Pirates and Winches

in Intracoastal Waterway / Life at Sea / Sailing the World
lewmar winch maintenance

It turns out the only way to get a vacation from boat work is to get away from the boat. Which is why I spent 4 glorious days in the Florida Keys not working on anything but running, a tan and a tolerance for fruity cocktails.

But the holiday is over, so I’m back in Riviera Beach, Florida, furiously scratching jobs off our ever-growing list of things to do before we sail to the Bahamas; AKA the place where varnish never peels, heads never clog, and I sit in a hammock all day drinking rum.

Our “Bahamas or Bust” list started back in Vero Beach and it has become the gift that just keeps on giving: the more work we do, the more work we need to do. In fact, Hideaway seems to have morphed into a big, floating half-rotten onion. Just when I think I’ve identified a bad layer (“We should fix that loose chart plotter connection…”), I’ll peel it off to find more rotten layers underneath (“What?! That f#@$-ing electrician didn’t seal ANY of the connections?!”).

Take, for example, this one deceptively simple job: servicing the winches.

Ryan mentioned a while back that our starboard-side winch was feeling a bit stiff and probably needed some grease, or something. Which was a good guess since we’d never serviced Hideaway’s winches. Ever.

So I Googled “service Lewmar double-speed winch” and aimed to get this little project out of the way before lunch. Nothing a little You Tube can’t fix, right?

Sure enough, I found Lewmar’s “installation and service videos,” which not only showed me how to take apart a winch step-by-step, but informed me that winches should be serviced once a year. (“Wait. Not every six years?!”) And the videos even provided handy tips like, “take photos of each stage of disassembly so you can refer back to them,” “have a box handy to put all the little parts in,” and “be careful not to lose the pawl springs,” which are tiny little wires about as thick as gray hairs and really hard to find in a bucket full of murky mineral spirits. (See #17 in diagram below)

Lewmar Winch Diagram

Diagram: Lewmar double-speed self-tailing winch

And since the first winch was a breeze to take apart, I was optimistic about finishing all four winches before lunch. That is, until I discovered the inevitable rotten layer: a slightly bent gear spindle (#15 in diagram), which meant I couldn’t put the winch back together. Until I got myself a new spindle, anyway…

…Except several hours later, it turned out tracking down a 2-inch piece of metal was harder than it sounds. Lewmar themselves were of little help, as their advice was to buy a brand new winch at the cost of $1,200. “Well, you know, if the gear spindle is bent, my guess is you also bent your center stem, and that means you’ll need to replace the whole thing.” Really, Lewmar? All because of a slightly bent metal post?

I wasn’t ready to give up on the gear spindle yet, so instead I phoned a Lewmar distributor in Riviera Beach called Florida Rigging & Hydraulics, and found myself listening to a one-sided stream-of-consciousness rant by a guy named Pete who rattled off numbers, factoids and swear words as he searched his database for the part I needed.

“I know more about Lewmar parts than Lewmar does…Your boat’s an ’86?…They stopped producing that winch in ’92 and Lewmar doesn’t stock any parts made before ’92…And Catalina probably put a smaller winch on that boat than they should have…Who did you speak to over there?…Was it Scott?…Well he’s talkin’ out his ass…You don’t need a new winch…You just need a new spindle…What? No! Don’t buy a stupid repair kit!…You’ll just be paying for a bunch of crap you don’t need!…Now if we can just locate that spindle…Number 5000385?…Oh here’s one…But there’s only one left in the whole world…We can probably get it shipped here tomorrow though…Except it’ll cost you…A lot…”

A little crazy, sure, but totally effective. In the end, I got a new gear spindle for $29.99 + $40.00 to ship it next day. And when it arrived, it slipped beautifully into its slot, which meant I didn’t have to spend $1,200 on a new winch. So, hats off to Pete for the crazy talk that saved me $1,130.

And in the process, I learned a few things of my own about servicing winches:

1) Have mineral spirits (or turpentine), a rag, a bucket, a toothbrush, some engine oil and some winch grease on hand before you start.

