“If you need to get back on time, don’t come to fair isle”.


It all started back in February 2014 before we went to Tiree, march 2014. Sat in my house watching I think; country file a TV programme on Sunday evenings.

A short peace on fair isle. This remote island in the British Isles. Its classed as the remotest habited island in the British Isles. The seed was set.

I put it to one of the other team members to see what he thought about it. YES, we must go.

Finding accommodation on the island was in the form of the south lighthouse, Skaddan. A 95ft mast already in place. A few emails to the vendor and the QTH was booked. All food was included and we had permission to use the lighthouse as a support mast for antennas. The comment from the vendor was “yes that’s fine, you won’t break it”.

Next was to decide as to what bands and antennas we were going to use. We decided to use vertical dipoles hanging from the lighthouse, all resonant. Band change would be a bit of a chore, but we knew they had to be resonant. We then decided to use a pulley system to raise and lower the dipoles onto the lighthouse. This took the form of a pulley wheel attached to the top railings of the lighthouse and a long loop of poly rope, enough to reach the ground. By doing this we could raise and lower each dipole from the ground.

For quickness we built a 20/17 and 15mtr vertical with radials as we could arrive and set up within an hour and be on the air. Then after this we could set about attaching the pulleys to the lighthouse. The vertical took the form of resonant vertical wires on standoffs one for each band and band change would be a crocodile clip onto the wire for each band. Simple but each was resonant. This proved to be a good move, as we could not get access to the lighthouse until the morning after we arrived. Within two hours of arrival at the QTH we had two stations set up, the multi band vertical and we were on the air from fair isle.

We chose 10 to 40 meters for operation as we were not guaranteed mains power throughout the night time hours. The website says “0730 to 2300” for mains power. Modes were CW, RTTY and SSB.

Slowly the packing list started to grow. Weight was now becoming an issue.

After many conversations we decided to fly to and from fair isle. This included three flights, Birmingham to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to Shetland and then Shetland to fair isle and the same on return. With limitations on baggage on the flights to and from Shetland and fair isle, we were now struggling to get all our equipment into the hold and carry on, let alone any spare clothes, 15kg hold and 6kg carry on. There was only one way we were going to get nearly 70KG’s of equipment onto fair isle, have it shipped there. After a bit of googling parcel force was the cheapest and regular shipments to the island. We purchased two plastic shipping crates and made a wooden box to put all the poles and bits into it. The plastic shipping crates would carry all the electrical and some other items. We hand carried radio’s (K3’s) laptops, Morse keys and the KPA500 amplifier went in as checked hold baggage as it had its own purpose made shipping box, pelicase.

With parcel force we had to be under 30KG’s per container. This meant we had to itemize everything and weigh everything individually. If we were over the 30KG’s once parcel force had the 3 crates, we would be charged a lot more as this goes into the heavy shipment category. A spreadsheet was drawn up and all items individually weighed and placed onto the sheet. Once this was done we could then start to arrange what item was going into what crate. This would also be the case for return shipment. The costing for shipping to and from fair isle with parcel force was £270, which we thought was not bad at all.

All flights booked, accommodation sorted, all equipment packed and sent to fair isle. Two weeks before our departure one of the team members had to drop out due circumstances out of his control. We still went with the original plan and We were now a four-man team.

We met at Birmingham airport 0530hrs in the café for some breakfast. Before we knew it we were on Shetland at tingwall airport waiting for our 1500 departure to fair isle. 1500hrs came and we boarded a twin engine plane with eight seats. We sat just behind the pilot. It was very noisy but a comfortable flight. Our transport was waiting for us at the airstrip on fair isle to take us to the lighthouse.

The accommodation was basic but more than adequate for our needs. We decided to set up the shack in the living area of the accommodation. David our host was more than helpful with the removal of one or two things from this area and provided us with a table to set up all the radio kit. Within two hours we had set up the multi band vertical and two stations. We were on the air. We quickly found we had one or two small issues which needed to be sorted. Some clip on ferrites later and we were up to full speed. One K3 100w and one K3 400w stations. Each were networked to a slave pc for the log. Both stations were capable of operating any of the three modes. An early night was called for.

