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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

17 February 2015

❖ VIRGINIA V COMPASS ❖

Photo submitted by mariner Keith Sternberg.
See below.
      One day a woman arrived at the office of Puget Sound Excursion Line at Fishermen's Terminal, owners  of the S.S. VIRGINIA V, carrying a compass. She introduced herself as Mary Parker, widow of Capt. Howell Parker, and said that the compass was the original compass of the VIRGINIA V and would I like to buy it? This occurred in about 1969. I did buy it and still have it. It was made by E.S. Ritchie & Sons, serial number 17708. The Ritchie Co, that is still in business and still has their old records, reports that this compass was made in 1890 and sold to W.B. Fox & Bros. I have no information about that firm. The compass card is marked in points and quarter-points, without degrees, that was usual for those days. The old compass is identical in size and construction to the present compass on the VIRGINIA V (#97664 made in 1942) except that the newer compass is marked with degrees as well as points and quarter-points.
      Capt. Parker owned the VIRGINIA V from 1944 to 1954. I regret that I did not ask Mary Parker when and why the compass was changed. The old compass was still in excellent condition. Parker's logbooks were still on board the VIRGINIA V, stored in an oak desk in the captain's cabin where I used to read them. Compass courses were logged in points and quarter points, and occasionally to an eighth-point. This was usual for seamen of his generation, and younger men than he, for points are far more convenient to steer by that the tiny marks of degrees. The magnetic compass-rose of sea charts was marked in points and quarter points only, in the magnetic circle, until about 1950. Sometime during these years of Parker's ownership the compass was changed, but why did he do that when he didn't steer by degrees? Could it have been a Coast Guard inspector's demand to modernize? I don't know.
      During the mosquito fleet era, those compasses that were marked with degrees had zero at North and South, and 90 at East and West. This had advantages over a 0-360-degree card. A popular pilot house guide book was Hanson's Handbook, published in 1917. Looking into my copy here, courses are given in 0-90 degrees and in points. Tacoma to Seattle courses are given but not Seattle to Tacoma. It wasn't necessary because courses by 0-90 degrees or points are easily reversed. Duwamish Head to Coleman Dock course is noted as N75E, so it's S75W in the opposite direction. There is no need to add or subtract 180°. I don't know who thought up the 360° compass card but it was a step backward.
     The same Duwamish Head-Coleman Dock course is given in points as ExN1/4N (ExN is shorthand for East by North) Reversing E and N, the opposite course is WxS1/4S. To name the quarter points, move toward NNE, ENE, ESE, SSE, etc. These three-letter points always stand alone. This method of naming the quarter-points is used in Hanson's Handbook, and I found it in Capt. Parker's logbooks, and all other Puget Sound logbooks I have inspected. Bowditch gives a different method that is not as logical. Reciting the points and quarter-points is called "boxing the compass."
   
Photo submitted by writer of this essay, Keith Sternberg.
      The old 1890 V-5 compass was put to work about five years after I bought it from Mary. I traded a steam launch to Capt. Bob Shrewsbury for the tug BEE, that had been built as the steam tug NELLIE PEARSON, in 1901. Bob kept the compass so, on went the old V-5 compass, without repairs of any kind. For the next four years I steered many a course by that compass and it was a joy to steer by; the points-only card being so readable. With a regular log-towing job and the occasional barge we could not stop for fog and had no radar, so all courses were logged in all weather. With regrets I sold the BEE to a buy a larger tug, but I still have the old V-5 compass. It needs a new gasket under the bezel ring but otherwise is still in excellent condition.
      Capt. Parker's logbooks? Earl Sugden sawed the oak desk in half to get it out the door, apparently lacking the patience to dismantle it with a screwdriver. I don't think I saw the logbooks after that, and hope they didn't share the same demise as the desk; burned in the boiler. 
  
VIRGINIA V
Photo by James A. Turner

From the archives of S.P.H.S.©
      And remembering that desk, there was room for it in the captain's cabin because the interior stairway to the boat deck had been removed, enlarging the captain's cabin by about four feet. When she was rebuilt in 1934, she had a Barlow freight elevator forward of the cabin. There was no way to have a boat deck stairway where it is now, so there was an inside stairway amidships in the passenger cabin that opened out to the boat deck on both sides of the deckhouse abaft the captain and mate's cabins. That is why the house was so wide; it may have been boxy looking but it was practical. After the freight elevator and inside stairway were removed those two small passageways became convenient lifejacket lockers.
Kindly submitted by Keith Sternberg, Lopez Island, WA.
   

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