†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† STEADY AS SHE GOES
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† By: Bas Bradley
††††† One of the most enjoyable duties a seaman can perform while aboard ship is to be a helmsman and steer a ship of the Royal Canadian Navy. There are many varied jobs aboard ship, such as Boiler and Engine Room Staff, Special Sea Duty Men, Signal Men, Wireless Telegraphy, Radar, Gunnery, Asdic (now called Sonar) etc. but the handling of the ship belongs to the Executive Branch, which includes Seamen.
†††††† While at sea the Wheelhouse is the responsibility of the Quarter Master and while at Action Stations or entering and leaving harbour this responsibility reverts to the Coxswain (generally a Chief Petty Officer or a Petty Officer) all of which of coarse is under the direction of the Officers on the Bridge. Besides the actual steering of the ship, there are a few more functions that take place in the wheelhouse while at sea. Before we get into other functions, letís finish up with steering. Behind the Wheel stands the helmsman and in front of the wheel there is a piece of equipment called the Binnacle. The Binnacle made of solid brass and the lower part generally wood and contains the Magnetic Compass complete with flinders bars and soft iron balls to ward off interference. The magnetic compass is centuries old and is only used these days in case the modern one breaks down. The modern Gyro Compass has its own stand and is very accurate and you now steer by numbers which represent every degree of the earth circle from 0 to 360 degrees. On the Gyro Compass 0-degrees is true north, not magnetic north as on the old compass, east is 90 degrees, south 180 degrees and west 270 degrees. If the Bridge yells down--- steer 135 degrees you are actually steering south-east, etc. To this command the helmsman would reply, ---steer 135 Sir. After adjusting the helm to steer 135 degrees, the helmsman would reply, ---Steady on 135 Sir. ---The Bridge would reply ---Very Good. A helmsman normally steers for one hour and a duty watchman takes over for one hour under the supervision of the Quartermaster. As the duty watches change positions every hour a different man enters the wheel- house. This is ideal as this gives all the seaman that rotate a chance to steer as well as warm up.† When a new helmsman takes over he yells up the voice pipe,--- wheelhouse, bridge,--- bridge replies,-- Bridge and the helmsman reports, ---Able Seaman Jones (or whoever) at the helm sir, course 135 (or whatever) Steady As She Goes Sir. --- The bridge replies,--- Very Good. In this way the Bridge always knows who is on the helm, so you better not be chasing the lubbers line* and steer the proper course or you will hear about it in so many words. There are three quartermasters and a chief quartermaster who stand four hours "on" and eight hours "off" when a ship is at sea, they ignore the dog watches* .The chief quartermaster normally stands the day watch and besides supervising the steering he is also responsible for making sure that the wheelhouse is kept clean and all equipment is in proper order. He musters with the work parties after breakfast and the Buffer may ask him if he requires extra hands to-day, which he may need to clean small arms such as pistols, rifles etc. which are used for boarding parties and are stored in the wheelhouse. The quartermasters and their chief are selected by the Coxswain from the Able Seaman that do not have a special rating, referred to in the Navy as bare assed seamen. I hope you will pardon the expression. In my opinion these seamen have the best jobs in the Navy. You may find them as crew for the Captains Motor Boat, crew for the Whaler (life boat carried for all kinds of jobs) they will do the ships rigging, keeping all the knots and splices in order, will act as buoy jumper when mooring to a buoy and in general all kinds of interesting jobs. Of all of these duties, to me, steering a ship over 300 feet long is the most enjoyable.
††††††††††† Other equipment found in the wheelhouse consists of the telegraphs which connected to the engine room tells the condition of the Engines. These, also, are made of brass and with their handles complete with a pointer that points to the facing which has the various functions such as, Stop, Dead Slow Ahead, Slow Ahead, Half Ahead, Full Ahead and Slow Astern, Half Astern, Full Astern. On Naval Ships other functions found on the telegraphs are, Finished With Engines and Standby. The Telegraphs has its own stand just starboard of the binnacle. Also on its own stand, positioned in the same general area is the revolution counter, also connected to the Engine Room which records the propeller shaft RPM. The quartermaster or the Coxswain operates these functions. From the bridge an order may come for half ahead and the telegraphs are set for this order which is telegraphed to the engine room. The man on the throttle (generally a chief engine room artificer) will set the throttle in the vicinity for half speed waiting for the order signifying the number of Propeller Shaft Revolutions per Minute. When he gets this number he will set the throttle accordingly. Lets say the bridge requires the ship to go 10 Knots and they know that this speed requires 110 Revs in this head wind to accomplish this so that is what the bridge tells the wheelhouse to record on the Rev Counter† the propeller shaft rpm, which is signalled to the engine room. So just to review this, the telegraphs are set at half speed and the rev counter is at 110 revs. There are a couple of commands that the engine room does not wait for the Rev Counter to tell them the Revs and that of course is Full Ahead or Full Astern, in which case they just open up all the taps because they know that these commands are normally given in emergencies only. You might wonder why the bridge didnít tell the engine room directly as we know they are connected by voice pipe. The answer of course is simple when you consider the number of watch changes which will maintain this speed and course for hours, and maybe days, and there it is, all recorded for them on the telegraphs and rev counter just so there are no mistakes.
††††††††††† The kind of sea and other weather factors dictates how the ship will handle. For instance if the wind is dead ahead a ship handles very nice and is easy to steer but if the wind is coming from various degrees to the port or starboard bow you have to be on your toes and will have to make helm corrections to hold your course. Conversely if the wind is dead astern a ship handles OK, but if coming from the port or starboard quarter you will have to be extra alert. You have learned your handling lessons well if you can hold your course in all kinds of conditions and only experience can make you better.
† ††††††††† Before leaving the wheelhouse I should tell you that to-days ships have power steering just like your car. A set of cables hooks up the Wheel with a Steering Engine that in turn is hooked to the rudder and because of this you do not feel the action of the sea on the wheel unlike the old days when a good blow would require two or three crew to hold a sailing ship on course. Maybe we don't sound as adventurous in these modern times but you still get a thrill when you report to the Bridge "STEADY AS SHE GOES SIR".
* Dog Watches are from:††††† 1600 (4pm) to 1800 (6pm) for the First Dog.
1800 (6pm) to 2000 (8pm) for the Second Dog.
The Duty Watch uses the Dog Watch times so that a Watchman is not standing his watch the same time every day.
* Lubbers line is an imaginary line on the Magnetic Compass and represents the ships head.
Below is the compass card of the Mariners Magnetic Compass.
Also referred to as the Compass Rose.
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