Wednesday, 11 May 2022

HOLIDAY HOME @ SIX ARCHES (Not Radio)

SIX ARCHES HOLIDAY PARK

We recently decided to invest in a Holiday Home and looked at lots of parks in North West England, before settling on Six Arches. I'd previously had a caravan on this site back in 2006 and absolutely loved it.

First caravan - 2006

The site is in the tiny village of Scorton, between Garstang and Lancaster. This is on the edge of the Forest Of Bowland, an official Area of Outsanding Natural Beauty and although it's in a fabulous location, it's still very accessible via the M6 or the A6.

Six Arches Caravan Park has many great facilities including a very smart Club House which provides a licensed bar, entertainment and food. There's also an outdoor heated swimming pool, amusement arcades, parks, picnic areas, fishing, a laundry and even a chippy!


There's around 200 static caravans on the site and the vast majority are holiday homes, but I believe there's also a handful of people who actually live there full-time. Recent rule-changes mean that no one else can choose to live onsite permanently. And tourers are also not allowed to use the site.

I left the site in 2014 after a divorce, so it was a hell of a surprise to find that the cost of owning a caravan has absolutely rocketed!  What cost us £11,000 for a used caravan in 2006 cost us £25,000 in 2022 😲 Site fees had also shot up in price, but in all fairness, the whole site has greatly improved since my last visit. 

Second caravan in 2022
 
My first caravan was a 35x10ft 2 bedroom and we added a large veranda and skirting to it early on. The second caravan is 35x12ft 2 bedroom and the extra two feet is really noticeable. It feels far roomier than the old one. It also has a much more modern style roof on it.

At the time of writing, there is no veranda or skirting, but we've got one on order which should be installed next month.  This makes a huge difference both aesthetically and functionally. It's very much like having an extra room - great in the summer and perfect for allowing the dog some freedom of movement without her escaping!

The first few weeks of ownership have seen us doing lots of work including ripping out old-fashioned curtains, nets and pelmets, carpets and vinyl flooring, etc. Then time was spent installing blinds to all windows, fitting curtains and tie-backs and having new flooring installed.

It's amazing how much work there is to do even though at the point of purchasing, you view it as a complete, ready to use facility. Pffft - far from it. 

One of the first things to hit us was the lack of 13A power sockets around the van. Installing additional sockets is quite a task. And then there’s all those other things you have to purchase like a new microwave, coffee machine, television, cutlery, bedding, outdoor lighting, etc, etc, etc.

And what about Wi-Fi? Well the site is supposed to be providing free internet connectivity but I don’t think that’s gonna happen until next year, so I’ve installed a 4G Wireless Router. I’m also installing 3 wireless security cameras - 2 outdoor and 1 indoor. These are linked to Alexa so you can access them through that or through the Amazon Blink App on your phone.

Needless to say, I want a permanent radio to play with up there, so I’m installing my Yaesu FT-857D and an ATAS-120A. Finding a discreet location for the antenna should be fun!

The location of the caravan is very handy for Amateur Radio operators because of its proximity to NICKY NOOK which is a local high spot with good elevation and panoramic views - especially out to the Irish Sea. Nearby Glasson Dock is another good radio take-off.

The area is also FANTASTIC for walkers and dogs. Obviously, there’s the Forest of Bowland which is just beautiful and then there’s lots of others places to enjoy a ramble. There’s even the Lancaster Canal just half a mile away for nice canal-path walks.

 
Close-by towns of interest include Garstang and Lancaster, with lots of pubs and eateries. As a biker, the caravan park represents a great ‘launchpad’ to some of the best biking roads in the North West of England! Great for cyclists too.


Finally, as we are both amateur artists, we know there’s lots of amazing places to paint in this area - there’s a painting everywhere you turn.
 






