VO1DR Portable in Portugal: Coffee, Cobblestones and Contacts!

Many thanks to Scott (VO1DR) who shares the following guest post:

Coffee, Cobblestones and Contacts – Portable in Portugal

by Scott Schillereff, (VO1DR), St. John’s, NL, Canada

On a recent trip throughout Portugal (May 29 – June 12), I operated /P QRP CW at five locations, with varying success.  Here are some details and pictures that you might find interesting.

Portugal and /P sites

Figure 1 shows a map of Portugal and the five locations where I operated.  On this trip, we were on the move a lot, so radio was tucked in here and there when I found some free time.

Figure 1 – Portugal and operating locations. 1 Lisbon, 2 Faro (Algarve region), 3 Foz do Duoro (near Porto), 4 Funchal (Madeira island; off coast of Morocco), 5 Monte Estoril (coast west of Lisbon).

QRP gear

I was packing the following gear in a small compartmented zip bag:

  • ATS-V5 CW transceiver for 15, 12, and 10 m (small-run kit from Steve Weber, KD1JV; fits into lid-less Altoids tin).  My max P(out) was 1.7 W on 15 m rising to 2.3 W on 10 m.
  • Homebrew whip antenna system.  2.54 m telescoping whip on top of a 2 m camera monopod; raised radial (coiled up to preset lengths to resonate on each band); no ATU; directly wired via 5 m of RG174 coax to choke at rig.
  • Homebrew common mode choke – RG174 coax threaded through five FT37-43 toroids and coiled around a larger unknown ferrite core (scavenged from TV).
  • Homebrew resistive SWR bridge – common design to null out an LED at low SWR; max tuning SWR 2:1; switchable in and out of Tx circuit; direct BNC connector to rig
  • 30,000 mA-hr Lithium-ion battery– car jump-starter; lightweight (284 g); 15V and 5V no-load outputs; 15V output through voltage controller to rig.  One charge did entire trip.
  • Homebrew Voltage Controller – simple design based on LM317T regulator and small V-A display (see article in SPRAT #195, p.24).  Vin max 40V; Vout 1.2-37V; Iout up to 1.5A.
  • Homebrew single paddle key, made with popsicle stick inside a plastic screw-top vial.

I chose a whip- versus a wire-based antenna system because I anticipated setups on hotel balconies, beaches or in city parks, not “off in the woods”.  Wire antennas are certainly more portable and could be taken in carry-on without worry, but might be more noticeable during setups in city parks.  Wire antennas are also not much good on beaches or balconies (without distant anchor points).  I wanted to be less conspicuous, and didn’t need to worry about weight.

Air travel with radio gear

I put all my QRP gear and antenna in my checked bag and had no trouble anywhere.  I added a note in English and Portuguese stating that this was amateur radio gear for hobby use, and included a copy of my Canadian licence. I probably could have taken the works in carry-on, but I was a bit uncertain about the metal monopod and whip (might be perceived as a weapon) so I just checked it all.

1. Lisbon Old Town

Due to a *two-day* travel disruption on the way to Portugal (thanks to Air Canada at Toronto Pearson airport; another story), we only had one night in Lisbon. Our hotel was a four-storey concrete and steel building in a narrow street. Our 3rd storey room had two little balconies about 3 m apart, with metal rails. To test the waters, I mounted the monopod and whip on one balcony and tied off the radial to the other balcony. The antenna impedance match was fine but, either due to band conditions, night time, or metal in the buildings, all three bands (15-10 m) were dead. Not a single signal; not even the ghoulish drone of digital signals; a total bust. Not a great start, but things improved later – read on!

Figure 2- Tram on steep street in Lisbon Old Town, close to our hotel

2. Faro (Algarve Region)

We travelled by wonderful inter-city Portuguese train to Faro in the Algarve.  Faro is a hub city in this sun-drenched and slow-moving southern region of Portugal; a region where everyone seems to be in second gear, and quite content there. Being a coastal city, I had hopes of good propagation.  Our schedule meant I could only play radio at our hotel late one afternoon. I set up in a quiet corner of a concrete-walled, 2nd storey courtyard with an open roof.  The top of the whip extended ~1 m above the concrete wall, but the radial was deployed entirely within the courtyard.  An improvement on the air – I could hear a number of stations, mainly on 15 m, and worked LY2NK (Lithuania, 3,119 km).  I was amazed at what 1.7 W and a whip antenna with a single raised radial could do!

