Anchor Winches

August 18, 2009

It’s a fine thing is an anchor winch.  You just push a button and down goes the anchor, push another one and up it comes.  There’s a need to keep the engine running whilst you’re using it, otherwise the battery goes flat quite quickly but otherwise it means that anyone can do the job of setting or raising the anchor, which is certainly not the case without a winch.  Getting the picture yet?  Rampage must have an anchor winch if Julia and I are to be able to manage her on our own.


Well, on our arrival in Coruna, there was an option to stop short of the marina and drop anchor, tucked up inside the main breakwater.  This was attractive, as it meant not having to try and figure out which set of lights marked the entrance to the place and then trying to find a vacant berth to moor to – all in the dark, as it doesn’t get light here until about 0645.


There were already a few yachts at anchor, so I brought Rampage up into the wind and slowed down whilst David and Julia got the anchor ready to drop.  I brought the boat to a stop and expected to hear the rumble of the chain being dropped from forward: nothing happened except some muffled cursing.  Getting Jeremy to take the wheel, I went forward to find the winch was refusing to play.  Nothing we did to it would make it function beyond making a dull clunking noise, so we abandoned the effort and made our way into the marina. 


Entering strange marinas is always a bit fraught, as you never know just what you’ll find, despite the chartlets in the Almanac and so on.  In the event, once we’d identified the entrance through the wave breaks, it was easy to see the pontoons and come alongside.


My first concern once we’d woken up after a good rest was to sort out the winch, as there is no way the progress south could continue without one.  Unless planned, anchoring is something that tends to be done in a bit of a rush and a broken or unreliable winch can’t be part of the picture.  Having freed the jammed chain, I took the covers of the winch and removed a couple of gears so that the motor could turn if it felt like it – that seemed to do the job, so I put everything back together again and it worked.  Forward and reverse, no hesitation.  I was getting ready to give myself a pat on the back when a small voice inside said ‘will it work under load?’ 


Easy to test – just try pulling the anchor back onto its housing on the rollers.  No sooner said than tested – result, winch back into sulk mode with no response to button pressing.  Stripping down the thing for the second time, the motor had decided it was terminally ill and that was that. 


I’d been slightly concerned about the winch, as it didn’t have a proper freefall mechanism (to allow you to drop the chain quickly) and it is underpowered for the boat (with only a 600 watt motor).  However, if I could get a new motor, that’d be the cheapest solution to the problem.  Saturdays are not good days for starting this sort of hunt in Spain, so we put things to bed and left it until Monday.


The boat next door to us once we’d moved into the marina was owned by an Australian making his way back towards home via the Panama Canal.  He had watched me stripping the winch and expressed his sympathy, modified by his envy of an electric winch as opposed to a hand one.  He told us about an excellent chandlers’ on the other side of town which had two advantages: it seemed to stock just about everything under the sun and there was a lady there who spoke good English.


On Monday, Julia and set off to see what could be done.  The walk through town was pleasant, in fine sunny weather and we eventually found the chandlers’.  It was just as described by our Aussie neighbour, a temple to chaos and things nautical and Marianne spoke excellent English as promised.  Whilst they didn’t have a new motor, they did have a couple of winches that I could look at.  Unfortunately, neither were suitable, being of the vertical capstan type rather than the horizontal that is fitted to Rampage.


After much perusing of catalogues, we found one that suited the space in Rampage’s chain locker and the phoning round to get hold of one started.  In the end, they found one that could be delivered by the evening of the following day.  An order was placed and a deposit paid and Julia and left to stroll back to the boat.  We got back to the boat to discover that David had occupied his time by removing the dead winch in preparation for the new one.


The following evening, a marina chap appeared by the boat to tell us that the chandlers had called and the winch was ready for collection.  Julia and I set off to pick it up; we arrived at the shop, were shown our new winch and, before we could ask for it, a taxi had been called to take us back to the marina.


It took David and I the best part of 2 ½ hours to fit the winch.  The first entertainment was discovered when we found the new winch uses 3 wires to power it: a common return combined with up and down power cables.  This explained what the third wire in the locker was for, as the old winch used only 2 cables.  Luckily, with the third wire already installed, it was simply a case of removing the old relay box from behind the electrics panel and installing the new one, which thankfully could be used with the old winch control handset.  That took me about an hour of cursing and skinned knuckles fitting it into a space that was just the right size. 


Meanwhile, David had been drilling holes in the chain locker mounting plate for the new winch, which had to be located slightly off centre to match the chain path from the bow roller.  None of the old winch mounting holes could be used, so the battery powered drill was hard put to keep pace with all the hole cutting required: 4 mounting holes plus a much larger hole for the chain to pass through into the locker.


By the time I’d finished installing the relay box, David had finished the mechanical bits up forward and we were ready to finish the wiring.  Inevitably, the ‘up’ button dropped the chain and the ‘down’ raised it, but that involved just switching a couple of wires on terminals. 


The first proper test came on Wednesday evening when we dropped anchor without a hitch at Comre, a little inlet about 40 miles down the coast from La Coruna.  When we raised the anchor the following morning, however, we found a design fault with a rubber mat provided for the winch to sit on: the mouldings for the chain path into the locker were simply too small and the chain was continually fouling on it.  Simple solution – cut away the offending rubber and there was no fouling.


Julia is now coming to grips with the new winch and I’m very pleased to have a reliable easy to use bit of kit which matches the boat.


One comment

  1. Love the image of 2 men, a winch and a ‘spare bit of wire’… It’s the ‘Right, said Fred’ school of international nautical engineering!

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