There was a moment of personal discovery during last year’s Fastnet Race. It came somewhere in the middle of the Irish Sea. Putting a reef in, or maybe shaking one out. I laboured on the winch to get the sheet hard in and the thought occurred to me that I am not as young or fit as I used to be.
OK I’ll ‘fess up I am 70 and the most strenuous activity I get these days (apart from sailing) is a local bike ride, gardening or a leisurely walk down the canal to a very cosy pub.
On that basis you might think that I would be delighted to see that our new flagship has at least one powered winch. But I am not. In fact I’m a bit apprehensive.
In my book powered winches belong to the same class of beasts as anchor windlasses. They are carnivores capable of munching a misplaced finger without a moment’s hesitation.
These brilliant bits of engineering have immense power and they are ready to prove it the moment you press that button. Trouble is they are dumb beasts who don’t know when to stop. As long as you keep that button pressed they will keep pulling. So here is the conundrum: when you are operating that winch do you look at where the action is taking place on the mast, or do you look at where the power is being applied i.e the winch drum? There may be some discussion over this but I have seen a large Lewmar winch self destruct when it grabbed a riding turn while the experienced crew member was concentrating on the shape of the sail. I have heard of sails being ruined because the crewman was concentrating on ensuring that the winch did not create a riding turn and had not noticed that the sail had snagged in its ascent. What is certain is that these events happen very rapidly. The first indication being the very unpleasant sound of money being burned.
Worse still is the sound of fingers being dragged into a drum.
The good news is that the familiarisation course run on RelaX includes some serious instruction on how to safely use a powered winch and skippers, you will be tested on that advice every time you set to sea in our lovely new boat. It’s down to you to ensure that your crew also gets the same advice. As I discovered on my familiarisation course, there is hardly any need to use the power winch as the main slides up easily. With someone at the mast giving the halyard a “sweat” it is much quicker to hoist by muscle power alone, and it’s a healthier option than walking to the pub.
I called into the Marina Office in Penarth near Cardiff last weekend. Seated in the office was a man with his right hand swathed in bandage. Fingers dragged into the anchor windlass apparently.
Bob Cousins, Commodore