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Day 13



   Tuesday 17th April, 2007

   There was a clear sky this morning and pleasantly warm, probably around 20deg. I chatted for a while then said my goodbyes to the Dutch couple in the camper van and wished them luck on their adventure.

   I borrowed a tape measure from John and cut the di-pole wires to the correct length and selected two trees near the camp kitchen approximately 30 meters apart. I then did my trick with the rock-weighted venetian blind cord and hoisted the di-pole up so that the centre of the antenna was about 2.5 metres above the ground. I brought the Sulo bin (to utilise as a work table) from the camp kitchen over to the point where the coax feeder was hanging from the balun. This was now at the mid point of the antenna, stretched pretty tightly between the two trees. I then hooked it up to the radio and plugged in the 12V NiMH battery pack that was now fully charged and turned on.

   Wow. WOW!! I tuned around the 40 metre band and picked up lots of voice conversations.

   First was VK3FI Noel in Mildura, Victoria on 7.090MHz. I spoke to him and he received me "strength 9". That is just about the best there is. He was surprised that I was only using 5 watts.

   Then VK3FNKC (the "F" indicates a foundation amateur radio operator who has an entry level license and probably got it recently). And VK3UH, both also from Victoria. Bill told me later that he heard me talking to these "contacts". This is bloody good news. I had been wondering if the amateur radio was going to be a viable solution to the communications I would need when I was "further out". Now that worry could be put to rest.

   Now I have to tell you I was excited. I proceeded to tune around the band and then heard VK2SD, Jay from Charlestown, in Newcastle. Wow again. If I could talk to this guy, I would be able to get Bill.

   Next I got onto VK5HJS, Shane who is "underground" at Coober Pedy opal fields. This is a lot of fun. Well, for me at least. Although I know how it all works, I still get excited when I experience technology in action (and working properly).

   I will now stop listing all the contacts I make with the amateur radio except those that are particularly significant. Otherwise, I would bore most readers to tears. If you are interested, or perhaps you are one of the contacts I made "on air", please have a look at my amateur radio contacts page where I will list them all.

   And there was more great news this morning. After I had had a good play with the amateur radio and had spoken to QLD, NSW, VIC and SA, I decided to give it a rest and see what I could find out about the satellite phone. Not that I was an over-excited about getting the sat phone. It would add considerably to my pack weight and I was already not overjoyed at the way my shoulders ached after only half an hour. I would not be able to use it as freely as I had my cell phone because of the high cost of the calls. The main reason I was now thinking "next problem, get the sat phone" was that I had now been in Hawker for five nights and only the arrival of the sat phone was holding me back.

   I have really enjoyed my stay in Hawker. Met lots of great people, locals and travelers and, especially, "Big" John. We have now developed a friendship that will last and have discovered that while it is my goal to finish at Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria late August, John will be at the end of his lease at the hotel at about this time and he has planned to got to, wait for it... Sweers Island. Where's that? What's the significance? Sweers Island is a resort island in the Gulf of Carpentaria just 160km from Karumba. John has friends there and we reckon we might get a spot of fishing in. Sweers island is famous for its fishing.

                                           Map of the Gulf of Carpentaria

   Back to the sat phone. I rang Australian Satellite Services (the supplier) in Adelaide and was assured by Glennis that it would was being dispatched from Perth that day. It would arrive here in another day or so and I could be on my way.

   I was back on the radio at 4pm and made some more contacts. I have put the details in the ham contacts page.

   The very good news is that, at 4.30, I called Roger, VK4BNQ, and got an immediate reply.

   "Victor Kilo Four Bravo November Quebec, this is Victor Kilo Four X-ray Juliet Juliet, do you copy?"

   "VK4XJJ port 5, VK4BNQ. Afternoon Jeff. Good signal."

   
I was so anxious that I had forgotten to add "portable 5" to my call sign to indicate that I was not in Queensland but in South Australia. Roger had politely reminded me by adding the "port 5"  when he replied. I was still pretty raw (and I must admit considerably "mike shy") but I felt much more comfortable communicating with Roger who would be kind on me while correcting my "on air" misdemeanors. It is generally true that amateur radio operators (hams) are very forgiving of "newbies" and grant a lot of latitude and give lots of advise. Also, the amateur radio clubs meet regularly all over Australia (and the world) and a lot of the time there is given over to teaching and learning, mostly in small groups or one on one. They also hold "classroom" type, structured lessons whereby the older, more experienced hams can pass on their knowledge.

   "ROGER! It works. I made the balun with the bits you sent and followed your instructions. It was pretty easy really. And I am happy with the results. I have spoken to half a dozen hams from all over and IT WORKS!" "Over."

   
Hmm. I was not sure if I should be adding the 'over' bit or not. I may have seen too many movies.

  "That's great, Jeff, you're coming in nice and clear here too. I heard you being interviewed on the Brisbane ABC yesterday and managed to record it on tape. Back to you."

   
Ah. By adding 'back to you' Roger has indicated that it is appropriate to 'hand over' when you have finished your bit. Unlike a telephone, you can't hear the other person while you have your microphone button pressed and you are transmitting. So it is best to have a 'formal' handing over from one speaker to the next. Sometimes, though, with clear signals and familiarity with the person you are speaking to, it is often left off.

  We 'chatted' for 15 minutes or so and agreed to come on air again in the morning.

   My lovely little Yeasu two way radio   Radio, battery pack and solar panel

   And more good news for the day was that the battery pack that I had 'designed' to be charged from the solar panel and run the radio had done its job. I had now been on the air today for over an hour and the batter was still going strong. After a pretty shaky start to my journey, technically speaking, I now had no major worries about being able to communicate. Specifically to Bill and Roger and, in emergencies, I would always be able to speak to a ham somewhere in Australia and have my situation relayed by phone to Bill or Roger, my 'support team on a string'.

   With a song in my heart and an obvious spring in my step, I packed up the radio gear and headed over to the pub for dinner with John and do some boasting about my successful day with the radio.
   
     Tomorrow, a 'hang around' day and more radio contacts