Monthly Archives: October 2008


JOTAMassive success this year with the new antenna, generating huge pile-ups world-wide. We shall never go near 80m again for JOTA. 20m is the band that synchronises extremely well with passing Scouting messages around the world, particularly if you have a technically proficient station and crew.

I notice Tim (M0URX) has done a little write up of this event here:

Needless to say, if having ones Cub pack sending their greetings message to the Father in Law to the Crown Prince of Brunei isn’t one-upmanship, I don’t know what is 🙂

It is just for me to say thanks to Tim, James and Terry for helping me put on such a sterling event. The QSL cards have started arriving already! Fabulous.



CQWW – M0XXT Report

This year, James and I ran M0XXT at the Scout Hut using a pair of XXT Mega Loops; a full size 160m version and a half-sized one which suited the top end of 80m and 10m. Full-sized Mega Loops don’t work on 10m. I ran out of time to put up a TX vertical for top band, even though I did finally finish making it ready for tuning by Saturday morning during my “off” times at night. Another job for next year.

M0MCX running M0XXT CQWW 2008RF was via one of our FT1000MP radios and amplified by an ACOM. A pair of Dell PCs running N1MM did the logging. We networked the PCs for disaster recovery purposes and used the second copy of N1MM on the spare PC a couple of times when RF shut down the run machine. We were Multi-Single.

The antennas really worked miracles, showing almost unbelievable gain which in the main distil to 6 equally spaced compass fingers or lobes – with the main RF being squirted at around 290 degrees (since it’s slightly twisted off it’s X axis due to the perfect location of the local oak trees for USA propagation). I won’t bore you with the compass bearings, it is suffice to say that these RF fingers cover most high density population areas of the globe. The whole topic of these XXT Mega Loops needs a chapter to themselves and as I write this on Monday evening, I can report that this afternoon I ran a huge pile-up to the west coast US at about 16:00z, at one point switching the amplifier off and continuing to run the pile up with 10 watts (!) which reduced our average incoming signal report to 5 and 7 from 20dB over S9. Even on 40m, the gain figures are healthy with 5dB at 10 degree take off angles to the US. 80m is just a big bubble of RF but with the antenna at 90 feet elevation, at least the bubble has some flatness to it. Same with 160m – hence the idea of a massive vertical.

No real technical surprises this year. Everything worked out first time, only after updating SCP did I realise that M0XXT wasn’t shown in the database! What a numbskull. I meant to drop Randy a line to ask for this new call to be added. Having our call queried heavily was quite normal and tedious.

Strategically, we didn’t really have a plan. We believed we would conquer the world and be louder than anyone else(!). We’d just shout louder 🙂 Of course it doesn’t work like this and after my 6th CQWW, I can genuinely say that I was yet again blown away by the strong signals on 40m. I even reminded James that this would happen, but it was worse. Isn’t it always like that? This damned loop might be great on TX but you can’t dial out the QRM! I feel some receiving antennas coming on..

I can’t remember when I slept. I do know that between Friday morning and Monday morning, I had 5 and a half hours of the stuff and my diet consisted of everything that the Weight-Watchers lady took me off! I haven’t eaten like that since I was 18 🙂

As a team, we had some fabulous times scoring 97 countries on 20m and 92 on 40m. We wanted DXCC on both bands but it wasn’t to be. Had we known that 10m was going to close on Sunday, we’d have spent more time increasing our multiplier-score on that band during Saturday. Experience counts and we lack quite a bit sometimes.

W3LPL spotted M0XXTI personally had a couple of exceptional highlights that I’ll remember for a while. The first was on Saturday evening, running a split to the US on 40m and getting a pile up for my money. The rate meter peaked at 230 which I thought was pretty darned good. At one point, I burst out laughing with a mixture of adrenaline rush and terror! I have never had a high-gain antenna to the US and just didn’t think that it was possible to have so many people calling you! Getting spotted by W3LPL made it worse (or better..!!).