Here’s some pix of the caravan before the veranda and skirts are built…



















Veranda being added

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

SPORTS TOURER (Not Radio)

YAMAHA FJR1300 BARGAIN

After buying a holiday home I was left feeling a bit strapped for cash, so I sold my lovely CB1000R and decided to replace it with an older, cheaper steed. I wasn't expecting too much, but an exhaustive search led me to a bargain Yamaha FJR1300 over in Cumbria.

I've always had a soft spot for FJR's since buying a brand new top-of-the-range in 2007. Back then they were £11,000 but now they're over £17,000 😮 So what could I expect to find for £5k?

Virtually all the FJR's up for sale on Ebay and AutoTrader were high-mileage bikes with 40, 50, 60, even 90 thousand miles on them. I know these big ladies are built for these sort of mileages, but I was looking for something a little less "used".

Thankfully, I found a 13yr old example in pristine condition with a staggering 10k miles on the clock. I checked on the Government MOT website to make sure the mileage was valid and sure enough, it was. Basically, the previous two owners had done less than 900 miles per year and absolutely NONE during the 2yr Covid period. I couldn't buy it quick enough! It was sat outside my office the very next day.


Apart from the ultra-low mileage, it's also in magnificent condition and it included the full compliment of genuine Yamaha luggage - even the inner liners. The paintwork is spotless apart from some light scratches on the left pannier where a passenger had probably caught their foot.

The bike started up and purred like a kitten. It sounded like a brand new bike!

Sitting on the bike was like, WOW!!! That thing is so damned comfortable! It's the main thing I remember about these bikes - the comfort level. All day riding with no bum-ache. Actually, I do seem to recall a little knee-ache on a very long tour of Scotland & Ireland, but we'll have to see if that was just something to do with me back then.
 
My first FJR, on tour back in 2007

Moving the bike around on the car-park to get a better photo, I soon remembered how very heavy these girls are. They're awesome on the move, but 650lbs is 650lbs. I once dropped my 2007 FJR in a gravelly car park at walking pace. I'd ridden into a puddle which turned out to be a deep pothole and the bike leaned over - and there was just no stopping it, so I had to lean it down as slowly as my strength would allow. 😰

The seat-height on the FJR is adjustable and it was already on the lowest setting, so I was a little surprised to find the I couldn't quite flat-foot. I'm left wondering if I'd lowered the suspension on my 07 bike and simply forgotten about it? I don't think so. I should point out, I’m a bit of a short-ass. Crash-Bungs are now fitted!

It was nice to recall that the passenger seat is easily removed with a key-turn and then the front seat is removed by the simple press of a concealed lever. Why aren't all bikes made like this? 

Below the seats there's room for bits and bobs such as toolpack, puncture outfit, etc. While I had the seats off, I was struck by the level of cleanliness under there too. Such great condition this bike! 

The only thing that I could fault (considering it has just been serviced) is the tickover is too low at around 8-900rpm but that was soon remedied. Other than that, it's all good. Everything on the bike works well including the electric windscreen and heated grips. Okay, if I'm being picky, the rear tyre (BT32) is ever so slightly squaring off. That might alter once I show her more of a twisty time than she's been used to.

The wife has just seen it and absolutely loves it. Since falling off the back of the CB1000R+ under acceleration, she's been a bit bit nervous, 😂 so this would be perfect for her.


Bank holiday weekend is coming up and I've got 4 days off work to enjoy the bike (in-between doing jobs at the caravan). Need to fit my TomTom mount too!





One thing I remember from my previous ownership of an FJR is the vast number of time that I was asked the same question : ‘What size engine is it?’,  so I’ve left a clue this time, lol…..

 
UPDATE : Just finished my Bank Holiday weekend and all I can say is - I’M IN LOVE!! This is one amazing motorcycle. Yes, she’s a big lass, but what a ride!! So stable and planted. And so fast! Smooth! Fun!

