the GM3VLB page

offering informal information on Amateur Radio operation from Scottish Islands
(specifically the SCOTIA, IOTA, WAB, WLH and CIsA programmes - and other schemes involving Scottish Islands)

Published by GM3VLB

Autumn 2002 Expedition to Shetland

Hello again,

We thought some of you might be interested in some details concerning our recent Shetland and Isles of Fleet trips.

We sailed from Aberdeen on September 11, arriving 14 hours later in Lerwick, Shetland's capital, just before 8am, after an exceptionally smooth 14-hour sail from Aberdeen. Alex made our first (/M) "Mainland" (SI11) contact at 0759Z as we motored to Yell (SI20). We had set a minimum target of 200 QSOs on each of the 11 islands we would visit .

 Despite very poor conditions until our last night (as a result of a solar flare), we in fact made over 2500 contacts in just over 5 days in the Shetland group and almost 600 more on CS10, Isles of Fleet. These were all made on the trusty TS-50S and my near-40-year old Webster Bandspanner mobile antenna (and/or a 5m telescopic fishing rod supporting a thin wire, resonated by a coil+ slider arrangement 1m up from the base - on all bands from 3.5 up to 28MHz).

This time, we were able to operate a lot of /M CW using a miniature home brew keyer and paddle (of the Swedish "hacksaw blade" variety) mounted on a special bracket beside the passenger seat. We were quite surprised at the pile-ups on CW - Alex, a keen CW man, was in his element !

A courtesy telephone call to Arthur (GM4LBE) produced the sort of hospitality for which Shetland is renowned "When you get to Yell, the neighbours have the key to my weekend cottage - I'll phone them and tell them you're coming - go in, use my rig and antennas, take anything you want from the fridge - make yourselves at home"!!

Later that afternoon, we sailed to the island of UNST (SI26) where we were welcomed again by Gerry (GM4GQM) and XYL Sandra (they run a B&B and had put me up, and fed me, free of charge on my last visit - this time I insisted we pay our way, but they insisted on a reduced rate!!). To save me installing my vertical and radials, Gerry said "Just drive your car onto the front lawn - anywhere you want"!! We had a comfortable night (Alex even had an electric blanket!).

Gerry had obtained permission for, and transport to, UYEA (SI24), a "new one" for SCOTIA. We spent the night in a big shed constructed entirely of corrugated iron, sleeping on a couple of wooden pallets each. I set up my rig on a filthy workbench whilst Alex sat astride a rusty quad motorbike, having rigged up an up-turned fish box across the handlebars to take the CW station! 80m proved a headache that night. We wondered whether the swaying vertical was being badly de-tuned by the proximity of the iron shed.

An early breakfast and it was on to Fetlar (SI22) where we located a relatively clean and empty horsebox for that night. In the event, it turned very cold and we decided the car might be warmer! Another early breakfast and a ferry crossing back to Unst - this time invited, by the Captain, to travel high up on the bridge of the car ferry. Then on to, and across Yell, before another ferry to the mainland.

We were soon active on MUCKLE ROE (SI18), reaching our required QSO target before QSYing on yet another car ferry to WHALSAY (SI15) and another overnight operation from the mini-motorhome. Morning saw us on the seas again, heading back to the mainland, replenishing food and water supplies before heading for BRESSAY (SI08).

I had hoped to visit Eva, the XYL of John Yates (GM4AGX), well-known resident ham on Bressay, who sadly died earlier this year. John and Eva had also put me up last time I activated the island. Unfortunately, Eva was not at home. (I left Alex to activate this one on his own, and we were soon taking our 10th and last inter-island ferry back to Lerwick and then by various road bridges we motored on to EAST BURRA (SI02). That evening saw us on WEST BURRA (SI03) where we had a visit from the jovial Arthur (GM4LBE) - who had so kindly offered us the use of his home on Yell.

Conditions had finally improved and from our position on the pier, with water on 3 sides, we had some huge "pile-ups" and some remarkable contacts in all continents. This continued the next morning when, on request, we made an unscheduled return visit to East Burra before crossing back onto TRONDRA (SI05) and yet more pile-ups. We finally closed down at 1149Z on Tuesday 17th, some 5 days and 5 hours and 11 islands after arriving in Lerwick, having averaged over 500 QSOs per day, despite a lot of motoring and inter-island ferry travel.

We had a relaxing afternoon, spending some of it at the QTH of Cecil (GM0EKM), another island resident and keen island hunter who also has a marvellous collection of early commercial, domestic and amateur radio equipment on display in his privately run museum near Sandwick. There is also old Shetland tweed-making machinery on display and early photographs depicting island life in days gone by. Under the same roof, there is a comfortable cafeteria with an early "juke box" in the corner - a most interesting afternoon and very well worth the visit.

A few hours later, it was back on the overnight ferry to Aberdeen. First stop was the shower, then a meal and then into our bunks - if there had been a gale blowing out there, we would never have known ! We were very soon dead to the world. Next day, at my son Niall's QTH (VP8NJS) in Aberdeen, we spent the afternoon dismantling and rebuilding the starter motor of my ageing Ford Sierra! (Fortunately it had kept going during the last trip!)

36 hours later, with excellent weather forecast for the Solway Firth area, Alex and I were off again - this time for a 24-hour operation from the ISLES of FLEET (CS10) -perhaps the last activation of the season. This expedition involved making each crossing by foot, at low tide, with all the gear for an overnight stay.

These operations brought my personal island QSO total to 6154 for the 4 months since May 10th on BUTE (CS19) (and to nearly 8,000 QSOs since the so-called "ban" last July) ALL of these will be valid of course for the SCOTIA award programme. Alex GM0DHZ's total will not be far behind, and he has now activated 45 islands - not bad considering he lives in Portsmouth - about as far away as you can get from any Scottish island!

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone (including the many SWLs) for their support, with special thanks to all those who stopped to think of what is involved either financially or in terms of varying degrees of hardship or discomfort and made their own personal contribution . If I could be permitted to give one example, I even had one donation today from a well-known UK station saying "Please accept this contribution towards the cost of replacing the wheel bearing" (which disintegrated on my way to the Burnt Islands). It is these gestures which continue to make it all worthwhile.

vy 73 de André GM3VLB and Alex GM0DHZ
(and my personal thanks to Alex for his help, support, good humour, patience, tolerance etc., etc.)


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