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VK Activator Stats – Part 3

Because it seems I have nothing better to do, and people are interested, I decided to dig a bit deeper into the retention/churn dimension discussed in the last post and continue the analysis started here. At some point I’ll actually get around to updating my blog with tales of my own activations, rather than data on everyone elses 😀

First, let’s define a new activator as someone who has their first activation in a particular year. Let’s then define an old activator as someone who has had their last activation in a particular year. By definition, this is taken at the end of the year, so for 2017, there are no old activators yet.

new_versus_old_activators

All VK new versus old activators

Unsurprisingly, there’s a big increase in new activators early in the SOTA program’s history in VK, and once we hit 2015, this rate slows down dramatically, and is overtaken by people who have, by our definition, ‘left SOTA’.

I acknowledge that a person who last activated in 2016 and hasn’t activated in 2017 yet will be counted as an old activator, but 7 months of inactivity isn’t an unrealistic definition, and so I am comfortable with the statistics as they currently stand.

From this, we can calculate net retention rates. I’ve chosen the new year as an arbitrary cutover date of our ‘subscription’, but while this analysis could be done for any particular date, I’m pretty happy the results will not dramatically change the analysis.

To calculate retention, we take the total number of activators last year, then calculate the total number of activators at the end of the next year. This is last year’s figure, plus the new activators this year, minus the old activators. We compare the ratio of this year to last year to get our retention rate.

retention_by_year

Calculated retention rate over all VK

As can be seen, a steady decline, with a little bit of noise in the data. This one is probably the more concerning one for me given the long term trend. No analysis has been performed on why, but the original post speculates.

I was then asked by Grant VK4JAZ about splitting by association. This isn’t easy as people can change association, but based on their stated “Home Association” in the database, the stats are as follows:

new_activators_by_home_assoc

Activators by year and home association for date of first activation

old_activators_by_association

Activators by home assocation and year based on date of last activation

From these, and using the same methodology above, we can track, by VK association, the total number of active activators:

activator_count_by_region_year

Total activator count – calculated as total activators last year, plus new activators this year minus old activators last year

This suggests that, apart from VK7, all associations have seen decreases in activators and activity since each association kicked off. It remains to be seen if this could be called a plateau, or if it’s a genuine decrease. The retention rate figures suggest its a decrease.

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VK Activator Statistics – Part 2

Some further statistics (again just for VK activators) – firstly, time since last activation:

time_since_last_activation

Time since last activation (in months)

This to me is a measure of how many ‘orphaned’ activators we have out there. Of all activators that have ever activated, over a third (36.5%) have activated something in the last 6 months. About the same percentage haven’t activated anything in over 2 years.

Some of those would have tried SOTA and not liked it, some may have been brought along for an activation and never got around to doing another. Some may have been active but fallen out of favour. I’m not aware of any SKs in the VK population at this point (touch wood).

Interestingly, there are spikes again, that seem to correspond to spikes in the First Activations graph from last post. This reinforces, to me at least, that these are likely of the “tried SOTA on the basis of an AR article, never did another one” flavour.

Next, we can examine the longevity of activators – how long between their first and last activations:

time_between_first_and_last_activations

Time between first and last activations in months

Five activators have stayed activating over a period of 60 months (5 years), and the reverse of that is 84 people (32%) have only ever been active for 1 month (likely a single activation).

Over half of activators have been active for a period of less than a year. Note that this is not the same as saying people are unengaged – an activator that only started 6 months ago but is still racking up activations will be in this cohort, but given roughly half of the cohort are in the 0 months bucket, it’s fair to assume that most in the cohort are no longer active in SOTA, and fit into the third of people from above that haven’t activated anything in over 2 years.

In the language of business (and customer engagement) this is called churn. People who buy a product or subscription then don’t renew their access to it. For a business looking to grow, churn is a problem because it means that any churned customer has to be replaced with net new business – and, on top of that, if they churned, you probably don’t have a promoter of your product out there!

The immediate question any business has to ask when confronted with churn is not, what do we do about it, but what is our expected, natural, level of churn. 90% stay with us? 50%? 5%? It’s never going to be no churn. Once you establish what your natural level is, then targets can be set, and we understand how many new customers we’d need to bring in to continue to grow.