After a few more days riding I have started to get to grips with the weight again. It was just a big surprise after recently owning a few much lighter bikes. The FJR has the same BHP as the CB1000R+ but because of the extra 175lbs, the Yamaha feels far less aggressive and crazy during hard acceleration. But make no mistake, this girl can run!! 

It's very strange (to me at least) how sedate the FJR can feel and yet when you look down at the speedo, you are routinely surprised at how close you are to your first stint in prison! 

BUT I did notice one negative thing - the bike exhibited a bit of a weave around 110mph (on a private road officer). I instantly recalled something about this issue back in 2007 when I bought my first FJR 😲 

From what I remember, the issue is caused by wind-flow hitting the empty spot between the rider and the topbox. The solution is to fill that gap with a pillion or a seat-bag, remove the topbox or try playing with the screen height.

Needless to say, it's a very scary feeling when it happens, but it is progressive, so as soon as you feel it coming on, you simply reduce your speed. Below 100mph it's perfectly fine anyway. I think this has also happened on a few other sports tourers over the years. Simple aerodynamics - not a fault of the bike. It's like saying "when I press my brakes really hard, I feel like the bike's trying to throw me over the front" 😂

The only other tiny gripe I have is the screen. Yes, it's fully adjustable on-the-fly (at the push of a button), but none of the adjustments make any difference to the noise level. I think I might try fitting another screen at some point. Normally, I probably wouldn't have noticed it but on this occasion I'd forgotten to take my earplugs with me. Moving the screen up and down just moved the wind noise around my helmet.

I've actually ordered a new screen. After complaining that the existing one is noisy, you'd expect me to buy a larger one and I nearly did, but then I just couldn't live with the look of those huge, flappy screens. So I actually ordered a Sports Screen which looks fabulous! My thought process during this purchase was that I normally wear good earplugs anyway, so I might as well have a good looking screen!



Finally, I couldn't resist getting a fancy number-plate. I had to choose between MY09 and the Valentino Rossi (my hero) 58 (year of my birth).

 


UPDATE 2 : Just had a neighbour from around the corner knock on my door to say how fabulous the bike looks. He'd spotted it on his way home and just had to walk back to have a closer look.

He couldn't believe it was 13yrs old. He actually thought it was brand new bike with an older private registration plate!
 
 
 I just found a photo of my old 2007 FJR at my holiday home and it seems weird that I've ended up back at the same caravan-site with another FJR 15 years later :-)

2007

2022


 
 
.

Monday, 25 April 2022

CHEAP SHACK-IN-A-BOX : FT-857D

YAESU FT-857D

I recently purchased a static caravan holiday home and I had every intention of taking my ICOM IC-705 with me each weekend. And then I thought it would be very convenient if I could leave a radio stored in the caravan permanently, to save lugging one backwards and forwards. And besides, the more times you have to transfer kit in that way, the more likely you are to leave something behind
.

So with that in mind, I searched for a cheap, second-hand transceiver. My first thought was to buy an old FT-100 or FT-817, figuring that they would be real cheap, but OMG how wrong was I? There were some right old dogs on sale for crazy prices. I can't believe how much people were asking for radios that could be approaching their 20th birthday 😲

And then I spotted an advert for an FT-857D at £300 - that was more like it! It was described as "cosmetically challenged, but fully functional".

I decided to take a chance on it and after it arrived I started a search for panels to replace the heavily scratched ones. The rest of the radio was in great condition and only needed all the grubbiness cleaning off. I ended up finding a top and bottom cover (separately) for £28, so the total outlay was £328 for a fabulous radio that I could easily sell later for £500-600 💪

The Yaesu FT-857D has never appealed to me previously - I always preferred the 817/818, but I must admit that now I've handled one in the flesh, it's pretty compact and not a great deal bigger or heavier than its little brother - it's only around 6"x9". And when you consider that this is a 100W radio, that's pretty impressive!