Figure 3 – Walking street in Faro, 5 min from our hotel.
Figure 4 – Boats at Ilha da Culatra, on day trip out of Faro

3. Porto and Foz do Duoro (“mouth of the Duoro”)

We travelled on a delightful high-speed train (complete with coffee and snacks trolley down the aisle!) up to Porto in the north of Portugal.  Porto has a much different vibe than the Algarve.  A more working-class, energetic, commercial feel, and steeped in the wine- and port-making industry along the picturesque Duoro River. The Duoro Valley is a huge viticulture region and, yes, they still stomp grapes with bare feet on harvest day (don’t worry – in the making of port, fortification with 60% alcohol (aguardente) abruptly stops sugar fermentation and kills every living microbe in the batch!).

One afternoon, we took a clattering electric tram from downtown Porto west to Foz do Duoro, a seaport town 6 km away where the Duoro R. empties into the Atlantic.  After an espresso in an outdoor café, I set up the radio in a city park adjacent to the ocean – monopod lashed to a park bench and a radial tied off to a palm tree.  Figure 5 shows my park bench set up with a sea wall and Atlantic in the distance.  In QRP radio, as in real estate, “localização, localização, localização”!  Conditions were great here and I worked these stations on 15 m:  TM56JO (France; 1,087 km); HA0DD (Hungary; 2,476 km); OU5U (Denmark; 2,146 km); LY2PX (Lithuania, 2,903 km); and 9A2N (Croatia, 2,119 km).  Very exciting! And, again, passers-by  took no notice.

Figure 5 – Radio set up on park bench, Foz do Duoro, Portugal. View west to Atlantic Ocean in distance.
Figure 6 – Detail of my radio set up. Clockwise from L to R: paddle key in clear plastic vial; blue floss container with volume control for ear buds; ATS-V5 rig (green cover) in bottom of Altoids tin; oltage controller in bright blue Altoids tin; Li-ion battery pack (black rectangle); common mode choke (red sleeve); resistive SWR bridge (silver top with LED). Zippered back for this gear is immediately to right. The whip collapses to about 14 in and fits inside the camera monopod for transport.

4. Madeira

Air travel is fairly cheap within Portugal, so we detoured to Madeira, an autonomous Portuguese island in the Atlantic ocean ~1,000 km southwest of Lisbon.  The main city (Funchal) is about even with Casablanca on the Moroccan coast.  Madeira is a very rugged volcanic island with its highest point (Pico Ruivo) 1,862 m (6,109 ft) above sea level.  We were based in Funchal and toured around to see the sweeping vistas, mountain-scapes, and steep coastal cliffs.

For the radio, I set up on a cobble beach right in downtown Funchal.  Off of the main walkways, I was away from other people and no one took any notice.  This lack of scrutiny fits the strong “live and let live” attitude in Portugal.  Importantly, I had salt water all around and underneath me, giving excellent RF propagation.  Figure 7 shows my setup, with the city and marina in the background.

Figure 7 – Radio set up on cobble beach in Funchal, Madeira. The concrete structure is part of some sort of outlet to the sea, I could hear water sloshing and echos of waves thumping.. Salt water was close by on three sides and was likely directly underneath me here.

This spot was a QRP DX gold mine.  In 45 min of operation, I worked EA3X (Barcelona, 1,945 km), MM9I (Scotland, 2,751 km), and PT1K (Brazil, 6,274 km).  My reported RSTs were all “5NN” which I found implausible given such low power.  Authentic RSTs tell such a more meaningful story but, still, we had complete QSOs.  The Brazil contact made my day!

5. Monte Estoril

Back on the mainland, we visited friends in Monte Estoril, a coastal beach town about ~25 km west of Lisbon.  With an afternoon to wander, I made plans to set up my radio in a large city park near the ocean.  More walking and (of course) more coffee brought us to a sprawling park, complete with free-ranging peacocks and… chickens!  Don’t ask me why.  They were charming and all looked happy and well-fed.

I tried radio in two different places in the park.  One on a wooden picnic table next to a closed-down concession stand (stone and concrete construction; lots of rebar?).  Not sure what was up, but very poor reception and no stations worked.  I then moved to a grassy patch among trees, well clear of man-made things.  I tied off the monopod to an angled tree trunk and the radial to a nearby tree.  Figure 8 shows me setting up.  This was better; I heard a few signals (again, mainly on 15 m) and worked SP6JOE (Poland, 3,370 km).  As with all my public radio outings, lots of people strolled by but no one batted an eye; and in this case, no intrusions from peacocks…

Figure 8 – Me setting up in second location in park in Monte Estoril. Note monopod and whip tied to inclined tree in front of me; radial tied to tree at right; radio out of site on blanket to my right.

