YOTA 2017 UK was great to say the least, full with activities, workshops, tours and fun. It was a busy week in Gilwell Park and elsewhere. 80 members from 20+ countries were present, divided mainly into 3 groups, each with a specific program that is partitioned along 7 days, into morning, afternoon, and evening sessions.
Saturday the 5th was our day travelling from Tunis to Heathrow, and what a long day it was, a lot of waiting especially in Heathrow, where there was this never-ending queue of travelers literary from around the world, not to mention the jam when you reach UK borders agents. I was lucky it only took me less than 30 seconds; my teammate for some reason was not. Anyway, after all that time waiting, we were finally free to go to terminal 4. That terminal and the airport in general was so huge we had to spend some time looking around and going from train to train to reach terminal 3, where we met the South African and Norwegian teams. After sitting for some for few minutes getting to know each other, our ride finally came. We headed to Chingford where we lost the track for a bit, which was actually a good chance to enjoy Chingford and what beauty it has during night time. Then we reached Gilwell Park, where we landed and headed to Peter Harrison lodge, to get our shirts, badges and documents. And then then we were guided to our room N46, where we met our roommates from 9A (Croatia), with whom we were going to spend the week, and what great roommates, to say the least, they were.
Next morning, Sunday the 6th we woke up at 0700 in order to go have the breakfast at 0730 in this huge tent that was behind our lodge, where all participants, as well as organizers go to for breakfast get their lunch for the day, and dinner, well it was a bit of a weird breakfast since almost no one knew anyone else there. Then we headed back to the lodge hall for our first activity, the SOTA basics, and antenna making; we got to know from Kevin’s (G0PEK) experience many tricks and how to things that make a summit on the air easy, simple, and enjoyable, with things you can get practically from everywhere, such as car starters, batteries, light weight objects for antennas etc. Then we built an antenna with the SOTABEAMS 17m Ground-plane kit. This was a must go to session, simple and enjoyable. Then in the afternoon’s session we went for the SES Operation; we went to the shack for some pileups, lasting each 30 minutes, then switch to another band, or mode. We started with 20 meters, then 17, than sat training and QSOs, then 40m, then meteor scattering MSK, then enjoyed watching the Germans operate on digital modes, that even the organizers or those in charge of the stations where having some hard time trying to figure out what they were! Then came one of the most enjoyable and most memorable events of the whole week, the intercultural evening. It started with a quick introduction from the organizers, then each team started representing itself, and what it had to represent, then the fun started. It simply is indescribable; you just have to be there to feel how amazing that evening was. Let’s just say it was the chance to meet and get to know the guys like you knew them for a very long time. Of course some people’s behavior was, conservative towards certain people, towards to us, but in general you got the chance to eat lots of food, drinks, get gifts, and get to know people, the names and persons are so much it would take some space out of this article to write them down. Our stand was between the South Africans, and Italians, they were crazy people! Long story short, that evening is one of the events that will get stuck in my memory forever.
We began as total strangers, we ended up as friends.
On Monday the 7th, we woke up as usual at 0700 for breakfast then, headed for the foundation preparation session, we had some mock tests with Mr. Steve Hartley in which I failed miserably with 10 then 11 mistakes out of 26, which as you can imagine, was really disappointing for me, since we were expecting an actual foundation exam. Then, we proceeded with Morse coding and decoding, and then antenna tuning. The afternoon’s session was the ARDF, well for me, it was definitely challenging to say the least. The guys who hid the beacons were simply very good. Some beacons were simply really impossible to find if there was not coop work with other individuals. It took me about 3 hours to find 5 out of 10 beacons, well on the bright side, I found all the 2 meters, even when it means I was the last on the list. Maybe that’s because it’s my first time… The evening session was a “custom” activity proposed by one of the teams, it consisted of forming random groups of 5 from all the participants, we were handed a map of the park with different spots, 14 to be exact, we were randomly given a random one of these 14 to head to, to find our first task, once we fulfill it we head back with the correct answers for another one etc, if we failed we had to go back until we correctly fulfill it, else we’re stuck. The prices, compared to the effort we have done, were some sort of disappointing.
Tuesday the 8th was for me, as much disappointing as much as great it was; as soon I discovered that I will be establishing contact with the ISS right after breakfast, I found out that I missed the briefing because of a miscommunication, and therefore had been disqualified from the group of people that will be making contact with Paolo Nespoli. The morning session was no different from Sunday’s afternoon session, operating with GB17YOTA special call sign, on different bands and modes. During the afternoon session, we had kit building. Most of us started but never finished building the 5W CW transceiver kit, mainly because of one component only, the manual making of the transformer. The evening session was really exciting, there was an ARISS team, who brought and installed their special equipment. The pass was straight overhead so there was practically enough time for every participant to ask his or her question, a full 10 minutes video. Everything was ready the RSGB president had his words, some of the organizers had their word, then one the ARISS team had his word, explain what it’s all about, how it works etc, until the time came, many contact attempts had been established, but something seemed wrong, we cannot hear nothing, then came the video connection. It seemed at first that the astronaut could not hear nor transmit anything, but then he seemed like he hears but can’t transmit, multiple different have been tried but nothing seemed to work, even direct digital communication obviously did not work, more than 10 minutes, we could still see and hear the astronaut even below 10 degrees and probably over the horizon, passed without any result, everybody seemed disappointed, and the astronaut looked angry while the signal started weakening. We’d been told that that’s part of radio amateurism and such, and the ARISS team seemed agitated as it was the first time it happened to them, one of its members looked like he was on the phone with someone with NASA trying to figure out was went wrong. After sometime, right before we were asked to go take some pictures, one of the team told us that there might be a second chance; we could have another attempt with the next pass which would take an hour and half. And that is not sure and is to be confirmed. So we went for some group photos, videos, took photos with our phones etc, enjoyed chats etc until we’d been informed that the second attempt was confirmed, and that the astronaut will be talking to us from the Russian station, without video, and that we had only 7 minutes top. Everyone was excited and waiting impatiently, especially when we were told that this is the 1st time in the UK that two attempts in a row happen with the ISS, and it got even more stressful when one guy from the team started attempting to establish contact with the ISS. After some attempts, the sound came extremely loud and clear, and that literally was a moment of relief for everyone, after some quick introduction, everyone just was rushing to ask his or her question. Long story short, it was literally breath taking, stressful, yet exciting at the same time.
