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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.

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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.


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