Stepping out of the business world and back into SOTA, our current growth rate seems to be about 12-15 net new activators a year (from the last post). Our current retention rate (the inverse of churn) is at least 42% (107 active in last 12 months of 249 ever active). Note the use of the word “at least”, because that definition of retention is not strictly accurate. Our growth rate on 107 activators is therefore a bit over 10%.

So, in my opinion, if we want to continue to keep activity levels up, we need to concentrate on why people do one activation and no more, and, the question then is, how do we encourage those folks to stay active in SOTA, and, for those who have already activated, what would it take to get back into SOTA?

(Disclaimer: views are mine, not the MT’s, but I think you knew that)

VK SOTA Activator statistics

An interesting discussion on SOTA_Australia about perceived declining SOTA activity prompted this question from Paul VK3HN, and my response below

The correlation between Yahoo group messages and SOTA related activity can obviously be challenged — it could be the popularity of this group has waned but the number of activations has not. A more telling analysis would be to report on SOTAWatch alerts by VKs per month over the previous 5 years. Anyone care to do that?

Straight from the horse’s database, we have activation counts grouped by month (where callsign starts with VK or AX):

activations_by_month

Number of VK activations each month

and as a measure of how many new people are coming in, this is the monthly count of activators for whom this is their first activation in the database (again, where callsign starts with VK or AX):

activators_by_first_activation

First time activators

The first definitely shows a bell curve, complete with peaks at the New Year UTC rollover point. As people say, this is most likely correlated to sunspot cycle, but also I imagine that the early adopters aren’t getting out as much. Personally, I feel like I’ve hardly done any activating this year – most of my SOTA this year has been IT related!

The second graph is more important and that shows that the rate of new activators joining is only slightly down on the overall trend, with a few peaks probably associated with AR articles or the like. Interestingly, October last year was the only month where there wasn’t at least one new activator in VK. That’s suggests there’s still life in the old nag yet.

Equivalent chaser graphs could be generated of course, and I’ve not done detailed scrutiny on the veracity of the numbers, but a quick check seems sane.

02 APR 2017 – Yongmasan HL/SL-003

Back to Seoul, and this time I organised to catch up with Jason HL4ZFA and to tackle a meatier summit than our usual Ansan/Guryongsan options. Once again, my ex-colleague Hwanii came along as driver, in return for fried chicken and beer as payment. He graciously picked me up from the airport at 0-dark-hundred hours, and we headed off for breakfast. As we drove, I discovered Hwanii had been suffering from food poisoning; not good for our planned summit HL/SL-012, which was a long and hard climb.

We arranged to meet Jason at Central City station, where we discussed our options. Jason suggested Yongmasan HL/SL-003, to the north east of Seoul, a 1 pointer at 348m. There is a car park at the base, as well as a subway station near by. We parked, headed north onto a loop track heading clockwise, and started our ascent.

Yongmasan trail map. The summit is the large red and black dot.

Starting steps to the summit

It rapidly became clear that Hwanii wasn’t really in a good enough state for the climb. We took it slow, and he opted to hang back and catch up, but eventually, halfway up, as we stopped at a lookout, he realised he wasn’t going to be much cop, so decided to descend back to the car. Jason and I continued.

Seoul from first lookout

About two thirds of the way up is a Joseon-era beacon tower – fires were lit to warn of impending attacks – where we stopped again. These towers are dotted all around Seoul; some on SOTA summits (there’s one on Ansan HL/SL-008), others, like this one, are not.

Azaleas in bloom

Jason by the tower

Tower history

Eventually, we made the top of the summit, marked by a trig point, survey marker and Korean summit marker. At 348m, it’s the same height as my local summit, Flinders Peak. While not as busy as other summits in Seoul, there were still a fair few people about, so we set up to the north of the trig point, but that meant I had to orient my dipole in not the best direction for Australia, Japan and basically anywhere. SWR was fine on 20m, but not so good on 15m or shoehorned onto 17m.

Trig point

See, I was there.

