Wednesday, 20 March 2019

SOTA Porto - final day Vandoma CT/DL-012

Another early rise on the day before we left Porto and a 30 minute drive out of the city took me to the suburb of Baltar. The summit of Vandoma (519m) is to the north of Baltar, it was reached after a short 10 minute walk with an ascent of just 50 metres. This took me to the communication site on the summit, but I set my station up in gorse bushes on the west side of the hill away from the commercial masts:
The GPX track is entered into the tracks section of the SMP. I went up on the rough path as pictured above, and walked down on the tarmac road shown in black on the map.  
Early morning on Vandoma CT/DL-012
I was on the air by 0720z on the 40m CW band but the frequency was quiet and allbut closed. Eric F5JKK was the first contact, with other regulars GI4ONL, EA5/ON7QR, HB9CGA and DJ5AV following, before things went quiet on CW. A move to SSB produced just one contact with local operator Nuno CT2HOV, before I changed up to the 30m band where I made another 10 contacts before closing down.  I returned to the Hotel Trindade in Porto for my breakfast and a day touring the sights of the city. We left Porto the following day with a determination to return to the region next year, or possibly in Autumn 2019 if it becomes possible.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

SOTA Porto - 2nd full SOTA Day CT/DL-001+004+015

CT/DL-001 Serra do Marao (1415m -10 points)
With 7 days to use up in Porto I was fortunate that another full SOTA day would fit in with the enjoyment of the city. On previous days we had explored the riverside in Porto, followed by an hour long cruise on the Douro We explored the city streets and sights and had a guided tour of the Barmester Port Winery, complete with free samples of all different varieties of Port. We would have one further day of city sightseeing to come on Wednesday, including another planned early morning activation of Vandoma CT/DL-012 the next day on Wednesday, so this meant we had Tuesday free for another full day of SOTA, with a plan to activate three summits in the eastern sector of the Douro Litoral region towards the city of Villa Real. This was the furthest we would go inland from Porto on this trip. 

It took almost 90 minutes of mostly motorway driving to reach the parking place for the 10 point summit of Serra do Marao CT/DL-001, but it was well worth it.  An ungated, long and winding minor tarmac road (without traffic restrictions) took us to the parking place for the summit from the main road junction at 41.279N 7.914W. The GPX track saved by Pedro CT1DBS in the SMP was perfect, and for us just a 700m walk to the summit up a rough undriveable track. We parked the car under fir trees as it was a very sunny, but breezy day.  So in the bright sunshine and cold wind with our walking jackets on I recall when writing this four weeks later, we were just about comfortable... 
XYL Judy sets off to the top of CT/DL-001 Serra Do Marao
The summit had two locked chapels and lots of communications masts, walls, pillars, rocks and an enormous tapered stone adjacent to a much smaller trig point:

Aerial Pole with SOTA Portugal Flag near my operating position away from the comms installation
From where I was sat on the stone wall I had no problems with interference from the transmitters, and propgation was very good into Europe and USA with 24 contacts in 30 minutes on the 20m and 30m bands:  

Time for us both to head back down the hill then, and on to our next summit on Pena Mountain, the site of a large wind farm with no restrictions on access by car.  On the way there we stopped to eat our baguettes, custard pies and fruit which we we had purchased at the motorway services on our way out to DL-001. 

CT/DL-004 Pena (1223m - 8 points)
With a combination of information provided by Pedro and our TomTom Satnav we arrived at a road junction from which the track would take us to the top of the Wind Farm on the summit of Pena. The road junction is at the Miradouro e Parque de Merendas viewpoint 41.318N 7.888W where you take the road going west for several miles. To help locate the summits and access points once close in and off the main highway I use the mapping app Locus on a 10" tablet when I am motoring outside the UK. I buy the offline LoMaps which are an enhanced version of Open Street Map. They are cheap and very good indeed. Locus will allow the importation of GPX points for all the summits from the SMP and also GPX tracks which you can create yourself or take from the SMP if other activators have been kind enough to take the time to share them. The method is invaluable for this type of work, so that you know exactly where you are at all times -  providing the navigator concentrates! 
I parked the car near the highest turbine and we climbed a short distance to the operating position adjacent to the trig point and some rock. It was very comfortable sat with my back to the rock as you can see below, however I was experiencing QRN on HF from the turbines, which were turning well in the wind:

At 1512z the signals from SV2RUJ/P Stavros showed himself from SV/TL-074 - a regular contact for me from home when I am chasing stations. Then I logged my friends Nick G4OOE (Scarborough) and SOTA Partner Victor GI4ONL (Bushmills). Larry K0RS (Colorado) was best DX and another familar callsign from the 30 stations worked from Pena. Despite the QRN the KX2 was coping well. I also worked Larry when I was operating as VK2/G4OBK in 2018. World map of contacts made:

After finishing the activation I made my first YouTube video of an activation, describing my station equipment - you can see it here - no laughing at the back there please....
The flashing on the video is the shadow from the wind turbine above me going round... Next stop before dinner in Amarante was the small hilltop of CT/DL-015 Mont de Amarante, where we had a nice surprise meeting with Paulo CT2IWW in person...

CT/DL-015 Monte de Amarante (369m, 1 Point)
I had calculated that there would be time on the way back to Porto to activate CT/DL-015. It was a 10 minute walk to the summit from the car. We later found out the summit is on private land, but the landowner has no objection to adventurers accessing the hill. We parked by the local football teams ground at 41.238N 8.092W. If you go there look out for some old graves of the chambered cairn type by the path as it climbs near the top.
I set up the mast against the raised trig point and started calling CQ:
With my pole elevated on the trig point plinth I decided to do a "knee trembler". Not what you think.... by knee trembler I mean a standing up activation. It's pretty comfortable standing up operating in Morse and Phone, I'm sure I'm not the only one to indulge in this art...
I started on 20m. The band was still open to Canada and USA. It was just after 1700z, an optimum time I would suggest, to work near Stateside and Canada from Portugal in mid-March:
26 Contacts completed approaching dusk on CT/DL-015 Monte de Amarante
Suddenly an extremely loud station burst into my headphones on CW - it was Paulo CT2IWW who, unknown to us, lived just below the hill! We made the contact and as I was packing up the station 15 minutes later, the man himself appeared, having walked up the hill. Fancy living just a 10 minute walk from a SOTA summit, as Paulo does! It was great chatting and thanks to Paulo's excellent spoken English we found out much useful information about the region. It was encouragement indeed, to return to the area again when we can. So, having said byebye to Paulo we packed up and drove into Amarante Town, parked the car and took a walk around the town at dusk, before finding a nice restaurant for our dinner.
River Tamega old bridge in Amarante - the town is well sited as a base for a future SOTA Tour in the region
After eating it was dark as we drove back to Porto along the motorway. One more early morning activation next day remaining, near Porto, before returning to the UK...

Monday, 18 March 2019

SOTA Porto - early morning on Serra de Valongo CT/DL-003

In the Douro Litoral area there are a handful of one point summits within a 30 minute (pre-rush hour) early morning drive out of Porto, of which Serra de Valongo is one. The summit was also Complete for me if I activated it.  Out of the sixteen previous activations of CT/DL-003 I had chased it myself from home on four occasions. The approach by car to the parking place by the catholic church is via the wide junction from the EN209 road at 41.179N 8.502W. Shown on SOTAMaps (OT) as Rue de Cabecinha.
A short 10 minute walk along a rough track from the parking area near a small catholic church, took me down a col and up into the activation zone. The track serves several transmitting aerials sited along the ridge. It was too rough to drive along in a normal front wheel drive car. 
You can just make my fishing pole and dipole out in this photo
The ground was very rough on the hill itself as a lot of young trees had been planted to help with landscaping. I didn't go to the end of the ridge where the final transmitter was, I stopped short by around 100m and set up around 10m down from the highest point. 
The far end of the ridge on CT/DL-003