The second was during the last half-hour of the contest. We happened to find a tiny gap at the bottom of 80m. I was happy just to score a dozen stations and wrap the deal up. Instead I had another pile-up after being spotted by an EI station. When I remembered to look, the rate meter was at 199 whilst I worked 60 of the bigger ticket Dubyas side-by-side DK and PAs inside 30 minutes. Showing off? You bet! Just fantastic.

Most of the time, we doubled up on the headphones with the spare man checking email and stuff, on standby for some nasty QRM busting ears. N1MM has the CTRL E feature for shooting messages to each other. We used this to fire callsigns at the runner to help them out. Well, I happened to hear an Italian station call us and he used our callsign so we didn’t confuse his call to us for someone else. His pronunciation of “Xray Xray” can only be described as “eggs-ray eggs-ray”. I thought this was quite funny and shot it over to James using the CTRL-E feature. What happened next is one of those moments where everyone gets the giggles. I had to run out the room and laugh out loud in the park (in the middle of the night. No wonder the locals stay away from me!!).

The precise scoring is on a memory stick so I’ll have to report that another time, however we made just under 1.5 million points – and although the station was running for 48 hours, we had plenty of downtime and research moments. James and I can be accidental science professors and it’s unfortunate when a great idea for a piece of software or a new antenna pops up. Everything has to stop while we consider it. Of course in the middle of a decent run this is impossible but band changes can slow the rates down to a dribble. The mind wanders and before you know it, we’re demonstrating a new system of antenna erection or a complete re-write of N1MM. What a hobby!

As I was drifting off to sleep last night (like a breeze block!), I remembered a load of lessons learned topics to write down. Now I can’t remember them. My top tips therefore rely on my favorite topic; having fun. It’s just a game.



XXT Mega Loop Update

XXT Meage LoopSaturday / Sunday saw us tear down the minutely designed and executed 28.5m leg triangle and on the spur of the moment, we put one up twice the size. It only JUST fits at 57 meters each leg, and again this is a perfect triangle. At 20m in height, we should have experienced nearly 15dBi towards North America and sure enough we ran a string of US stations all Saturday and Sunday scoring on both days into California with signal reports in the 57s and 58s. Exceptional. But these lobes don’t just work into US, we worked Ethiopia, Brunei, Bermuda, VK9, the list goes on and on. This is a serious loop and great fun for running on – it’s also nearly invisible!

For the geeks, this is essentially a perfect triangle – and it HAS to be a perfect triangle otherwise you won’t get these high-gain lobes. Squares and circles are for the low band cloud warmer brigade, this is for the higher band DX hunters and goodness did it work well. It’s an instant pile-up generator.

Shall we use for CQWW? You bet – and we’re looking forward to a couple of thousand contacts and I’m so impressed with it, that I might put it up again next year for SSB Field Day since as an all-band antenna, it works from 80m upwards. Indeed, it will also work most comfortably on 160m (since it’s really a single wavelength for 160m) but we rarely go down there.

Look out for my Jamboree On The Air report where I’ll discuss this antenna – as well as our success with the Beavers and Cubs last weekend. Needless to say, if having one’s Beavers passing greetings messages to the Father in Law of the Crown Prince of Brunei on 20m band isn’t one-upmanship, I don’t know what is!



Firing guy wires over 100 foot trees

My other recent article discusses our XXT Loop that relies on three very high trees equally placed as an equilateral triangle would be. Initially, my design focussed on a 2 wavelength loop for 80m. This required not only a serious amount of high quality copper wire but some extremely capable trees!

Cutting the design by half had some advantages, namely I needed only 80 meters of hard-drawn copper wire instead of 160 meters and I could trade off the whole of the scout field into something a little more manageable – three trees nearer the shack! Luckily, I recently found 600 meters of high quality enamelled antenna wire going for a song (eight quid actually!) which has assisted this experiment 🙂

XXT Loop

Anyway, I drew this to scale using Google Earth and Paint Shop Pro and had my Cubs measure the trees one night as part of a badge (very satisfying!). It turns out that these trees are in the 85 to 100 feet feet category, the real Daddies of the local Oak Trees! Of interest, if north is “up” and the feedpoint is over on the far right, the major gain is over to the north west area (WNW to be precise).