Survey mark

Jason jumped on 2m, while I started on 20m SSB, getting two contacts into Japan quickly enough. Keeping a running eye on SOTAWatch allowed me to try for S2S’ with others, so I switched to 15m to try to work VK. I heard nothing on SSB, but switching to a JA activator’s frequency allowed me to hear a VK station, although I was in the skip zone for the JA. I spotted again, and after a while, I heard John VK6NU come back to me clearly, even though he wasn’t troubling the meter much. After a bunch of effort – John having trouble hearing me – I managed to get my 319 report and give John his report, we confirmed, and I had 3 in the log.

Numerous experiments on 15m and 17m just wouldn’t get me a path back to VK, although VKs were working JA. A combination of higher than normal SWR and poor antenna orientation couldn’t have helped. I even tried with the Buddistick, which, despite making the journey last time I was on Ansan, didn’t make it this time. Eventually, I jumped back to 20m CW, and tried to get a fourth contact.

By this stage, Jason had found a 2m slim jim in my pack, which he was putting to good use, finishing with 6 contacts on 2m. It sounded a lot more, but he explained that SOTA QSOs in Korea are much longer affairs than in Australia.

After a while, I managed to get my fourth contact, a S2S with JF1NDT/1 on JA/KN-021. I wrapped up the activation with another S2S with JL1NIE/1 on JA/KN-020, and a tough QSO with JO1IAU/1, with 219 sent back to him after about 10 minutes trying to get a callsign.

Panorama to the south

We descended down the southern part of the track, the more common approach route. There are steps on this side and it’s a nicer descent (and probably climb up). On our way down, we encountered a better Hwanii ascending. He no longer looked like he was dying, although he was still struggling a little bit. He turned around rather than reach the top, and we headed back down for lunch and check-in for me.

Descending the track

Queenscliff to Geelong walk – 26 MAR 2017

A recent ‘steps challenge’ at work had led to a discussion with one of my team about how far could reasonably be walked in a day. No firm conclusion was reached, although my personal record stood at 24km, as part of the St Phillack – Talbot Peak hike almost 3 years ago.

Wanting to test my theory out, I decided I’d take a look at walking along the Bellarine Rail Trail, which winds its way from near South Geelong train station through the Bellarine Peninsula, all the way to Queenscliff and is listed variously as 30, 32 or 35km. After sating my map fetish with a long Google Maps session, I settled on a walk from my house to South Geelong station, then along the Rail Trail, finishing up at the Queenscliff to Sorrento Ferry Terminal, roughly the furthest point south east along the Bellarine Peninsula. Google called this 40.5 kilometres, which I thought represented a nice threshold challenge – could I walk 40km in a day?

A reasonable amount of planning went into deciding how the day would pan out. For starters, I broke the trip up into smaller sections. From my house to South Geelong is about 4km, so would take me approximately 45 minutes at my fast walking pace of around 7km/h. Then I had about 19km to Drysdale station, near the high point of the rail trail, which would make a good lunch stop, before an 18km downhill section into Queenscliff. After that, I’d take a bus back to Geelong, and a short walk home from the bus stop.

The trail map

The date was fixed to be Sunday, 26th March, as I was travelling the weekend after, and the Saturday was occupied by a tennis grand final (that we lost by 4 games). The problem with the Sunday was that buses are infrequent and only run at 2:45pm and 4:45pm, taking almost 90 minutes to get home. This meant the 2:45pm bus was the one I wanted to be on, and this meant a 7am departure from home to ensure I made it with some contingency (allowing 30 minutes for lunch). I also figured I wasn’t going to keep up a 7km/h pace the whole way – particularly after a tennis grand final – so worked on the assumption of 6km/h as a constant pace.

I tried not to publicise things too much, as I wasn’t sure how I’d go, but my wife told her mother about it, and suddenly things became a bit more serious. She wasn’t sure it was a good idea to go from Geelong to Queenscliff, and raised a few good points. The more relevant one was simply that the last section between Drysdale and Queenscliff has very few exit points should I need to pull out, so that made Drysdale my decision point, and being only 23km into it, I’d likely say, “Yep, I’m fine”, keep going, and need to be airlifted off the trail 3km from my destination. The one that got me though was she wanted to go to the Queenscliff markets, and this way I could enjoy a bit more of a sleep-in, start at 9am in Queenscliff, arrive home around 4-4:30pm, and of course have my choice of taxis if I needed to pull out.

