For several days prior to the contest the prospects for the weather on the day had been closely followed. The forecasts suggested that as it was likely to be unsettled, possibly wet and windy, it was decided to erect the transmitter antennas at the two sites a few days before the event.Early on the morning of the contest the rain was falling steadily, accompanied by heavy wind, but by mid-day blue patches had appeared in the sky promising much better weather. For the rest of the day it remained dry, benefitting both competitors and also the transmitter operators. A previously unused start location had been chosen for the event and ten teams assembled at the sports field by the village hall at Pleshey, to await the first transmissions. Strong signals were received from both hidden stations, but, inexplicably one competitor, Gary Parker, heard neither so the approximate bearings were disclosed for those who wished to use them.
The “A” Station, G4 MDF/P, operated by Peter Larbalestier was hidden in blackthorn bushes within an overgrown area by the side of the River Ash at Mill Wood, Much Hadham, approximately 14½ miles west from the start. Stinging nettles, fallen trees, the river and other nearby water features added to the hazards faced by competitors. A three-quarter wavelength antenna also contributed to the difficulties faced by the competitors, with much interest being shown in the area around the “wrong end” of the aerial, and the undergrowth near-by. An initial group of five competitors found this transmitter as their first station and by the end of the afternoon, eight teams had been successful.
The “B” Station, G3 TRY/P, operated by Philip Cunningham, was also hidden within thick blackthorn bushes, on rough disused land at Coxtie Green, to the north-west of Brentwood and about 13 miles south-west from the start. Previously, this area had been used as sand and gravel workings, then as a refuse tip, but now with much of the land overgrown, but open to the public, an ideal location to hide a DF transmitter. A v-shaped aerial, with an earth spike added to the difficulties experienced in locating the operator deep in the bushes. To further add to the challenges, radiation from a dummy aerial took the searchers further away from the concealed transmitter. Several competitors also found the woods and park land of the adjacent Weald Country Park of much greater interest before arriving at the site of the actual transmitter. Four teams found this transmitter initially, with Gary Parker being the first arrival having crawled at length through the deep undergrowth to find the operator. By the end of the contest, nine of the competitors had located this transmitter.
After the event, competitors met at the Kings Head PH, North Weald Bassett, for a cooked meal from the menu. This was followed by announcements of the results, and with the distribution of prizes and speeches. The Colchester-Chelmsford DF Qualifier Shield was also presented to the winner, Graham Phillips.
A busy afternoon was enjoyed by all, but the prize for the “unluckiest competitor” must go to Rosie Merry who, by her self-less, unwitting but helpful assistance given to two other teams searching at the A Station site, missed being able to clock-in to her second station and to record her arrival by just TWO seconds, at 16.30.02. And even that with the desperate help of the transmitter operator!
Team: Graham, G3XTZ ... Justin, G4TSH ... Dave, G8FZV.
Dave and Justin joined me at 10 A.M. and we departed for Essex while in phone contact with the Echelford net on 1.979 MHz. The net finished at about 10.40 when we were approaching the M1 junction on the M25 and we switched to C.W. with Pat, M0AAC and Don, G3EAO with several others listening. Pat's signal remained at around S9 for the rest of the contact, only dropping bellow this when we were approaching the far end of the Chelmsford bypass on the A12. Geoff, G3JUL also joined in, and copied us for most of the journey.
We met John, M0MRY, in the car park of a Chelmsford supermarket, by coincidence arriving in adjacent parking spaces within 30 seconds of each other ...(we were first ... rather spooky, in hindsight).
After unwinding, and Justin following his diet by eating a Cornish cream tea, we made the fifteen-minute journey to the start location at Pleshey village hall and joined nine other teams getting ready for zero hour.
At 13.20, both hidden stations started their six-minute transmissions, and we plotted two good bearings, G4MDF/P to the West and G3TRY/P South-ish. We set off Westwards and managed to get to a suitable lay-by located between our two original bearings, near Sawbridgeworth. At 14.00, we heard a very strong signal from G4MDF/P and a much weaker one from G3TRY/P. After plotting both we had two cross-bearings, one close-by near Much Hadham and the other at the bottom of the map, in the vicinity of Brentwood.
We drove closer to Much Haddam and after fifteen minutes had another bearing, which pointed to Mill Wood. Unable to park nearby, we stopped by a disused pub and jogged along the road, before trekking down a bridleway, past a lady on horseback (which pleased David) and into the wood, which was carpeted with bluebells. After about another ten minutes of searching various dead-ends, most of which ended in steep drops into water, Justin found the operator, and called us in. At this point, we were the third team to clock in.
Feeling as though we were not doing too well, we retraced our steps back to the car and Justin directed us along back roads, onto the M11 and M25, exiting near Brentwood. We stopped at a car park in the Weald Country park and took a bearing on G3TRY/P, which indicated he was close-by, to the North of us. We drove along the Eastern side of the park, meeting Roy Emeny, but couldn't find a parking place near a footpath, so elected to go a bit further north. We quickly found a parking spot in a residential road, adjacent to a footpath that traversed southwards between enormous glasshouses and into an area which proved to be an old landfill site, now turned into a public space on the edge of the country park. After climbing up to a plateau, we waited a few minutes for a transmission, and the receiver took us straight to the aerial, only about eight feet high and across bushes. Rather luckily, we didn't spot a fake aerial, which had caused Roy about fifteen minutes delay, (and injuries) searching well-armed blackthorn bushes. The TX operator said that we were the first to arrive of the group that choose the Westerly station first, but almost everyone had been to him at some time during the afternoon. The competition was still wide open but we knew that we were not in the last three.
So, back to the car where Justin plotted a route, mostly via single-track roads, back to the tea location near North Weald airfield, where we all had a good meal. Some of the team had large steaks, with several jars of alcohol and enormous "towers of fudge sundaes"!
When the time clocks arrived, the results were computed, and read in the customary reverse order. After an agonising countdown, we found that we had won by three minutes, taking the "Essex Shield" and Qualifying for the National Final event at the end of the season.
Many Thanks to Justin and Dave, a great team effort.
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