Looking back in  the direction I had walked from to the activation spot
It was a slow start on 40m CW at 0720z, as it often is when trying to activate a SOTA when Europe is just waking up, however once Eric F5JKK was logged, many others followed and by 0746z there were 21 EU stations logged on 40m and 30m. A few CQ calls then on 20m CW just led to one contact - with Jan OK2PDT, who was also worked on 30m. 

Sunday, 17 March 2019

SOTA Holiday in Porto - CT/MN-033 & MN-047

After a 2nd day sightseeing in Porto on the hop on-hop off yellow bus, day 3 of our holiday took us away from the city to the historical centre of Guimaraes in the CT/MN (Minho) region.
A cobbled street leads into the square in Guimaraes where we had lunch
A study of the SOTA Mapping Project showed two easy drive on summits in the area. So after a tour around the Paco dos Duques de Braganza (Palace) in Guimaraes we endeavoured to find the twisty lane which left the town and went up the hill to Penha Park (CT/MN-033) pictured here from the town:
We found the lane, however it was a no entry / one way lane, so a satnav reset was needed. TomTom took us via the main road through Mesao Frio to reach the Park. It was Sunday and busy with people and cars everywhere. Penha Park is a popular place at the weekend. We parked a little way down from the top car park and walked through the gardens and the enormous rocks which are a natural feature of the park. 
Around 10m down from the top car park we came across a moss covered stone table and seat near the path, which was not too busy with passing people, just the occasional person who seemed disinterested in my activities on the radio. The 5m pole was trussed against a tree, my link dipole was erected and I was on the 20m band once again:
CT1ETE Paulo was my first contact and he was 599++. I discovered in QSO that Paulo lives just a few miles from the summit! 31 EU QSOs were made on 20m and just two more to finish on 30m. This included a summit to summit contact to Slovenia with Marko S57MS/P on S5/RG-014 Ledenik. I closed down after 25 minutes of activity and we went for refreshments. There was a large church here and this impressive carved stone monument:
Penha is best avoided on the weekends, it was too busy for us in the park so we sought out a cafe later on our way to MN-047. The park was rammed with people and vehicles driving around, looking for parking places. In retrospect I would have preferred to go during the week... 

So with the SatNav reset to 41.405N 8.344W (near Serzedelo) we drove around 10 miles. On the way we spotted a lovely cafe and pulled in for cake, tea and a comfort break before proceeding up the cobble road to the Senhora dos Montes summit car parking place near the top of MN-047 which was another SOTA Complete for me. A stone table was again found with a bench around 10m down from the top, and this is from where I operated, with XYL Judy continuing reading her book:
There was a comms installation on the summit and a few buildings, including a chapel. Condx were below average I thought, and once again USA stations were not in evidence. As the 10 MHz band dried up and I had a little time left I ventured on to 7 MHz SSB for the first time on the trip and picked up my friend Terry G0VWP in York along with Paulo CT1ETE again and regular Chaser Manuel EA2DT. The activation was finished with a 40m Morse contact with Karel ON4FI who I met in 2018 at the Ham Radio Expo in Friedrichshafen. 
With sunset approaching on CT/MN-047 I was already thinking about tomorrows early morning activation of CT/DL-003 near Porto

