RaDAR – A visit to the other side of SOTA

I have a lot of respect for those that are able and do take part in the SOTA challenges. I don’t have many defined summits near to where I stay but I did try to access two of them. I did it in conjunction with my salt mine activities trying to expand on our wireless network.

The summits in question were ZS/NW-008 and ZS/NW-004.


My colleague Jaco and I left early Friday morning for the Marico area traveling mostly on gravel roads. I’ve traveled these roads a few times over the years one of which was used for final training for the Comrades marathon a few years ago. Rough, with steep uphills and downhills and it brought back some fond memories.

The first recce was to NW-008. This summit was on top of one of the biggest mountains in the area. What lay between us and it was miles and miles of eight foot game fencing and private property. No contact numbers on the many gates that we passed.


We continued down the road towards Groot Marico, the mountains became hills and the hills became flatter. It was time to turn around and that’s what we did. It was starting to get warmer and I climbed out of the car and took off my jacket. A farmer that was cutting feed in a field for his cattle came towards us and we introduced each other. After a discussion about looking for hills and places to expand our radio network he asked us to follow him home and he’d show us the top of a mountain on his farm and so as he drove past on his tractor we followed him.

What a kind gentleman, he took us through his hilly farmlands to the top of one of the highest hills (BERGG) in his Mahindra bakkie. He said we are most welcome to install whatever we need on the hill. It was not as high as NW-008 though.

C360_2014-06-20-10-41-01-028 (2)

I took a few measurements while we were up there and then we returned to the farmers farmhouse, bid our farewells and thanks. I wrote down his contact information if needed for the future.

We continued back down the road with the intention of going to NW-004. We passed NW-008 on our left and there was a farmer and farmhands working with a bull whose horns had gone septic. I stopped and Jaco and I introduced ourselves to him. “How can I help you?”, the gentleman asked and so I explained again what we were looking for. He said he’d take us to the top of a mountain on his farm. In fact he had three farms adjacent to one another all with mountains on them! Jaco mentioned NW-008 and the farmer said we can’t go there and I didn’t push the matter any further. He was kind enough to take us to another hill and I accepted his hospitality.

I had to use my own car this time, a Nissan X-Trail. It has 4×4 capability but not a fully fledged 4×4. So we climbed up embankments, through gates, and steep shale covered pathways. I had doubts in my mind that the car would be able to climb the mountain. In first gear, the car in 4×4 mode with hill assist the X-Trail climbed faithfully up the hill. It certainly surprised me! The farmer agreeing to take it slowly and then I found out he was 77 years old, as fit as a fiddle and very open minded, an interesting man!

I took measurements at the top of BERGJ and we traveled down the steep hill again. The 2.5 liter X-Trail handled that very well too. Jaco and I said our goodbyes and our thanks for his hospitality too. I also took his contact details.

We drove off to NW-004 stopping for coffee and sandwiches alongside the road. To prove to Jaco I could make contact with someone via shortwave while we were in a valley amongst the rocky hillside I did a quick RaDAR deployment with my FT817 and end fed antenna and had a short SSB QSO with Flip ZS6PJK. We packed up and continued to NW-004.


A final realization.

I could not access any of the two defined SOTA summits. There were thousands of other places from where to operate. Later while trying to get access to NW-004 I did another RaDAR deployment on a ridge and made two CW QSO’s with Barrie ZS6AJY and John ZS6JBJ. We had to move because a number of cattle on their way home for the night looked unsettled with what they saw and so I packed up and we moved off to the cellphone tower (CELLT), Tafelkop (TFK) and eventually back home (NWK) changing a flat wheel on the way where a sharp rock had cut a hole through the back tyre just before leaving the gravel road.

I traveled a little over 300 km’s for the day, over 200 km’s were gravel roads. No summits could be activated but RaDAR deployments were effective and successful.


RaDAR – Historic first RaDAR to SOTA contact

A few stations in South Africa had plans to do an all time first SOTA to SOTA contact in particular Pierre, ZS6A and Dennis, ZS4BS. The sked time was 09:00. I thought it an ideal opportunity to make it a first RaDAR to SOTA too.

I always have my RaDAR kit packed and ready to go. At 08:40 I picked up the pack and Klaus mast and walked down the road, the destination behind the nearby primary school. There is quite an embankment on the edge of the sport field. I don’t have a mountain nearby.

By 09:00 I was deployed and ready. I heard nothing on 7.090 MHz LSB or 7.020 MHz CW.