Getting rope over the top of these trees was a real test and over the last few days I’ve been doing some major development work into designing something that will reliably shoot a fishing wire over the top of these. May I say now that once I had perfected the “gun”, it is certainly one of the most satisfying and exhilarating events to shoot a weight over the top of a 100 foot tree watching tens of meters of fishing line fly off every second as it lofts over its target. An amazing experience to have it all finally working in perfect unison.

I can hardly bring myself to tell you the precise details of how you can achive this since it cost me not only a few pennies in wasted fishing reels but many frustrating hours (days!) with various contraptions before I hit the nail on the head reliably every time. I know you can buy such “guns” in the USA, however if you really want to accomplish this on a home-brew front, you can either email me with a very grovely email or buy me copious amounts of beer in the local pub to extract the truth!

Catapult Fishing Rod Gun

Since a picture paints many words, I’ve attached pictures of both failures and successes. In the catapult / fishing reel ONLY picture (the first one), the line is essentially too close to the catapult and upon launch, it snaps all too quickly or jerks the weight down to the earth immediately.

Using the extended fishing rod though means that the line is longer which takes up the initial jerk much better as it all takes off. The breaking strain is critical. Too low and it snaps, too high and it’s too heavy and doesn’t reach its target.

Finally the weight. I found that in most cases, a single 10mm heavy stainless nut was suffice. However late this afternoon, a particularly high tree was proving extremely difficult. I needed the projectile to travel further and ended up moving to three 10mm nuts. Exerting as much force as I could muster (more than ever before) I launched the three nuts at the top of the tree and whooosh, it all went over. Extremley satisfying since had I got that wrong, I could have easily crushed a finger or have the nuts fly off into the countryside somewhere. Quite worrying actually, all that force going wrong (indeed having my nuts flying off into the countryside would also have been worying!).

Catapult Fishing Rod Gun

Of course, once the nylon line is over the tree, one has to track it down which easier said than done. Walking around a field looking like a dancing fairy with arms out-stretched to find the line has the locals glaring hard – but the most effective. I tried lacing ribbons and coloured string to track the projectile but this just caused jams and further problems.

Once found, attaching a strong cord is the next battle. Luckily, I have studied knots keenly over the last 18 months to become the district knot champ, however I soon learned that having a knot that would actually undo under pressure was best, not only for the weight on the line but also for the cord. The last thing you want is a stuck weight or cord up a tree. Before I worked this out, I lost about 50 meters of line in a tree in smaller increments. It  glistens most interestingly in the sun. I only hope it breaks down and disintegrates next summer because the thought of it up there is most embarrasing. In the end, I discovered that applying small amounts of duck-tape so that in the event of a stuck line 100 feet in the sky, a hard pull would allow the weight to drop to the ground and the line to spring free. It’s a better solution.

I recently found some genuine American paracord from a supplier on eBay. It’s not cheap but it’s very strong and doesn’t seem to stretch much. I bought a 200 meter run. It has a 500 pound breaking strength so I’m guessing half that is a safe working load. Basically, if I can pull it with all my might, I’m happy. Attaching the line to the cord and pulling it over slowly normally did the trick – well, most times. Sometimes it doesn’t want to play so I discovered the best method of attaching my lines to my paracord to reduce that issue. I’m not telling you which method I discovered since that’s worth another pint of local ale!

Finally this afternoon, I am left with three trees with paracord running all the way up, all the way over and all the way down again. I’ve tied them off using step ladders so the local youths don’t muck with them.

Tomorrow is antenna build day. Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Post Script: Good news, the antenna worked a treat, see:



Living in Monte Carlo

I posted this here:

I have memories of my time based in Monte Carlo as a Steward on board Milamba IV, a 108 foot steel displacement Feadship with a very British (Campers and Nicholson refit) style and British crew.