Take-away messages

  1. International and within-country air travel with QRP radio gear was no hassle at all (in checked bags).
  2. In Portugal, hardly anyone noticed my field set ups and certainly did not interfere.  I had zero questions.
  3. If you can’t get high and clear (mountain top), then get next to (or over) salt water.  My best operating locations were near or at salt water.
  4. If anyone doubts the potential effectiveness of simple, compromised antennas at QRP levels, take note that the PT1K contact corresponds to 3,691 km/W (2,292 mi/W).  QRP DX is such a rush and really jacks up your enthusiasm for QRP operation.

Images of Portugal

These last figures show some of the stunning sights and views of this beautiful country.

Figure 9 – Northeast coast of Madeira, Portugal.
Figure 10 – Bougainvillea in Monte Estoril, Portugal
Figure 11 – A narrow street in Porto (iconic Torre dos Clérigos on horizon).

Closing thought

In my mind, unorchestrated /P QRP operation is analogous to salmon fishing.  Lots of technical gear and preparation, the fun of getting to your favourite spot and setting up in the outdoors, the reflective calm of listening and waiting, the need for skillful persistent operation, and the child-like thrill of landing a big (far) one.  For many, the pleasure of fishing is not about catching fish.  Similarly, for me, /P QRP is not a numbers game, but rather all about the delight of the overall experience, even if only for a handful of contacts; or even none.

Best 72,

Scott  VO1DR

16 thoughts on “VO1DR Portable in Portugal: Coffee, Cobblestones and Contacts!”

  1. I absolutely loved reading this article, it made an otherwise calm Friday afternoon into a delight.

    I agree that Portugal is a wonderful country with much to see and do. I love the Duoro reds ????.

    We will be returning soon but for horse riding rather than CW ops but you have kindled my enthusiasm for taking a small radio along especially since airport security was not a problem.

    Cheers Roy

  2. Thanks for sharing your trip and the photos of the country are an added blessing! Glad you were able to operate without issues too. Very nice including some cultural and travel tips! Looks like you had a great experience.

  3. Well done, Scott VO1DR! Beautiful shots, and kudos for getting out with your radio gear. Operating from foreign countries is a special experience. When I first looked at the photos, I thought: “Nice Delta Loop, Scott!” (if, only). Thanks for the good read. Eric AC6NT

    1. Hi William, I repurposed an unused camera monopod we had. I found I could remove the top mounting plate and the collapsed metal whip fit *perfectly* inside the collapsed monopod. Thus the monopod serves as the antenna support when deployed and a secure carrying case when travelling. If anyone wants more details on this, or mounting the whip, etc., just drop me a line at scott d o t schillereff at gmail d o t com. 72, Scott VO1DR

      1. Bonjour pourriez me faire parvenir en PDF le montage de votre antenne
        Mail contact Patrick.brenier6@ gmail.com

      2. Good job Scott!
        Even one QSO from such places is worth spending a little time on the radio. I think the description of the tripod antenna deserves a separate post. On a beach without trees, you can also use a telescopic fishing rod as vertical, but I’m too lazy even for that. Two pieces of wire that I once placed simply on the rocks near the sea also worked. In Europe you can usually always find a variety of trees.
        I wish you to visit new countries!

  4. Totally impressed with you homebrew kit! The build looks clean and efficient. That certainly makes the field ops more rewarding. The results demonstrate just how well it all works. FB OM job well done.

  5. Thanks for your comments. I suppose one could go for a /P delta loop on high bands using two telescoping whips and a wire between, or a wire triangle strung from trees. But too much rigging for me. A raised whip and radial is compact and inconspicuous, and continues to amaze me when conditions are good. The key is to tie off the neck-height radial out of the way so no one “clotheslines” themselves! Interesting article by John VE3IPS on directionality of such antenna set-ups in latest SPRAT (no.199, p.20). 72, Scott VO1DR

  6. Beautiful photos and very interesting text. But I have a question. What call sign did you use while you were in Portugal?
    Larry, KE0BTV

  7. Greetings
    This brought back memories of my business trips to Belgium back in 2002. I brought one of those round cases where the sections slide into each other. I brought my mobile dipole Spider antenna 4 band with ferrite core slides to adjust SWR. When they asked about my case I told them they were golf clubs and they waved me on hi… used it with my FT-100-D Yaesu transceiver and MFJ switching supply adaptable for voltage on second floor of my hotel overlooking a golf course. Had fun working the US east coast.

  8. Hi Scott,
    Glad you enjoyed your stay and managed to do some nice QRP DX.
    VY 73 DE CT1CXP

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