While sitting and waiting, I heard Derek ZS5DM calling and we had a QSO from 09:09 to 09:26. He had a good signal and I received a good report from him too. He later tried 1W QRP and I could still hear him RST 519.

At 09:14 I had a QSO with Monk ZS4SF we also had 599 signals both ways but there were still no signs of Pierre, ZS6A on CW ?

At 10:07 I heard Dennis ZS4BS in QSO on 7.090 MHz LSB and as he signed I called him. He was at the SOTA peak ZS/FS-012 overlooking the Sterkfontein dam with the Drakensburg mountains on his right. A little windy he said. He was running 30W into a dipole using his FT857. I gave him a RST 51/55 with QSB and he gave me a RST 57

Dennis and Jaco were equipped with a flask of coffee and some rusks. I can only imagine what a fantastic time they were having on the mountain!

I used my FT-817ND running 5 Watts into my “shortened” end fed held high in a tree using the Klaus mast strapped to the tree trunk. The bungies barely made it around the tree!


A SOTA to SOTA did take place – first summit to summit between Willie ZS6WBT on ZS/MP-005 and Dennis ZS4BS on ZS/FS-012

I had another short morse code (CW) contact with Monk on 7.020 at 10:20 then it was time to pack up and walk back home. I celebrated by taking Elrika and Eduan out for brunch.

RaDAR – Hamnet 24 hour field ops June 2014 day 2

Day 2

Day two started from midnight. I had been giving feedback on the ops on Facebook sending photos of what was happening at tactical comms point – Molopo.

I needed to charge the smartphone. I used my Waeco battery pack as a supply. It has a 18 A/Hr battery inside and was my backup 12 volt power supply. I had a netbook DC to DC converter with a 5 volt USB port on it. I used this to charge my smartphone. This was about the worst mistake I made throughout the ops, the charger drained my battery! Better to carry a spare cellphone battery or two.


Being a cold winter environment was a good excuse to store my 7 A/Hr SLAB’s in an old video camera bag. It was an all round good idea, easy to transport and I carried other items like rechargeable penlights and general power cabling in it too.


I exchanged messages with Hibiscus and Taqua on channel 2 (3.695 MHz LSB) just after midnight. The band had quietened down and not much activity could be heard. I called a few times without response.

I thought it a good idea to get some sleep. The gas lantern had been running all night keeping the tent a little warmer while providing light (I still needed to use a headlamp though). I was warned by Jack, VK4JRC via Facebook that these lamps are killers and give off carbon monoxide. I did have one of the tent’s vents slightly open but would be a risk to have the lamp running while asleep – I may never wake up again! I slept till 06:30


At 07:01 I was active again working Morateng, Spaarwater, Waterberg, Secunda and Nigel on channel 2.

It was time to make breakfast before going RaDAR. I had some bacon, three eggs, a pan and gas stove. It was fun making breakfast for myself out in the field on a fresh winters morning.


Just before leaving to do a RaDAR deployment in the dense bush, I worked Hibiscus again on channel 4 (7.095 MHz LSB) 08:47 almost the end of the second last session.

The last three hour session

I used my Klaus mast again and “shortened” end fed antenna. I could deploy the antenna amongst the branches of a tree without the dangers of the antenna getting stuck up there. The mast, once again, was “bungied” to an available tree branch.


This was almost a “stealth” deployment in the dense bush. I placed my kit on the autumn leave covered ground as far from the end fed feed point as the 3 meter length of coax would allow.


I worked a few more stations on various bands. Hibiscus, Monateng and Secunda on channel 4, Vaaitjie on channel 6 (14.300 USB), and Nigel and Honingklip on channel 5 (10.125 USB).


The last session was the most fun while practising RaDAR in the bush. I was absolutely thrilled with the multi band capability of the simple 9:1 UNUN fed “shortened” end fed antenna tuned with the LDG z817 automatic ATU. The FT817ND worked well and 7 A/Hr SLAB had  enough charge to last at least for another session or two.

I walked back to base camp, sat in the sun for a while, packed up and went home.

What an awesome ops!

RaDAR – Hamnet 24 hour field ops June 2014

Day 1

Saturday morning, Elrika and young Eduan had left early to get to Hartebeespoort dam for Eduan’s cross country run. Grandad is proud of his young trail runner!

The car had to be packed, the ops equipment already staged in the dining room the night before. It took around an hour to pack everything and I scouted around the house to make sure nothing was left behind. Time was running out, it was already 10:30. The exercise was to start at 12:00 local time. I still had to travel 35 kilometers to the deployment area, tactical name – Molopo.

