In the January 1992 issue of The Canadian Amateur Magazine (TCA), an article written by Marilyn Laycock featured amateur radio and vintage military equipment aboard HMCS Haida, a World War 2 Tribal class destroyer. This is personal follow-up to that story and I would like to share it with the readers of TCA.
After I read the article, I started rummaging through my junk box and discovered that I had a number of vintage crystals manufactured by Canadian Marconi. The addition of these crystals to Haida's room would add a small authentic touch. Al Cronin, VE3RIH was contacted and an eyeball QSO was arranged for what turned out to be a very cold Saturday afternoon in January of 1992. Several hours later (and consuming a generous amount of brew), I parted company with the intention of visiting Haida in May of that year. When the time finally arrived, the need to visit the ship persisted, however the requirements to install a new garden shed, take the family on vacation and rebuild the bathroom were far more pressing and deferred my unknowing destiny with the ship until mid-July.
With my responsibilities now behind me, I contacted Al Cronin again and arranged a session in the radio room. At first glance, it looked like matters were not going to be too comfortable. This is a typical reaction when one gets use to the sterilized, automated and easy operating ways of today's Kenwood's, Yaseu and Icom's. Everything in this room was totally manual. You are now in a time machine. It is 50 years ago and one quickly realizes that the 'Sparkers' who manned this equipment were very busy people. Morse code was received at speeds of 25 words per minute and recorded on a manual typewriter. No automatic antenna tuners, no digital displays, no packet radio and no semi-conductors where to be found anywhere.
The first couple of attempts in operating the Heathkit HW101 were an exercise in futility as we were using one of the ship's original antennas for transmitting. There were some contacts, but when you are running a high SWR, patience is a great virtue. Intermod from downtown Toronto, local QRN, the noise from the air ventilation system and verbal chatter in the room itself made for the worst of operating environments. The challenge then became perfectly clear. It was necessary to haul more signal into the receiver in order to override the acoustical and electrical noise. In short order I performed some antenna tests and found that all of the ships original antennas were not resonant on any amateur band. Even an antenna tuner did not help matters. There was however, a nugget of gold to be discovered in all of this. It turns out that the Nortown Radio Club of Toronto which operated here, left behind a 80/40/10 metre trap dipole antenna. Initially, it did not appear to be resonant, but some testing revealed that it was very resonant around 7245 khz with an SWR of nearly 1:1. Upon discovering and using this new resource, the volume of contacts increased substantially and new friendships were forged on 40 meters.
On successive Saturdays, Alan and I took turns operating the Heathkit and promoting amateur radio to the public. Both CW and SSB modes were used. CW was used to create 'atmosphere' while SSB was used for public involvement. One Saturday afternoon, I even managed to cause a pile up in the American portion of the 40 metre band. What a thrill to be pursued! Among all this operating, we also managed to fire up one of the ship's original 100 watt Marconi CM11 transmitters and made some CW contacts into the eastern US seaboard.
In view of our success and comments from the public, Cmdr. Bob Willson allowed us to erect a 15 metre dipole provided that it was camouflaged among the rest of the aerial wire. (Wire dipoles were not used on ships). The antenna was erected on a beautifully calm and warm October day of that year. Many thanks to Lt. Peter Dixon who volunteered to scale the masts and yardarms.As soon as the soldered cooled down on the co-ax connector, the antenna was attached to the HW101 and a salvo of CQ's was fired off. Immediately, a Swedish amateur replied. Another CQ, a short time later, was rewarded with a QSO from Ukraine. Several more CQ's resulted in contacts with Europe. Wait just one minute! How can this be? The ends of the antenna are pointing East/West. My only conclusion was that our signals were going over the North Pole. Another hidden benefit from operating on this band was the lack of intermod.
By the time the ship approached her seasonal closing, my interests started to focus more on the original equipment. Very innocently, I brought home a metal cover panel from the 500 watt Marconi PV500 transmitter in order to repair a broken latch handle. It was only a matter of time before I started to repair more of the equipment and it reached the point where it consumed practically all of my spare time, yet I wouldn't give it up for anything. I was hooked - for good!
As an example, at the beginning of September, there was only one fully operational Marconi CSR5 receiver out of five. Four of them were missing power supplies. After spending a great deal of time in surplus stores, enough transformers and parts were located to get all of the units operational. If you think that trying to find a 350 volt centre tapped transformer is difficult, try the impossible by trying to find one with a 12 volt 3 amp filament winding. In order to overcome these problems, solutions such as pairing up standalone filament with available high voltage transformers were employed. Shock mounts for the CSR5 cases were located at another surplus store. Angle brackets for the shocks were fabricated and the cases were refinished in their original Marconi colour of 50 years ago. As funding for these activities is limited, great care must be exercised when purchasing anything. It also helps to have a healthy junk box.
In general, the work in restoring Radio Room 1 on Haida is proceeding but we are missing many of the ships original pieces of equipment. We also believe that some of this equipment may still be in Department of National Defence warehouses but it can't be identified because of a parts number conversion introduced many years ago. The obsolete equipment did not get part numbers assigned. Is it sill there? Does anyone out there have any DND connections? Efforts are being made to secure some of this equipment from ships that are being decommissioned but DND budget cuts are hampering progress.
Besides the radio room, there are other restorations in progress aboard Haida. Jim Brewer, another volunteer, has successfully installed one of the ship's original radar systems and has built a course/heading simulator which tricks you into believing that Haida is steering a real course. Jim also imparts his naval operations experience on visiting sea cadets. Another long time contributor is Frank Moore who has been instrumental in restoring order to many of the ship's electrical systems. Without him, the radio room would be in total darkness and the need for this article would not exist. One day, we hope to get the ship's horn operational and get smoke to rise from the funnels.
It is with great excitement that I look forward to the 1993 opening season on HMCS Haida. Radio 1 will have four fully functioning CSR5 receivers along with other functional gear. The adjacent Message Centre room which is currently being used as a storage area, will be restored and put on display to the public. We now have a Guest Operators Certificate that will be issued to anyone who operates VE3CGJ. Visiting children who manage to tap out any resembling Morse Code on a practice oscillator will be awarded a HMCS Haida Sparkers Club Certificate. With our new 15 meter dipole, Haida will have an international presence and we will be able to demonstrate long distance radio communications to the public.
Our 1993 intentions are to have Radio 1 open to the public on most Saturdays between 10:30 and 17:30 hours, May 1 to Labour Day. VE3CGJ will operate SSB on 7245 khz if the 21 Mhz band is not open. Al Cronin and I, on behalf of the Captain and crew of Haida, invite the amateur radio community to visit this one-of-kind Canadian heritage institution.