Itinerant Ham

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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Happy 2014

I’m taking the rest of the year off so happy New Year – enjoy 2014 with those you love. Have a great time on the radio when you have the opportunity. thanks for all the laughs in 2013! 73s

The Maltese Inquisition

No-one expects the Maltese Inquisition – Least of all Me (or any other Amateur in Malta)

You’ll remember that I was invited to apply for a Permanent License in Malta a post or 2 ago. Well, I did and sent off the appropriate paperwork.

I got a call one morning shortly afterwards to tell me that the MCA wanted to come and ‘Measure my power’. Well, you can’t say no to the MCA so arrangements were made and so they came – ALL 4 OF THEM – in 2 vans. To measure the power from a 200W radio…

2013-07-25 09.04.42 2013-07-25 09.12.27 2013-07-25 09.04.20The upshot was that my ‘power’ was fine. What was not fine was that my radio didn’t have a CE mark on it. (A CE mark signifies the radio meets the EC regulations for EMC).  The gentleman told me that if I had built it myself there would be no problem but since it was a commercial model it was a problem. So they started taking photographs…

Happily, they left the radio with me and said I could use it as well.

Remarkably, after over a month had elapsed, I had to enquire as to whether they were going to issue a Permanent License as I had still heard nothing. I was told that they were conferring with other departments. In the mean time, I decided to take a look at the regulations. I discovered that I had been correctly informed that if I had built the radio myself, then the regulations would not apply but I also discovered that if I had modified the commercial radio for Amateur Radio purposes, then the regulations did not apply either and consequently the radio was not required to carry a CE mark. Happily I was able o confirm to the MCA that I had made such modifications (by the addition and removal of components) and my license was issued within days.

To the best of my knowledge no other amateur has been inspected when either visiting or applying for a permanent license in Malta.

The Martello Tower Group

Since I was going to spend a while in the UK over the summer, I thought I’d see what life there was… It proved to be an interesting quest.  Google told me that there was a Radio Club in Colchester but a quick scan around with a variety of advanced detection instruments gave every indication that rigor mortis had set in. However, casting my net wider, I came across Lord Davy of Chelmsford who resides in PZT Towers and goes by the nickname of @M0PZT so I decided to stalk him on Twitter and see if there was any life in that locality.

About the same time I discovered G6NHU ‘Feeks’ on Twitter as well. Apparently he was in the ‘Martello Tower Group‘ (@G0PKT) – a closed club and competition group.  Maybe they would be worth following to see what is going on? As it turned out I discovered some of them are pretty secretive and have weird rituals – like running verticals without radials – all in all a bit like a cross between the Mormons and the Masons.

I did discover that a couple of members delight in the ancient British ritual of taking tea and eating bacon sandwiches! Consequently they became instant friends.

Off to Gozo

So off we went to Gozo, Malta to our QTH. I applied to the MCA (Malta Communications Authority) and asked them politely if they would grant me a Temporary License on the basis of my US Advanced Extra license.  I asked only for a temporary license since Malta is not in CEPT and hence visitors have to apply for their license to be recognised and an temporary Maltese license to be issued. As a resident of Malta, I would be required to pass the local exam as well.

Imagine my surprise when they said they would issue a temporary license immediately and then a Permanent License on the basis of my Advanced Extra! Whoopee! And so I became 9H3RJ for my first month or so in Malta.

The Big Decision

So what to buy?  My mind flashed immediately to the Radio 4 panel game: “I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue” – so I asked around and got the odd opinion – and they were odd!

My need was for a wireless that worked. Simple eh? Not so, I discovered. Reading on the web I discovered that as a beginner I was expected to start with a VHF powered by a 9V battery – well sorry, that’s a non-starter. HF for me…  Then there was the attraction of QRP and, I was attracted by the perfectionism required to get such a small amount of power as far as possible. It really appeals to me and, I hope to work more QRP as  get more efficient as an operator. Its the pilot equivalent of being ‘exceptional’. The exceptional pilot is one whose skill allows him to operate to very high standards and achieve extraordinary results – he’s the one still flying long after his buddies have gone home with low fuel.

However, I still need to get there and there’s no way I was going to become proficient with a QRP set. Reason? Simply because I would not be heard.

So, the decision was made! QRO set and turn the power down as necessary – after all we only ever use the minimum power necessary for the QSO don’t we?

On the advice of a friend, I decided on the Kenwood TS-480 HX. a 200W offering.  Its turned out to be perfect for my mobile lifestyle and has many features that have undoubtedly saved me a great deal of grief as it has turned out.

