Jo Macleod writes...
After being involved as a 'chaser' in IOSA, ed. Islands of Scotland Award, for a couple of years now, I decided earlier on this year that it was high time I should go and activate one of these islands myself. Not wanting to go alone, my choice of companions was not hard to make - Scott MM1BKK who has been my friend for years and is extremely good with antennas, and Ian GM0TGE who had expressed an interest in activating and was also very good with the 'insides' of radio equipment. Luckily they both said yes and a date, 11 - 14 August 2000, was drawn up. Unfortunately, both Ian and Scott had to pull out at the last minute due to circumstances beyond their control. Heavy college commitments meant Ian wouldn't be able to make any other dates either, so Scott and I agreed on the last weekend in September to try again.
|This trip was to be a double 'first' for me - first time on the West coast of Scotland and first time operating radio on a Scottish Island - so you can imagine the excitement and slight trepidation as we set off from my home QTH of Keig at 5.30am on Saturday 24th September 2000. |
We reached Inverness as dawn was breaking, and were at Lochinver by 10.15am (after I had made Scott stop the Discovery a thousand times so I could take photos and also stops for fuel and breakfast) where we were to meet the boatman. A quick cup of coffee and a natter at his house and we were off again heading towards Drumbeg and the boat.
I had been told 'don't worry - we have the big boat now' by the boatman's wife, so you can imagine our surprise as he pointed towards a small wooden rowing boat resembling a coracle with an outboard! I am not complaining here, both the boatman and his wife had been more than helpful - two of the friendliest people I had ever met - I was just worried about transporting the vast amount of gear and equipment we seemed to have amassed. As Stuart (the boatman) said as I lugged Scott's huge red kit bag down to the boat - "is that the kitchen sink?". It was decided that we should make two trips - me first with the camping gear, radio equipment and the masts, then Scott would follow with the generator, fuel, antennas and 3 very big plastic boxes of 'technical' bits plus a big battery. After a couple of choppy crossings, there we were - the only two residents on Oldany.
The island itself is rocky but covered mostly in grasses and has amazingly beautiful beaches of white sand. It has a migratory population of Red Deer who allegedly swim over from the mainland during low tide but we didn't see any. There is also a large seal population and plenty of bird life. It is very exposed, as I guess a lot of islands are, but that only made the scenery more dramatic. There is a bothy which we used for the entire time (unable to get the tents up because of the wind) - not the ramshackle, bare affairs I am used to in the hills, but a sort of 4 star 'Oldany Hilton' version with furniture made from fish boxes, an open fire, canoes, shelving etc etc etc..oh and a cannon and pirate flag!
Fifteen minutes after we got on the island, the wind picked up and the heavens opened, delaying antenna erecting for half an hour until the rain stopped. We were quite hungry so we decided to heat up the lentil and bacon soup I had made the night before while we were waiting.
HANDY TIP #1 - NEVER EVER EVER put lentil soup into a thermos flask. (all the way up in the Landy we had been smelling gas, but had dismissed it after investigating the tanks/bottles and finding them intact). But oh no, I opened the cool bag which contained the thermos and was met by a stench resembling methane crossed with vomit that could've knocked out an elephant! Some kind of weird chemical transition had happened to my lovely soup and it had exploded out of the thermos, all over the other contents of the bag and it looked like something you eject orally after a night out in the pub and a vindaloo. I hurriedly threw the whole lot outside to be dealt with later and after seeing and smelling that, our appetites had rapidly disappeared so we just settled for coffee for lunch.
The rain abated, so next thing were the antennas! Scott put up a full size G5RV running NE/SW first so I could get QRV a.s.a.p. He fired up the generator and I switched my Alinco DX70 onto 40m at 2.34pm. Kit GM4EMX and Denise M0ADG had kindly held a frequency for me and after working the two of them put out my first CQ. A wall of call signs hit me straight away and any fears of lack of interest or bad band conditions were soon dismissed as I made my required 100 contacts within an hour and a half. Scott kept me plied with coffee and cigarettes as I worked my way through the pile up. I took a wee break at 4pm to help him put the 6m beam up on a 20ft sectional mast. The wind was really strong and I had a job holding the thing while he guyed it out, but eventually we got it up and wired up Scott's IC706 for the 50mhz station.
After some supper and a wander round the island, we got back on air at 7.20pm and put out a CQ on 80m and 6m. Another pile up on 80 for 2 hours, until a very rude and ignorant Finnish contest station decided that he wanted the frequency and started calling over me and everyone else. Despite my and several other peoples attempts to get him to QSY, he carried on and I eventually gave up as he was hitting me at 50 over 9 and it was impossible to work anyone through that. I was tired (no sleep the night before and a long journey) and went QRT at 9pm which was 2 hours earlier than planned. I did hear later that G3OKA had managed to clear the frequency 5 minutes later but by then I had gone. My thanks to him and the others efforts and apologies to those who were waiting to work me. We went to bed quite early after something to eat and spent the night listening to the gale outside.
Next morning I was QRV on 20m from 11.10am after a brief spell on 40m. A huge pile up kept me busy until lunchtime when I QSY'd back to 40m to keep a sked with Christine GM4YMM, Les GM3ITN and Derek GM0HLV who I had missed the day before. I spent a few minutes there working a few more stations, then back onto 20m for the remainder of the afternoon. The bands were in fantastic shape and I worked stations from JA, VK, ZL, DU and a host of other DX countries, as well as Europe and Stateside/Canada before going QRT at 3.30pm. In total I worked nearly 700 stations. I could have done more if I hadn't slept through the alarm but I was more than happy with what I worked. My only regret is that 6m was not a success. Topography had a lot to do with it!
It was time to go. We both really wanted to stay another couple of days, it was just so fantastic, but work and family commitments were pressing so we packed everything up, helped Stuart with some wee jobs around the place and gave the bothy a wee clean. We were off the Island by 6.30pm again after two very choppy boat trips. After fish 'n' chips in Ullapool and a visit to George MM1EBE in Carrbridge we arrived back at Keig at midnight.
I am now completely hooked on Island activating. I realise that we had a very comfy introduction to activating and the next island will probably be less 'luxurious' but we'll do it anyway. It was an absolutely excellent weekend, made all the more so by the scenery and the welcome and help we received from the boatman and his wife. My thanks to all the stations who called in and my apologies to all those we missed. We would also like to thank all those stations who helped with organising this trip be it with advice or practical help - special thanks to Kit and Thorn Security who sponsored us for the QSL cards and to Hamish at Mayfield Motors, Whiterashes who gave us the G5RV. Last but most certainly not least, my undying gratitude to Scott MM1BKK who got me there, put up with me, and basically put and kept me on the air.
For more information take a look at:
Islands of Scotland Award
Radio Society of Great Britain
Islands On The Air Programme