My biggest concern was whether the Webb FST 400 multi band antenna would work. See

Click to access Fst%204004R-25R%20S3.pdf

 I bought this antenna second hand many years ago and it had not been tested – yet. I had other antennas packed just in case.

The cost of batteries dictated my mode of operation. I chose to go the full 24 hours running QRP only. The FST had to work! My rig, an FT-817ND, LDG z817 ATU and  2 x 7 A/Hr SLAB’s (Another in my backpack).

I decided to use my telescopic “Eskom pole” as the mast. It has a sturdy place at the top where I could bolt the FST’s balun on to. The FST is a very big antenna. I rolled out the wires in two opposite directions in an open space between the trees. There are two wires on each side but are joined at the ends.

By around 12:00 I was ready to use the antenna and set up temporary camp to make my first contact using the FST. All stations worked in a channelised fashion, channel 4 (7.095 MHz) was busy!


At 12:08 I made my first contact with Waterberg and by 12:10 we had both exchanged messages and signed out. The FST antenna worked at least as an NVIS antenna! It was time to set up camp. The wind was already starting to increase in intensity. I unpacked the tent and positioned it so the coax could be routed through the tent doorway even when zipped up. I had to take into consideration the slope of the ground. I didn’t want to sleep on a downhill later in the night!


I had the tent set up by 13:00 and put the table inside, out of the wind. I exchanged further messages with Secunda, Nigel and Spaarwater all in division 6, Hibiscus in division 5 and Tanqua in division 1. The FST was working, even further than normal NVIS distances. At QRP power levels I was impressed with the performance of the FST. Granted, there is a lot of wire in the air!

During the second 3 hour session I wanted to deploy as an on foot RaDAR station and so it was time to pack the rig into the back pack and move out shutting the tent door on my way out.


I went east looking for a place to place my Klaus mast, an abandoned pipeline excavation area. I found a sutable tree trunk and strapped the mast to it using my heavy duty bungi cords. In no time at all I had my “shortened” end fed deployed and ready for comms. My 817 was connected to the 7 A/Hr SLAB in the base of my RaDAR backpack.


The picture below shows the end fed “bungied” at the feed point, the bungi acting as shock absorption protecting the wire from damage. The wind was chilly but not strong. I fed the end fed with 3 meters of RG58cu coax and lay it on the ground as a “counterpoise”, the other end plugged into the 817’s LDG z817 ATU.


The RaDAR flag was flying! I exchanged messages with Spaarwater, Nigel, Secunda and Monateng all in division 6 on channel 4 (7.095 MHz LSB) and another contact with Hibiscus in devision 5 also on channel 4. The end fed was performing well! Hibiscus had a good operator !


I walked back to where I had set up camp and exchanged messages with Honingklip and Tanqua both in division 1 on channel 4 before the end of the second 3 hour session using the FST. The sun was already showing signs of setting.


I took a short walk down to the river. An awesome sunset. The wind had died down. A pleasant evening but a distinct chill in the air as the sun faded over the horizon.


Session 3, Waterberg and Hibiscus again on channel 2 (3.695 MHz LSB). I tuned to channel 1 (1.843 MHz LSB) and called there – Waterberg came back to me and we exchanged a special extra message. That was a bonus point and I worked my first QRP 160m station! The FST isn’t even rated for this frequency but it worked!

Thereafter messages were exchanged with Monateng and Nigel all on channel 2.


Around 21:30 during session 4 I exchanged messages with Hibiscus and and Tanqua on channel 2.

Next session – midnight and a new day.

Continued – Day 2

RaDAR – The Hamnet winter exercise


Busy building my check list that nothing gets left behind on Saturday!



Five man Tent (Able to stand)

Fold up table

Fold up chair

Fold up stretcher

Fold up mattress

Sleeping bag

Gas bottle – Sufficient gas!

Gas lantern attachment


Cooler bag – Food and water / cool drink (for two days)

GPS and Compass (Optional)


Warm clothing!

Warm Jacket

Track suit




Spare clothing

Easy sleep – anti mosquito!


Power and lighting

2 x LED Headlamps – New batteries

Waeco (18 A/Hr SLAB) – Charged

2 x 7 A/Hr SLAB’s – Charged

Homebrew FT-817ND power cable with crocodile clips (Beware polarity)

1 x 7 A/Hr SLAB (for backpack) – Charged

Rechargeable penlights – Charged


Blogging and ops reporting (Spare time, if any, blogging)

Netbook  – Charged

Spare netbook battery – Charged

Wireless mouse – New AAA battery

Smartphone (Spare time internet gateway) – Charged

PAYG Data bundle

Camera – New battery!