Queenscliff Ferry terminal

So, it came to pass that I found myself jumping out of the car with the family still in it, at the Queenscliff ferry terminal car park, and preparing to walk. I set up APRSDroid on my phone to beacon my position every 2 minutes via APRS-IS so they could track my location, fired up some podcasts, and started walking, 15 minutes late, at about 9:15am. The initial section is just along suburban streets to the Bellarine Rail Trail start at the Queenscliff station. As I left the station, a steam train was being fired up to travel along the parallel rail line between Queenscliff and Drysdale.

The start of the rail trail proper

Stoking the train in Queenscliff. Pozieres is famous to anyone who knows Australia’s WW1 history

From the station, you curve around Swan Bay before a bit of road walking at Murray St, and then the trail proper. The first section was completed quickly, although the cloud cover made it humid and it didn’t take long for me to be covered in sweat. I carried about 4 litres of water in my backpack, as well as lunch, which meant I was exerting myself a little more than I’d usually do on a walk. Still, I was able to maintain a pace of almost 7km/h all the way to Drysdale, with only one break for about 8 minutes while I spoke with a walker coming in the opposite direction (walking from Drysdale) who was curious about my equipment.

Swan Bay

He’d broken his hip last year, and in a giant middle finger to the universe (his words), he was planning to walk the Great Ocean Walk, from Apollo Bay to the 12 Apostles, at about 100km in length, and maybe the South West Walk after that (closer to 250km). I blew his mind when I told him about the Alpine Walking Track, 660km from Walhalla to Canberra, which he hadn’t heard of before. Once you leave Queenscliff proper, the walkers on the track disappear for the most part, and only cyclists are your real companions, so it was good to chat with a fellow lunatic heading in the opposite direction.

Suma Park railway station. Each station on the line is marked appropriately, whether still there or not. Suma Park is now a winery and the station is still used for visits when a Jazz Train runs.

The track itself between Queenscliff and Drysdale is loose blue metal gravel, but well-graded. There were a few sections where recent heavy rains had washed the finer gravel down into dips, making those sections seem like walking along a beach or in a sand pit, but there were usually enough solid areas that it wasn’t a big issue. The rail line is crossed a number of times before the final crossing near the Drysdale station, at the end of a steady increase in height towards the high point of the track. I say high point – it’s about 100m in height above sea level – but the track isn’t a steady grade up or down, and the steepest section is that bit about 2 kilometres from the Drysdale station.

The track, post Queenscliff

As I arrived, I could hear the toot of the steam train’s whistle, so I made my way to the platform of the station, and arrived about a minute before the train did. By my reckoning, that means I beat the train over 18km 😀 (averaging a pace of 8:52 min/km or 6.77km/h). I stopped here for lunch as it was now midday, and there was a nice park area to sit at, and this coincided with my parents calling me for my birthday. That made my lunch break 45 minutes instead of 30 minutes, putting me half an hour behind my original schedule, now arriving home around 4:30-5pm.

I set off from Drysdale for the longer section of the walk. The next bit takes you behind the Curlewis Golf Club, before crossing Portarlington Road after about 4km. Just as I was wondering if I’d see the family driving along the road, they pulled into a car park area on the other side, and we had a quick chat and update on my progress. I was still sweating like crazy, but the cloud cover was keeping it cooler than it could be, and I was still enjoying the walk.

The trail extends out to Leopold next, paralleling the Portarlington Road, and starting to climb a little to gain back what altitude had been lost on leaving Drysdale. The track was sealed for this section too, making progress a lot easier, and I entered the back blocks of Leopold without drama. The trail now followed the old tracks, which discontinued after Portarlington Road. An advantage of following a rail trail is that the railway folks try to avoid massive grade changes, meaning the track is elevated above sections that otherwise would be descents followed by a hard slog back uphill. Leopold represents the last high section, and it literally was all downhill from there, along a relatively smooth grade.

