I spent January down in Alqueva, Portugal combining wild camping and astrophotography. I only took up astrophotography in November 2019 and living in Wales, UK i only had a few hours of clear skies to get to know the equipment. I followed the advice i got on this forum and purchased an 80mm refractor and HEQ5 Pro mount with the necessary accessories. I read a lot and used the forums on Cloudy Nights so thought i was prepared!!
Arrived in Portugal in late December and what amazing skies. Where i live is dark around the coast but Alqueva Dark Sky Resort in something else. The are is sparsely populated and based around a 250KM2 man made lake.
My camper van has a 95aHr battery and i recharge with a solar panel. I parked up near the small village of Amiera where all of the street lighting is low light pollution type. Set up my rig and was looking forward to getting some data! Then i really started to learn why this hobby is called "Extreme Photography".
Here is what happened over the next three weeks!
1. I didn't realise how cold it gets in this part of Portugal and after three hours getting polar aligned, setting up PHD2 and trying to focus both the main scope and guide scope fogged up!
2. Packed up and decided to charge my laptop with my cheap Chinese inverter that has worked flawlessly for 3 years! It burnt out trying to charge my Lenovo laptop!
3. Reverted to my MacBook and decided to order a 12v charger on Amazon. No Amazon in Portugal and has to order on Amazon Spain and arranged to pick up 150KM away at the apparently nearest location to me.
4. Spoke to Rother Valley Optics in UK and ordered a pair of dew heaters and controller for pick in next town in Portugal. Full marks to them to arrange the pick up via DPD but the new year got in the way and had to wait 8 days for both.
5. Drove to Spain to pick up the laptop charger and decided to stay overnight near the pick up location and guess what? Went to pay for my overnight parking and found an Amazon locker net to the pay booth! Hahaha.
6. While waiting for the dew heaters i decided to install the Primaluce Labs Sesto Senso focus motor. First focus knob came off no problem but the fine focus knob grub screw wouldn't budge! Checked with magnifying glass to find that the Allen key slot had been ruined during installation! Had to go to the local hardware store and purchase a 3mm drill bit! No hand drill so did it by hand resulting in large blisters!
7. Dew heaters and power cables arrived and got the focus motor fitted but by then the moon was out!
8. Then calamity i had a water leak in the van and had to drain the system down! Moved to a campsite in a local town 60Km away.
9. Lost 10 days to full moon and cloudy weather so headed to the coast.
10. Back in Alqueva at a campsite on a farm with power and showers and dark skies. Got everything set up and decided to set up the SGP autofocus routine. This was very challenging and due to my misunderstanding which way the focussed was moving i couldn't get a good focus. However, i went with what i had and managed to get 2 hours of data on the heart nebula. The thrill of finally seeing a stretched picture in SGP that looks ok was wonderful.
11. Had another go at the focus the next night and got a significant improvement and after fighting with PHD2 calibration fo a couple of hours i got 10 mins of data before the cloud came in!
12. Well that was it and what a great experience. I have learnt so much in self imposed difficult circumstances and at least managed to get some data.
I am going back to Alqueva again in March for three months. I have made some major improvements to my setup to make life easier. Firstly I now have a separate 85Ahr battery for astrophotography and a Mini Kota power box. I have also purchased a Pegasus Pocket Powerbox as having three power supplies running from different parts of the vans 12v system was difficult.
So i can continue wild camping and find remote spots i have got another solar panel to charge the astro battery. Its great to park up and stay for a few days without having to return to or pay for a campsite when you are out most of the night anyway.
I am looking forward to learning more and getting lots of "good" data so i can learn more about Pixinsight. I now understand why people become so passionate about astrophotography i have certainly got the bug!