Friday, 15 March 2019

SOTA Holiday in Porto - Northern Portugal - Travelblog Day One

Judy (XYL) and I held off our usual January winter short break in 2019 and put the money aside for a longer one week holiday in Porto, Northern Portugal in March. We were really lucky with the weather as Spring appeared to have come early in Portugal. I saw a deal advertised on the Travelzoo website by the company Broadway Travel, looked at the idea and then packaged a similar holiday ourselves, which gave us more flexibility to stay in Porto for a week and hire a car.  
The Douro River waterside in Porto seen from the Dom Luis 1st bridge
As well as a city break we wanted to go into the Portuguese countryside, visit a few small historic towns and activate a handful of SOTA summits in the region. Porto is within reach of the BA, BL, MN and DL SOTA Areas, with a good motroway network in which to reach them. We stayed at the Trindade Hotel, which is around one mile from the beautiful and interesting wide river frontage in Porto. The hotel was high rise, and we landed on the 8th floor. This wasn't a problem as the lift was 100% reliable. The service in the hotel was very good, with an excellent breakfast included, and included a welcome glass of port on arrival. White Port? Yes please, never had that before..... There were many British people staying there who had booked the 3+2 night break offered by Broadway Travel. It was their ad that initially drew our attention to this hotel (3 nights Lisbon, 2 nights Porto with a rail journey in between). We had been to Lisbon twice and so we ruled out the two centre option.  

I hired a car very cheaply at Porto Airport. This was booked through Ryanair, who also provided the flight from Manchester. A white and almost new and unmarked Renault Clio was provided by "Drive On Holidays" for just €48 for a one week rental. A transponder was provided by the car hire company for saving delay at the the motorway tolls. This cost an extra €13 for the week. Additionally, the final toll charge levied for our motorway journeys, over 3 days and for two local motorway journeys to SOTA Summits on early mornings, came to just around £15. I was therefore very pleased with the reasonable cost of having independent transport. The one drawback was that Porto, like most cities, had no free parking for several miles out of the city centre. There was parking meters for miles around. The Trindade Hotel however had an arrangement with a nearby multistorey car park. The hotel paid the cheaper overnight fees, but the driver had to pay during the day. We didn't use the car on 3 days, so this incurred an extra cost of around €45 on to the motoring costs. In retrospect we would have been better staying in a hotel in the countryside outside Porto and travelling in on the three days when we enjoyed the sights and sounds of the city.  Petrol was around 10% cheaper in Porto than it was in the UK.

Day 1: 15 March 2019 CT/BL-004 > BA-012 > BA-003 > BL-017

After arriving the previous day, Friday 15th March had to be the main SOTA day, as it was the last day when the extra Winter Bonus was available in Portugal, meaning that if three summits above 1000m were activated in the day, I would benefit from an extra 9 points. 

My good friend Pedro CT1DBS (who I met when I visited Porto in 2016) activates regularly in the Porto area.  Pedro gave me some advice about the area and the summits which was of great benefit. I also got extra influence and encouragement from this excellent 2015 YouTube video from Joachim CT7AGT of the first three summits on my list. 
A large wind farm sits on the plateau of Serra da Freita CT/BL004
After a leisurely breakfast on a fine sunny day we drove south east of the city for over an hour to take us into the Beira Litoral region of Northern Portugal when there are ranges of hills in excess of 1000m.  For ease of access we chose CT/BL-004 Serra da Freita (1085m - 8+3 points) which housed a wind farm.  I started operating at around 11:30z on the 20m (14 MHz) band and finished on 30m (10 MHz). Propagation conditions on the radio were superior tto what I would expect from the UK.
CT7/G4OBK on CT/BL-004 sporting the flag given to me by SOTA Portugal on my visit to Lisbon in 2016
On BL-004 there was an observation tower and viewing platform with topograph. We weren't the only tourists there - we spoke briefly to a long distance fell runner and another couple who arrived by car to take in the far reaching views.
Judy XYL walking towards the tower and viewing platform to read her book
Viewing Platform on Serra da Freita CT/BL-004
CT7/G4OBK/P Portable SOTA station near viewing platfrom on Serra da Freita
It was lunchtime as we motored to our next summit which was again on the highest point of a wind farm, however just before we got there we diverted to a campsite cafe, which Pedro had told me about. This was on a side road just a couple of miles from the activation zone of CT/BA-012 Candal (1106m - 8+3 Points). This we found to be a good stop off and we got sandwiches and a beer. The lady owner was so friendly, and told us about the apartments she had for rent on the site.
The campsite and small apartment complex near to Candal CT/BA-012
Friendly campsite cafe recommended by Pedro CT1DBS - Ham & Cheese sandwiches and a beer.... the Portuguese bake lovely bread
This place would make a superb base for a few days activating in the Beira Alta and Beira Litoral area. The campsite and cafe is called Retiro da Fraguinha Lugar da Fraguinha, 3660-043 São Pedro do Su and they are open all year round. The owner told us that in June, July and August the site was very busy. She suggested that due to the popularity, those months are best avoided and mentioned that campsite details for booking the apartments could be found on Facebook. After the nice lunch we drove into the Candal Wind Farm, parking on the track below the summit and climbing a few hundred metres to the highest point - another 11 points earned, on a very productive activation. 

