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An Introduction to Winches from upffront.com

by Phil Anniss 11 Jan 09:00 GMT
An Introduction to Winches from upffront.com © upffront.com

Although the fundamental mechanics of winches have not really changed over the years, there are some innovative features and performance improvements which have appeared in the industry in more recent years. Winches are a durable piece of equipment, lasting many years, but it is important to consider if the winches on-board are right for you.

A winch is an important investment, and there are many different types available. First and foremost, you need to consider the type of boat you have and what you use it for: do you sail at weekends, are you an avid offshore racer? These are the sort of questions you need to think about before you consider your purchase? These days, self-tailing winches tend to be the norm, but there are certain situations which may call for an alternative.

At upffront.com we have a large selection of winches from two well-respected brands, Andersen and Harken, who have built reputations for their performance, quality and durability. Next, we are going to take a closer look at their ranges.

Andersen: They have two ranges, the Black Trim and Full Stainless-Steel, with not much to choose between them. All their winches are self-tailing with stainless-steel drums which reflects their cruising focus with an emphasis on durability and kindness to ropes. The Power Rib Drum offers exceptional grip for larger diameter, softer sheets. Offered in polished stainless-steel as standard, there is the option for custom Titanium coatings so you can choose the colour that matches your boat!

Harken: There is an extensive range of winches available from Harken. Material options include chrome, aluminium, bronze and carbon fibre. The chrome, aluminium, and bronze ranges all come with self-tailing or plain-top options. Another key distinction within all their ranges is the drum grip:

  • Sandblasted provides excellent grip but can be aggressive on ropes. They are specifically designed for high strength, performance lines and also work well with small diameters.
  • Radial Grip on radial drums is derived from ribs on the surface of the drum. Harken angle these ribs to drive the rope down the drum during easing, to help prevent riding turns. Ribbed drums cause less rope abrasion.

The aluminium Performa range combines sandblasting and radial grip which offers racers and cruisers alike a high performance winch. At the top of the range, their carbon fibre winches are lightweight, durable, and perfect for Grand Prix sailors. They are available with self-tailing, plain tops and top-cleating.

Winch sizes

Is it possible for me to replace my Anderson 40 for a Harken 40, and if not, why? In theory, the answer to this question is yes. However, in practice, it is somewhat more complicated. Although the power ratio on the highest gear will be identical (this is what all winch manufacturers use to name their winches), recommendations from each manufacturer can vary quite considerably, in terms of maximum sail areas for each drum size.

WinchDrum Dia.Gear 1Gear 2Power 1Power 2Weight (kg)Line sizeMax Genoa (sq m)
Harken 40802.16.313.539.93.88‑1225
Andresen 40751.36.08.940.04.98‑1444
Lewmar 40741.95.813.240.24.98‑1244
Antal 40802.06.412.840.04.46‑1240

The above are all self-tailing, two speed winches. They all deliver the same Power 2 in their highest gear, which is a function of the Gear 2 ratio and the drum diameter, and therefore one might assume they could be used for a similar sized sail? Andersen, Lewmar and Antal appear to roughly agree on a 40-44m2 max genoa area for their size 40 drums, whilst Harken suggest the maximum on their size 40 should only be 25m2.

The different drum diameters reflect the manufacturer's attitude to grip. With 3 turns, an 80mm drum offers 8% more contact area with the rope than a 75mm drum, which equals 8% better grip. In a cruising scenario, the same grip can easily be achieved with an additional turn, but in the racing environment extra grip for fewer turns makes a difference.

Gear 1, and resulting power 1, ratios are very different and again reflect different manufacturer attitudes to how their winches will be used. Take the cruising orientated Andersen 40 which has a very low Gear 1 of almost a 1:1 i.e. for every revolution of the handle results in almost a full rotation of the drum. This will bring in large quantities of a flogging line very quickly but with only 8.9:1 power ratio, once it starts loading up it will quickly get too hard to pull requiring a switch to the second gear. There is a big jump between gear 1 and 2 which means a big transition from line coming in quickly and then a slow, but powerful, final grind in. Harken, on the other hand, assume most of the flogging line will be brought in by hand and the grinding starts with more power followed by a smaller, smoother transition from gear 1 to the same maximum power in gear 2.

But if they have the same power why do Harken recommend a maximum sail area 40% less than the other manufacturers? Again, this comes down to the manufacturers perception of how their winches will be used and on what types of boats. They are sizing their winches based on a performance sailing premise - where crews will be looking for that extra 2" of trim to close the leach on the genoa. To achieve that extra 2" you need more power, hence you need a bigger winch for a smaller sail...

Therefore, a winch with the same power can be used in many ways and for many different applications. When selecting a new winch, it is important to think through your particular set of needs, sailing style and crew capabilities and then refer to manufacturer recommendations but understand that they can be fine-tuned based on your own individual circumstances.

Need more information?

If you need more information or have any questions, please refer to our Free Winch Selection Guide which is 11 pages packed full of useful information on how to select the right winch.

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