Inspired, or provoked, by my activity on OW, Mrs. Bunts read a book given to her 30 some years ago: Gauges Steady by E. Laurie-Long. It was published in 1946 and deals with the transition from sail to steam, containing recollections from actual "sail-ers". Mrs. B. shamed me by asking what I knew about the reversal of steering orders.
She then proceeded to educate me. (Not for the first time.) http://www.gwpda.org/naval/boxco000.htm
"Helm" and "Rudder" Orders The following description is from Seamanship in the Age of Sail, by John Harland (Naval Institute Press, 1984):
Orders to the helmsman were traditionally given in terms of "helm", that is to say, the position of the tiller rather than the rudder. 'Hard a-starboard!' meant "Put the tiller (helm) to starboard, so that the ship may go to port!'. It will be realised that not only the bow turned to port, but also the rudder, top of the wheel, and prior to the advent of the steering-wheeo, the upper end of the whipstaff. Cogent reasons existed, therefore, for giving the order in what one might call the 'common sense' fashion. The transition to 'rudder' orders was made in many European countries about a century ago, being decreed for example, in the Royal Swedish Navy by General Order 609 of 1872. The change did not proceed smoothly everywhere, since old traditions died extremely hard in the merchant service, even in lands where the new convention was readily imposed in naval vessels...In the United Kingdom, the changeover did not occur until 1933, at which time the new regulations were applied to naval and merchant vessels alike...Although the United States Navy made the switch from 'Port helm!' to 'Right rudder' in 1914, practice in American merchant vessels did not change until 1935.
This means that during World War One, the ships of the British Empire and Commonwealth, as well as US merchant shipping, would indeed turn "opposite" to the order given. This may cause confusion when looking at ships' logs, for example. "
"Merchant Shipping (Safety and Load Line Conventions) Act 1932
Method of giving helm orders
(1)No person on any British ship registered in the United Kingdom shall when the ship is going ahead give a helm or steering order containing the word " starboard " or " right" or any equivalent of " starboard" or " right", unless he intends that the head of the ship shall move to the right, or give a helm or steering order containing the word " port" or " left", or any equivalent of " port " or " left ", unless he intends that the head of the ship shall move to the left.
(2)Any person who contravenes the provisions of this section shall for each offence be liable to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds. "
(I recall a "mistake" in a film, possibly Pirates of the Caribbean or more likely Master and Commander ... where the command was given to turn the ship to avoid a collision e.g. "Hard a starboard" when the ship needed to turn to port - which she duly did.)
This cropped up when I was posting about HMS Changuinola's pirouette
and I tried to work out whether she turned "right or left" - I guess it was to the right.
My brain hurts.