft, a 50ft vertical for 80m, a 40m Vertical with 4 elevated radials, a 40m Windom up about 50ft, a 3 element 20m Monobander on a 60 ft tower, a 5 element 15m metre Monobander on a 60ft tower and a 4 element 10m Monobander on a 30ft tower.   ( With other dipoles available for back-up ) 

Everything went fine with the antenna farm at first, as we got all the beams built and fixed onto the towers, the 40m Vertical was raised and we were in the process of putting our 80m Vertical up when Murphy struck again.   The antenna snapped about 10ft above the base with an almighty crack, so it was back to the workshop with the antenna for repair.   Mark, Kenny and myself managed to repair the damage with a glass fibre sleeve which allowed the rest of the team raise the antenna back up into position, this time using a gin pole. 

At about 3:00pm Iain, GM0OQV received a phone call from his wife, advising his seven week old daughter had been taken into hospital and he would need to return home ( would Murphy ever give us a break ? )   It was decided that Iain should take the Range Rover, so he headed off on the seven hour journey home with our thoughts going with him.   We were now another operator down and being depressed at the bad news the rest of the day's work was executed without the usual banter.   Later that day, for a change, we had a bit of luck, John GM7GKN a professional antenna rigger/installer phoned to say that he was on his way up to help out.   John had previously told us that he may be able visit during the contest depending on work commitments, so we would be glad of his assistance.  It was now getting dark and we were both tired and ravenously hungry as we had worked non-stop from 8:30am in the morning until 5:00pm without lunch, snack or even a tea-break.     We cleaned up and went into a Chinese restaurant in Thurso and spent over £200 filling our stomachs, and I can vouch that there was absolutely nothing left on any plate, or in beer glass. 

After dinner it was back to the bed and breakfast.   Before going to bed, Bob GM4VWV decided to have a quick listen on the 10m band and was announcing an aurora was in process when I entered shack and said Bob, do you want to SEE an aurora ?   Standing in the back garden of the B&B in the dark, we had an excellent view of the aurora, commonly known as the Northern Lights in the sky over the Orkney islands.  A wonder to be seen, never to be forgotten !    

Friday dawned and after breakfast it was back to work again, as the final coax and rotator cables had to be run and connected, the towers to be cranked up, guys tightened.    Whilst we were working on the 15m tower, a Tornado fighter plane flew in exceptionally low from the north and I am sure that the pilot got quite a fright, as there would not have been such an extensive array of antennas there the last time made his low level run over our cliff.    From our position in the field, due to the angle of approach, the tornado looked as if it was below the top of our antennas.  ( of course it wasn't, or was it ? see the photograph on our web page ) 

Murphy struck again Friday morning.   Brian the owner of the B&B came out and told us, just as we were about to test the rotators, that the entire village had lost its power.  So there we were working away not knowing if the power would be returned in time for the contest and wondering where we could hire generators at short notice ?  The power did, however, came back in mid afternoon after some sterling work by the Scottish Hydro Electric Co. 

On the return of power we attached the rotator cable and Murphy once more appeared, none of the beams would turn.  We decided that due to the length of the rotator cables, voltage drop was the problem on the 10 & 20m  rotators, but we were unsure of the problem with the 15m beam as it was closer to the shack.  We doubled up on the runs of control cables to the furthest away towers and thankfully we got the 10m  beam working, but the 20m rotator would not work at all.    Graham said that the tower/rotator had not been used for about 18 months.  The last time it was used was during the IOTA contest, when it helped the group, on Ghigha, to be Number One in the World. 

It was decided that the 20m rotator would need to be changed, so John GM7GKN and I decided to go up the tower and replace it.   Gordon GM7VYR did not believe that it would be possible to do that job without taking the tower down, but as I had done the job before I told him that it would be O.K.   John and I climbed the tower and clipped on, then proceeded to remove the rotator.   John undid the bolts on the clamp/head unit, whilst I lifted the stub mast complete with 3 element beam, letting John pull out the rotator, fix it to a rope and lower it to the team at ground level.  The spare rotator was attached to the rope, pulled up and installed in the reverse order.

As it was now dark we hoped that everything would work, as hanging on a tower and working in the dark is not much fun.   In fact John mentioned whilst we were working at high level, that if he was at his place of employment he would not have been allowed to stay on the tower in the dark.     

The problem with the 15m rotator was never fully resolved and the rotation of the 15m beam was limited to 100 degrees.   So we were handicapped on that band for the entire contest.     We learn a valuable lesson which you would think was obvious ~ all rotators must be serviced, tried and tested in advance of the contest. 

We went in for dinner and began to prepare for the start of the contest.    We were fired up and ready to attack the contest, but without realising it we were quite tired from the previous couple of days work.   Next year we plan to extend or trip by another day to give ourselves a little respite before the contest.   

The contest started and we got to work on the bands that were open, as usual for us the wind got up during the night and once again we lost our 80m Vertical to the gales.   I had made it Benbecula proof but not Dunnet Head proof, so it's back to the drawing board for this antenna.  The rest of the contest passed mainly without incident.  Iain GM0OQV phoned to say that as his daughter was back on the road to recovery and he would return on Monday to help strip out the gear. 

