HAMNET Report 23rd July 2023

Last week, I rattled off a long list of countries that were experiencing storms, floods and landslides. Certainly evidence of extreme weather conditions.

On Friday morning, American news channels carried a report about Phoenix, Arizona, which on the previous day, had experienced its 20th straight day with maximum temperatures of 43 degrees Celsius or more. That is some sort of an extreme weather record too.

Canada is still in the grip of multiple wildfires, and I believe three groups of South African firefighters are assisting there. And a huge wildfire has been burning across north-western La Palma Island, the north-westernmost island of the Canary Islands, Spain. The wildfires started on 15 July around 1:00 UTC and currently they are affecting Puntagorda, Tijarafe and Garafía Municipalities. According to the National Civil Defense (DSN), as of 17 July, the burnt area is approximately 4,000 hectares and the wildfire is currently not fully contained.

A huge wildfire has also been burning in Greece since the 17th of July, affecting an east Attica region in central Greece, and which has already burnt at least 3500 hectares.

Here’s another report of Laser communication research. Interestingengineering.com says that a team at Northumbria University in the UK will build a satellite communications system after receiving a £5 million award from the UK Space Agency, a press statement reveals.

The new funding paves the way for the UK’s first university-led multi-satellite space mission. The team will work on a new type of laser-based system that has the potential to improve satellite communications vastly.

The UK Space Agency funding will allow the consortium to design, test, and build the first CubeSat with laser optical communications technology, and to launch it in 2025.

The team behind the new system leads a consortium that aims to develop the world’s first commercially available system that communicates with separate satellites using lasers rather than radio frequencies.

Today, satellites typically use radio frequencies to transmit data. The issue with radio communications is that it is more vulnerable to disruption and has a limited capacity.

In theory, Lasers can transmit 1,000 times more data per second than radio frequency and can also do so more securely.

The Northumbria University team has partnered with Durham University, satellite communications specialists e2E, and manufacturing company SMS Electronics Limited. It also recently expanded to include global aerospace company Lockheed Martin, which will lead the system’s engineering development.

An unexpected legacy from the past has turned up on the small island nation of Nauru, in the Pacific Ocean and 4500 km away from Australia. Construction workers discovered an unexploded 225kg WW2 era bomb on the 7th of July. The entire nation of 11000 people live on this 21 square kilometre island, and their President ordered closure of schools and workplaces, and evacuation of an area 4km in diameter around the bomb on Thursday, when Australian sappers were due to try to defuse it.

Apparently fighting between the US and Japan took place there towards the end of their conflict in the mid 1940’s. I did not hear of a detonation, and have not heard that the attempts were unsuccessful, so let’s hope it was defused, and removed safely!

Here’s a curious story. In the city of Nanaimo, on the East coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, there is a club called the Loyal Nanaimo Bathtub Society, which is a marine endeavour, and today, the 23rd of July, they will be holding the world championship bathtub race. And, would you believe it, amateur radio will be there to supervise.

The Loyal Nanaimo Bathtub Society, this year, is saluting the contributions that the Nanaimo Amateur Radio Association (NARA) has made to the event over the years in keeping tubbers accounted for and safe when out on the water.

Well before the racers head out into the harbour to start the Great International World Championship Bathtub Race on Sunday, July 23, NARA volunteers will have set up checkpoints on land at Berry Point on Gabriola Island, on the Winchelsea Islands, and at Neck Point, and will be at bathtub control on the 11th floor of the Coast Bastion Hotel. They will also have volunteers at Brechin Boat Ramp to track tubbers who don’t make it all the way around the course.

“We try to provide a communications team that backs up the bathtub society and provides tub tracking, safety and security information, track all of that out on the course and relay that information in to tub control…” said Chris Anton, the association’s treasurer. “It’s fundamentally part of the safety function to be able to know where the tubs are, or probably more importantly, where a tub isn’t.”

NARA volunteers identify and record every bathtub that passes their checkpoints and report the information using amateur radio, via their own radio repeaters at Lost Lake and Mount Benson, to tub control. They used to keep track of the tubbers on a white board there, but have modernized and now use a spreadsheet they can publish and refresh online.

Rod Grounds, Loyal Nanaimo Bathtub Society vice-commodore, said the radio association’s contributions are part of an emergency preparedness communication network.

“We know exactly where the tub made it or how far they got, and if somebody didn’t show up to their final destination, we now have a search location because they didn’t pass a specific checkpoint,” he said.

There will also be spotters in a barge near Gallows Point on Saysutshun and on the world’s biggest bathtub in Nanaimo harbour. Anton said in past years, there have been radio operators on Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue and naval vessels. NARA spotters use binoculars and digital cameras with telephoto lenses to identify the tub numbers.

“Particularly at Entrance Island, the tubs are coming fast and furious and they’re bouncing around out on the water depending what the wind conditions are like,” Anton said.

NARA members pursue their hobby in various ways throughout the year, whether through amateur radio operator training, radio ‘foxhunts,’ or helping with mountain bike races in areas where cellular coverage is spotty or non-existent. But the bathtub race has always been one of their big days on the calendar.

“The driving force is being able to provide community service to an organization like the bathtub society,” Anton said. “Beyond that, it’s a lot of fun for the participants and it’s also a technical challenge, as well – you need to be able to go out to all of these different locations, have radio equipment that works, connections through the repeater system that work … We’ve had a lot of dedicated people that have been out year after year after year.”

Unfortunately, they don’t say what methods of propulsion are used, nor does the report have pictures, but I sure hope they remember to weld the plugholes shut before the race. Their chances of winning the race will otherwise be scuttled, in more ways than one!

This is Dave Reece, ZS1DFR, hurriedly climbing out of his bathtub before it fills up with seawater, and reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.