TS-480HX

I took delivery along with the TXCO and a 2.8KHz SSB filter. I also plumped for an LDG AT 200 Pro II tuner and a few lengths of coax. All this was put together in our friends house in Georgia – which had a back year full of trees for some very amateur antenna experiments.

The Long Gap

I intended to write from time to time about my experiences in this new hobby of Amateur Radio but it hasn’t quite worked out like that. Perhaps it’s a little like life – you never know what’s round the next corner. Certainly that’s been my experience as I began to learn what I got into. So now I’m going to try and play catchup with a few highlights but first, in order to understand where I’m coming from, a little background…

The XYL and I live on the island of Gozo (JM76) but spend a fair amount of the year travelling around. This is not to boast but rather so you know why I came across the problems I have. We spend the winter in the Bahamas on our boat and it was in the Bahamas that I got my US General Class license at an exam session in February 2013 at Georgetown.

2013-12-06 12.48.57

That gave me the license I needed to operate HF Winmor so I could have cost-free email wherever we went at sea. This is a great benefit since we can now download digital weather forecast information whenever we need it world-wide.

During my study for the General Class license, I started to become aware of all of the other things that I would have access to when I passed the exam. I already had an SSB radio on the boat with which I was able to start listening on the amateur bands – more of that later. I’m very grateful to have grown up in the era before adventure for children was on a monitor or electronic device. Moreover my father, who was always intrigued with the far corners of the earth, encouraged my adventurous spirit by introducing me to atlases, stamps, adventure novels and tales of the orient. Consequently it was unsurprising that I spent my youth cycling far and wide, climbing hills, trees and mountains, skiing, canoeing, camping and walking. We were also lucky enough to be taken on the occasional foreign holiday – camping in France, Switzerland and Italy back in the 60s. But generally we were at home.

Equally unsurprisingly I continued my adventure-seeking as a pilot in the RAF and eventually as a test pilot. My very first SSB contact was in the 80s where I dialled up my squadron in Germany from my Jaguar, single seat bomber, flying at 500 feet above Southern Germany , through the phone-patch system that was available to us – thereafter I had little need for it.

Anyway, back to Amateur Radio. You won’t be terribly surprised to hear that with the freedom to use the amateur bands, I was pleased to see that I might be able to call and listen world-wide. Excellent! I could continue my adventure – even better to know that almost all amateurs speak English (I know- call me lazy).

And so it was that I eventually and gingerly dared to answer someone calling CQ. To my surprise, he answered! He was, of course 59 since I had already overlooked that part of my training. Happily I didn’t suffer from ‘freezing’ since I was used to talking on the wireless although the dialect was very different from ‘operational’ radio traffic although there were a few awkward moments on my voyage of discovery. One of those was when someone asked me what my ‘working conditions’ were like and I really didn’t know what to say since I was retired. I told him that and I think he must have thought I was mad or drunk since I got a quick ’73s Old Man’. OK, I thought but I’m not that old!

I answered a few more calls but spent a lot of time listening and learning from the QSOs I heard since I came quickly to the realization that I really had no clue what I was doing. I’d read about having an ‘Elmer’ but living on a cruising boat they’re pretty hard to find.

Anyway, in my first few months, I would turn the radio on from time to time and listen to what was going on but not doing much in the way of QSOs. But the cruising season was coming to an end and we would be going back to Gozo and the UK. I wonder if I can use my radio there? So now I became immersed in the world of licensing with a whole plethora of new terms to try to come to an understanding of.

Here was my first hurdle. I thought I’d done quite well to get a General Class ticket but it seemed that as far as CEPT was concerned, I didn’t exist till I had an Advanced Extra. There was more bad news when I looked at the on-line question bank for the exam – it seemed to be written in english but the questions were unintelligible let alone the answers. I found the ARRL book on-line but it would take Amazon ages to ship to me in the Bahamas. There were no on-line resources it seemed. Then I discovered the exam guides by KB6NU that held the promise of having all the ‘essential knowledge’ that I would need to pass the exam. So I paid my $7 and decided to give it a go. Needless to say, KB6NU was good to his word and his guide did contain everything I needed to know – all I had to do was learn it!

A few weeks passed and I sat the Advanced Exam at Palm Coast in Florida one Saturday morning. The first 4 questions were the only ones I didn’t recognise – and I had no clue… This was starting badly. By the end, I didn’t care any more, I had one shot at this as we were to leave the USA within a week or so and any prospect of a resit was out of the question. Happily, I passed – getting 2 questions wrong so pleased as punch, I went home and ordered a radio for my forthcoming DXpetour.