Exercise Snow Bunting – the real debrief.

 One thing which we will always be able to guarantee as RAYNET members is that when the call does actually come, the chances are that we won’t be ready/be expecting it. To this end then, the early exercises of 2009 have been designed, to help us be ready for coping with the minor, the niggling and the down right annoying problems we have to deal with. In an ideal world they wouldn’t happen, but by training and practising, we hope to encounter as many problems as possible, learn how to solve them and most importantly the way to mentally deal with them! We can (well normally!) all work radio from the comfort of our QTH, but can we do it outside of that comfort zone?

And so to the exercise.

 Part of the exercise was to give the caravan a.k.a. the Mobile Response Unit (MRU) a good airing and the opportunity for it to be a visible focal point over the weekend (The fact that it was also part of the NOV was also an important factor!). Not having towed it before or really seen it use, other than seeing it arrive on the back of G0TAM’s landrover on Cley beach when they were filming G3IOR’3 epic, I felt as controller that it was important to be involved in this aspect. Arriving at the caravan’s QTH in the nearly dark, was not the best (but remember the first paragraph) plan. We soon had the van turned around – at first glance it looked like it was trapped by a big yellow bus, but it wasn’t – it just needed swivelling. Soon had it hooked up, though fun trying to get the tow bar “plugged” into its space on the car was fun (thank you EU for removable tow bars.). Other “minor” hassles were discovering that there wasn’t a slot to drop the number plate in, so we had to clamber in and then stick it in the back window, no generator, so we had to go look for it, then no petrol can (thanks to G7FSI for lending petrol – more later) . . .just about ready to pull off so we could have a nice early start on the Saturday and why won’t the lighting plug fit?? Fiddle, fiddle, scratch head, try to look carefully, nope no bent pins, ah if only I had brought a torch for working in the now dark . . . ah that’s the problem . . . the car has  factory fitted towing electrics and it is a 13 pin socket and the normal 7 pin trailer plug, . . . doesn’t fit!!! So that’s Friday night gone, unhooking etc. . . .


 Roar into Norwich and purchase an adapter – most places where I asked, including a foreign car main dealer thought I had grown an extra head when I asked for an adapter, even the place where I eventually got it from looked at me strangely, but it was there on one of their racks – good job I’d checked online first! So to Sea Palling! Fortunately G4PSH  had spied out the car park and we were soon on location with the mast stand under the caravan’s wheels. Wood for wind down legs? Nope can’t find it, must be some scraps around somewhere. Meantime the pump up mast and inverted “V” were going up. HF was soon up and ready to go. VHF/UHF was proving a bit more awkward – mast no problem, fastened to caravan ready to go collinear ready to put on top . . . no. There must be the 3 ground plane rods somewhere . . . 30 minutes later we decided that there wasn’t any so VHF was a no-no. Not to be out done, the controller though found his 10m emergency mast and 2m ribbon slim-jim, fastened it all together and hey presto ready to go . . . NO!! plug on caravan was N-type . . .  good job the mobile rig in the controller’s car has a N-type adapter at the end of the mag mount then! Yes we’re already to go, all we have to do is to work out how to use the radios in the caravan . . . (It really is worthwhile coming out to the caravan the next time we have a short training session there, to find out how the caravan and aerials and power all work – not as easy as just throwing a switch at home!) Meanwhile the HF contacts were pounding in . . .  One final snag arose after G7FSI finally managed to get the generator going was that when it was plugged into the caravan was the ignition noise which how appeared on outgoing transmissions. Fortunately G7FSI had an anti surge/smoothing extension, which was placed in the circuit between the generator and the caravan and solved this problem.


 Having done it once, it was easier the second time around. This time we used a dual band collinear on VHF and UHF and discovered that with the pump up mast it helped if you were at least 7 foot tall so you could do up the screws on the mast as it was pumped up. A handy 3step set of steps solved the problem for those of us who are vertically challenged and we were on air. Sunday was a different day for weather, Saturday had been warmish and quiet pleasant, where as Sunday was cold, wet and windy. HF contacts continued at a good pace, with several pileups and VHF also proved quite popular with operating members Alas it was soon time to close down – contacts just seemed to dry up at the right time! Putting things away, we found one or two useful things stuffed into the gas cylinder compartment, like blocks of wood . . . etc.


 At times it seemed that the council carpark at Sea Palling had more RAYNET cars parked in it than visitors to either us or the beach! But we soon had people attracted by the “twin peaks” of 2 10m masts. A local flood warden appeared and we had several long chats about RAYNET and our “purpose”, we had county level EPO presence, just as we made our first continental contact on 80m, but alas no North Norfolk EPOs managed a visit nor other user services though we did have a visit from 4x4 and several non-radio people who were visiting the carpark and who were intrigued by what was going on, including one amateur on the Sunday who realised during his visit that we were normal people who welcome all radio amateurs with a commitment to RAYNET, no matter what their experience.


 When organisations have exercises one of their main goals is that the exercise should go like clock work and give perfect results. Their rational being that as a result in the event of an emergency, everything will go perfectly . . .  I’m not convinced of this rational any longer. In the event of an emergency we will be going to places which are likely to be unknown to us, unforeseen problems will arise and personnel involved could easily be different to any involved in an exercise.

So where does that leave us?

 In taking part in any exercise we should be ready with the equipment which we are familiar with, but we should be ready for things not to go smoothly, for problems to arise. If you were asked to go to Silver Control say at Great Yarmouth and assist the controller, could you do it? How would you feel about being asked to set up a portable station at a rest centre which you hadn’t been to? Our main goal should be to recognise problems as they arise and be able to deal with them without panic/stress, but in a calm and sensible manner knowing that we dealt with similar in past exercises. I suppose you could say that this is experience, and the only way we get this type of experience is by taking part in exercises, whether they be short exercises (EOR), a whole day exercise (the exercises where we provide coms for an event) or something like ESB, where we can come along for short / long periods.

 ESB was found to be fun and rewarding by those who took part, to the degree that it was mooted that we might make it a regular occurrence, though perhaps at a different location and also the possibility of something similar later in the year when the weather is better(?!).


 My thanks go out to the following members of Norfolk County Raynet who attended the exercise and made it the success it has been:-

2E1HAO (Shirley), 2E0BDB (Tony), M3WZN (John), G0SMS (Diane), G4PSH (Terry Dep. Controller, Coastal Group), G7FSI (Barry who took the photographs), G7KBF (Stuart), M0CNP (David), M0KXK (Ray), M1CQS (Graham).

Steve, g7vah, Coastal Controller, Norfolk County RAYNET

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