Posted by: powellpjc | May 27, 2009

Swing True, Sweet Compass

I have mentioned before some of the joys and advantages of sailing a steel boat. One of the disadvantages (and they are legion) is that a magnetic compass does not like to live surrounded by mild steel. I’ve examined my binnacle compass a number of times and been dismayed to see my compass reading due east when I know I’ve been facing the north pole. I asked the previous owner one time and he shook his head, saying, ‘It’s a steel boat. Thing has never worked.’ Well, for me that won’t do. He had a GPS and a chartplotter with electronic charts and was happy to navigate with them but I like a compass—a good old Ritchie ‘Globemaster’ 5 inch binnacle compass to steer by and I have one.

The 'Globemaster' beauty.

The 'Globemaster' beauty.

 It just didn’t work. Who you gonna call? A compass swinger, that’s who. Mark Anderson is the go-to compass guy in Portland. He does the big ship compasses (they need to re-calibrate theirs every year) the Portland-based US Navy vessels and everything in between. He came down to la Rosa pulling a bag full of instruments. I knew I had the right guy. We motored up the Willamette River to St. Johns Bridge where Mark did small boat swinging. He had a tall Portland building to use for his reference sighting and we spent 2 hours going around in circles of various sized while he worked his magic. Mark used a WWII bomber drift sight for his readings, part of the Norden bomb sights used on the Allied bombers. I know the bombers were not accurate in WWII but I had confidence in Mark. That was until we did our first exercise and he told me to steer due East (90 degrees). I hunted for the 90 degree mark on the compass as the boat wandered from north to south. The compass card did not move. ‘Oh, oh,’ was his first comment. We had a ‘locked compass’. I knew it could not be good. Mark opened the binnacle compass mount up and played with the internal magnet. Nothing worked. Then he dug into this carry-on bag and unwrapped some various strength magnets. These he taped, in varying combinations to the sides of the compass skeleton until we got some proper action from the Ritchie. I would steer due north, then south and the fine tuning took place. This involved a lot of addition and subtraction, huffing and puffing and some choice language. We are all seafarers.

After an hour of plowing holes in the Willamette River we had it ‘nuts on’. This is a compass swinger’s term and it is good news. My compass is now accurate to within 1 degree on all headings save one where it is within 2 degrees. I know I can’t steer a course that accurate so la Rosa and I will be just fine thanks to some WWII technology and swinging skill.

Tomorrow– the ‘Engine Fails Saga.’  Wait for it.



  1. The most interesting things come up with a steel boat, I find. The last post was a little Greek to me but delighted to hear there is such a person as a compass swinger. Sounds slightly dirty but one knows it’s not. You have some great ‘go-to’ people, good people that you have met along the way.

    Speaking of which, talked to Cindy today, who highly recommends her new dentist with this statement: “He is very kind and super ethical just like Dr. Powell” so I am sold. Your reputation is perfecto and the Cindys always admire you for your patience and professionalism, always nice to hear. XO to you dear.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: