Last month, after a long hiatus largely brought on by bad weather and communicable diseases cancelling events (not as long as the editor for this blog has had though), we took part supporting an event for the Toowoomba Endurance Horse Riders Association. The Hip Pocket Challenge is an event they run every year, and they normally operate out of Cooyar, but due to construction works making the route a little treacherous for horses, in the interim they have been running the event out of Southbrook, a short drive south-west of Toowoomba itself.
The event is a single day, starting early on the Sunday morning and finishing in the early afternoon. A few weeks earlier, some members of BAWG took a drive up there to assess the communications situation, aside from one check-point, simplex FM communications would cut it. For the more distant case, John VK4IE found through propagation prediction software that it should be theoretically possible to reach base with a little height and effective radiated power.
Joining us, were a number of members of the Ipswich WICEN group.
We didn’t use anything fancy on this occasion, base did use a computer-based logging system, however the check-points all ran from paper and plain voice comms. A simple, tried, but known to be reliable, method.
Most of the group rolled up over the course of the Saturday. With the event not starting in earnest until the next day, there was plenty of time to set up camp, and play a little radio. Your correspondent also did an experiment with live reporting of the event via Mastodon, a distributed social media system not dissimilar to Twitter.
For the base, we simply erected a high-gain vertical on a pole, mounting it with the aide of a jockey wheel mount on a nearby caravan. Some batteries, a mobile radio, and a laptop… and we were set more-or-less.
With much of the camp set up, there was time to just sit and chat or just otherwise relax.
For others, this was an opportunity to operate portable HF. Kellie VK4KTW, with the supervision of fellow Ipswich WICEN member Peter VK4SIR and myself managed to score a contact with Chris YJ0CA in Vanuatu on 14259kHz using a M1ECC multi-band vertical antenna on his 4WD. The DX bug seemed to have bit, and thus he’s now looking to upgrade his foundation-level license to a standard or advanced so he can chase DX on 20m unsupervised.
That afternoon, we all piled into vehicles and took a trip around the course to learn where our check-points would be. In our case, Peter VK4SIR was coming with us (David VK4MDL and myself), we’d be operating a check-point only a few kilometres away, with our check-point scheduled to open at around 3:00AM.
Our check-point was CP2. Confusingly the horses would come past us on their way to CP1, but thankfully they were all past us the first time around before we saw them on the return — dealing with horses coming in both directions is no fun.
Getting to the check-point was no trouble, as the roads were dry and the weather was reasonably pleasant. For our set-up, a simple magnetic-mounted dual-band vertical and a straight FM mobile rig was all that was needed. I used my hand-held to listen, but noticed there was a bit of signal fade as I moved around, so didn’t try using it for contacting base.
I didn’t take many photos of the competitors, as it’s difficult in the darkness to get a good photo without appropriate equipment (a tablet’s built-in image sensor and flash is not sufficient). In the photos below, the bright spot is a competitor’s headlight.
Our check-point was finished by about 6:00AM.
The more challenging check-point was CP5, manned by John VK4IE and Al VK4AL. This was behind a hill from the perspective of base, and thus both elevation and effective radiated power were required. Luckily John is well equipped for such situations, with a vehicle-mounted pneumatic mast and an assortment of antennas to throw at the problem.
The base as mentioned is a simple affair. Simon VK4TSC and Robert VK4KHW mostly operated base, although at one point I did step in to give the others a break. The set-up overlooked the point where competitors arrived/departed, so in that sense had a good view of what was happening. It also helps that TEHRA are a highly organised group, keeping us informed of vet-outs and withdraws as they happened.
The event was a great success. It’s up in the air as to whether TEHRA’s use of the Southbrook sports grounds is a permanent situation — a lack of shower facilities and a limited capacity septic system being issues that made an event of this size a challenge, but the location is a good one for some of their members who are local to the area.
From the WICEN point-of-view, the high degree of organisation on the part of TEHRA in terms of track routing and competitor status notification was greatly welcome.