Mailport August 15, 2004 Issue

Mailport: 08/15/04

Longer Winch Handles
Your review of winch handles (April 15) reminded me of one of the unsolved mysteries of the sea: Why are winch handles only made in two lengths—8 inches and 10 inches?

I have a fully battened, luff-rope mainsail that is a bear to raise. There are a number of palliatives (mostly expensive) for this fairly common problem, but for a variety of reasons none are attractive for my boat, a Corsair F-24 trimaran. I think using a longer winch handle, say one with a 15-inch arm, just for raising the main, would end my struggles. I guess I’ll end up with a homemade extension.

-Bob Dryer
Via e-mail

We shared your query with two professionals in the field of sailing equipment—Tim Robinson of Euro Marine Trading and Dan Rondeau of Harken Yacht Equipment.

Robinson told us: "I believe the simple answer involves on-board space limitations, human ergonomics, and the issue of supply and demand. First, a 15-inch winch handle would need an arc of 30 inches to swing, which many boats couldn’t accommodate due to other gear mounted in the vicinity of the winch. Second, the average person would have difficulty mustering the strength to get full advantage out of a 30-inch arc.

We tell customers that the typical grinder can produce roughly 30 kg. of force on a 10-inch handle, bigger dudes maybe closer to 40 kg. Would those numbers improve with a longer handle? Perhaps, but consider that such a product would require more storage space, and it would need to be beefier to avoid breakage, so it would be heavier and cost more. Those issues—along with the fact that there's a more effective solution to your dilemma—are the primary reasons that sufficient demand in the marketplace for longer winch handles just doesn't exist."

Rondeau told us: "First, you'd have to have really long arms to utilize a longer winch handle. Of course you'd be more likely to hit the lifelines or a dodger or another piece of hardware with that handle. I’m sure there are people out there who would benefit from the development of a longer winch handle, but whenever you develop a new product, you have to be certain that there's sufficient demand to justify the development costs. Over the years we have gotten a few requests for longer winch handles, but never enough to warrant developing such a product."

Both Rondeau and Robinson told us that the problems you are experiencing raising your mainsail don't stem from having too small a winch or winch handle, but from excessive friction in the luff groove system. "That boat may only be 24 feet long," said Robinson "but a big roach mainsail with angled battens can produce a lot of friction between the mainsail and its attachment to the mast." He and Rondeau both indicated that the best way to reduce friction in this situation would be to replace the bolt rope and luff groove system with a mast track and car arrangement.

Effective, yes, but hardly the inexpensive palliative you were seeking.

When we took this a step further and consulted Corsair Marine, Phil Medley, an engineer at the company's factory, wrote: "We are currently providing masts with a 3/16" groove and a 1/2" (inside diameter) channel. We recommend 3/8" bolt rope….A number of issues can cause the main to become difficult to raise and lower, including over-tightening the battens, a poorly cut sail (not uniform with the mast prebend), and a soft or swollen bolt rope. In the sailing manual for the F-27, Ian Farrier suggested rubbing bee's wax or a similar product on the boltrope." You might also want to review the article in which PS tested mainsail track lubricants (November 15, 2003).

It's clear that you aren't going to find a production-built winch handle longer than 10 inches—at least not one that's built to fit the drive socket on standard winches. (We've seen longer handles, but they were flat bars, fabricated to fit the slot-head style winch drums of the '40s, '50s, and '60s.) And it doesn't seem like you favor the idea of investing a substantial amount of money and time to convert your mast to a track and car system. So why not have a custom, 15-inch winch handle built (or fashion one on your own as you implied)? Even if the leverage gained is minimal, we suspect that the placebo effect will compensate for some of the missing efficiency, and what's more, your device will be all the rage among fellow F-24 owners, at least until the novelty wears off.

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