The sea is a cruel mistress. Forget her birthday and she'll cut up your clothes, write 'bastard' on your front lawn with weedkiller, then drown you. Personally, I feel much safer doing my seafaring via salty software like Virtual Sailor. While VSTEP's Ship Simulator enjoys a much higher profile, I find myself reaching for VS - ten years old this year - more often.
Why? I think it has a lot to do with the open architecture. VS doesn't have the quality port sceneries of SS, the attractive stock ships, or the heap of game-like scenarios, but its user-staffed boatyards are regularly turning out splendid new craft that cry out to be captained. Some of the best vessels emanate from DVO Marine Design and Simpson's Virtual Slipways.
VS also captures the mood and motion of the ocean better than SS. After a few hours of Chedaki culling or Bf-109 pursuit, nothing beats lounging on the deck of a yacht as the porpoises porpoise, the ripples ripple and the sun slowly slides into the Aegean. Everything from wave height and direction, to sea colour and transparency can be tweaked on the fly, meaning you can change the mood from serene to squall in seconds.
Subsurface simulation (capsize a boat and the waves become your rolling sky, the fish your wheeling seabirds) celestial accuracy (in theory, you can shun GPS and map screen and navigate with sextant, almanac and chart) expansive sceneries... there are plenty more reasons why VS still has a healthy following. Ironically, it may be creator Ilan Papini, rather than any outside competition, that ends up death-knelling the franchise. He's recently launched a title that spans sea and sky. Currently Vehicle Simulator doesn't have the marine sophistication of its specialised stablemate, but the potential is certainly there.