Three Sailing Pros Speak Out


As part of our winch update and sea trial, we caucused three sailing pros and got their performance slant on what they looked for in a good winch and how they put it to use.

Jason Currie

Jason Currie is a very experienced ocean racer and Quantum Sails consultant. op winches are a crucial link in the energy transfer between sails and boat speed. His performance-based approach to winch selection includes a belief that primary and secondary pit winches should always be open-top-because self-tailing arms just get in the way. He, like many Grand Prix racers, have settled on open drum tops because they expedite quick wraps and even faster releases.

Currie stresses the importance of how many wraps you should have on the drum at any given time. For example, during a light-air spinnaker reach on a J-70, the trimmer may prefer only one wrap on the drum but when a crew is power reaching aboard a TP-52 it makes sense to have five wraps in order to cope with the massive spikes in tension. Line load is the key variable and with an open top drum its easier to add or remove wraps.

The sheet loads aboard a hard driven race boat spike as the boat rolls and line on a toothy winch drum abrades the cove. Currie uses a dish soap solution to mitigate the problem. The soap adds enough non-oily lubrication to make sheet any guy easing smoother and trimming more precise. He likes to see a few rope clutches that fairlead lines to a single winch and is happy with self-tailers on halyard and reefing winches. He also recognizes that the self-tailing winch plays a key-roll among cruisers and club racers who are willing to trade a bit of line handling speed for the convenience of being able to winch in without the need to hand trim the sheet.

James Allsopp

James Allsopp is a North Sails pro in Annapolis, MD has experience aboard a wide range of race boats. Son of the sailing legend Jim Allsopp, a sailing industry leader and Star Worlds gold medalist, James grew up racing sailboats. While a midshipman at the US Naval Academy he skippered the donated 66-foot custom Reichel/Pugh Zarafa and developed lots of respect for the forces that are belayed on a winch drum. He cautions crews using self-tailing winches to make sure there are enough wraps on the drum to keep from overloading the jaw of the self-tailer. According to Allsopp, Its always better to have one wrap too many on a winch drum than on too few. He likes Harken radial winches with their angled contoured drum ridges that drive the sheet downward and lessen chances of an override.

Allsopp also expanded on when and why its important to keep spinnaker sheets out of self-trimmer jaws. He favors hand trimming with only a wrap or two in lighter air, but as the breeze comes on or the boat hardens up, the response is often to simply lock the sheet in the self-tailer. This can lead to release problems due to a wedged sheet. It all stems from having too few wraps on the drum when the sheet is tucked into the self-tailer. The sheet can become so tightly jammed that its very difficult to release, requiring tension from another winch to strip it from the jaw. The solution is extra wraps before locking the sheet in the self-tailer, or avoiding using the tailer with a spinnaker sheet.

Butch Ulmer

UK Sails guru Butch Ulmer continues to race with friends and customers and hes been keeping track of sail handling innovations ever since Merriman stuck slotted winch handles in their Bronze 1-to-1 gear ratio winches. When we last spoke, Butch was in Newport, Rode Island aboard Andrew Weisss Christopher Dragon, a very competitive Sydney 43 doing well this year in Key West, Long Island Sound and in Bermuda. For the past year they have had a set of Pontos Grinders on the coach roof-specifically used to handle outside asymmetric spinnaker jibes. The winchs high drum spin rate is a byproduct of an overdrive gear ratio (the opposite of the Trimmer model Pontos). It delivers a fast hauling rate when the sheet load is light. As the lazy sheet transitions into the loaded sheet, the 4-speed down shifting process keeps perfect pace with line loads. Christopher Dragons skipper says that the Grinders four different gear ratios delivers enough of a haul rate change to add plenty of trimming power.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him at