I joined FOC in August 1976 and the 2022 Marathon was the 45th event during my years of membership. I had participated (and been listed in the results) in 43 of the 44 previous Marathons, the missing one being when I had to spend the whole weekend in bed with a bad dose of influenza. I was therefore determined not to miss the 2022 Marathon and keep my nearly 100% participation record.
The problem was that soon after the 2021 Marathon, I had gone QRT in readiness for our move to our new QTH at Bexhill-on-Sea at the end of March, and for a number of reasons, I had not not got QRV again. The move was a downsize from a large remote country house in three acres of land to a smaller chalet bungalow on a more traditional plot in a more urban area on the outskirts of Bexhill-on-Sea, with neighbours each side. Since 1997 when we moved to the country, I had been out of touch in running an amateur radio station in a built-up environment with close neighbours, and during that time I had read much in the amateur radio press about increased noise levels making it almost impossible for some amateurs to hear anything on some bands. There is no doubt, I had been spoilt during that time in not having to experience this, or the problems of television interference (TVI) that plagued my early days in the hobby in the 1970s and 1980s.
I think it was partly due to this, and not knowing what to expect at our new QTH, that had prevented me from becoming QRV again sooner. But, the Marathon has always had a very strong appeal to me and has always been my favourite operating event. As Christmas 2021 gave way to New Year, I could feel the pull of the Marathon increasing as we neared the first weekend of February, but what to do about it? After taking my towers and masts down at our previous QTH, I had erected a 132 feet wire doublet fed with open-wire feeder from the TV mast to keep me on the air as late as possible. I had brought this antenna with me, but where to erect it?
You can see from the picture of the house, there is a short TV mast on the chimney in the centre of the roof, but I was unable to get to it. I had brought with me some 20 feet lengths of 1½ inch diameter fibreglass poles and wondered if I could utilise one or more of them. Examination of the south side of the house showed a small gap in the guttering around a dormer window, just small enough for one of the poles to go through, but how to hold it up in position? The answer: my aluminium ladder!
28 Ellerslie Lane, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex TN39 4LJ.
The picture shows the temporary arrangement: the ladder leaning against the side of the house with the bottom of the pole tied to the next to top step, and protruding through the gap in the guttering. The top of the pole was about 30 feet high. True, it was a bit of a lash up, but if it got me on the air for the Marathon then I felt I could be forgiven! For added support, I attached a ‘guy’ each side at the top of the ladder.
I installed the antenna at the top of the pole but was not able to stretch the legs out very tightly because I did not have anything to attach the ends to. I managed to make a loose connection to the top of the six feet hedge that runs along the front and back of the property, and ran the remainder of each leg along the top of the hedge, as shown in Picture 4.
I ran the open-wire feeder down to the front of the house and into the shack, located in the office in the room to the right of the front door. I unpacked my Elecraft K3, PSU, Schurr paddle and connected the open-wire feed to the K3 via an Elecraft BL2 balun. Early on 22 January, I switched on and a quick check of each band showed reasonable noise levels, nothing nearly as bad as I had been reading about that would prevent me from using a band. I decided to just use five watts QRP to start with, so as not to risk upsetting neighbours with TVI, and after adjusting the length of the ladder-line, I was able to tune the antenna with the K3’s internal ATU for a 1:1 SWR on all bands, 160 metres through 6 metres (including 60 metres), so I was good to go.
At 0730z there was F6KUP calling CQ on 80 metres. He answered my call, gave me the meaningless 599 report, but at least I knew I was getting out ok. Time to try 160m where members ON7PQ and G3OLB answered my calls, thanks Pat and Tom, and then to 30 metres where Simone, ISØAFM/I3/M, also answered my call. Finally, a QSO with Willy, LY2PX, on 20 metres rounded off a very successful first couple hours being QRV again. I switched on 20 metres again at 1439z and there was W1RM running stations in the MCD Contest. A couple of calls later and Pete was in the log for my first USA contact showing it was possible to work DX with the antenna and QRP. This was confirmed the following day when I worked P4/DL4MM on 15 metres.
The following week-end was the CQ 160 Meter Contest, a good chance to assess that band. I switched on at 0615z on Saturday morning and there was VY2ZM running Europeans with a good signal. I wondered, could I really QSO Jeff with just five watts to this poor antenna? A couple of calls and he answered me by name, wow! I always knew Jeff had good ears but that was incredible. Casual operating over the remainder of the weekend resulted in 98 QSOs in 28 DXCC, but no other North American stations.
The next week-end was the Marathon, and casual style operating during the 48 hours resulted in 361 QSOs in 36 DXCC on all continents but disappointingly, only four five-banders and no six-banders, for a claimed score of 503 in the Restricted QRP class.
The south side of the house showing the ladder and fibreglass pole in position
The front of the QTH showing the yellow fibreglass pole on the right and the route of each leg of the 132 feet doublet antenna.
The rear of our new QTH showing the fibreglass pole and antenna above the dormer window on the left side of the house.>
The breakdown of QSOs was 49 on 160 metres, 92 on 80 metres, 115 on 40 metres, 50 on 20 metres, 37 on 15 metres and 18 on 10 metres, suggesting the antenna is performing better on the LF bands than on HF.
Operation on most of Saturday afternoon and evening was suspended due to a long standing family visit, and domestic commitments over the weekend meant I was not able to spend as much time operating as I would have liked. The highlights were many, but in particular working DL6KVA as PZ5KV on 20, 15 and 10 metres stood out. I had also worked Axel on the Friday before the Marathon on 12 metres, and called him on 40 metres several times, but I guess that was asking too much of his good ears! Another highlight was working ZL1FOC on 20 metres on Sunday morning (I assume long-path) to give me my sixth continent. Jacky had to struggle a couple of times before he finally got my call. Finally, new member KP3W who heard me on 15 metres and UA9BA who heard my signal on 40 metres just before the Marathon ended. I had already worked Willy on 20 and 15 metres.
Rather strangely, three of my four five-banders were with USA stations, on 80-10 metres, K3ZO, KF3B and N3RS, the other being with SM5COP (we missed 15 metres for a six-bander). I worked several other USA stations on four bands but, frustratingly couldn’t get them to answer me on the missing band to complete a five-bander - one of the downsides of running QRP to a poor antenna!
As I write this (17 February), it is still less than a month since I became QRV on 22 January, and during that time I have made a total of 582 QSOs in 49 DXCC on all bands 160 through 10 metres (including 60 metres) with the temporary antenna and five watts QRP. I therefore think I will keep the antenna, but will try to make it a more permanent installation, probably by erecting some sort of aluminium mast in place of the ladder and fibreglass pole.
Finally, a big thanks to my fellow FOC members for the majority of those 582 QSOs. I already knew that most members have very good ears when it comes to CW, despite many of you, like me, having quite poor antenna installations, and my experience so far at our new QTH has confirmed this.
The simple shack at our new QTH: Elecraft K3 and P3 panadapter with Schurr Profi-2 key on the right in front of the telephone. The BL2 balun is behind the P3, above where the antenna ladder-line enters the shack through the external wall.