Milamba IVIn 1979 I had hitch-hiked to the South of France after dreaming of someday working on a luxury yacht. I was 18 at the time and the 6 months I was there has since become quite a fantasia of memories, from serving Robert Mitchum dinner (he really was very tall) to having the smart Italian men on board for lunch off the Islands on Cannes. Most of the visitors were extremely secretive, some I recognise now as heavy-weight industrialists on the TV, in those days they just flexing their young muscles.

John Ryan was my Boss, he was the last Chief Steward of Queen Mary (yes, the first Queen Mary!). We had a Canadian Capt and his younger brother John, our engineer. Gary, a former Royal Navy diver was our deckhand with Peter dropping in as a Chauffeur / spare deckhand. A Glaswegian, Grant was our chef. All in all, for an ex Public School preppie like me, it was completely normal. Crew quarters were cramped with three small twin cabins and tiny mess; U shaped dinette and combined lounge facing a massive row of freezers huddled up in the bow. We had enough food to last most people a lifetime. The Captain had his own cabin near the bridge.

When we were at port, my job started at about 6:30 in the morning with a cup of coffee and a Marlboro whilst hanging out the side door of the galley bathing in the morning sun. Once dressed in smart white trousers and yacht-branded T-Shirt, I would start the brass polishing, dusting and vacuum cleaning. We had a lot of brass, particularly the banister rail from the owner’s cabin to the saloon. On a number of occasions, I would put the Brasso on and forget to polish it off! The Boss wasn’t happy.

During breakfast, I dashed into the cabins and made the beds and cleaned the bathrooms. This could be a busy day if we had guests and I would sometimes negotiate with them as to the best time to do their cleaning. The best answer was of course, “don’t bother”!

After breakfast, Ryan and I would clear away and I’d wash up. If we were in Monaco (our home port), at around 10:30 fresh flowers would arrive. I would spend time with “Madam” to put them out. I had a bit of a crush on her. She was quite young and really nice and pretty!

Often we had lunch visitors so I might go into the market with Grant mid-morning to get some fresh food in. He used me as his “mule” and would load me up with lots of bags. He always insisted on shopping in full chef whites, branded accordingly with our yacht name etc. I was very proud of him as the sellers would insist that Grant come to the front to the queue and the locals would all stop and watch us. Grant would be offered free samples of fruit or maybe some fish. He would nod accordingly and then promptly order in his deep Scottish accent. He couldn’t speak French at all and it was extremely funny watching him negotiate for quantities. He would complain to me when the conversation would stall and he would be left wondering what he’d ordered! At least I could speak some of the local lingo!

Nearer lunchtime, I’d help him as he rushed about preparing some exotic meal. During this slack period, I often became his kitchen porter, changing out of my white T Shirt and donning an apron to wash his horrid pots!

Milamba IV PortsideAt lunch, Ryan would normally ban me from entering the saloon whilst the visitors arrived and mingled. Sometimes, he forgot and I would help until he ushered me out. He liked the limelight I think and didn’t want me cramping his style. From the galley, I would hear the guests laughing. Sometimes, he would bark at me to follow in behind him with crisps and nuts etc, but mostly he had me as back-up on stand-by outside the galley. Often, Ryan and I would just stood to, outside the galley, our ears alert to the sound of the tinkling. Finally, Grant would indicate that he was ready to serve. Ryan would give me a little smile, he would calm right down and say, “regardless of the pandemonium we’ve been through this last 90 minutes, now we must be Lords and walk in with our heads high and our standards at the same level. Are you ready?” It always amused me when he told me to act like a Lord since I always they were drunk, however I knew what he meant!

The guests would marvel at me being so polished and young (I looked about 14!). I remember the Boss telling me to serve him from the “wrong side” once because of the extra visitors we’d had that day, I couldn’t get past to get to his left. The entourage chuckled with him at my predicament. Of course, eventually they’d all disappear drunk into the afternoon sky and the Boss would go down for his 2 hour sleep and calm would descend.