At Melaleuka Road, there’s the option of a 2km or so diversion to McDonald’s, but I was proud of myself for avoiding that, as I was starting to tire a little. Once past Melaleuka Road, the trail enters farming and industrial land, and this section is the dullest of the trail, as you traverse something akin to a wasteland (although without a pile of waste to worry about). I pushed on, knowing the track would cross Moolap Station Road, where I wanted to take my next break. Each minor road crossing become a bit of a false hope – was this one Moolap Station Road? Nope, onto the next one.

There are large electricity pylons that headed up to the old Alcoa aluminium smelter that used to operate at Pt Henry, and these were my reference point, but it took forever mentally to reach the road. When I made it, I had one of those revelations that make you realise how little you know your own home town, and how stupid you actually are. Moolap Station Road was, in my mind, the location of some farming homestead called Moolap Station, since carved up into an industrial suburb, because I’ve never registered there was a railway out this way. Of course, Moolap Station Road was the road to the old Moolap Railway Station. At this point, 30km in, a convenient picnic table and shelter took my pack while I rehydrated and questioned my life choices.

Moolap Station history board

I left Moolap Station, crossed the Bellarine Highway, and then things became really tough. The cloud cover disappeared, so the sun was out in full strength, and this section of the trail has little tree cover – nicely treed, but none of the shadows covered the track, so by the time I walked the 5km to South Geelong station, I was hot, sunburnt, and not real happy with my predicament. I’d kind of figured if a train was waiting at South Geelong, I’d jump on it and head the two stops home. But, of course, this time the train beat me, and, at one-all, I reasoned the universe was telling me I should keep going.

A change of t-shirt at South Geelong also made me feel a lot fresher, so I kept walking, first up Yarra St, then along Malop St, Brougham St and Mercer St. This path was chosen more to avoid having to wait at sets of lights, although I couldn’t escape it entirely, and my pace slowed a little as a consequence. 39 km in, I reached the footbridge over the main Geelong/Melbourne train line, and realised I’d have one last serious uphill to tackle, albeit a short one.

The footbridge uphill.

From there, I went to the bottle shop near home, arriving right at the 40km mark, in order to purchase a beer to celebrate. I grabbed a six-pack because they were on special, and, with another few kilograms weighing me down, covered the last 1.3km in good order. I arrived home at 4:45pm, which, given my initial estimate, I was pretty pleased with, having averaged 9:34 min/km (6.27 km/h) over 41.34km in total. The pedometer registered 47,766 steps for the day. In the last 3 km I passed at least 6 cafes, 1 McDonald’s, 2 bars, 3 types of Asian food, 2 wood fired pizza bars (located next to each other) and a gelateria. Yet the only place I stopped was a bottle shop for beer!

An ironically named beer. Carrying six of these 1.3km was totally worth it.

I cracked open a beer, ran a bath, and did absolutely nothing for the rest of the evening!

The path

Total distance

11 MAR 2017 – Bukit Timah 9V/SG-001

My now annual trip to Singapore for a work function was extended this time to include training the following week, allowing a weekend in Singapore, so the reciprocal license was applied for, and duly received, albeit after some substantial prodding of IMDA – the Singaporean ACMA equivalent. To be fair, when prodded, they moved quickly, and the amateur population in Singapore is only 50-odd, so we’re low priority, but it still took a while to get it, and it was looking hit-and-miss in the lead up to leaving.

I took a 2m handheld, rather than the HF gear, as I was expecting to be inundated with crowds at the summit point, and this was borne out. I could have strung out a dipole, but it would have been tight and conspicuous – something you should avoid in Singapore!

The Saturday morning arose, and after breakfast with a few colleagues also confined to Singapore for the weekend, I grabbed a fortuitous taxi that was dropping off another passenger, and headed to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. It’s about a 20 minute drive from downtown Singapore (I was staying in Anson Road), and cost about SGD$17 (about AUD$17…). It’s not obvious where the summit is until you get very close, because most of the buildings are taller than it.

Bukit Timah signage


Battle of Bukit Timah sign

The walk up to the summit is short – only about 1km, but is steep to start with, and made shorter but harder by the “summit steps”, which is the most direct route to the top. If you choose to avoid these, you can keep walking and approach the summit via the other direction. All up, about 15 minutes from leaving the taxi to being at the top and beginning to set up.