Hire Car parked a few hundred metres down from the highest point on BA-012
Elecraft KX2 - Pico Paddle - HB link dipole on 5m pole for 20/30/40m bands

Unbelievable weather? The final day of the SOTA Winter Bonus on Candal CT/BA-012

Good propagation on 20m shown on the last page of my logbook on BA-012 included several USA stations...finishing off with "regular chaser" Eric, F5JKK on the 10 MHz band. 
The spread of contacts from BA-012 Candal - Best DX Larry K0RS (Colorado) Sergei RV9DC (Urals)
It was now a long drive uphill and down dale to the 3rd summit of BA-003. We were keeping good time so a 4th activation near one of the towns (dinner needed before the drive back to Porto) in the area would be possible before returning to Porto. My XYL Judy is not the best passenger and she was scared by some of the drops from the roadside on the descents, despite my careful driving.... The Portuguese roadworkers certainly know how to build amazing roads with good surfaces and cambers over the tops and sides of their big mountains!

XYL Judy at the bottom chapel where I parked on the flank of the 3rd summit BA-003 Serra da Sao Macario

We reached CT/BA-003 Serra de Sao Macario (1052m - 8+3 Points) at around 1530z and parked below the summit - a 10 minute walk took us to the highest point where we found a locked chapel with high walls. There were several comms installations close by. I set up the station on a stone seat with my back to the wall, sweating in the heat.  It was hard to believe with such warmth and comfort that I was in receipt of the winter bonus. Down to a T shirt I was, and still sweating...
The top chapel on BA-003 Serra de Sao Macario - station was set up the other side of the R/H wall
Operating in the heat on BA-003 
31 QSOs quickly made on the 10 & 14 MHz bands in CW & SSB - superb!

While on the air several small tourist buses arrived, and parked within 100m of where I was sitting. Presumably the short walk up the hill would have been seen as hard work. When we returned to the car parking place there was another chapel below us, so we went to look. Once again the door was locked, but it was a fine chapel all the same, with a path around the back and onto a rocky plateau where there was a memorial. All good then, and on to the fourth and final summit which was activated at sunset before going into the town of Arouca for a steak dinner.
Roadside access to summit of BL-017 - just a 300m walk uphill

When roadside parking for CT/BL-017 Monte de Arouca (701m - 4 Points) was found, it was 1800z, so time enough before the sunset to activate and maybe work some more USA stations on 20m. Surprisingly I worked KD1CT in New Hampshire - but this was on 10 MHz CW at 1836z.
Top - Trig point on BL-017 Monte de Arouca
Bottom - Judy finishes off her book on BL-017 at sunset
A five minute walk took us to the trig point for a 21 QSO activation before heading into Arouca, 5 Kms away for our dinner. It was almost dark when we got into town and we found a very quiet restaurant. After the meal it took around an hour to drive back to Porto. This was a most memorable SOTA day which we both enjoyed in the Portuguese March sunshine....