Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Calstar: winched

I'm the first to confess there's not a lot I know about winches. I'm not of a naturally mechanical bent, you don't find them on dinghies, and despite my logbook showing that by the end of last year Dad and I had sailed a grand total of 2130.5 nautical miles with Calstar now, that's still where I've done most of my sailing over the last fifteen years.

Interestingly, and a complete aside, those 2130.5 miles have been covered over 251 hours and 43 minutes of being underway. That works out at an average speed over ground of 8.5kn, which I think is rather impressive for a 26' bilge keeled Westerly Griffon.

Then again, that's the Bristol Channel tide for you. I expect the average is going to drop somewhat now.

Anyway. Calstar, of course, has winches. They've just worked without any stress for the last three years, except for one brief episode last spring when the starboard genoa winch stopped gripping. I smacked it with the winch handle, and that sorted the problem out. Had meant to look into servicing them, but then other things got in the way and we forgot about it.

I should add we have winch covers for each of the winches, and they are religiously put back on and secured at the end of each day's sailing, so they're not left exposed. That's probably they only reason they've kept going so well despite my neglect.

On Saturday, whilst on the way out towards Eddystone, the starboard winch slipped once more. It took a couple of bashes with the winch handle to get the ratchet to bite again. Sunday morning, as a solid 20 knots was blowing through the Sound and we were packing up to come home, I checked the winch again, and it was slipping under my hand and intermittently refusing to bite. Smacking it was beginning to have unreliable results.

It's a an old Lewmar 30 Two Speed winch, not self-tailing, and probably as old as the boat. It's always looked like a bit of an impenetrable unit to me, with no obvious clips or screws or bolts to effect its disassembly. After clearing out the rope locker and climbing in to get at it from below, I discovered there's no way into it from down there either.

It is good for the soul to clean out the rope locker every once in a while, however.

Then Dad spotted the circlip  that holds the top plate on, and after a bit of finessing the thing with a little screwdriver, it came free and the whole thing lifted apart.

In amidst the grease of the ratchet mechanism were clogs and clumps of what appeared to be dog hair. I'll swear the stuff gets everywhere. No metal shavings or obviously worn gears however, so that was a good thing.

We picked the rotten stuff out, leaving the good grease in place and handling the whole mechanism very gingerly in case we accidentally knocked anything and the whole lot sprang apart in our hands. Then we reassembled it. All appears to be working, although it's obviously well overdue that service.

Now we've unravelled the mysteries of disassembly, I wasn't particularly phased by the thought of servicing the thing. However, back at home and now quite swatted up on the matter via YouTube and Google, Dad has meanwhile had a word with the John at Allspars (the folks that stepped our mast for us) and has now told me they're going to do it for him.

It's like he doesn't trust me or something?

Now it has to be said, playing with grease and diesel and springs and ratchets isn't my idea of a good time; it strikes me that an awful lot can go wrong and if it does, replacing a main winch is going to cost £600+ a piece. Plus I bite my nails (an intentional habit; best way of keeping them to length for the guitar) and discovered on Sunday that grease tastes horrible. However, paying somebody else to do it for us does feel a bit like cheat mode.

A bit like driving the boat over to Plymouth on the back of a flatbed rather than sailing her around. Although on that one, I have to admit Dad was right. If we'd tried to sail her, we'd still be stuck now in the Bristol Channel dreaming of blue water, rather than sailing on it.

So I'm going to give his wisdom the benefit of the doubt on the winch servicing issue. And at least I know how to get into them myself now if we ever find we have to

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