Radio on Vacation 2023 - Perpignan and the Pyrenees
Ekki, DF4OR, reports on his radio experiences in the south of France

Vacation without radio is impossible. Or at least for me, and has been for almost 50 years. So this year we went to the south again, to the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees. The conditions were difficult - all the equipment had to fit into the top case of the motorcycle!

Visit to the F6KBR club in Perpignan

During the preparation, mainly searching for good radio sites in the mountains, I also discovered the Club F6KBR in Perpignan. The friends there run a very informative website where they report on local relays, beacons and their club life with regular meetings. So I decided to pay them a visit. The very active group meets every week in their own club rooms in the centre of Perpignan. The city has kindly provided several rooms in the "House of Clubs". There is also enough space on the roof for antennas. The picture shows a view into one of the huts. The members of the association welcomed me very warmly and we spent a nice evening together. Merci beaucoup, chers amis!

Radio adventures in the Pyrenees and on Puig Neulos

The surrounding mountains, both in the land of the Cathars north of the Pyrenees and in the high mountains of the Pyrenees themselves, invite VHF operation. One mountain close to the resort is Puig Neulos, about 1200m high, which itself is the site of several amateur radio relays and beacons. You can almost drive up to the top, but the last 100 metres or so can - legally - only be done on foot. But then you have a great view at the top. It is the location between the sea and the high mountains (the Pyrenees are up to 3000m high in places) that makes this region so attractive and interesting.

From a radio point of view there wasn't much to do that day, without a contest or an activity evening it's rather quiet on 2 m. But I also enjoy beacon watching and the occasional FM relay operation. Here too I notice the proximity of the Mediterranean Sea - propagation over the sea is usually much better on 2 m than over land.This often allows us to hear very distant beacons whose propagation path is almost exclusively over the sea.

The Icom IC-705 was used again, the VHF antenna was the WiMo SOTA antenna. In my experience this antenna offers the best ratio of gain to weight and size. In previous years, I used the 3/8" tubes from a Buddistick as the antenna support. They are light and strong.

Shortwave activities in the mountains and antenna challenges

Later, during the holidays, I continued with most of my shortwave activities. Experience shows that in the mountains it is a bit more difficult to tune a vertical antenna with radials. Especially this year the ground was extremely dry. I used a mixture of Buddistick and MP-1. The MP-1 coil is easier to tune than the Buddistick coil. But the other elements of the Buddistick antenna are more suitable, lighter or simply cheaper. Thanks to the 3/8" thread commonly used in amateur radio, everything fits together well. So I thought.

New in my baggage this year was a ground spike from the Chinese supplier Chelegance, which offers the MC-750 vertical antenna. It also uses the 3/8" thread, but with a different pitch. Namely 16 turns/inch, while Buddipole and other US manufacturers use the 3/8" thread with 24 turns/inch.

Anyway, the PL bottom spike has a 3/8"-16 UNC thread at the bottom, and comes with a reducer to 1/4", as used on cameras.This is good if you want to mount the PL adapter on a photo tripod, but I didn't have one with me. I was hoping to use the Buddistick elements on the ground spike, but unfortunately that didn't work. So I had to use a PL to 3/8"-24 adapter, which I luckily had with me.

Another problem was the dry soil - I sometimes had a lot of trouble driving the spike into the ground. It has a sharp tip, but it is made of aluminium and is therefore too soft for the rock-hard soil. It only worked really well at a lake behind the coast (French etang). And thanks to the salty water at the base of the antenna, radiation and efficiency were much better. With 5 W in telegraphy, quite a few contacts were made to Europe and a few overseas. The Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) provides an invaluable service during the trials, many thanks to all the operators!

What always surprises me at such remote locations is the great silence on the shortwave bands. Hardly any hissing or crackling like at home. The low noise level often led me to suspect a defect in the antenna or receiver. But no, it really was that quiet.

But there's another lesson I learned from this holiday - next time I'll take a tuner, balun and some wire. I once said in a video about the IC-705 that I would prefer to use resonant antennas to avoid power loss. But in practice it turns out that tuning can quickly become a nuisance every time I change bands. That's the only reason why I still carry a small antenna analyser with me (a Rig Expert AA-STICK600). I could do without it, though.

However, this is ham radio - always trying something new, experimenting, improving the station and having fun at the same time. Where better than on holiday?

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