March 18, 2010

RSGB Club Calls Contest 80m

Hi Folks,

What a great contest... I was joined by Mark M0DGK and we split the operating between us.

I started the contest with a run frequency and although contacts did not drop in one after the other we had more than beaten previous scores in the first 30 minutes, with half our final score being made in that time.

We had a slight hitch that required us to close down for 15 minutes but when we were up and running again the contacts poured in.

Ian and Kev still hold the crown as best group station but I am more than happy with the final score of 72 contacts that included 2 PA station and a number from Scotland and Wales.

How did everyone else do in the contest?

Best 73
Brian G0RDH

March 15, 2010

ARRL International DX -- Antarctic Edition

Hello from Adelaide Island!

Coming from an active contesting group, one of the things I'd looked
forward to trying out while down South was getting involved in a
contest, and being that rare DX! The summer season at Rothera is very
busy radio-wise, involving a lot of time running our Aeronautical Radio
Station (like Air Traffic Control, but we only make 'suggestions',
instead of telling people what to do.) Evening are taken up either by
late-night flying, or a round of skeds with each of our field parties,
with the result that there isn't much time when the radios aren't in
use. Fortunately, Rothera's summer co-incides with the off-season for

The ARRL International DX phone contest, the first major phone contest of the season, fell on a weekend towards the end of the summer season with a good chance of there being no flying out of base, so I decided to dust off my K3, hook it up to an Acom 2000 and one of the base antennas, and see how I did.

After finishing work on Friday, I started converting the tower into
a contest shack.

The shack, pre-setup

The shack, ready to go


There's nothing like starting a contest with a fully-stocked fridge!

I started calling on 20m a few minutes before the start of the contest to warm up, and worked W3LPL and LU1EEG. The first half an hour of the contest proper was quite slow, only yielding 5 contacts. However, patient calling (and the K3's voice keyer!) paid dividends eventually, and at 00:30 the pile-up started. I couldn't stay up too long, owing to work the following morning, but 178 Qs were logged before I finally called it a night.

Saturday dawned bright and blustery, and was taken up by a training session for Winters in the morning. The weather had calmed down by the afternoon, and I decided to take a break from base to head up to Vals, our local 'ski resort' for a few hours.

Looking down towards the ski hut from the top of the run

Skiing back to base

Rothera Station

After formal dinner on Saturday evening, I sneaked off to the tower for another stint. I discovered that searching-and-pouncing was a complete waste of time for me, since no-one in the States seemed to be beaming in my direction (oddly enough!) I tried running again, but really struggled to find a frequency. Eventually I found a suitable spot and started calling, and before long was inundated again -- at one point working at a rate of over 200 Qs/hour, and finishing the evening with
379 contacts logged.

Sunday was a quiet end to the contest, with lots of other activity on base. Propagation didn't seem to be in my favour earlier on in the day, but I'd set myself the goal of 500Qs, and sat down for another stint in the evening. Unfortunately, 20m had turned into a bit of a zoo by that point, with everyone anxious to squeeze out a last few contacts. Without enough room to work split, and with everyone frantically calling, my Q rate was significantly down on Saturday's.

Final result: 524 stations in the log, in just over 5 and a half hours total operating.

All in all, not a bad start for a casual contest entry from down South. Unfortunately, CQWW WPX falls on the weekend of Last Call---the final ship visit to Rothera for the season. The RRS Ernest Shackleton is due to depart on the 28th, ushering in the official beginning of Winter, and no more contact with the outside world until late October, so I might not get much operating time!

One of the antennas in use, with a very rare Antarctic rainbow.

73 from Sands Contest Group, VP8 section!
Mike, M0PRL / VP8DMH

March 07, 2010

ARRL DX Contest Saturday's Report!

Just a few of our group operating G1T in the ARRL DX Contest on Saturday

Hi All,

Here's some pics I took on Saturday.... Kev and I worked 70+ overnight on topband, 40 and 80m contacts were hard won during the day, when I left they had not much over the 230 mark but everything that could be worked was worked. It was nice to have so many of our members able to find time to take part.

Barrie, Kathy and Stephany did their magic in the kitchen and provided a main meal with a Mexican theme and a lovely sweet in the form of an Raspberry and Cream Pavlova. I left around 9:15 with Ian Kev and Damien providing cover for the graveyard shift which I believe was very busy indeed!

Best 73

March 03, 2010

WWII Astro Compass Mk2

Hello Folks

I thought we could step back into WWII History and take a look at an item I have just added to my collection.

Over the last 20 years I have put a display on at the Norbrek Radio Rally in Blackpool. Although I refer to the items I have as a collection, they are not something hidden away never to be seen by anyone but close friends, but rather, something that can be touched and examined by people.

