GB5RC 2017 - The report
Thursday 3rd August to Monday 7th August 2017
Celebrating five decades of offshore radio broadcasting
Having operated GB5RC in 2016, we didn't need anywhere near as much preparation in 2017 as we'd done a lot of work beforehand. All the aerials were cut to the correct lengths and everyone knew what they were bringing.
There were a couple of crew changes in 2017. Due to various circumstances, two of our members weren't able to attend in 2016 so Mark, M0MJH very kindly stepped in to help us but all the members of the Martello Tower Group were available in 2017.
We planned an extra day on board MV Ross Revenge in 2017, allowing us to get set up on the Thursday and start operating on Friday morning.
In the few days before the start of our trip, we kept a very close eye on the weather. The forecast for Thursday was high winds, gusting in excess of 50 mph which gave us serious cause for concern.
We arrived at West Mersea at the appointed time to find Stuart, our tender skipper in an anxious mood. He was worried that Ross Revenge would be laying directly in the direction of the wind and the tide, giving us no easy way to get on board.
There was a genuine chance that we'd get out to the ship and have to stand off for a few hours while the storm subsided or the ship turned enough to allow us to get on board.
We loaded all the equipment on Razorbill 3 - Stuart advised us that absolutely everything would need to be covered otherwise it was going to get wet. Very wet.
About the only thing we didn’t cover was these two cakes - Lovingly prepared in advance by our chef after a throwaway comment following our 2016 event: "Hey, we didn't have any deserts last year, are you going to do some this time?" Little did we know!
Here you can see Paul (G0HWC) standing at the stern of Razorbill 3 as we headed out from West Mersea. This part of the bay is reasonably well sheltered and we didn't really have an idea of what was to come when we reached the main estuary.
When we reached relatively open water, it became very clear why Stuart was concerned. This short video clip filmed while we were all huddled together in the cabin demonstrates nicely what the conditions were like. Luckily we only had to endure this for twenty minutes or so.
As we approached Ross Revenge, Stuart noticed that she was sitting very slightly at an angle to the wind which gave us the possibility to get alongside and on board. He steamed straight in and got tied up very quickly. There were no niceties about this drop off, we simply dumped all our kit in through the door on the side and after a check to make sure we'd got everything, Stuart was off as fast as possible.
We found out afterwards that the winds were gusting up to gale force eight. Stuart hasn't taken anyone out to the Ross Revenge while she's been moored in the Blackwater in these conditions before and said that if we'd been a normal party of visitors, he wouldn't even have left West Mersea. Stuart is a consummate professional and if there had been any risk, he simply wouldn't have attempted to get us on board.
There was a working party already on Ross Revenge - The weekend after we were there was the exact fiftieth anniversary of the Marine Offences Act and in preparation for that, there was a lot of work going on. We were never far away from the smell of fresh paint.
Our first priority after getting all the kit inside was to get a brew on and work out our plan of attack. Paul made the drinks and we took a breather for a few minutes.
It's worth going through our planned menu for our time on board.
Breakfast (same for Friday, Saturday and Sunday)
Full English fry-up
Selection of pastries and home made plum jam
Lunch (same for Friday, Saturday and Sunday)
Buffet - selection of sandwiches and cakes
Spaghetti Bolognese with garlic bread and salad
Treacle sponge pudding with custard
BBQ ribs served in sticky honey glaze with homemade coleslaw, beans, potato wedges and corn on the cob
Fresh fruit salad
Roast beef, roast chicken, roast lamb and gammon with all the trimmings
Homemade bakewell tart with custard
Chicken korma, beef madras and lamb bhuna with pilau rice, popadums, naan bread and onion bajis
Any cakes/puddings that are still left
Anything left in the fridge (in fact it was another full fry up)
Here's a small selection of the food we'd taken once we'd got it all unloaded into the galley. If this seems a lot, remember that we were catering for ten people for five days.
Work started in earnest to get the aerials assembled. We'd taken the actual hardware out to the ship a few weeks in advance and put it in storage in the forepeak so we recovered all that and started building. We weren't putting anything up for 10m this year and although we'd announced that we would be on only 80m, 40m and 20m, we did put all the same quarter wave verticals up as 2016 to give us 15m as well.
Here's G6NHU, G7HJK and M1EAK working on the first couple of verticals.
It doesn't look very windy from these pictures but it really was very strong - We got the 40m vertical up and when we measured the SWR we realised that it needed adjusting but we'd had so much trouble getting it mounted that we decided to leave it until the following day before we retuned it.
This isn't a posed picture, if we'd let go of this aerial, it would have vanished over the side of the ship in a few seconds, we were really struggling to hold it in place.
Once the verticals were up, work started on the dipoles. We did exactly the same as in 2016, full length half wave dipoles for 40m and 80m with the centre feed points mounted on 20ft poles, 40m on the stern of the ship and 80m right on the top of Monkey Island.
Here you can see Paul and Colin working on the 80m dipole and then Tony assembling the centre section of the 40m dipole.