Masts and antenna supports

Eskom mast

3 x Guy ropes + carbiners (for Eskom mast)

3 x “7” shaped Tent pegs (for Eskom mast)

10m Qick deployment fibreglass RaDAR mast

2 x Heavy duty bungies (for fibreglass mast)

2 x Paint roller handles (serves as a 4.5m mast / two hiking poles)

Joining tube (for paint roller handle mast)

Optional short guy ropes (for paint roller handle mast)

Rope (serves as a third guy wire for quick inverted vee format antenna deployments with the paint roller mast)

Bungi’s (shock absorption to protect wire antennas where needed)

Spare small carbiners

Small pulleys (Optional)



Webb FST 400 including mast mountable balun

Click to access Fst%204004R-25R%20S3.pdf

Open wire fed W3EDP

Open wire fed (300 ohm) random length dipole

LDG 4:1 Balun (for above antenna and W3EDP)

Coax (PL259’s both ends)

Various Coax fly leads

Various coax adapters

Shortend 9:1 UNUN fed, multiband end fed

Trap dipole 40m / 80m

Trap dipole 30m / 20m / 10m + fixed coax

Roll up wire 10m J-Pole

Various tie ropes

Extra wire (for possible 160m deployments)

Terminal blocks (joining wires)

Tent pegs (securing antennas in the absence of natural tie down facilities)


Radio equipment

FT817ND Multiband QRP radio

LDG z817 comapnion auto ATU – With 4 x spare AA penlight batteries

Hand mic


Heil Traveler headset + boom mic (Optional)

MP3 recorder

Headphone jack splitter



Programmed frequencies (HF channels)

2 x Operations log (RaDAR / Portable)

2 x Message lists (RaDAR / Portable)

5 x GOOD Pens


Watch – accurately timed


 Tools and testers




Measuring tape

Shifting spanner

Flat screwdriver




Selling the idea of RaDAR


Selling RaDAR is a difficult thing!

There are so many similar activities like SOTA, Adventure radio, various QRP activities etc.

We need to sell the idea where RaDAR is different to everything else. I like to compare it to an obstacle course, a game.

The basic things are:

  • All moving operators have to move after every five QSO’s for a required distance.
  • We need to determine accurate positional information and communicate this and other basic information in an accurate manner.
  • No 59 or 5NN useless info.
  • We need to be self sustainable carrying water, food and protection from the elements.
  • We communicate by using every means possible, from CW, to voice modes, to digital, to satellite communications.
  • We need to be practised that we know what works best allowing us to  make decisions quickly. Every deployment is a new puzzle to solve and lots of FUN!
  • RaDAR is daring to be different.
  • RaDAR is living a healthy lifestyle and incorporating amateur radio within our outdoor activities.

We can add to the list!

RaDAR – Power supply a challenging decision



I have joined in for the national 24 hour Hamnet exercise that takes place this weekend from Saturday at 12:00 to Sunday 12:00 local time. Communications take place between stations within all divisions of South Africa including Gough island.

Last weekend, I looked around for deep cycle batteries that would be capable of powering my FT-847, including the FC-20 automatic ATU, for 24 hours. These batteries are incredibly expensive so I am forced to run a QRP station. I have sufficient battery power to power my FT817ND RaDAR backpack radio for 24 hours.

All HF bands are used (160m to 10m, including the WARC bands) in a channelised fashion. The use of a multiband antenna and antenna tuning facilities could facilitate quick switching between the channels. ATU’s use power too and are forever tuning – at least in the case of my FC-20! The 817’s companion LDG z817 ATU runs off penlights but only uses power while tuning. Maybe time for a battery change. They have been in service for a few years already – pretty efficient I’d say!

The Hamnet Winter Challenge 2014 document makes it quite clear that only battery supplies and field charging methods may be used.

There is quite a lot of accurate messaging to be done with 20 different field stations during every 3 hour period for 24 hours. A few others will be using QRP too!

This may be a “portable” deployment but  will be a rather challenging exercise from a RaDAR perspective.

Other things need to be taken into consideration too. Emergency lighting, headlamps, shelter from the cold (a small tent and sleeping bag) not to mention food and water.

Protection from biting insects cannot be over emphasised!