Many of the items would not normally be seen unless you visited a museum. Nothing pleases me more than when two or more people gather around an exhibit and get into a discussion about it, many times its an older radio amateur explaining how something works to a younger family member of new amateur.

Ok enough waffle lets get down to business.

You may have noticed that this item has nothing to do with radio communications and everything to do with navigation.

The British Version of The Astro Compass

Until today I had trouble finding any information on the British version of the Astro Compass but found the following information on Ebay supplied by "Wing, Rutland, United Kingdom" on the British Version of the Manual and a little history.

(This is a re generated print (not a simple photocopy) of what I believe to be the original handbook issued with the Astro Compass Mk II and IIA ( RAF ref 6A/1174) during and after the last War. There is a serial code on the original suggesting Canadian printing in 1942. The original had no illustrations so I have, for clarity, added two of my own at the back. Several points suggest the original may have been a very small booklet similar to the Bubble Sextant's but untill I know the correct size I am printing it as A5. There are 16 pages A5, black and white with two illustrations. Subjects covered are:- Principles of operation, Construction and field re tensioning of pivots, Checking true heading by Sun, Moon, Planet and Star. Steering a course. Obtaining the true bearing of a distant object. Methods to check alignment of the compass. In fact, after reading the booklet you will probably assume everyone should have an Astro Compass, they are so usefull. I even have an article on converting one for use as a simple Dumpy Level! There are other, American versions of the Astro Compass, the original being the British version developed by Mr. PF Everitt of H Hughes and Son. I have manuals for only one of them, the Sperti Company . If you suspect you have an American version mail me for identification. For a more detailed view of the Astro Compass I would recomend reading AP 1234D, I do a reprint of the Astro compass section. Postage (UK) £1.50)

W.W Boes Co. & Sperti.Inc

There was two company's who made the Astro Compass in the USA, W.W Boes Co. and Sperti . Inc.

So far the only difference between the two companies has been that

1. W.W Boes.Co housed their compass in a Bakelite box
2 They used a transfer type name plate
3 The operating instructions were printed in colour with a little artwork on the front cover

Bakelite box

Transfer type Nameplate

The Operating Manual was blue in colour with graphics depicting a plane. If you cut & paste the link below into your internet Browser the manual is available free in pdf format.

Sperti Inc.
1. Came in a wooden box in my example the box is painted RAF Blue with a white canvas strap with the words Astro Compass MkII stenciled on the front side of the hinged lid and "Delicate Instrument to be Handled with Care" Stenciled in red on a while background in the front of the box.

Here's some pictures I have taken of my Astro Compass MkII

2. The name plate containing information on what the item was, Its parts and serial number and AM indicating the instrument was made for the "Air Ministry" was stamped onto the chassis of the instrument and highlighted as white lettering.

3. The front of the manual was plain without graphics, but there were pictured inside along with the operating instructions identifying the various parts of the compass.


In 1942 Sperti changed its name from "Sperti Products" a company that made sun lamps, to "Sperti Inc." a company that made products for the US Airforce and Navy. One of the products made was the Astro Compass which went into service in 1942.

If you would like to learn more about the company up to the present day, use the link below.

The link below will allow you to download the manual

It would seem that the manufacture of equipment like the Astro compass followed a similar road to that in the UK where manufacturers were given defense jobs unrelated to there civilian production line.

Here are some more of the pictures of My Astro Compass starting with the boxed unit and then working top to bottom starting with the sight. The unit was not supplied with the base for mounting to an aircraft etc, this stand was bought separately.

Boxed Astro Compass

Sight used for both Sun and Stars

Bubble levels

Socket that took the base and screw adjusters for leveling

Once the Astro Compass had been aligned an Air Almanac could be used to successfully plot your location

I have seen reference to the Astro compass being fitted to the Lancaster Bomber, The American Liberator,and the B25J Bomber shown below.

An Astro compass fitted in a B25J Bomber. For more information on this aircraft and the Astro Compass please visit the site below where you can see this image along with many others. A really interesting site.

The RAF Millom Air Museum is well worth a visit if your ever in the area. It's very deceptive from the outside looking rather small but once through the door it's like the TARDIS as you walk from room to room that's full of interesting exhibits, including photographs and information on RAF Morecambe.

Take a look at the sites listed below, which include reference to the Astro Compass MkII. It's time well spent.

The second site is a great document covering an excavation conducted by Tony Robinson and Time Team.

Although not on communications I hope you have found this blog interesting, and its not long before you visit us again.

One might think that the Astro compass was last used in the far and distant past, but nothing could be further from the truth. Area's of the world that have a strong magnetic field render normal compasses useless and in some cases it has been made law that an Astro Compass is carried.

