Handbearing Compasses: Plastimo Iris


One of the most time-consuming chores at Practical Sailor is finding, selecting and assembling the products to be tested.

Even before we figure out how to do the testing, we first pull the files, containing press releases, product kits, leaflets, letters, notes, memos, etc.

Company catalogs are perused. We have two 30″ shelves packed with them, collected by mail and at boats shows.

Mail order catalogs-West, BOAT/U.S., Defender, M & E, Murrays, etc.-are poured over.

We prowl our local chandlers, riggers and sailmakers, talking to everybody. Next comes innumerable telephone calls.

Then we go right ahead and miss something. When we do, we often retrieve the chestnuts with what we call an Update in which we explain to readers exactly whats going on.

In the four-page article in the March 1997 issue, we updated a three-year-old report on hand-bearing compasses. We compared several new compasses (Ritchies SportAbout and Wests Accusight) with the best from the prior test of more than a dozen.

Subsequently heard from was Autohelm, because its $135 digital fluxgate was not included. We, had, however, reviewed it earlier.

Then Mary Braine, marketing manager for Simpson Lawrence USA, Inc., called and said, What about the Iris 50 and the Iris 100? She added, Theyre on their way. Have a look.

The French-made (by Plastimo) Iris 50 is a hockey-puck type compass that has the usual magnifying prism to read the finely printed card. With numerals every 10, marks every degree and a good, red lubber line, it is a serviceable instrument. It has old-fashioned photoluminscent lighting for nighttime use.

Prior testing established West Marines Accusight as the top-rated hand-bearing compass. It has tritium gas lighting and is easier to handle than the Iris 50. However, the Iris 50 ($80) offers a bit of a saving over the $110 Wests Accusight.

Plastimos Iris 100 is a globe compass very much like the Swedish-made Nexus Type 70 UNE, which we had deemed an excellent buy. Mounted on integral handles that snap in bulkhead fittings, both have top- and front-reading cards and serve as hand-bearing and steering compasses.

The Nexus, at $86 discount, enjoys an edge over Plastimos Iris 100, which Mary Braine said has a street price of $85, plus $12.50 for the bracket.

The West Accusight, a former top 10 Gear of the Year, still is the top choice in a hockey-puck type handbearing compass, but the Plastimo is very serviceable at a lower price.

Contacts- Autohelm, 676 Island Pond Rd., Manchester, NH 03109-5420; 603/647-7530. Nexus, 333 Falkenburg, Tampa, FL 33619; 813/654-1799. Simpson Lawrence USA, 6208 28th St. E., Bradenton, FL 34203-4123; 941/753-7533. West Marine, Box 50070, Watsonville, CA 95077-0070; 800/538-0775.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him at darrellnicholson.com.