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Date: 23 December 2014. Electrical Field versus Compass (Captain Murphy)
Guest author Cap'n Mike Lauman on M/V Beachcomber.

This piece is for The Writer's Block. It's written by an online associate and took place in the early '70's when Mike was in the USAF and stationed in Anchorage, Alaska. It tells how Captain Murphy can become a part of your crew when he's least expected.

Four of us were on my boss's boat. The four of us worked together and spent time on my boss's 24'-25' cruiser. I don't even recall the make or much about the boat except that with four of us (all pretty good size) on board it was more than a little crowded.
 

This tale takes place in Prince William Sound, circled below:

[The map is from my 1943 Rand McNally atlas. J.]


We'd launched from Whittier, AK on a five day "bear hunting trip" which was actually more of a "let's get away from work for a few days" trip.

We'd gone over to Montague Island then up to Hinchinbrook Island and were just having fun. Sleeping on the boat, slow cruising during the day, just the guys having a good time.

On our last morning we set a course from Hinchinbrook Island back toward Whittier Inlet. (Red star below, toward the green one on the far left.)
 

Whittier (#1) Alaska was where the adventure started.
Montague Island (#2)
and Hinchinbrook Island (#3)


We had plenty of time to make the trip then load the boat on the trailer and drive the truck/trailer onto the train to get out of Whittier.

This was back when there was no GPS. We had a compass and charts to go by and we'd done fine all week. On the cruise back to Whittier it started to rain. No problem, we turned on the wipers. After a few hours we should have reached Whittier but hadn't, and we kept seeing small ice bergs.

We kept going and started to get worried because we realized two things--#1 we had no clue where we were, and #2 we likely were going to miss the train.

After a bit the rain stopped and we turned off the wipers. When we did that the compass swung wildly. Only then did we realize that the wiper motor had set up an electrical field that froze the compass at the heading it was set to when we turned the wipers on. Now we were REALLY lost! We had no idea where we were or how to get to Whittier.

We finally found a small fishing boat and asked him where we were. He chuckled at our error and told us how to get to Whittier. We ran on plane all the way back there, loaded the boat in a hurry and barely made the train.

Lesson learned, and Murphy was released from duty!

We had no GPS (obviously), and no Loran, just the compass and charts. Once we started seeing the ice bergs (we hadn't seen any on the way out of Whittier) we knew we were way off course. We had plenty of gas and food, so we weren't concerned about that. Our only concern was missing the train and being late for work on Monday. At that time they only ran one train a day through the tunnel from Whittier to the highway to Anchorage. Now, there's a highway through the tunnel.

If this even helps someone else to be aware of what
an electrical field can do to a compass, it will be worth it.

The End.

Mike on M/V Beachcomber, a 1995 Sea Ray 550 Sedan Bridge.

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