With the aerials built, the shack was set up in the main mess room of Ross Revenge.
We were all done and ready to go by around 18:00 on Thursday afternoon and so rather than leave everything idle until Friday morning, we cracked on and fired up the radios.
The above pictures are just general ones of people operation throughout the course of the weekend, they weren't all specifically on Thursday evening.
We continued until around midnight on Thursday evening before we shut the stations down for the night.
Operations continued on Friday with one thing being very noticeable - Conditions were far worse than 2016 with what could only be described as a constant 'mush' of noise. This noise wasn't anything other than the amount of stations calling who were simply too weak and too mixed together to be readable and only the strongest callers were able to get over that noise. Most of us have worked pileups before, either at GB5RC last year or on Herm as part of our GP0PKT DXpedition in the past and in those situations it's always been easy to pick out one or two letters from a callsign. This was totally different, often we just couldn't pull a single letter out of the noise.
As part of the plans for the weekend, we had organised a "Friends and Family" trip out to see us on Saturday morning. Luckily for them, the weather had dropped right down from Thursday and they were able to get out to us easily.
Our visitors were with us for a good three hours on Saturday afternoon - They were shown the stations we had running and then given a complete tour of the Ross Revenge, effectively exactly the same tour that normal paying visitors get when they book through the Radio Caroline web site as some of the regular tour guides were on board.
Here you see Terry G7AJG and Caroline M6SXG with Colin M1EAK. Caroline was especially pleased to be on Ross Revenge as she's actually named after Radio Caroline!
Stuart always starts the tour with a talk about the fishing history of the Ross Revenge and this is normally conducted in the mess over a cup of coffee. We'd already given our friends a drink and moved them out of the mess so as not to interfere with the operation of GB5RC so this part of the tour was given on the deck.
After that we split the group into two and they went on their ways around, led by Tony G0MBA and Bill G1WJR. They had the benefit of not being tied to any specific departure time so they were nice casual trips around with plenty of time for questions and discussions.
They ended up on the stern where Keith G6NHU talked about the aerials mounted around the deck.
While the tours were happening, we made sure that the stations were still active. Here's Colin doing a great job of keeping things going on 20m.
On Saturday afternoon we noticed that a lot of contest stations had appeared on 20m and because 15m was utterly dead, we retuned that vertical to 17m and had a shout on there. It worked very well and we had a nice run there for a short while.
We also set up a data station and G6NHU used that extensively to make around 200 QSOs using FT8 and a handful using JT65. It worked well and there weren't many times that he called CQ and didn't get a reply.
It's fun to stay at the.....
On Sunday afternoon we started taking the stations apart, leaving just the 40m vertical in place. We carried on operating until late evening and then ran for another couple of hours on Monday morning before finally closing down at just after 07:00z.
Stuart joined us for breakfast and we were off just after 09:00z, it was a relatively calm trip back to West Mersea.
Here are some of our final statistics - Note that I've not included 2m and 70cms in these as the log analyser doesn't handle those bands very well. We made around 45 QSOs on 2m and 70cms including running the regular evening net on GB3CL.
I briefly mentioned before how bad conditions were and the statistics reflect that. In 2016 our actual operating time was around 32 hours but in 2017 our time operating was over 52 hours and our final QSO tally this year was just a couple of hundred higher than in 2016 which includes around 200 Qs made using data.
Our two main stations were very similar.
2 x TS-590SG with amplifiers for 400w output.
Bandpass filters on each station for the appropriate band, fitted between the wireless and the amplifier.
GM3SEK chokes at the base of each vertical. We didn't choke the dipoles.
The data station was an FT-857 with a laptop running WSJT-X software, no amplifier.
One station sat on 40m exclusively for the entire time we were there. We expected it would be our 'money' band with the majority of QSOs being there and as you can see from the statistics above, we weren't disappointed with over 50% of our QSOs being on 40m.
We know we were being called by many stations outside Europe and despite taking breaks to try and work the DX stations, the noise and band conditions were just too poor.
The Martello Tower Group realise how privileged we are to have been allowed to run GB5RC from Ross Revenge and effectively given free run of the ship for the weekend. We'd like to thank Peter Moore and everyone involved with Radio Caroline for their help and support.
If you want to visit Ross Revenge and get a guided tour, you can book yourself on a trip by visiting the Radio Caroline web site and clicking on "Boat Trips". You'll get taken out by Stuart in Razorbill 3, get a hot drink and then a full tour of this historic radio ship. Trips generally take place on two weekends per month and if you go on a weekend when the station is broadcasting via Manx AM then you'll get to see the studios in action and meet the presenters. Unfortunately GB5RC won't be active but you can't have everything!
Goodbye from GB5RC on Ross Revenge, home of Radio Caroline
For more information about Radio Caroline, including how to join the Support Group and help keep the station on the air and Ross Revenge afloat, please see the website. Radio Caroline's main running costs are covered from Support Group subscriptions and donations.
Martello Tower Group, 2009-2020