As I write this, the 2022 CQ WW 160 Meter contest is not over. But it's over for me, and has been since Saturday evening. The endless tedium wore me down. Better DX conditions would have helped, since without that the prospect for contacts is severely limited.
Some people like that and will work with whatever the propagation gods (or devils) provide. I can live with that in most contests. You make do since you know that everyone else is in the same situation. Skill and technology are what make winners.
In a single band contest the application of skill is narrower. When the DX isn't there on top band you have two things you can do: call CQ endlessly and trawl the bands (and cluster/skimmer spots) for fresh meat. I can maintain my enthusiasm for a while. Eventually the tedium gets me down. I have regularly bailed early from contests such as these. This isn't a new problem for me, since it was the same when I first got into contesting as a teenager in the 1970s.
My strategies for countering the tedium have been to operate with a handicap like QRP or as a member of a multi-op team. With an inferior signal every QSO is an accomplishment. There are always more stations to work and challenges to overcome. With a kilowatt and a full size vertical on top band the QSOs are not so difficult. After the first 600 to 700 QSOs you have milked at least 80% of the available stations and the rate falls off a cliff.
I had over 700 QSOs in the log when I shut down in the wee hours of the first night of the contest. I worked every available state/province multiplier and over 50 countries, despite the mediocre conditions. Many other countries were heard but they did not hear as well as the hordes calling them. Productivity suffered and the long tedium had begun.
When I resumed Saturday evening the rate improved as many stations made their first foray into the contest. Very soon that pool dried up and the tedium resumed, worse than before. Many contesters love the challenge of scrapping for every contact. The best operators scan the bands or jump on spots with one receiver while listening to answers to their CQ machines on another receiver. A few have sophisticated equipment to allow them to do both concurrently. The rest of us can only listen on the second receiver when the CQ machine isn't transmitting.
I am not happy with that style of operating. DX conditions were worse the second night and that accentuated the tedium. So I quit the contest. I never had the inclination of winning in any category and, frankly, my station, good as it is, is inferior to many others. There is added frustration from the Beverages which allow me to copy too many stations that cannot hear me. Oftentimes a kilowatt is no more productive than QRP. At least the amp keeps the shack warm during winter weekends.
I can sustain my enthusiasm in a multi-op because off times break the tedium. Every time I sit down to do a shift I am refreshed and able to dig in and get the job done. As a single op the tedium is unremitting and it wears me down. I admire the operators who deal with it better than I can.
This problem is common to most single band contests. It also occurs in contests with limited participation. I place ARRL Sweepstakes in a similar category since you can only work stations once regardless of band. The outcome is much the same, but with more spectrum to cover.
For the contests I most enjoy you respond to conditions and ever-changing activity levels by band and mode changes, alternating CQ and S & P, SO2R, watching signal strengths and spectrum scopes, among other strategies. Building and operating a multi-faceted station that permits these tactics sustains my interest and enthusiasm before, during and after the contest. In many respects I enjoy that more than operating in contests.
Single band contests rarely suit my desires. There are exceptions. Examples in 2021 include my 15 meter single band assisted entry in the CQ WW SSB contest and my (unofficial) 20 meter assisted entry in the ARRL DX SSB contest. I had fun putting to the test the recently completed stacks for 15 and 20 meters. I may do the same on 40 meters in one of the upcoming ARRL DX contest weekends to see what I can do with the recently completed 3-element yagi.
I will continue to operate the ARRL and CQ 160 contests but probably never with the objective of winning. To become competitively oriented I would need to make it a multi-op operation. As a single op, it's mostly an opportunity to work DX that is otherwise sparse on top band and to compare my antenna and station capabilities to those of others. The latter spurs my technical side to improve my station.
Outside of contests, there is now far more top band DX to be worked on FT8, and I do make regular appearances. That's a story I'll defer to a future article.