Regular readers of my blog may have detected a loss of interest in HF band operating over the last few months. I have got tired of listening to signals through the harsh noise that it is never possible completely to eliminate, I got bored with the sameness of contacts using PSK31 and I got angry at having to battle with the renegade ROS mode if I wanted to use Olivia or other digital modes. My hopes were set on Sporadic E on the VHF bands but this year's season has been disappointing with no major openings on 144MHz extending this far north as far as I am aware.
Most of my radio activity in recent weeks has been focussed on APRS, first on establishing a VHF gateway and in the last few days getting going on HF. As I haven't felt much like actually sitting at the radio making contacts this has proved to be a good way to make some use of my HF equipment, a mode of operation that doesn't constantly remind me of the limitations of using attic antennas from a poor and noisy location.
I recently set up my private Echolink node again. I now have a Kenwood TM-D710 transceiver, a dual band 2m/70cm rig with dual receivers, a built-in APRS TNC and support for Echolink. However I'm still using the FT-817 on low power into a dummy load for my Echolink node for now. Before I could run a public Echolink node I would need to buy a proper dual band antenna instead of the 2m Slim Jim I'm currently using and apply for a permit from Ofcom. I'd then lose the use of the Kenwood for local 2m contacts and WOTA chasing, while the number of stations that could actually access the node due to my poor location could be counted on the fingers of one hand. So despite its built-in support it doesn't seem worth using the Kenwood for Echolink.
The node was on yesterday afternoon and I was sitting downstairs in the conservatory with the TH-F7E having a contact with John G4LRS from near Sheffield. After I finished with John I was called by VK6FSBB (if I remember it correctly) a Foundation licensee from Australia called Bill. Bill called because he had heard that my home location was Cockermouth. He was originally from the Workington area (Maryport in fact, though he had lived in Flimby, Seaton and various other places in West Cumbria) but had moved to Australia 45 years ago. He had held a ham radio license for only eight months and I was the first contact he had ever made into this area.
Bill had played rugby for various local amateur teams and mentioned various employers he had worked for, though as an incomer to the area I didn't know any of them. When I tried to explain where exactly I lived, I realized that the town must have changed beyond recognition from the days when Bill knew it. Things like the A66 bypass simply weren't there.
I could have talked for longer, but dinner was nearly ready and Bill's hand-held was only just making it into whatever repeater he was using to access the Echolink network in Australia so sometimes he dropped out after a lot of loud hissing like an old analogue mobile phone call. It may not have been a direct contact on HF and it wouldn't count for any awards, but to be Bill's first contact back to the place of his birth after 45 years made this VK contact a special one by any standards, one to remember long after I've forgotten many humdrum HF QSOs.