During the time the coaster trade, smaller than 500 BRT and later 1800 BRT, was in full swing these ships had only a magnetic compass topside without any sighting gear, no pelorus nothing. Not the luxury of the ocean trade ships with gyro compasses in the wheelhouse and on the port and starboard wings.
A lot of accidents, mostly groundings, were due to the fact that, also depending on weather circumstances, they were often not in the mood to go topside to take bearings. The direction finder was their main aid of navigation.
If they had to go upstairs to take a bearing they pressed the fingertips of both hands and thumbs against each other. Thumbs up and little finger down. In a kind of praying motion the hands were then put over the compass. A point ashore was aligned at eye level over the fingertips and then the hand was “hinged” down until usually the little fingertips indicated the bearing. Quite unusual but it was standard practice.
Coaster Victoria - 1979.
On a Shell tanker we had a second officer, who had sailed a number of years on coasters, who used this method which none of the others had ever seen before. The guy was very fast, three bearings in a couple of seconds and they looked pretty good in the chart!
However, on one occasion when we were heading north, while hugging the South African shoreline to profit from the Algulhas counter current, that mate was taking bearings again with his “bearing over the hands” method as we called it and was caught in the act by the captain who ought to be asleep but was not. The poor man almost threw a fit, foaming at the mouth and all that, when he discovered what the mate was doing and that on a Shell super tanker. Shame on you! It became quite a situation for the poor guy. The story echoed for days around the ship, nothing ever happened on these deadly runs to the Gulf and back again, so this was a welcome distraction.