Looking 20 years ahead

The last 20 years have seen impressive changes in voyaging technology. Voyagers can ply the seas in greater safety, comfort and in better communications then ever before.

But what of the next 20 years? We asked a group of voyagers to peer ahead a bit and give us some thoughts on the future of voyaging.

Expensive diesel and reliable rum

We live in a time of seismic changes to our world. Perhaps the future voyager enjoying a balmy summer in northern Labrador will congratulate himself on dropping the hook before all the good spots were taken by Chinese voyagers. While updating his local charts via satellite, he will mull over the latest price rise for diesel to $49.99/gallon. There still will be comfort in a vestige of earlier times: a slug of Mount Gay rum.

Eric Forsyth is a retired engineer who has been ocean cruising for many years. He was awarded the Blue Water Medal by the Cruising Club of America in 2000.

Voyaging out of reach?

Cruising in the next 20 years? Advances in cellular, HF radio and satellite technology will enable cruisers to communicate with family, manage their finances, surf the Internet, access weather data and send email just as they would from shore. Much of this technology exists but at high costs with complicated systems. This will improve.

Unfortunately, the proliferation of moorings, local anchoring restrictions and regulatory laws will make cruising more expensive. More marinas and boatyards will be converted to condominiums or increase their fees significantly. Add the rising cost of insurance, and cruising may be out of reach for many.

Marci and J Kolb have been cruising for five years aboard their 1969 Hinckley 38, Kotchka.

Losing the last freedom

Voyaging under sail always has been the ultimate way to travel, by far the best way to explore our planet. In the coming 20 years, this will change, like life around us is changing. More cruising boats will visit the out-of-the-way-places in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. More regulations will be forced upon us: proof of insurance, papers of competence, ship certificates and other papers that will be invented by government officials at a higher rate than our onboard computer can produce them.

It will not be 20 years before we will have lost our last freedom!

After many years cruising the Arctic waters, Corri and Willem Stein hurried through the tropics for Patagonia and South Georgia. Currently, Terra Nova is sailing in New Zealand waters.

Value of voyaging will grow

The next 20 years will see major adjustments in how different factions of humans around the planet reconcile themselves to the existence of, and learn how to tolerate, one another. The stress of these interactions will affect nearly everyone in some way. This will intensify the value of aesthetic experiences as pure as setting a course for distant ports and sailing, surfing, fishing and diving one’s way between interludes of immersion in assorted cultures.

Scott and Wendy Bannerot, their six-year-old son, Ryan, and their 41-foot aluminum centerboard sloop, Élan, are based in eastern Australia with plans for continuing sojourns in the Pacific Islands.

Fewer voyagers in decades to come?

We just spoke with a guy on a superbly equipped Dieter Empacher design next to us here on Martha’s Vineyard, and he’s not leaving harbor for a couple of weeks because his bow thruster quit and he’s waiting for parts. Perhaps in the future nobody will go anywhere without full tech support and cyber connections.

In less than 10 years, the size and numbers of active cruising yachts may shrink to what we saw in the late ’70s. Only the carefree 20-somethings and retirees will set off voyaging. Educated middle-class people and small-business owners, the core voyagers of today, will stay home fighting to keep their investments afloat.

Tom and Nancy Zydler are delivery captains, writers and photographers.They are just ending four years of hard work running 90- and 115-foot charter yachts between Nova Scotia, the Caribbean, Panama, Alaska and the Galápagos.

Weather info to get better

What has impressed me the most for the future of ocean voyaging is the improvement of weather information. Even in the Southern Ocean, there is reasonably reliable (sometimes amazingly good, but of course, not perfect) weather data that is available in data format via Iridium phone or Inmarsat satellite connections. There are very powerful software program tools (Ocens’ WeatherNet and SeaStation, MaxSea, Nobeltec weather, etc.) that can be used to request and efficiently access small data files, even with slow connections. Now so much information can be had, it can be a bit confusing! But I’m certainly not complaining.

Ocean racer Bruce Schwab has completed two racing circumnavigations, the latest while competing in the 2004 Vend�©e Globe aboard his Open 60, Ocean Planet.

More voyagers in Latin America

If the trend of the past decade is any predictor of the next two, the future of voyaging along the Pacific Coast of the Americas includes an increasing number of voyagers to Latin America. Three of the changes among the many reasons for this trend are 1) relatively stable political conditions in Central and South America, 2) the increasing number of secure marinas on the Pacific Coast south of the United States and 3) the lure of inland travel there.

Voyagers and freelance writers Carolyn and Bob Mehaffy have voyaged along the Pacific Coast of Latin America since they completed a three-year trip to Hawaii, Alaska and Canada in 1999. Their boat currently is in Ecuador.

Oceans not getting any safer

No matter how big boats get, they will always be small when measured against the oceans of the world. Sailors will continue to fall behind in the art and science of navigation until electronics become the only means of navigation. Paper charts will be obsolete. Most never will have read the Rules of the Road. As electronic integration increases, passagemaking will decrease. Technology won’t make the oceans any less formidable.

Dick de Grasse is a Coast Guard veteran, a commodore in the Seven Seas Cruising Association, a member of the Ocean Cruising Club and holds a USCG masters license. He and wife, Kathy, live in Islesboro, Maine, when not voyaging.

The next generation

The next generation of offshore voyaging will see greater refinements in navigational electronics and labor-saving devices for short-handed crew. Voyagers are older than they were, say, 20 years ago, so they’re less interested in the physical challenge of sailing and more interested in comfort, for which they’re quite capable of paying. Hence, the growing popularity of trawlers, motor-sailers, and pseudo-motor-sailers. There will always be a corps of true sailors, though, who lust for real sailing with wind-vane self-steering and manually operated sheet winches, reefing systems, and anchor windlass – because it feels good.

Bill Morris recently completed a five-year circumnavigation, two-thirds single-handed, aboard his 1966 Cal 30 Saltaire. While waiting out the cyclone season in Queensland, Australia, he wrote The Windvane Self-Steering Handbook, published by International Marine/McGraw-Hill, 2004. Morris plans to sail back to the South Pacific on a bigger boat someday with his wife, Marilu, and their one-year-old daughter, Yasmin Moana.

More voyagers to remote destinations?

I expect voyaging will continue to grow. Whether I look forward to this or not, I’m not sure. There is a wonderful Onne van der Wal photograph in his book, Wind and Water, of a handsome yacht at anchor in Hinlopen Strait, Spitsbergen, on a beautiful blue-sky light-wind day, with stunning scenery all around. A real accomplishment having gotten there – a rare and memorable day to enjoy. I worry a bit that if the same shot were taken in 2025, there would be 20 boats in the picture. But maybe one of them would be mine.

Sailing aboard Restive, a 45-foot aluminum yawl designed by Nils Helleberg of Alden and custom built in 1985 by Paul Luke, Will Taylor won the Navigator’s Trophy for the first celestially navigated yacht to finish the 2005 Marion to Bermuda Race. He lives in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Square-riggers keep sailing tradition alive

A steep decline in sextant navigators is one foreseeable – if unfortunate – voyaging trend. Save for enthusiasts, deepwater sailors will continue to abandon sight reduction tables for the electronic wizardry of GPS. Ironically, the antique craft of great sailing ships is being revived in passenger-carrying square-riggers like the five-masted Royal Clipper, launched in 2000. What is now a niche market for sophisticated sea travelers may well challenge the supremacy of gargantuan cruise liners, the industry staple. �.

Journalist and former merchant mariner Alan Littell is a longtime contributor to Ocean Navigator. His account of a trans-Atlantic voyage in Royal Clipper will appear in 2006.

By Ocean Navigator