Best 73
Brian G0RDH

March 01, 2010

The Four Seasons

Hello folks,

Things have been a little quiet on the blog over the last few months so I thought I would post an item on the four seasons, drawing on the Sands Contest Groups experiences during 2009.

The subject 'The Four Seasons' came about whilst talking with Barrie on air one night. I hope you find it interesting and enjoy this offering as a prelude to our 2010 contest season that begins 6th and 7th of March with the ARRL International DX contest.


This time last year we were looking forward to a good contest season and Barrie G1JYB was good enough to offer the use of his meadow and Hancock's Hut for the group to operate from.

It was great to see nature in new bud and new born lambs in the field keeping close to mum who was there to both protect and feed her young.

Antenna Erection

Putting the Spiderbeam together.
Left to right: Chris G4LDS, Kev G6FKE, Ian G0VGS

Getting the Nest of Dipoles ready
Left to right: Faris M0ZFA, Frank G8BME and Gary M0RGB

ARRL International DX
We decided to put our antennas up a week before our first contest of the year with the intention of leaving them up for the ARRL International DX at the beginning of the month and the WPX at the end. All the antennas were erected on what was a cold but fine day and we felt sure we had everything covered until we got a call from Barrie with the bad news that the wind had taken just about everything down that night.

Members of the group met at Barrie's place to survey and repair the damage as best we could.

Gary M0RGB taking a look at the damage before we got busy putting things back together as best we could. The Spider Beam had suffered damage to some of the fiberglass sections and the mast was also damaged.

Pictured left to right: Gary M0RGB Chris G4LDS and our host Barrie G1JYB


As you can see from this picture all the lines are tied up with each other in a way that one of our members Hughie would describe as being fankled

The Great Storm of 2009

Our first contest of the year was the ARRL International DX contest. It was rather a blustery day throughout Saturday with a mixture of driving wind and rain all day. Barrie and Kathy treated the group to a lovely meal and the wine flowed freely as we all took a break and chatted for an hour or so before getting back to the radio and some contesting.

Little did we know what horrors awaited us as we settled down into the graveyard shift. Operators were Ian G0VGS, Kev G6FKE and myself Brian G0RDH....

Ian went out around 1am because of a call of nature and was horrified to see the devastation caused to our antenna farm. The only thing left standing was a vertical. Hancock's Hut is double skinned and the most we heard was rain on the windows. We powered the station down and went home pretty much in shock ready to return the following day to take a look at the damage.

We learned that 70mph winds had been recorded at Heysham Power Station but Barrie told us later that they would have hit our antennas at over 100mph. The wind speed increased as it passed through the valley.

I took this picture before leaving for the night.

Here's one of Barrie's pictures

As you can see from this image the mast was sheared in half.

We looked at the possible causes of the devastation and came to the conclusion that we had not left enough slack in the guy ropes to allow some movement in the wind.

CQ WW WPX Contest

A lesson learned, we patched the antennas up as much as possible and prepared for the WPX contest at the end of March. With the Spiderbeam damaged we looked towards using vertical antennas and tests were carried out.

A rare picture of Faris M0ZFA operating the K3 in the contest.

This contest went well without any disasters.

Norbrek Rally

The Norbrek Rally in Blackpool was attend by Sands ARCG and the stands we put on were very well supported by Amateurs at the Rally. As well as a selling table, Ian G0VGS and Mike M0PRL (currently VP8DMH) put on a demonstration of Elecraft Radios they had built and and soon found they had little time to drink or eat anything because of the interest shown.

Opposite their stand I had my Historic radio display and much the same problem. All that being said it was a very successful and enjoyable rally.

One of the conversation pieces that raised a smile was the wooden Morse key, however once people tried it they were pleasantly surprised at how good it actually was. The key was made by G3PEN especially for a Scarecrow Festival in his village.


As we approached summer a lot of time was spent by members replacing sections of the Spiderbeam and fixing the masts the best we could.

Group Barbeque

In June Barrie and Kathy invited the whole group up for a Barbi and we had a fantastic evening. Barrie looked after the cooking and Kathy and Stephany worked their magic in the kitchen. It was a lovely summers evening and festivity's carried on well past what turned out to be a beautiful sunset.

Barrie raising a glass at the beginning of the evening.

Barrie has a fantastic way of getting the Barbie Started.

Barrie and Ian in conversation

Kathy & Stephany's delight's

The lady in the pink top is Kathy (M3YOG) and Stephany (G1LAT) is in the gray shirt.