Afternoons were often very peaceful. As crew, we were allowed to sunbathe on the bow amongst the anchor chains etc. Sometimes I would wander off to the bar in the town, overlooking all the yachts and sit there sipping a Coke, marvelling at my very strange life. Of course, some afternoons were very busy and we’d be dragging our anchor (and everyone else’s!) off the bottom of Monte Carlo harbour just to pop out for a couple of hours of show-off time. Sometimes, “Madam” would have a friend on board and I could hear them giggling when they pressed the button for me to turn up on the boat deck. They found it very amusing to order drinks and snacks off me and they’d giggle when I turned up. Once, her girlfriend (I think her old “best friend” from school who came visiting for a few days when the Boss was away) intentionally let her bikini-top slip down and they both howled with laughter, slightly tipsy. Of course, being so young, I pretended that life was completely normal like this.

Every Friday afternoon, we sailed to St Tropez and parked stern-in right opposite the Gorilla bar (La Gorille?) making a huge show for the holidaying public. We would be on best behaviour, throwing our ropes and fenders about to best effect. Madam would be calmly sitting on the aft deck with Mr Boss whilst we put the best show on town on. The crowd would marvel at our skill. We became “family” for half an hour for the benefit of our egos and the Boss’s approval before going back to our normal bickering selves.

Mostly, Peter will have followed us to St Tropez in the Boss’s beautiful mahogany twin Chrysler V8 Riva powerboat. I adored that boat with its cream leather seating and vast engine cover to lie down on when it was whooshing along. On Saturday afternoon, we would usher the Boss and Madam to one of the beaches using our Zodiac as a kind of backup. We would act like MI6, delivering our cargo to the richest beach in the world, leaving a crew behind with walkie-talkies to stay in contact with Mother-ship!

On Saturday nights, we’d take turns in keeping one crew on board whilst the rest went to the bars in “civvies”. The Boss and Co normally went off to their friends’ houses or local restaurants. They didn’t go out for late nights, arriving back by 11:00pm. I was always extremely courteous to my Boss and when it was my turn to “baby-sit” him, I would try and make him laugh. I was after all, very happy that he’d given me my dream job. Normally he ordered freezing cold Vodka or sometimes a hot chocolate. I was always happy to get him what he wanted. Once, recognising my keenness to make him happy, he pulled a wad out and gave me a 100 franc note. He swore me to secrecy not to tell a sole that he’d given it to me, not wanting any backlash from the other crew I guess.

In mid-summer, we sailed to Venice, a three week trip which we all really enjoyed, weaving through the Greek islands. The crew laughed their socks off at me when the Captain told me to get on the boat deck and push the huge electric cables over the top of the radar mast with the wooden boat hook as we went under the cables strung between Italy and Sicily at the Messina Straights, “You won’t get electrocuted Callum!”. Of course, as we came closer, they went above the boat by around 500 feet or so. I felt a real dumb-ass. When I climbed back down into the bridge, Madam had obviously been let in on the secret and gave me a Mummyish smile (woops, that crush is coming back!).

That night, we were given a bit of leave and we headed into Messina to have a drink. 30 years ago, of course Messina would have had a fair amount of organised individuals, controlling trade and luckily for me, if you are an innocent working for a Boss who was happy to stop at Messina to meet his friends, my wallet and passport were very safe. In the morning, they were still lying on the same table I had left them on the night before. Friends in high places indeed.

The Greek islands are beautiful and we stopped at some amazing places including Kos. The harbour was so small, we only just got in, turned around and docked by the main wall (if only we’d had had digital cameras in those days). Work on board was extremely light whilst cruising. Little dust meant less work for me and the days were spent lazying around on the foredeck, waiting for that little bell to tinkle. At least we all spread the load. Poor Gary spent one day chipping, the next day red leading and the next day applying fresh new white paint. Rust, red and white. I’m sure it wasn’t that bad, but that’s all I remember him doing on that cruise. Cleary the trip from Southampton to the Med had started the rusting process. Perhaps it should have been shot-blasted or something during the refit the year before?

