WICEN sets the bar
at a new height.
The 2012 Tom Quilty Gold Cup national equine endurance championships were held at St Helens on the East Coast of Tasmania on 9th June 2012.
WICEN provided checkpoint crews and communications between checkpoints and Base. Handheld and mobile radio communications between ride officials was also supplied. Other support included track mapping and web based distribution of competitor tracking information.
Endurance riding has been an organised sport in Australia since 1966. One person inspired by the concept of a long distance competitive horse ride was R. M. Williams. An invitation was extended through his magazine for people interested in conducting Australia's own 100 miles in one day ride.
It was decided if the Americans could do it, so could the Aussies! The venue would be in the Hawkesbury district, near Sydney, New South Wales.
R. M. Williams wrote to his friend Tom Quilty, a great horseman and cattleman in the Kimberly area of Western Australia. Williams asked for his support for the 100 miles ride, and Quilty donated $1,000. This was used to make a gold cup, the prize for the winner of the event. This is a perpetual trophy, and the ride was named the Tom Quilty Gold Cup in his honour. The original Gold Cup now resides in the Stockman's Hall of Fame, in Longreach, Queensland.
Cash prizes were originally offered as incentive for competitors, however, at the last minute it was pointed out that local by-laws prohibited racing for money, over public roads. A meeting of riders and officials was held, and all resolved to ride for the satisfaction of simply participating, and for the honour of wearing the handsome silver Quilty buckle. The Quilty buckle is still a highly regarded prize in endurance with those who earn one treasuring it as equivalent to an Olympic Gold Medal.
The sport grew over the next several years, with fifty mile rides being conducted in all the states, and the annual Tom Quilty Gold Cup 100 mile ride in NSW. Endurance riding began to be accepted as part of the horse scene, with Williams’s Hoofs and Horns magazine giving the sport coverage.
The Quilty was considered as the National endurance ride, with its location being fairly central for riders, except for those in Western Australia. In 1986, a referendum of all endurance riders in Australia resulted in the decision to move the Quilty from state to state in rotation. This gave endurance riders in each of the six states to have the chance to compete in the Quilty in their home state, and not have to travel large distances to compete.
The rest is history and St Helens was the venue for the 2012 Tom Quilty Gold Cup!
Due to Bass Strait transport difficulties and expense, the field this year was low at 114, compared to the more normal two to three hundred.
The 160km ride is in five legs of decreasing length. Roughly 43, 40, 35, 24 and 18km at St Helens. The front runners completed the course in a little over 12 hours, including compulsory rest breaks, whilst the tail enders got home in 21 hours. The ride slogan is “To complete is to win”. Those who did were awarded a Tom Quilty silver belt buckle. 54% of the riders completed the course. The actual winner was awarded the Tom Quilty Gold Cup.
The ride is a test of the riders’ and horses’ fitness but horse welfare is paramount. The mounts are checked by a vet at the end of each leg and must meet set requirements. So, if a rider pushes too hard he or she will be “vetted out”.
Our team included 17 from or with WICEN South, 4 from the Cradle Coast and 6 from the Northern Tasmania amateur radio clubs. Local volunteers assisted as time recorders and runners. In all, almost 40 people were involved in our direct tasking. In addition, a further ten ride officials were provided with radio communications on commercial VHF and UHF frequencies licensed to WICEN.
Our advance party arrived in St Helens on Wednesday 6th June, being joined by the others between then and the ride start at midnight on Friday night.
Our primary task was to look after 13 checkpoints at six different locations in the country around St Helens, plus our base station in town. This job included establishing and maintaining radio communications between the checkpoints and base, recording and transmitting to base the time of passing of each rider, calling for any assistance needed, for example a float for a lame horse, and making sure water troughs were topped up. In addition, self preservation in the close to, or sub, zero night time temperatures needed some attention. Video evidence from at least one checkpoint location indicated that entertaining weary riders was also a focus.
The checkpoint radio network on 2 metres was initially via a repeater at one of the checkpoints. Though not totally necessary, the repeater ensured excellent comms throughout. Later, when the more difficult checkpoints were completed and closed, the network was switched to simplex. Stations were varied in equipment with various mobile rigs and antennae ranging from vehicle whips to collinears on 6 to 9 metre masts. The repeater was an Icom FR3000 with 1.8MHz offset
We had worked the area several times before so little prior testing and survey was needed. These earlier rides had included APRS and simple GPS rider tracking. This enabled WICEN to supply the maps and elevation profiles used on the Tom Quilty web site and in ride literature.
A secondary function was to make the tracking data as widely available as possible, in the shortest possible time. This was achieved in three ways. First, as a rider passed through the final checkpoint on each leg, details were transmitted to Base and the rider number was announced on the PA system, enabling the appropriate ‘strapper’ to prepare.
For the wider availability of tracking data, a web based system was developed and used, with great success. We have used a spreadsheet based recording system for a few years, usually displayed on an additional monitor so the base radio operator can keep an eye on the data entry and interested parties can ‘sticky beak’ without breathing down the neck of the data entry operator. Using the Excel facility of simultaneous saving the Excel file as an html file and frequent uploading to a web server, the data was available worldwide and rarely more than a couple of minutes old.
Many supporters, and some competitors, monitored progress using internet connected smart phones, iPads, PCs etc. We also understand supporters ‘back home’ monitored progress, including, that we know of, in England and in Italy!
For those not suitably equipped, an additional 1200 x 1920 monitor, in portrait orientation, was placed in the window of the Base HQ. The monitor was attached to its own web connected 11 inch Macbook and displaying a scripted version of the uploaded file, so as to refresh every minute and page scroll every 20 seconds to cover the full field, which needed more than one screen page to display fully at a legible size.
Telstra’s 3G network was used for upload and download and performed well. Two independent systems were used. The main data entry Toshiba Tecra PC using a Telstra Elite USB “dongle”. The additional in the window display used a Telstra Elite Network Gateway (Netcomm 3G21WB). As the file size increased, reaching 536KB, downloads did sometimes hesitate, causing some breath holding, but overall was quite satisfactory.
The event, including our first ever live tracking system, was judged a huge success.
The opportunity was taken to promote amateur radio with strategically placed signage. The organisers gave WICEN and amateur radio in general a good write up in a half page piece included in the full colour ride handbook.
Those taking part were VK7s ARN, CL, DC, FLAK, FMRS, FNJS, FRIK, FROO, FTAZ, GW, KPC, KTN, JGD, MGW, MX, NXX, TPE, TRF, TW, VAO, VKV, with Allan, Dave, Jess, Maureen, Terry and Wayne. Thanks also to the supporting XYLs not listed and to WICEN Victoria for passing on their Tom Quilty communications handbook, developed for the 2009 Tom Quilty held at Tonimbuk in Victoria.