The path up

At the top, there’s a summit hut and a range of RF equipment. Apparently these towers are for military gear, and the signs on the fence indicating authorised personnel only (complete with image of a guy shooting an intruder) suggest this is the case, but they also appear to be in a state of real disrepair. Also near the summit is a barracks for those guards supposedly guarding the RF gear, but they appeared empty, and I saw no one in the time I was on the summit.

At the top

At the summit.

I grabbed some grass and pulled out the handheld. In Singapore, most hams monitor the 2m repeater run by SARTS, so I called CQ on that for a while, but got nowhere. No response, other than the usual key-up, and the repeater ident occasionally. After about an hour of calling, Mike 9M2LXM called me from Johor on the other side of the water in Malaysia. He explained that a lot of hams struggle to hit the repeater due to the high buildings and its location, but that he had a clear line of sight to it, as did I.

Calling CQ

After a bit of begging, Mike moved to simplex to complete the SOTA contact. Having spent his time monitoring the repeater, he was having difficulty remembering how to remove offset and switch the set to simplex. 10 minutes later, he called me back on simplex, and we completed the contact, 51 given to 52 received, on 144MHz FM.

With no other takers on the repeater after moving back there, I ended up calling it quits with only 1 contact, but that was enough for the 9V association to go into the log and tally for Mountain Explorer, which now stands at 23 associations.

The main road next to the reserve

I crossed the road and headed back to the hotel via the MRT at Beauty World Plaza – only costing $2.20 – and then grabbed chicken rice at the local Hawker market. The following day I explored Sentosa Island with some work colleagues.

At the southern most point of continental Asia on Sentosa island. Technicality. Singapore is attached to Malaysia via a causeway (not a bridge). Sentosa is attached to Singapore by a causeway. Hence, still part of continental Asia.

01 JAN 2017 – Mt Buller VK3/VE-008

Ah, UTC rollover, that glorious time of double points, and what better way to exploit it than with 10 point roughly drive up summits? Mt Buller fit that bill for me, being a relatively sane drive from Geelong, and also a unique. The drive up, through Alexandra, Yea and Mansfield took about 3 and a half hours, and the walk to the top less than 10 minutes, steep though it is from the summit car park.

Summit panorama

Summit panorama

Once there, it was clear it was going to be a very windy activation. Because of this, I set up closer to the fire watch tower, which was unmanned, and hit 40m for all it was worth. As expected, it was a S2S extravaganza, and the log was quickly filled up. I operated a mixture of search and pounce, and sitting on frequency, and there were a few instances of combined S2S operations as other activators heard me, or I heard others. Lots of cooperation, as always.

Looking north

Looking north

During this time, the fire watch person had arrived, and we had a quick chat; he wasn’t worried about my presence, but I did make it clear if I was getting in his way or causing interference he was to let me know immediately. There were no incidents from my side, although part of his UHF systems did seem to cause breakthrough when he used it occasionally. I wasn’t about to complain: fire watch takes precedence over SOTA.

Imminent risk of DEATH

Imminent risk of DEATH

In total, I had 52 QSOs across the rollover on 40m, and 1 on 20m, being Andrew VK3JBL/6 on VK6/SW-004, for my only VK6 contact, and in total, I added 255 S2S points to my tally, plus the 20 activator points, of course. As I packed up, I realised I’d also picked up some sunburn, which wasn’t as much fun.

South facing panorama

South facing panorama

I had a late lunch in Kilmore, before avoiding the temptation to throw in Pretty Sally on the way back, opting instead to get home at a sane and reasonable hour and not annoy my wife in the process. A fun UTC rollover again!

Back down to the summit village

Back down to the summit village

The topograph

The topograph

27 DEC 2016 – VK3/VN-023 Mt Tarrengower

In a similar vein to the previous activation of Mt Alexander, this was an opportunistic activation of Mt Tarrengower on the way back from Swan Hill. Having some control over the departure time, I noted there were going to be a bunch of ZL stations on the air, and timed my departure to have me arrive on Mt Tarrengower at the right time. It was raining lightly, but cleared as I set up.

In actual fact, I was a little early, and on 20m, I worked Gerard VK2IO first, who basically seems to be first in my log most activations. Then was John ZL1BYZ, who was low down, but workable from ZL1/WK-158, allowing me to complete the ZL1 association for Mountain Hunter. This is association 14. Col VK3LED got in ahead of UTC rollover before I switched to 15m, to try to work the other ZL stations.

