Since retiring I have, for the first time in ages, been able to enjoy the occasional sail. My friend’s cutter is modern, wellfound and generously equipped with, as far as I am concerned, one exception.

Magnetic Compass Her steering compass is one of these modern bulkhead mounted instruments with its ‘lubber-line’ inscribed on its after side and with the vertically displayed degree markings showing the numerically smaller figures to the right of the larger ones. The opposite, in fact, to the traditionally marked compass card which, of course, has it’s lubber-line forward.

It is not often that we have to steer a compass course which is just as well, since this previously enjoyed routine has now become something that, if I could, I would get out of. My problem when trying to steer a designated course is that I am forever putting the wheel the wrong way. Let me try and illustrate what I am getting at.

Let us say, for example, that our course is 180° and I find that she is heading about 170°, or in other words, she is off course by 10° to port of where she is supposed to be heading. Now to get her back on course and since 180° is 10° clockwise, or to the right of our present heading of 170° I know that I have to put the wheel to starboard. Our daft, bulkhead mounted compass, with its reversed lubber-line, is however, telling me that I ought to be putting the wheel to port since that is where 180° is located in relationship to our present heading of 170°.

For a qualified seafarer possessing a lifelong involvement with steering vessels ranging size from an 11’ 3” ‘Heron Class’ sailing dinghy to a super tanker to make such an admission is of course ridiculous and in part explains why it has taken me so long to write this letter. The former seafarers turned yachtsman with whom I have discussed this problem, have assured me that I am not losing my marbles since they have either equipped or re-equipped their craft with the more usual type of instrument, namely: ones with their lubber-lines forward which, of course, were the sort of compasses they had become used to during many years at sea. My former colleague’s less than complementary remarks concerning ‘the other sort’ of instrument are better left to the imagination.

I would really like to be a fly in the cockpit of someone’s yacht while he or she is teaching their son or daughter to steer a course by their, to my mind ‘arse about face’ compass. Do please pass on your knack because I am becoming heartily fed-up with gybing the ship more times than I have had hot dinners.

16 Stableford Drive
Pyes Pa, Tauranga, Bay of Plenty 3112
New Zealand
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