Wednesday the 9th was the day when our group was not that lucky, from the time we went for breakfast, we knew that the weather wasn’t going to be satisfying for a tour in London. Unluckily, it started raining as soon as we took the over ground, and it got even worse when reached Westminster station, which was the station that was in the heart of Westminster, there I saw, for the first time with my own eyes the famous Clock, heard its bells, the Westminster church, and many other things. It was simply amazing. There was a young tour guide waiting for us, things seemed to go great, but the only bad part was that the rain was pouring down in a constant rate, and wouldn’t simply cease. But that didn’t stop us from going around, despite that we got extremely wet, to a degree that some of us got angry and simply wanted to head back to the lodge. We went to many different places around London such as the, Horse guards’ parade, Buckingham palace, the green park etc. Then when the afternoon session came, we headed for the science museum, and what huge and amazing place it was; it was so huge we had to make a run to try and see as many things as we could from history, to technology, to rockets, to planes, to satellites, and even toilets! Even Apollo 10’s command module, V2 rocket, Tim Peake’s Soyuz TMA19-M Module, and even traces of Hiroshima’s nuclear blast! 3 hours were not enough to visit all or at least most of the museum’s floors. The evening session was another proposed activity; several people were sitting on 3 benches, supposedly 20m, 40m, and 80m they were supposedly making pile ups, those who were standing were supposed to contact those on the benches, then take their place, the mission was to get as many “QSOs” as possible, followed later by a movie.
Thursday the 10th morning and afternoon sessions were of choice, either Baldock Ofcom station visit, special call sign operation, kit building, or London visit. Well for me, to replace the rainy London visit, I had to go again, so that’s where we headed. I tried to get from London as much great memories as I could! I wasn’t sadly fast enough, but on the bright side, I experienced many things I always wanted to do or see. The evening session was the most stressful session of the whole week, since it was the foundation exam; there were mainly 2 persons in the room in charge of the exam. About 40+ participants were there. The exam took 55 minutes, and at the end we’ve been informed that the exam results would be announced the succeeding day during the closing meeting and party.
Friday the 11th was practically the last day for us in London. The morning session was a visit to the Bletchley park, where I got the chance to see what I could only see in videos, pictures, and documentaries; we first paid a visit to the GB3RS, the RSGB station that was in that museum, were QSOs had been made, then we head to the inside of the museum, where we got the chance to the many things such as the ENIGMA, typex machine WW2 actual codes written by code breakers, Japanese cipher machines, German WW2 Wehrmacht uniforms, bunkers, weapons etc. then we headed for the famous house where the magic happened! We got the chance to go inside, explore the beauty and architecture of the building, as well as the actual places where codes were broken, where various vital and crucial tasks had been performed, in order to shape the world we know today. And see famous WW2 key persons who helped and led in these tasks, then headed back to the museum to see other things such as the famous Lorenz cipher machine. It was like a capsule of history that has been preserved since the Second World War. The afternoon session was actually the chance to discover the countryside of the UK; we headed for an actual SOTA with Kevin in Wendover Woods, and we established some QSOs on 2m and 20m. this was my first SOTA, the weather conditions weren’t satisfying, so I managed to make 3 QSOs on 2m, but never managed to validate my first SOTA since I didn’t manage to establish the 4th necessary QSO, even after making multiple attempts. The evening session, and the final one was the closing meeting, where the organizers had their word, then each team represented itself, then Steve Hartley and the president had their words, prizes and gifts were presents for those who excelled in the shack, ARDF, contests etc. Then the exams results had been delivered, 42 out of 80 passed, luckily I happen to be the number 42, the last one to succeed on the list, and finally got my private license! Then the party began! It was fun, it was unforgettable..
Saturday the 12th was the day everyone started departing, even as early as 0430 in the morning. We were lucky to enjoy our last breakfast in the park in particular, and in, Chingford, London, UK in general with those who were left. We greeted those who we managed to meet. And then left the park at 1240 with the Spanish and Finnish teams and one member of the German team, the rest of which left on bikes!
I came the first day to London knowing no one, feeling frustrated, and in awkward situation. I left London with hesitancy wishing it had lasted longer! However, most important, I left with an experience, a great journey, a license, great unforgettable events, and acts, and above all, with friends, I would like to express the names of people I’ve met, but it would be unfair to mention them because I fear missing anyone of them while writing this article.
YOTA 2017 Participant