The other day we were chatting with a cruising couple who have been living this life since the early 1980's and they mentioned how different it is now from when they were first out here. There are so many people out cruising that the people in the places they visited are no longer as curious and welcoming as they were. The anchorages are more crowded and there are far more marinas and moorings, making it difficult in places to find a place to anchor.
I have already discussed discussed some of the things that make long distance cruising so much easier now than it was even a generation ago. But a few more things have occurred to me, so please forgive me for some repetition.
Increased cruising infrastructure: More marinas and related infrastructure makes it possible to break up a trip, fix the boat, and even leave the boat in a safe place for a trip home. If you reach the point where you don't want to continue, you can ship your boat home via one of the long range boat carriers.
Improved weather forecasting: Available via long range radio, satellite communications, or wifi (when near a port), we have access to powerful computer-based models as well as dedicated amateur and professional marine weather forecasters. For example, each day I can tune into a radio net out of New Zealand called Gulf Harbour Radio, where forecasters answer cruiser's questions about the weather.
Custom weather routing: Some cruisers sign up for custom forecasts and routing on passages like the one from Tonga/Fiji to New Zealand.
Better communications: Most cruising books still talk about sending letters to communicate with those at home. Nowadays, email via radio, satellite, or wifi access is the norm - instant and relatively hassle-free.
Availability of boats: The market, in North America anyway, is replete with 1000's of cruising boats available for prices ranging from that of a good second hand car.
Reliable inboard diesel engines: Make anchoring and maneuvering in tricky places much simpler than when one had to do this under sail.
Support nets: Radio nets connect cruisers to each other and those at home (via position reports posted on the internet). For example, each day when we are on passage we check into a radio net called the "Drifter's Net" that keeps track of vessels en route to New Zealand and Australia.
Improved navigation electronics and software: GPS, radar, electronic charting, AIS, and tide and current software make it far easier to know where one is and avoid hazards and other ships.
Labour saving devices: Inflatable dinghies and reliable outboard motors remove the need to be fit enough to row ashore, the electric windlass allows even a 90 pound weakling to hoist a heavy anchor, electric winches do the same for heavy sails, roller furling jibs and mainsail furling remove much of the effort required to hoist, lower, and reef sails. Self steering via wind vanes and autopilots relieves the crew of the 'tyranny of the helm'.
Shipboard conveniences: Water makers, water heaters, and pressure water provide the same convenience we are used to ashore. Propane stoves and compact refrigerators and freezers make it feasible to eat as well as you do ashore. Solar panels, big alternators, small diesel and gas generators, and wind generators provide electricity galore.
When Slocum and Pigeon did the kind of voyaging we are doing now, they had to build their own boats of wood. They cooked with kerosene or wood and ate the same sea-going diet that Columbus's crew endured. They navigated with compass, lead line, and sextant. I don't believe there was even a winch on board the Spray, although she may have had a capstan to help raise anchor. They had no electrics of any sort, nor an engine to move them on calm days or in and out of tight places. They had no radios and weather forecasting would have been done by consulting the sky, the sea, and the barometer. No wonder that, until recently, so few people went voyaging for pleasure.