Venice was marvellous. The Captain explained that if we got up very early, we would be arriving as the sun was coming up. Sure enough, watching the radar screen, I could see the channel ahead and finally, opposite from the famous St Marco square, we parked our toy ship between 4 massive anchor stations; these are those wooden structures that apparently are full of bats. This was 30 years ago so maybe times have changed, but health and safety was certainly not on the agenda then. John, Gary and I had lots of fun taking our lines to them in the Zodiac and they made me climb up onto them to slip the line through. As I did that, a load of bats would fly out. Ugh. I was screaming and the crew were laughing. I was such a girl back then.

Milamba IV in VeniceIt was in Venice that Robert Mitchum and his wife came for dinner. A most polite and graceful man, even though he was huge – really huge. Those original Hollywood stars really were amazing guys. For some reason he knew my Boss really well and they hugged when he came aboard. A load of TWA execs also came for dinner and they all speculated about Howard Hughes and wondered if he really had died. Clearly Howard couldn’t have been dead long than and it was still hot news. Mr Mitchum shook my hand when he left and thanked me for a pleasant dinner. His hands were the size of dinner plates. The only other time I was so affected by another man was Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who thanked me once when I bought his book. It’s like he looked right into my soul with his huge blue eyes. Just like Mr Mitchum did all those years ago.

The Boss and Madam flew back to London from Venice telling us they’d meet us in Nice in a fortnight. We were to have a holiday. We filled with fuel, a 110 tons of diesel apparently, which took hours from a local fuel barge. Why tons and not gallons or litres I wonder..? It was just as well that we filled up since we hit a calamity of a storm coming down the Adriatic. The boat was tossed about like a 10 foot dingy. The Captain was so hell bent on getting back to have a holiday that we were 45 degrees to the waves and the stabilisers could only do half a job most of the time – they were wings, not stabilisers and we clattered over to 45 degree rolls. Only the tons of fuel deep in our belly kept us upright. The twin screws were rattling their bearings dry on many crests. Thankfully I was completely unaware of the dangers. I’ll bet we dumped some diesel through those Caterpiller engines though since we were at Sardinia within a couple of days anchored off a lovely beach. We did some skiing off the back of the Zodiac and some Scuba too. Gary and I shared a single tank and sat on the bottom at 30 feet, looking up at the hull in a crystal clear sea making the OK sign at each other. Great fun. Gary liked to think he was teaching me to be a Royal Navy diver I think!

In the evenings, we took the Zodiac to the port and of course, in the best traditions of sailors, got completely hammered on the local booze.

After the Venice trip, a thorough bout of depression hit us via an anti-climax, only the news of a mini-trip to Nice to pick the Boss up sparked us into reality. I remember a flat calm, perishingly hot day with the quiet hum of our twin Caterpillers driving us ever forward with me, sitting astride the chrome bow sprit, looking down at the bow wave. Mindless days. We were pleased to see them when we met on the dock, and he us. A family again.

The end of the summer was looming and yacht crews were busy swapping jobs. Gary was excited about a promotion to another boat that we’d often bump into in St Tropez. John and his brother, the Captain were staying on as was the brown-nosed Peter. Clearly Ryan was at the end of his career and was stuck to the Boss like glue while Grant I believe, wanted to go back to Glasgow. Our lives crossed like ships in the night. I often wonder what happened to them all.

In early September, we started getting the boat ready for the Caribbean, an Atlantic crossing. Apparently a Lloyds crew were going to sail the boat there for Christmas. Of interest, I was offered a full-time job either on the boat or back in London looking after their Mayfair apartment, however I had had the taste of the high life and wanted part of it. I couldn’t do that working as a servant.

I have dreams of being back there working on the boat (we called it the boat when we worked on her). More recently I actually dreamt that I had discovered her rusting away in a Liverpool dock and I bought her for £125,000 UKP. Typing these memories, I thought I’d do another Google search and found a 2005 advert for her. I’ve saved the pictures. She’s had a flying bridge added which I think ruins her very 50’s style (although of course, a 1970’s yacht) and now called Lady Andrea.

Anyway, I trust you’ve enjoyed this little ditty from 30 years ago, it’s been rather pleasant writing them down. Apologies if I’ve rambled on a bit.

Cheers and beers.