Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Product Review: Plastimo Iris 50 Handbearing Compass

Compasses have come a long way since they were invented more than two thousand years ago (see below), and they have never looked and felt so good as the Iris 50. A small hand bearing compass from French marine company Plastimo and a must have accessory for all boats. In fact, in the sailing world I have rarely seen hand bearing compasses made by anyone else such is Plastimos dominance of this market.
The compasses which along with 60% of Plastimo products are built in their Lorient factory in the North East of France. 
According to Plastimo the Iris 50 benefits from the following particulars (my notes in blue):
  • A smooth soft feel in your hard and non-slip even when wet. The rubber outer case is somehow both solid and soft at the same time, making the compass pleasant to hold and very resistant to damage
  • One degree graduations on the card with outstanding legibility.
  • No parallax error: a prism projects the reading of the bearing to infinity which also contributes to a more comfortable operation, as you do not need to alternate close reading to read the card and infinite reading to take bearings.
  • Optimum conditions to take bearings thanks to the superb card stability and the wide 20 degree field of view which will accomodate the roughest sea conditions
  • Most accurate bearing: the pivot and very hard stone are a guarantee of long life and shock resistance
  • Soft bottom cell: engineering using ultra-sonic welding, it acts like an expansion diaphram, preventing the formation of bubbles and leaks
  • Built-in photoluminescent lighting, completely maintenance-free, impervious to corrosion, operates without batteries or radioactive tritium. The compass lights up at night due to its photoluminescent back plate. The back plate does rely on sunlight though, and can be exchanged for an upgraded lighting trigger light back plate in case your compass is likely to spend long periods without sunlight. The alternate back plate will provide luminous lighting for up to 12 years. 
  • Course reading: from above you can read the compass like a standard compass with no need to look through the prism. Although I would typically use the prism, it's very handy having the option for both methods of reading
  • The Iris 50 also comes with a neck chord so you don't have to keep it in pocket or risk dropping it overboard.
Take a look at the following link for a good basic introduction to the Iris 50 by US retailer West Marine:

From a pricing perspective, Plastimo Iris 50s cost upwards of US$ 100.

Do you know when or where the compass was invented?
Ancient Chinese worked out that some pieces of iron ore when suspended (probably from a thread of silk) would always point in the same direction. These were naturally magnetized pieces of magnetite. It is believed though, that it was many centuries before anyone saw the benefit of these pieces of natural ore for navigation. Instead the Chinese used them for fortune telling and for assisting in the following of the geomantic principles of Feng Shui. 

In time however, the wider benefits of natural magnets were understood and rudimentary compasses were developed, the first ones likely to have been in China almost 100 years before the birth of Christ.

In Medieval Europe and the Islamic World the first mention of compasses were more than 1,000 years later. The first such example apparently by a chap named Alexander Neckam in 1187 prior to entering the Augustinian Abbey in Cirencester, England.

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