The Princess Maquinna’s Binnacle

by Frank Statham and John MacFarlane 2016


Princess Maquinna’s Binnacle (Photo from the Frank Statham collection. )

The binnacle from the Princess Maquinna. Frank Statham took the photo at the Tofino Marine Traffic Office last year. The office closed in 1915, and was remoted operation to Prince Rupert, so we don’t know what has happened to this item. There is a commemorative plate affixed between the two doors on the wooden pedestal.

A binnacle is a chest–high wooden case or stand on the deck of a ship, generally mounted in front of the helmsman, housing a magnetic compass mounted in gimbals. A binnacle normally included an electric light or oil lamp for use at night. The hood kept the light from bothering the night vision of the watch keepers on deck but allowed the helmsman to monitor his course on the compass.

The two soft iron balls are part of the correction system for the compass. These spheres are called quadrantal correctors. The ship’s mass of metal runs fore and aft of the compass and relatively far from the compass. To compensate for this fore and aft mass of metal the iron balls are fitted port and starboard and thus creates the effect of the same mass of metal. The two balls obviously have a smaller mass than the ship’s metal, and so are placed closer to the compass to compensate. Most display binnacles have the balls (sometimes the object of bawdy nautical nicknames) painted red and green to represent the port and starboard side of the vessel. More correctly the balls would have been painted black or grey.

The little doors on the binnacle give access to magnets, similar in shape and size to a pencil called Flinders Bars. They lie in there horizontally. The compass adjuster swings (rotates the vessel through 360 degrees) and the errors discovered are compensated out by trying different magnets in various positions withing the binnacle. For example a corrector magnet is mounted vertically within the binnacle to cancel any error caused by vessel rolling or heeled over. The compass card is mounted on a gimble arrangement to keep it horizontal regardless of the ship’s motion. If the vessel is heeled over, the amount of metal on one side of the compass will be greater than when the ship is upright. This will induce a few degrees of error into the magnetic compass.

Frank Statham says "I learned the little I know about magnetic compasses as when the ship was taken out to swing the magnetic compass, generally once a year. I went along to swing the radio direction finder. So one of us watched the other do their swing. Nobody ever gets over the idea of placing permanent magnets near a compass – and here was a guy with a whole bag of them tinkering around!"

Princess Maquinna

Princess Maquinna (Photo from the Nauticapedia collection. )

Built in 1912 by B.C. Marine Railway Co., Esquimalt BC the Princess Maquinna was owned in 1912 by Canadian Pacific Railway Steamship Services, Montreal QC. In 1913 she entered Vancouver Island service. In 1952 she was laid up. In 1953 as the Bulk Carrier Taku she was hulked at Vancouver BC. In 1951 she was owned by Union Steamship Ltd., Vancouver BC. In 1958–1961 as the Taku she was owned by Union Steamships Ltd. and Straits Towing Ltd., Vancouver BC.

In 1963 she was scrapped by General Shipbreaking Co., Vancouver BC. The ship’s bell was presented to the Missions to Seamen in Vancouver BC. The compass and binnacle were presented to the Ucluelet Sea Cadets.

To quote from this article please cite:

Statham, Frank and John MacFarlane (2016) Princess Maquinna’s Binnacle. 2016.

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