There’s a whole back story as to why Madeira that is just too long to type. Suffice to say a CT3 association was put together as Madeira is not just a holiday paradise but also a walker’s paradise too. And it is AF-014 for IOTA, i.e. Africa, and so it’s Africa for SOTA as well.
This was primarily a family holiday not a DXpedition. That meant I couldn’t disappear all week just to play radio. I didn’t want to, there’s so much to see and do outside of walking and SOTA. It also meant that realistically I was limited to the 2 really easy summits. One is a drive on and the other is a quick walk. Neither are challenging once you’ve driven to them. The challenge is in the drive. If you start at sea level and stop at 1800m and you’ve only driven a few km then it means only one thing, steep winding roads. Having said that the Renault Clio Eco2 did manage to get 3 of us to the top even if there was some extended 2nd gear driving (both up and down).
Pico do Ariero CT3/MI-004
This is a drive on summit. At the top is a cafe and a visitor centre and a powerful NATO RADAR. So not only do you have the fun of driving up roads but you also get well cooked by the RF scattered about the summit! Thinking now I should have hired the car for 3 days and spent the 1st day just getting used to driving on narrow and winding roads. Instead I picked up the car, packed the family and set off. Swapping to driving a LHD car on the wrong side of the road is easy. Madeirean drivers are very laid back, no honking horns or cutting up an obvious holidaymaker. In fact if you keep to the main roads on the Southern coast it’s a doddle. So we headed straight for the interior and hills! And we got lost. Hard to in somewhere that’s 56x22km but after a slight 10km detour we were heading (slowly) to the hill. It was a cracking day, warm and sunny and absolutely lovely.
After a slow start we were on the final approach. Of course the cloud had come down. It does that regularly and after a few days you begin to understand the WX. Anyway we arrived at the top. The road is not that bad, a 50 seater coach was coming down, so the bends are not too tight. You learn not to consider what’s the other side of the ARMCO or bollards. Well there’s nothing but a big drop the other side that’s why I didn’t consider it! I got out of the car into a strong wind, driving rain and it was cool. If it hadn’t been 14C I’d have sworn I was in Scotland not 3000km SW of home, except I wouldn’t have been wearing a T shirt and shorts. On with a not brilliant waterproof coat. I didn’t bring any GoreTex with me, but this coat is waterproof if you sit still, it’s no good to walk in as it doesn’t breathe enough. The rain stopped and it was just misty.
I had no idea where to set up. We parked at the bottom of the car park so it’s a 15m ascent to the cafe and another 15m to the trig point. I walked this twice so I did a 60m ascent. Then I wandered about looking for somewhere to set up. The only place with any shelter from the wind was right by the many GW RADAR. Hmmm. But there was an inviting wooden rail to lash the pole to. It was also as busy a Piccadilly Circus with tourists. Pole lashed, vertical setup and after my beach antenna tuning practice I was ready to go on 17m in a few minutes. Easy peasy!
I put out 1 CQ call on 18.0861 CW and Ken GM0AXY came back at once. Ken was a lovely big signal and so easy to work. I asked him to spot and things went wild quickly. Quite a big pileup came from nowhere. The 817 I took has a 500Hz CW filter unlike my other 817 with an Inrad 300Hz. The 300Hz is much nicer in my opinion. I pushed on with a pileup and a half when a tourist walked up. He said hello and it was DF8KN who had operated from exactly where I sat with an 817 and PalmPaddle in 2009! We had a chat and when I called QRZ again he was impressed with the size of a pileup I had raised! I should have worked split from the start but didn’t. Big mistake. Anyway I announced UP 1 and called again. Things were more manageable and I worked the pileup as well as having to explain to every visitor what was happening. On my return, Brian G4ZRP, told me that it was pandemonium on both my TX and RX frequencies. Many people didn’t listen to what I sent and some people, in his opinion, where simply sending their calls over and over on top of me. He said the were lots “listen up 1” being sent which was ignored by many. I’m partially to blame as I did forget to send UP1 at the end of a few QRZ? that I sent. That was due to the excitement of actually being on the air from a big summit in Africa. Also being in the mist right under my own antenna meant my log was getting wet from condensation dripping off. And it was windy. And I was aware my wife and daughter were sat in the cafe or car on a miserable misty day when they could be by the pool or in some nice cafe in the sun.
The CW chasers disappeared and I plugged in the mike. I wasn’t going to take it. I’m a big boy now and felt competent to go all the way and do CW only activations! Taking the mike is tantamount to admitting I might not be able to qualify on CW alone. But Brian G8ADD had asked me to take a mike and Brian G4ZRP said there would be lots of chasers who would be pleased to work Africa on SSB. So I did and they were. Then there was nobody. A few more calls and still no reply. Gear down and a high speed descent to the cafe. No family so down to the car. Now my wife had the key and I didn’t know the registration. It was a dark silver/grey Clio and it seems that every hire car is a dark silver grey Clio. After walking past 3, I went back to the top and counted them. There 7 more almost identical cars till I found mine. Unbelievable!