The radio covers HF, 6M, 2M and 70cm, all modes, all bands. It can provide 100W on HF, 50W on VHF and 20W on UHF. It has a detachable head unit and although it's small in size, it has a nice, large VFO knob. The unit feels very well built (just like the FT-818) and the controls don't feel sloppy or loose (even in this well-used example).

Operation of the 857 could never be described as intuitive - it's just not. You have to invest time in learning your way around things. There aren't many buttons but there are many menus! Luckily for me, I'm totally familiar with it all, since I've previously had an FT-818 and put the time in. But lets not get carried away - it’s not rocket science!! Operation of the radio can be made simpler by switching the standard microphone for a DTMF mic with multiple buttons for direct frequency input and other functions - a very worthwhile purchase (I already had one).

Sensitivity and selectivity of this little marvel is pretty good. Obviously not as good as a KX3 or an IC-705, but it's good enough. The truth is, when you're out and about at high vantage points with a good antenna, sensitivity becomes much less important.

NICKY NOOK, FOREST OF BOWLAND
Perfect spot for walking, dogs and radio!

The FT-857D is going to be based at my holiday home in Scorton and will probably never stray further than the local high-spot (Nicky Nook) which is a great place to operate from. Signals are very easy to pick up there and you don't need the best radio in the world to enjoy your day.


My antenna of choice for the 857 is SotaBeams BandSpringer Midi using one of their telescopic masts. It's a fabulous antenna with great band coverage. 

I'll probably leave my AlexLoop HamPack at the caravan too - it's very discreet and shouldn't attract any attention if I want to operate from the caravan. I'll put a Diamond X30 up on the roof for local VHF/UHF chat.

The FT-857D has 32 preset screen-colours and you can adjust these further if you can be bothered. Contrast and brightness are also fully adjustable. Personally I like the Light Blue and the usual Amber-Red. Some people think you can adjust the colours of the backlit buttons, but you can’t.

The screen is far better than the 818 I was used to, so overall I’m very happy with it. Needless to say, it looks ancient next to the 705, but once you’ve got the colour and contrast to your liking, it’s very easy to live with. There’s also a simple spectrum scope on the 857.

Audio on this radio is only ‘average’ due to the tiny built-in speaker, but it’s loud enough even in noisy outdoor environments. Things are improved vastly with an external speaker (which is fine at home but I can’t be bothered with one if I’m going outdoors - in which case I’ll throw a pair of headphones in my rucksack).

The 857D  has useful DSP filters built-in which are very handy and work quite well. There’s also space inside for a further two Collins filters to improve selectivity, but they’re quite expensive and poor value for money as far as I’m concerned.

The VHF & UHF performance is excellent and it’s good to be able to use SSB on these bands. It’s a very flexible radio and an absolute bargain at this price. If I’d bought a minter, it would have cost double or more, and I don’t think I’d have paid that much - I’d have gone for a new 818 instead.

To go with the cheap radio, I needed a cheap ATU and thankfully, my mate Carl offered me an LDG AT-200 for free!! I couldn’t accept it for free, so I gave him a few quid and was very pleased with it. It interfaces perfectly with the FT-857D using a simple 3.5mm to 3.5mm jack-plug lead. This is perfect for use at the caravan, but I I’ll use my Elecraft T1 for outdoor activities.


 

So overall I am really pleased with the FT-857D for the type of work I’ll be doing with it. If I’d only needed HF then I would definitely have opted for an FT-891 because I think that’s a better HF receiver with amazing DSP, but I wanted a complete one-box solution and the 857 gives me that (at a bargain price).

Negatives?? The only real negative is the lack of internal batteries like in the 817/818, but then the size would have increased considerably.

73, Tom, M7MCQ.


UPDATE : Added an external meter!

I was chatting with a mate of mine and he mentioned he had an external meter for sale - an LDG FTL Meter which was designed specifically for the Yaesu FT-8XX range. He only wanted £25 for it, so I bought it. Absolute bargain and a lot more readable than the FT-857 meter :-)