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Portable in Portugal October 2002

Being a regular visitor to Portugal, it makes sense (to me at least) to take one of my Elecraft portable transceivers and operate for an hour or two each day. Also, Portugal is a CEPT country, which means that licensing is greatly simplified, it's more or less a matter of just operating. Taking my UK licence may have eased any difficulties associated with taking a transceiver on an aircraft and through Customs. Both on this occasion (October 2002) and the previous year, there were no difficulties at all.

In 2001 I used an Elecraft K2 and a very heavy Kent paddle. The antenna on that trip was a coaxial fed dipole slung between trees at slightly less than 20 feet above ground. Despite the low antenna height, I did manage daily skeds back to the UK and a very welcome contact with ZL. On the whole the antenna was rather limiting with mostly marginal signals being exchanged on the UK skeds and only a few European stations worked at other times.

Wanting something a little more portable than my K2, I decided to build a K1 with a four band module (built for 40, 30, 20 and 15m), internal auto ATU and wide range tilt stand. I deliberately chose not to purchase the internal 8 cell battery option, while this may have appeared a useful addition, several other K1 users found removing the batteries for charging a nuisance and at $44 plus post/packing not a cheap option. There is another snag with using 8 cells, they only supply around 9.6 Volts and that limits the power output from a K1 to 3 Watts. For all my portable operating with the K1, I run it from a 10 cell pack of 1800 mAh NiMh cells. These allow me to run 5 Watts output and only need a recharge every 2 or 3 days.

One of the main aims of my portable operation is to have skeds back to the UK with Dave, GM4EVS and John, G3XYF. Studying the propagation between Scotland and the Algarve, with W6EL's excellent propagation program, showed the best choice for a daily sked would be the 30m band. Inputting various horizontal dipole and "long wire" options into the antenna modelling program "NEC4WIN95" gave little chance of my meagre 5 Watts reaching the UK at a workable signal level as most of the RF went straight up. The next most likely antenna option was to use a ground plane, for 30m this needs a vertical element of 23 foot - which fits nicely on my 32 foot DK9SQ portable "fishing pole" mast. Modelling this antenna showed a very useful lobe around 27 degrees that should put good signals into at least Scotland. See links at bottom of this page.

Staying at the same location each year meant that I could make advance arrangements for a suitable antenna location, another bonus was staying with Bev, CT1EGC and his wife Jan CT1YQY. Even though Bev and Jan don't have a suitable HF antenna for working the UK, they have plenty of space for a ground plane and obviously aren't concerned about using radio equipment from their house.

The DK9SQ mast is around one metre long, when collapsed, and can be packed into a stout cardboard tube for taking as hold luggage on an aircraft. I took the precaution of telephoning the airline to check there wouldn't be an issue with taking a well packed "fishing pole" (you didn't expect me to complicate matters by calling it an antenna did you?), there weren't any problems with taking the "out of gauge" package. Note many of the low cost airlines now charge extra for such items, it may be cheaper to buy a fishing pole locally rather than bring one with you, prices vary quite significantly... a 7 metre pole was 11 Euros in Portugal (2011 - sports "supermarket") yet the cheapest I could find across the border in Spain was 55 Euros!

In addition to the K1, I had also bought a smaller set of paddles in the form of a Palm Mini-Paddle. These paddles are well suited to portable operation with the paddles sliding inside a square aluminium tube. The only weak point of the Mini-Paddle is the 3 pin connector, so I made a spare lead using a PCB connector from Maplin (part number BX96E).

Prior to travelling to Portugal, I erected the 30m ground plane in my garden. Each wire was cut to the formula "length in feet = 234/f ", where f= frequency in MHz. Not only was the SWR good, but my first contact was with Ole, OY3QN, who coincidentally I also worked from Portugal. Ironically, I've operated from the territorial waters of the Faroe Islands in my sea going days... It is important to test the equipment thoroughly before packing, it is too easy to assume an antenna will tune up only to find that isn't the case.

On arrival at our holiday location, after a welcoming beer, the ground plane was erected in less than half an hour. As a precaution against the sections of the mast collapsing (a not uncommon problem with fishing pole masts), each joint was wrapped with PVC tape. The mast itself was fixed to a wall using a handful of Ty-Raps. A later addition was to add elements for 20m, the vertical section being secured on foot long stand-offs made from dry twigs secured with a mixture of tape and Ty-Raps. There were 3 radials for 30m and two for 20m, the ends were around 3 to 5 feet above ground. The SWR on 30m was 1.0:1 and 1.4:1 on 20m.

My first contact was with Dave, G4DMP, who is a fellow "Elecrafter". Despite an announcement on the Elecraft e-mail "reflector" some days earlier, Dave was only one of two other Elecraft users that I worked from Portugal. Operation was mostly for an hour in the morning before breakfast and an hour around sunset. The best of the two bands proved to be 30m with some excellent propagation. JA, VK, ZL and W6 being regularly heard at good signal strength. My best DX was JA and FG/JR7HAN/P. Considering my power level was only 5 Watts, I had many good contacts with excellent reports. Most EU and UK contacts gave me reports of S5 with many reporting S9. The receiver in the K1 isn't as strong as that in a K2, there were times when unwanted signals and other artifacts appeared (not at significant levels), a small amount of drift was also evident. But on the whole, I would rather take a K1 on portable trips than a K2.

The intention was to have daily skeds and a handful of "ragchew" contacts each day rather than mounting a mini DXpedition, there were certainly plenty of fun contacts with many running to ten minutes or more each day. While there were just as many contacts the previous year with 20m only operation, signals to the UK had been quite weak at times. By using a little forward planning with low cost software, the 2002 trip had produced much stronger signals by using 30m and a ground plane.

All being well, I shall be QRV as CT/G4AON/P soon.

Plot of dipole antenna at 20 foot, produced by NEC4WIN95

Plot of ground plane antenna at 8 foot, produced by NEC4WIN95

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