Within 10 mins we were out of the mist and in 60mins we back at the hotel. I was quite shell shocked to think I had actually put a new association together, flown out to a tiny island in the Atlantic, driven an asthmatic car up Everest on the wrong side of the road and then actually qualified a summit. However, a few large beers by the pool and I was nicely relaxed.
Pico Ruivo do Paul da Serra CT3/MI-006
Not a drive on summit, but a very simple walk. The drive to this made the other drive look simple. It was expressway from just past the hotel to out near Ribiera Brava. This is a dual carriageway and very easy driving. Through some fine long tunnels and onto the good single carriageway road that goes to Sao Vincente. It’s not long before you turn off to Serra de Agua and the road starts to get narrow and twisty. Up and up and left and right and up and left and right and DONT LOOK DOWN! By the time we got to the Hotel Encumeada I pulled off for a comfort break. It is very mentally tiring driving on these roads when not used to them. Especially with a valuable cargo ( most of my family) who were clutching on to their seats and trying to not to scream A few photos later we were off and ever steeper and twistier till we turned off to Serra da Paul plateau. The road here has proper bends, back to back hairpins so tight you’re glad your in a Renault with very light steering. And drops. Drops I don’t want to think about.
Then you’re onto a big flat plain with loads of wind turbines. A few km along and there is a turning and a car park. With a kerbside drop from the road to the car park that would challenge a Land Rover. We drove on to the top car park which only had huge kerb. You can see the trig point from here. It’s an easy walk as there are some great paths here across the plains and up to the summit. The WX was good. It was very windy, a really gusty wind was blowing hard. But it was sunny and about 22C. The views were outstanding. It took about 20mins to the trig from the car and ascent of about 100m. Trivial stuff.
This time I needed to guy the mast. Another walker was so puzzled by what was happening he came over and held the pole whilst I guyed. A quick explanation later and I was on the air. A few calls on 17m CW produced nothing. Out with the phone, endstop 3G signal, so I spotted myself. I counted off 60 seconds and the pileup appeared as if by magic. I worked split from the start and things were much better. I didn’t notice any particularly poor operating. I managed to work a few stateside stations and I was hoping for an S2S with Rich N4EX but I was a little early for him. After 17m CW, 17m SSB was hard work as the band was very busy. When that dried up I QSYd to 15n SSB and worked another small run of stations including Jean VE2JCW for the ODX of the holiday. I had a long chat with Don G0RQL who was easy copy as was Damian M0BKV.
After 90mins it all went quite so I took down the station and took some photos. The view to Pico do Ariero and Pico Ruivo was something beyond belief. I’ve put a photo on Flickr of that. Like Mordor out Lord of The Rings. It really takes your breathe away. The sunlight made the colours lovely and the Atlantic was a lovely blue colour. I could have spent hours up there but I knew the boss and boss’ mate were waiting for the trip home and some more pool time. I wasn’t driving back down the Encumeada Pass so we went the gentler and longer way around that showed more of this beautiful island. We end up having coffee in Ponta do Sol watching the Atlantic crash into the shingle. 26C, brilliant sun, one of the best coffees I’ve ever had ( I wasn’t having any beer till that car was in the hotel car park) and view to die for. My XYL did say that if I don’t like driving down these roads I shouldn’t drive up them. I told her that I didn’t really like driving up them either! In fact it wasn’t the driving that worried me, it was the starting and stopping when I wanted to. As it was just how much lining was there on the brakes and clutch on a 4yr old hire car that had 60000km on the clock abused by tourists on a daily basis! Well there was enough.
These two summits are not hard apart from the “scary” driving and that’s only because I’m not used to the roads. Activating somewhere that’s sort of DX is huge fun. I’ve not been so excited calling CQ since I first went on CW on 7.032MHz from Ben Hope NS-020 back in 2009. Quite a few people worked me on both summits to give them 2 different summits on a new continent.
Madeira is a wonderful place. I’d go back right now if I had the chance. I certainly will be visiting regularly from now even if I don’t take a radio with me. Amazing scenery, stunning flowers and plants, loads of lovely places to eat and drink. Gorgeous climate. The people there are very welcoming. I’ve never been in a holiday destination before where every local person was so pleased to see another holidaymaker. Never. It meets all my definitions of paradise and it’s only a 3hr30 flight from here. I would urge everyone to try to visit at least once in the lifetime. And for us British who struggle learning any foreign languages, most Madeireans I met spoke excellent English (and French and German and Spanish).
I’m only sorry I couldn’t have spent longer on the air and offered a new continent to more people. But Milos S57D will be there in a few weeks. I know a few UK SOTA activators want to get out there as well.
A few people made this possible for me: Jim G0CQK for locating the summits, Carolyn G6WRW for pointing out a travel fishing pole, David CT1DRB for introducing me to Luis CT3EE who is our CT3 association manager. And also my other colleagues on the MT who put up with me badgering them to get this all in place for my holiday. Thank you.
Now I’ve done one SOTA DX holiday I’ve started planning some other possible destinations made more complex by wanting to come back to Madeira. Not enough cash or days off available I’ve always fancied Bermuda but the highest point is only 76m so that’s a non-starter. I’ll have to find somewhere different for 2013 and I’ll be in CT3 again for early 2014.