a bit more on winches and windlasses…

Seems like a good time to dust off this old post…

Not too awful long ago, a reader to this blog wrote and asked my thoughts on such things as hydraulic-driven furling systems and electric winches for sheets and suchlike.

My view on such things is that they really do not belong on a cruising boat that is trying to cruise on a blue-collar budget or actually needful, and I said as much in my reply. Not too long after I got response where the person in question pointed out that most folks he knew were not as “macho” as I was and my advice sucked…

Anyone who actually knows me will tell you that macho is most certainly not a word to be used in conjunction with yours truly. They might suggest more appropriate words such as lazy, slothful, shiftless… and, as much as I hate to admit it, they would be right.

Being lazy I have something of a deep distrust for gear that can fail and as a result make me have to work more than I deem needful (i.e. not a whole lot). As a certified dumpster diving, cheap-seats sort of guy, the fact that such systems also cost a lot makes them something of a no go zone.

But, since I am lazy, I have a great respect for the fact that physics can be your friend in the form of blocks, winches, and suchlike which makes sailing a boat… easy.

But… If a winch is a good thing, is not an electric or hydraulic winch better? Well, if you equate more expensive as better (and I won’t bother to go into how screwed up that thinking is…) yes. On the other hand, if you simply want to pull on a line without raising a sweat, not so much…

The thing is, a properly sized winch (and almost all boats these days have oversized winches) for your boat is capable of doing all its various jobs without raising a sweat and more than likely, if you are raising a sweat you are either doing something wrong or breaking something. (You’d be surprised how much deck gear I have seen pulled out of decks, backing plates and all because someone kept winching the wrong line). So consider sweat as your body telling you to stop and think about what you are doing. So why do you need something that can exert even more force?

The other negative that I see with power-assisted systems on boats is that it becomes seductive to go bigger than you are physically able to handle whether in boat size, ground tackle or sails and when the system fails you are simply stuck…

Katy Burke wrote a great book some years back which addresses the whole subject a lot better than I can and ‘The Handbook for Non-Macho Sailors” is well worth a read if you can get your hands on a copy.

At the time of it’s publication, as I recall, it pissed off quite a few people who (obviously) missed the whole point of the book and seemed to resent its simplistic emphasis of basic physics and mechanical advantage instead of being a guide to buying stuff… My kind of book!

Listening to The Pretenders

So it goes…

Posted by RLW at Saturday, March 19, 2011

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2 thoughts on “a bit more on winches and windlasses…”

    1. Yep, sadly internet links are not always forever. I’d have updated the link but I just can’t remember what Pretenders cut I was listening to way back when. Quite a few of the links on Boat Bits no longer work as things change, companies go out of business, and suchlike.
      If it’s any help, I’m listening to Elisapie

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