2) Don’t wait 6 years to service your winches.

3) If you do wait 6 years, and your winch parts are so crudded up that you can’t get the main spindle out (see #9 in diagram), pour a little engine oil in the crack and twist the spindle around. Eventually, it will slide out.

4) Don’t put winch grease on the pawls (see #18 in diagram); the thick grease will make them stick. Use engine oil as a lubricant instead.

5) Apply winch grease lightly to the pawl gears (#14 in diagram), the ratchet gears (#19 in diagram) and the roller bearings (#11 in diagram). If you apply too thickly, it will cause buildup in the parts…requiring you to service them more often.

Note: if you’re looking for a Lewmar Winch Service Manual, you can download it here: www.pyacht.com/Lewmar-Winch-Service-Manual.pdf

turf to surf hideaway boat maintenance

Cleaning winch parts is a messy job

tasha hacker hideaway boat maintenance

Here’s hoping this non-stop work will end when we get to the Bahamas…

0 Comments... Be the first to comment
  • alchemy2010 January 11, 2013, 12:27 pm

    Excellent Post! Thanks Tasha! I have cracked open my little ‘how-to’ Lewmar book on winch servicing…and will get up the courage to open up and hopefully not have to do any surgery. Sorry you found some stuff that needed to be replaced…but better here than after you cross over. I will take a look at the videos you posted too. Last time I serviced winches was on the racing boat in college and they were in good shape but needed grease in between the drum bearings…I actually got to see what happens when one is not serviced enough and locks up and then is engaged…it strips gears…a story for another day…

    Oh, and I wanted to apologize for suggesting litter that your cats wouldn’t accept and you ended up with a pee foot….I felt so badly. Our cats love that corn and wheat stuff and did what yours did with the crystal stuff…guess the lesson is just figure out what your cats like and then provision with it.

    Good luck on finishing up and crossing to the Bahamas!!!!

    • Tasha January 11, 2013, 7:19 pm

      Hey Gretchen! It really was easy to do… the videos were very helpful. And now I’d be happy to clean them once a year, no problem!

      And you should absolutely feel terrible about that cat litter suggestion – I’ve been blaming you for my smelly foot for weeks now.

      Just kidding! Don’t be silly – I try lots of stuff on our cats all the time and they reject lots of stuff all the time. So, they hate the corn litter. Ah well. We’re back to the gray litter and all is well in the world and with my shoes.

      How is Alchemy coming along? I look forward to writing that first Bahamas post…


  • Kim January 31, 2013, 12:34 pm

    I know you posted this a while ago, and I’ve been meaning to say, “thank you!” As we go through everything on our boat, the maintenance list just gets longer and longer. I have a stack of manuals on just about everything on the boat, and I have been reading them to find out what maintenance needs to get done. I have learned SOOO much, but had NO idea that I needed to do this to the winches.


    p.s. I also linked to your “Sail Fail” post… I need to ask you: what is your favorite Bota Box? We are going to try some, and are looking for a recommendation!

    • Tasha February 1, 2013, 9:57 am

      Hey Kim!
      Good for you, tackling those manuals! I wish we’d done that a LONG time ago! Then we wouldn’t be learning so much on the fly now!

      As for Bota Boxes, we bought a lot of Cabernet, as we drink a lot of red, not so much white… we like the Cabernet. We’ve tried others, like the Shiraz and Malbec, but they can be harder to find. They’re good also.

      Good luck with the maintenance! And thanks so much for linking back to us! We really appreciate you letting other people know about our site!



  • Perry kuehr January 31, 2017, 12:16 am

    Hi, i like the :(…know more than Lewmar…) so: does the geared ring on the chromed wavegrip ST65 come out? As in heatshrunk fit? There is a distinct groove around the geared ring that appears to be separate part. Im thinking of making a kevlar/carbon drum and incorporating the orig ring gear.

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