The Groups 5th Birthday

Ian G0VGS and Linda G0YLM had open house by means of celebration and training. The group had new members many of whom had not had the pleasure of operating the K3 or Linear in contest. Ian and Linda felt it was a good opportunity to operate the equipment in a non-contest environment where members could operate the radio and enjoy a ragchew as they got used to the controls and logging software. It was also a good time to have a drink and something to eat in a friendly relaxed atmosphere. It was nice on Saturday with plenty of summer sunshine but Sunday was the total opposite with torrential rain.


The beginning of July found us contesting again at Barrie and Kathy's for IARU and the end of the month at Sunderland point for IOTA

Sunderland point is a small hamlet located at the mouth of the River Lune where the Lune meets the sea. The WX was fairly kind to us and we had a fantastic weekend as always. Sunderland point is one of those rare places where you just feel your worries fade away.

Before Lancaster became a port, Sunderland Point was the nearest inlet for the big ships to unload their goods. Many of the goods could be landed and taken by horse and cart to Lancaster and the local area with larger items taken by boats up the river and into Lancaster itself.

During the days of the slave trade it was fashionable for the big houses to have black servants. A young boy, thought to have been a captains cabin boy was taken in and cared for at Up Steps Cottage. He sadly died of what is thought to have been a western disease and buried in a small plot of land close to the seashore. The grave is known as "Sambo's Grave" and is well cared for by children from local schools.

This contest had a mixture of joy and sadness about it because this would be the last time we would have Mike (M0PRL) in a contest with us for a good while. Mikes story is quite inspirational so please stay with me a while.

Mike originally made contact with the group when he was applying for a post with the "British Antarctic Survey" as he needed to have a knowledge of how radio worked to aid him in this quest.

He quickly passed the Foundation exam and moved on to study for the Intermediate. It was not long before an honest friendship started to build with Kev G6FKE and Ian G0VGS who were his tutors. Mike came along to some of the Sands Contest Group meetings at the Owl's Nest and extended his group of radio amateur friends.

Much to his suprise Mike really enjoyed taking part in the contests and it was not long before he was hooked. He learned the ropes very quickly and became a very proficient operator. After passing his Intermediate course he went on to study for the Full license.

Having passed that and gaining valuable experience along the way both as an operator and constructor, Mike built his own K1 followed a few months later by a K3.

Mike surprised us all one night when he dropped the bombshell that he had applied for and got a posting with the "British Antarctic Survey team" His training as a radio amateur played an important part, were all very proud of him. He is currently VP8DMH on Adelaide Island (AN-001) Mike is still a fully paid up member of Sands and keeps in touch with Ian G0VGS.

In the last week Ian and Mike had their first CW contact in conditions that would not allow normal voice communications... If ever there was a reason for CW to be learned and used by Radio Amateurs, this is one of them.

Cross Bay Walk

In August some of the members put a special event station on air in support of the historic "Cross Bay Walk". It was intended that we would run 3 stations One on the Tractor, another at Arnside Knott and a station at Kents Bank where the walk finished. For safety reasons the tractor station was cancelled due to bad WX but the other two stations ran. Band condx were terrible and even the Lighthouses On The Air stations were rag chewing with stations they made contact with.

Steve G1TLQ

Picture taken from Arnside Knott when WX improved.

RSGB Field Day

Were heading towards the end of the contest season but the group was active as ever in September Members took part in the RSGB Field Day. Sadly I was unavailable due to the XYL dragging me kicking and screaming off on holiday to Torquay but the guys who were able to operate tell me they had a great time.

Matt M0MOS

Andrew G0LWU


The GQRP Convention was a pleasure for many of the group members to attend with some really interesting lectures and although small a good variety of stands. This sadly fell on a contest weekend but felt we would all benefit from attending the rally at the end of what was a hard contest year.


As the long nights of winter came in, it didn't seem that long before we were thinking about Christmas and our annual meal. This year we decided to return to the Royal Hotel in Heysham Village, one of the oldest pubs in the area. It keeps cask beer for those who like it and has an excellent menu which caters for the traditional Christmas dinner (or as in my case an excellent Baked Sea Bass). As you may have noticed we enjoy our radio and contests balanced perfectly with food and drink with people we can honestly call friends.

As Christmas approached like many around the country we had plenty of snow, not least at Oysterber Farm the home of Barrie and Kathy who kindly host many of the contests we take part in. Sadly Barrie had a bit of an accident slipping on some black ice and injured his back but he's well on the road to recovery.

Here are a few pictures taken by Barrie and Kathy over Christmas.

Hancock's Hut

So on to 2010

We have plenty planned starting with the International DX in March, Rallies, National Mills weekend and a big DXpedition to the Isle of Arran.

We hope that you have found the 'Four Seasons' of interest and that you'll come back and visit us again soon.

Best 72/73

Brian G0RDH