The only other problems during the contest were medical, Phil GM0LIR, Tom MM0BHX and Kenny GM1MMK were all suffering sore throats and hoarseness, in fact almost until the start of he contest Phil had lost his voice completely and couldn't speak.  In addition, Mark GM0WIB suffered from raging toothache and subsequently had two teeth removed on the Tuesday after the contest  ( He was very disappointed that the tooth fairy did not leave an FT-1000MP Mk V and an Alpha Linear which he had hoped for. )    

On the Monday after the contest it was strip down time and it took us most of the day to remove all evidence of our visit to Dunnet Head.    In the evening we went out for dinner to celebrate ~ I won't say to celebrate a successful contest, but I will say another most enjoyable contest with plenty of satisfaction all round.    During the dinner, we asked ourselves will we do it again ?,  you bet ! was the resounding reply and we have already booked with Brian and Tina for next year so we will be operating from the same QTH in CQ WW 2002. 

Tuesday morning, it was time to head home and we agreed to go via John o' Groats as some of the group had not been there before, so we headed off in that direction to get photographs taken at the famous "Signpost".   After our photo call we headed homeward and everything was fine for 15 miles until Murphy used his piece de resistance.  We were chatting on 2m when Kenny shouted Stop, Stop, Stop, then stony silence.   Tom MM0BHX and I who were driving the other 2 cars in the convoy, as Mark and Graham had both left earlier, were about 400 yards ahead, stopped and listened in anticipation.     When Kenny came back on air he said that the weld on the tow bar had finally fractured and the trailer was now sitting on the road.    So there we were miles from anywhere and with no means of moving the trailer, so Kenny phoned the AA and they said that they would send out a tow truck.  Approximately an hour later the tow truck arrived, hitched up our trailer and took it away to the local yard for later delivery to our home location.   The tow bar was tied up with a piece of rope and we continued home a little faster than originally expected.   ( It was about ten days later before the trailer was finally delivered our home location complete with our gear, thankfully intact. ) 

We are still on a steep learning curve as a contest group and we have a lot of work to do, but we can only get better.  We had better antennas this year for 10, 15 and 20m, but our 80 metre antenna still lets us down.  The rotator problems really caught us out this year, but that will not happen again.   We need to try and get vertical on top band,   I will have a go at making a Battle Creek Special and rename it as a GM0B Special, and hope that it stays up ! 

Although we had a lot of problems we had a lot of fun and that is what it is all about, its' a hobby after all.   Having got home we received an e-mail from Mark thanking us for letting him join our group, he said that he had a great time, in spite of the toothache and that he had never worked with a group of individuals before who had put in so much work, individually and collectively for the good of a team.   Basically that sums us up, we will put the work in regardless of the problems, I am sure that Murphy will visit again next year and if he does we will once again sort him out. 

We would really like to thank everyone who helped us, but a special thanks goes to Eddie GM4XLU who donated gear for the bring and buy sale which ultimately made a lot of money for our equipment and also for the loan of his linear.  Thanks also to Alex GM0LYM for the loan of his FL7000 linear  and thanks to the members of Mid Lanark Amateur Radio Society for their generous financial contributions and loan of club equipment.  Finally a special thanks to Brian and Tina at the Dunnet Head tearooms for letting us take over their home and for letting us come back next year.  ( We Hope ? )

Thanks to everyone who gave us a call, please work us again next year, the QSL cards will be processed in the new year and posted as quickly as possible.  

Member Comments: Add A Comment
GM0b : CQ WW 2001 - Dunnet Head Reply
by K8DO on December 27, 2001 Mail this to a friend!
Yuo really have to WANT to contest to put up with this much misery....
GM0b : CQ WW 2001 - Dunnet Head Reply
by K5ZD on January 1, 2002 Mail this to a friend!
Wow, what an effort. But as you say, it is all part of the fun. We appreciate the QSOs and look forward to a less eventful (but equally entertaining) operation in 2002!
GM0b : CQ WW 2001 - Dunnet Head Reply
by GW4VEQ on February 3, 2002 Mail this to a friend!
Many thanks for a very interesting contesting article. I couldn't help but be interested in Dunnet Head as I spent time on my honeymoon in the coastguard cottages right at the end of Dunnet Head near the Orkney lookout point and the lighthouse. The xyl and I called in and had a nice meal at the cafe you set up your aerials for CQWW. At that time the cafe was in "ham" ownership too, I used to work the guy on 2m Aurora from Anglesey. The very best of luck to your contest group for the future, and I hope you all enjoy future events as much as you did this event.

73 de T O N Y .. GW4VEQ
GM0b : CQ WW 2001 - Dunnet Head Reply
by OK1QM on February 9, 2002 Mail this to a friend!
Hello Brian,

thank you for your very interesting article.
Yesterday I read it three times having a map of Scotland at me and lived through the whole adventure
with you. I saw some pictures from your beautiful country so I also traveled below the high mountains and around Loch Shin, HI.
Today I am looking forward to see also your result which I missed in your article.
I wish to you and your team another similar experience
without all those troubles of course and good luck in the contests.

73´s and hope to meet you on the bands.
Jan, OK1QM.
RE: GM0b : CQ WW 2001 - Dunnet Head Reply
by gm0b on June 23, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
Many thanks for your kind comments regarding our article GM0B CQ WW 2001 : Dunnethead.

Our other stories ( 2000 & 2002 ) are on our NEW web page ~

We are anticipating the use of a new site this year. The Location will be AVONDYKE, near Stonehouse in IO85AQ, WAB NS74. So listen out for us in the CQ WW SSB contest in October. ( Hoping to make better use of the propagation being further south. )

We will be glad to work you on any band.

73's de MM0BHX / (GM0B )
Tom Costford
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