Day 2. We were up early and one station was QRV. After breakfast we were allowed access into the lighthouse to attach our pulley’s to the railings of the lighthouse. This didn’t take long and within an hour we had the first of the dipoles QRV. By 1200 we had both dipoles hanging from the lighthouse and QRV. We had One hanging on the opposite side to the other. With bandpass filters per station we didn’t have any RFI issues.

We now began to get into a routine of operating, resting and more operating. We had a 4 hour on and 4-hour off shift Rota which worked for us. Four op’s, 2 on, 2 off. Our host David was looking after us very well indeed; the food was excellent. The Only thing, we ate all together at the same time, but we were only QRT for about 40 minutes then back to it.

There is a local shop on fair isle. It sells a small range of items. Nothing specialized but enough to see you through. More important it sells alcohol. Simon and Jim walked to the shop on day 3. David told us “late opening today” “ok, what time?” “its open til 1600” “thought you said it was late opening?” “it is”. We entered the shop and met with “you must be the radio guys?” “yes that’s us” the local shop is the post office. There is not much happening on fair isle, more sheep walking around than people. We got lost on our way to the shop. We stopped and asked a local where the shop was. “youre lost?” “yes, where is the shop?” “just over there, see that building, just walk across this field, you’ll be right” “ok, thanks” “how can you get lost on fair isle?” “not sure”.

We had poor conditions for pretty much all of our time on fair isle. The A was most days over 15 and K around 5. There was a bonus for this, we saw the aurora very clearly one night and the other night you could make out the glow on the horizon. One concern was the lighthouse itself, QRM when the light came on. This was not the case. It mainly runs off battery power and the generators are there solely for recharging the battery bank.

The weather was being kind with a moderate breeze every day, according to the locals. 30 to 40mph wind is normal on fair isle. The days ticked by and next came time to pack all the kit up and have it ready for shipping back home. This was done with ease as we had a copy of the packing list. One person was solely responsible for one shipping crate. We had no way of weighing the kit on fair isle. What came out of the crate went back in the same crate. The lady in the post office on fair isle was very helpful with sorting and transporting the crates ready for shipping back home. The crates had to be ready for transport on the penultimate day by 1600hrs. address labels attached and ready to go. That evening we had a very nice meal and a few beers and kicked back and discussed were it went right or wrong. David our host told us, that we may not be travelling the next day on the plane back to Shetland, oh. He would keep us posted. Next morning, we were up early with all personal belongings packed and ready.

1000hrs. in the current weather state we would not be flying. No wind and fog. The plane from Shetland to fair isle flies solely on visual and a cloud base of more than 1000ft. current state 200ft visual and cloud base at 300ft. hmmm. To catch our connecting flights, we had to be off fair isle by 1330hrs, this was the cut off.

1330hrs came and we were not flying. The plane now would not fly even if the conditions cleared. Time to start rearranging flights. Flybe wanted £378 extra to change 3 person’s flights. We could not argue; it was our only way to get home. A bitter pill to swallow but we did it. The tough part was to ring our families and give them the news, hmmm. David by now had booked us onto the ferry service boat. A small converted mackerel trawler which runs between Shetland and fair isle. We had packed all the RF gear and it was now sat in the post office ready for shipping back home. Another night of David’s cooking, this wasn’t a difficult choice.

Next morning an early start and we arrived at the dock side for our ferry back to the mainland. “Is that it? our ferry?” “yes sir, unless you want to swim back?” it’s not for the faint hearted. We sat out on the back of the boat. All the other passengers were also sat there? hmm why’s that? there are seats inside, but you have to climb down through a hatch with no windows, the seats had seat belts fitted! we decided to sit outside. The other passengers had done this route before and are old hands at it. Do what the locals do.

After about three hours of bobbing about on the North Sea we could finally see the mainland, a welcome relief. We disembarked and a short taxi ride to the airport for our connecting flights back home. We all arrived back home safely that evening.


Would we have done anything different? not really, we should have put an 80mtr dipole in. we did make one while there and we operated one evening on SSB and the next CW.

We went for one day to long.

The only issue with fair isle is, getting there and getting back.


“If you need to get back on time, don’t come to fair isle”.