Ahoy there winch!

Last Fall we were sailing back to Sidney from Portland Island, one of our favorite anchorages and a Provincial Marine Park, when I cranked on the main starboard winch and heard CLUNK.

I tentatively went another click and it worked but sounded just plain wrong.

Main winch

It was time to delve into the mystery that was the inside of our winches.

I went to Lewmar's site, downloaded the manual for our size (44), read some of the forums to find out what gear I needed, realized that our oh-so-fantastic and organized previous owner had already stocked us with winch grease and lube, and began trying to find the right hex key to open up the winches.

Onion layer 1

After starting to open them I realized that the manual that I had was wrong. No problem, we knew our winches were old so I needed an older version manual. DAYS later, with the poor half-open winch under a ziploc, I finally found a 26 year old manual that someone had scanned into .pdf for our 26 year old winches.

The inside of the winch

They are original - fairly certain. On the one hand, wow, Lewmar makes a great product. On the other hand, are they going to break? Will we be able to find spares if they do? Luckily, everything looked very nice inside except for needing a good clean. All of the gears looked unworn and I started the time consuming task of scrubbing everything with a toothbrush and lighter fluid.

Scrubbing winch parts

Well that is -- everything looked good except for the broken pawl. Pawls are these little things that hold, in concert with a gear, the entire force of the foresail, via the jibsheet. There are 3 in each of our main winches so that if one goes, the other two will hold. One of ours had rusted, siezed and then sheared off while being used.

Broken pawl

A close up of the broken pawl and our teak which we are letting go natural the, er, natural way.

Broken pawl

After picking up a bunch of pawls and springs, enough for this project and the spares kit, it was just a matter of regreasing and lubing everything and figuring out the jigsaw puzzle.


And then, because I'm not good at doing things half way, I moved on to the main port winch and all of three winches on our mast. Luckily the port winch was fine and just involved the labor of disassembling, cleaning and reassembling. The mast winches looked mostly perfect. Hardly any cleaning to do and no wear.

Nice pawls

Except one winch which it looked like had some grease get into the pawls (the pawls only get oiled, not greased) and the grease gummed it up and caused the pawl to stick - see the furthest left pawl:

Stuck pawl

After this multi-day process was finally over and I cleaned up the cockpit from the grease I had tried so carefully to avoid splattering, we discovered through conversation with friends that instead of grease one can soak the whole mess in WD-40 and then reassemble. By doing so, the next time there won't be any grease to clean up which was, after the research I had to do, the most difficult and time consuming part.


And we learn...

- Livia


  1. I'm going to need a sailors dictionary to read these post's!

  2. Livia -

    I know I am putting myself in an awkward position here by taking exception to the advice you've gotten from your friends, but I feel I must point out that WD-40, while a great tool for freeing stuck things, and for displacing water (that's the WD in the name), is hardly more than kerosene in a spray can. Kerosene evaporates, slowly, and so does WD40. It is not a good long-term lubricant or protectant.

    However, after a long WD40 (or diesel... much cheaper, and on hand) soak, greasy parts will be bathed in a solution of grease in solvent. When the solvent evaporates, it will leave behind a thin film of grease again, which may be adequate as a lubricant... at least for lightly loaded things. The bearings and the gear teeth still need something heavier.

    At the least, if you do decide to try WD40 as the primary lube, please do me a favor and disassemble again after a couple of months to see if there is actually any lube left in there...

    s/v Eolian

  3. Nice pics! This is on our spring to-do list as well. Thanks for staying 1 or 2 steps ahead of us. :)


  4. @Valerie - But think about how much you know anyways!
    @Bob - Not awkward for me at all. I appreciate the information.
    @Mike - I think we are just alternating tasks between the two boats at this point.



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