The RWWR Project

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Joe Chester MW1MWD is another who has returned to the hobby of late. His tale nicely complements our Starting Over feature.

 

 

Joe Chester MW1MWD is another who has returned to the hobby of late. His tale nicely complements our Starting Over feature.

 

I saw them coming from way off, fully kitted out, moving at a frightening pace in my direction. I was just hooking up the battery when I heard a loud, slightly out of breath voice say, “what’s going on there then?” Two joggers flashed past, with wild stares. I do have to admit, we did look a bit odd, with a horizontal pole leaning crazily over the top of the car. Maybe I should start at the beginning.

 

The Birth of RWWR

You’ve heard of Round the World in 80 Days (Jules Verne), and possibly the Round the World yacht race, or maybe Round Ireland with a Fridge (Tony Hawks). But what about RWWR, then?

We’re wanderers, her and I. Boats, planes and trains, we’ve done it all. Giving up on our barge was a wrench but as we expected when we went sailing 20 years ago (an ocean-going yacht back then), health problems took over our lives in 2015. So, we buy a nice bungalow in South Wales and settle down to avoid as much of the problems of old age as we can. Except it’s not quite like that.

I got my amateur radio licence in 1984, in Ireland. Over the years, I kept my interest going but at a low level – the odd contest here and there. Boats don’t easily adapt to 20m beams or even VHF ones. As a sedentary existence slowly descended on us in Wales and Netflix addiction loomed, we started struggling to find an escape plan. Radio? Travel? And so was born the Round Wales with a Radio project. I’m sure a native Welsh speaker would find a way to pronounce it – RWWR!

The question arose, mobile or portable? Well, I can’t tell you the hours I spent reading about mobile installation and in the end came to the conclusion that most mobile installations, unless the car had major surgery (which madam had strictly forbidden), were little better than broadcasting into a dummy load. One website stated categorically that the efficiency of even the best mobile station was about 1%. So portable (/P) it had to be.

 

Equipment Choices

I had an Icom IC-706Mk2G from years ago so all I needed was an antenna and, of course, a fix for the battery issue. The IC-706 is a thirsty beast, with 2A on receive and up to 25A on transmit. A car battery was the obvious choice. Except it wasn’t (more on this later).

What about an antenna? Make one, I thought. It’s just a length of wire, some coaxial cable and maybe a balun. This approach worked in the attic, where I have both 20m and 40m dipoles. I buy a pole and an under-tyre frame to support it, measure and tie the right length of wire and stick it up in the garden to test it. There were a few quizzical looks over the garden fence from the neighbours but nothing to what came later (read on please!).

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The common-mode RF was appalling, with the rig shutting down even on low power. I stuck an ATU on it, an SGC 237 I also had from years ago, and managed a few contacts with difficulties. But it just wasn’t working. And then there was the ‘footprint’. The stakes in the ground would be a long way from the car (I had difficulty in our postage-stamp garden) and the opportunity for innocent trip-ups was substantial. A 40m dipole was going to be even bigger. I chatted by e-mail with Richard at SOTAbeams, who was very helpful. He confirmed my conclusions about footprint but couldn’t suggest a solution. The thing I built just wasn’t working.

A smaller footprint was the goal, something mounted beside the car, with limited ground coverage. A vertical then. But that involves radials...on the ground − the footprint/trip issue returns. In desperation, I started researching the Buddipole idea. Months went by. As with all things radio there are pros and cons. With Spring now here, it was time to give something a go. I took the plunge and ordered a mini Buddipole (BP). I’ll say more about this approach later. Lots of practice in the garden saw the neighbours grinning over the fence again! Then one day, we set off on our first episode of RWWR.

 

First Outing

First came packing it all into the car, which involved the two of us carting a 50kg car battery through the house and into the car boot. Nice big car park when we arrived, set up the tyre plate, got the 20m BP on top of the fibreglass pole, tied it down with some string as guys and despite the 45° lean over the top of the car, got it all going. The joggers jogged past. Madam went off for a wander and a swim. Made three contacts that day, my first /P contacts, but I wasn’t happy. I had common-mode issues and the antenna, at a crazy angle, looked dodgy, to say the least. I headed off for a wee break and when I got back the car was surrounded by a crowd of at least two people. “My neighbour has a bigger version of that on a gantry in his front garden.”. Well done him, I wanted to say, but decided against.

 

Reflections

We pack up, and head home. First job? Carry that damn battery back into the shed! Over the next few days, I spoke with several people about our experiences. The immediate issue was the weight of the BP components when they are 3m up in the air (they seem quite lightweight on the ground). So, it’s bite-the-bullet time again and I order that very expensive BP mast. It arrived a couple of days before the June PW VHF contest, which I thought was an ideal opportunity to test it out with my Sandpiper 3-element beam. We found a picnic place up the road, at reasonable elevation, and set off. I made 19 contacts in two hours and was very pleased with the result. The mast was very stable, with minimal guying, and we were encouraged to try again with the BP.

 

Episode 3

After packing up (that battery again), RWWR-3 saw us drive to Rhossili, a lovely National Trust property on the cliffs overlooking the Bristol Channel. Springwatch had been somewhere here earlier. We were directed into the overflow car park, which was nearly empty. We parked as far from other cars as we could (we were not being unsociable but I didn't want to suffer the ire of an owner whose pride and joy had a dent in it from a falling BP).

Setting up was easy. I had bought some stronger guy ropes and made a firm attachment on the BP Versatee for them. Now it was the usual case of put it up, measure SWR, take it down, adjust and put it up again. It took four goes to get it satisfactory. My wife set off on her version of Springwatch. Then connect the battery (I had by now changed the DC connections to Powerpoles, which made the connections easier and safer) and switch on. The IC-706 refused to cooperate. At 10W I got it working but beyond that the rig shut down – common mode again? Or the state of charge of the battery? Checked everything again. Even repeated the tuning routine with the antenna analyser. I heard a few stations but when called, no one answered. Tried calling CQ – no answer. By the way, what I did hear that day was less than edifying, with shouting and name calling on several frequencies – I suspect the scramble to work World Cup stations may be fuelling what, in my opinion, is a silly contest.

I decided to change the BP configuration to an L. Then I tried a vertical. By now, exhaustion was setting in (it was 27°C that day). So, after a nice cuppa, we packed up and headed into the traffic. There was an inquest that night.

For the results of that, please tune in next month.

 

This article was featured in the October 2018 issue of Practical Wireless