I had heard them low down on 20m, but none had responded to my calls, and Warren ZL2AJ had suggested via SMS that 15m might be the go. I managed to work him on ZL1/BP-154, before QSY’ing up 5, and getting Kyle ZL2KGF and John ZL1PO in the logs from ZL1/AK-011 and ZL1/WK-153 respectively. ZL3LF also worked me on 15m, before 3 more on 20m (Gerard, Col post UTC and Ian VK5IS).

Pack up was quick and back into Malden for lunch and the drive home.

23 DEC 2016 – Mt Alexander VK3/VN-016

A quick activation while the family sat in Castlemaine on our way up to family Christmas in Swan Hill. It was a very hot day, and the biggest excitement, if it could be called that of this activation was the radio shutting down due to being in the sun while I set up (and of course being black). Gerard VK2IO was the first in the log on 20m, but I wasn’t able to hear Steve VK7CW. I QSY’d to 40m, and got Steve and three others in the log, before heading back to Castlemaine to pick up the family.

18 DEC 2016 – Mt Cowley VK3/VC-022 and Crowsnest Lookout VK3/VS-049

As part of a recon of an upcoming bushwalk in the Otways, and also as an excuse to get out of doing more work sorting out our new shed, I opted for a jaunt down the Great Ocean Road. The family didn’t feel like coming along, so I decided I’d add in Apollo Bay and make a day of it by doing a new unique, Crowsnest Lookout, which would also push me to 250 activator points.

Ocean from Mt Cowley

Ocean from Mt Cowley

The drive down the road was all you’d expect it to be for this time of the year. Lots of tourists with no idea about slow vehicle turnouts, doing 60km an hour on the straight sections. I reached Mt Cowley about 12:30, and after setting up, quickly got a number of VKs in the log via 40m. After a bit of fiddling around trying to hear a JA activator on 17m (my dipole has no 17m capability, but 15m comes close), I decided to stay on 15m. I worked 3 more contacts here, the highlight being JS1IFK and the ever present ZL1BYZ.

The Cowley Shack.

The Cowley Shack.

As part of the series on SOTA Watches currently on the reflector, and in honour of my grandfather, I carried two watches to use as timekeepers on these activations. The first was a pocket watch of dubious value other than sentimental, although I was sad to discover the movement is broken in it – either the movement itself, or the spring winder. It was back to using the phone for the first activation (the other watch was in the car).

Timepiece number 1

Timepiece number 1

I jumped back into the car, heading into Lorne for a late lunch, before driving down to Apollo Bay. This drive was more eventful. Much of the same, but the guy slamming on the brakes to turn into a lookout, causing the car in front of me to slam on their brakes late, causing me to slam mine on, realise I wasn’t going to stop, and opting instead to steer left off the side of the road to avoid them. The tourist in the car had no idea of the carnage behind them, but the other car was most appreciative of the consideration of not running up the back of her.

Once into Apollo Bay, I followed Tuxion Road out to the location of the lookout – if it can be called that. It’s more a turning circle, and I had to check and double check locations on Google Maps and Peter VK3PF’s blog to make sure I was in the right spot. Once there, I strapped the squid pole to the fence, ran it out roughly on 40m, and got on the air.

Apollo Bay from Tuxion Rd

Apollo Bay from Tuxion Rd

SWR was higher than normal due to the low height and rough layout, but not terrible, and I made a total of 14 QSOs, all on 40m SSB, the highlight being Wynne ZL2ATH, for my first ZL on 40m. The timepiece for this activation was a Sperina mechanical digital watch. This is about 70s vintage, and my grandfather always described it as “the first digital watch”, which is, of course, patently untrue. This one worked better than the first, and I used it to log all 14 QSOs.

The Sperina Mechanical Digital watch.  See the clock face which is like an old school alarm clock

The Sperina Mechanical Digital watch. See the clock face which is like an old school alarm clock

After 40m, it was getting late, so I packed up, phone the wife to find out what to get for dinner on the way home, and drove back, 250 activator points to the good.