Perhaps surprisingly, well surprising to me anyway, Radio Ham’s often travel to remote, uninhabited Scottish islands (and others) in pursuit of their pastime. 'Ham' is an informal term for an amateur radio operator, and, by extension, "ham radio" refers to amateur radio in general.
I managed to catch up with Col, leader of a group who had just been to the Flannan Isles, with their aim to make the Flannans an "island on the air" for ham radio enthusiasts around the world. I asked Col some questions about the islands he has visited:
Of the islands that you have visited, what has been the most difficult island to get to?
Without doubt it would be Eilean Mor, Flannan Isles. Although I have visited St Kilda too, and that is further out to sea, there is a good jetty on Hirta - the same can't be said for the Flannans.
What are the greatest challenges to accessing remote islands?
Sea state, tides and weather can determine whether you achieve a landing or not. Another challenge is overcoming bodies or powers that be who say they have Scotland's heritage at heart, but can be difficult and obtuse to deal with if it involves accessing some remote islands.
What is your favourite island/islands and why?
The Flannans group was a pleasure to visit and stay three days, but for sheer beauty, landscape and views, it would be the St Kilda archipelago. Some people say it is their most favourite place in the world - I can see why.
Are there any islands that you have not managed to get to, that you would like to visit?
Rockall. I haven't visited it yet, but would like to, with a landing if possible too. In 2007 I made enquiries to try get out there, but the cost was prohibitive at the time. Perhaps in 2012.
You have recently visited the Flannan Isles, what were your experiences on these islands?
The Flannans were nothing like the portrayed image people have of the disappearing lighthouse keepers; a place of darkness and high seas. I was a little sunburnt when there, although the weather did change rapidly at times from calm to fog to windy in minutes. The birdlife is pretty good, with surprisingly very few Skua’s present, unlike neighbouring Hirta. There are Puffins all over too. To me the most impressive part of The Flannans is seeing them from the sea. The main aim of being there was make the Flannans an "island on the air" for ham radio enthusiasts around the world. The group I was part of managed to make over 8000 radio contacts in just a little under 3 days.
What is the next challenge for you and your team?
A hectic six days, to be spent on the company of fellow radio amateur operators, who all reside in different parts of Europe. Our website explains in full detail our plans. Although mostly radio jargon is evident, you can still get the jist of the journey. Suffice to say, Benbecula, South Uist, Grimsay, Baleshare, North Uist, Berneray, St Kilda and Monach Isles hopefully visited (and "on the air") between June 14 – 20, 2011
Where can I find more information about your activities?
On our aforementioned website. I don't personally have a website detailing my island acivities. However, each island visited has had operating ham radio equipment in mind. From Arran to Kerrera to Flannans or to St Kilda - a small radio transmitter and antenna always accompany me!
So, if anyone is interested in radio ham’s and islands being ‘on the air’ make a note of these dates in your diary and tune in to see the latest "island on the air".
Video and photo's of the Flannan Islands below courtesy of vincentf4bkv from France, who was part of the visiting team