Gears and Grease

When I say we have a yacht some people imagine my life is all sunset cruises, gin and tonic and feet up in the sun. Others just get nauseous at the mention of sailing. But any boat-owner knows that aside from a small amount of both of these, much of your time on board is spent on the endless maintenance tasks needed to keep it afloat!

Our most recent task was to service the winches. We have four of these on board; two on the cabin-top for handling the plethora of ropes that are routed here from the mast and foredeck, and two larger ones at the rear of the cockpit for handling the fore-sail sheets – jib and spinnaker.

These winches are two-speed, and geared to make the job of pulling in the various ropes easier – or even possible! This means that inside the sleek black body are a collection of gears, pawls, rings, springs and pins, all sealed away from the corrosive effects of sea and salt, and greased and oiled to keep them moving smoothly. Every two years or so they need to be dismantled, cleaned, re-greased, oiled and reassembled. The last thing you want is to be straining to control that spinnaker under twenty knots of breeze when the darn winch jams… things could get scary with a Chinese gybe (dangerous), or the spinnaker turning into a drogue anchor for instance!

So recently we spent a day on board in the marina up to our elbows in grease. First we dismantled the winches, taking a few photos as we went, just so we could remember how to put them back together, then cleaning all the moving parts to remove the old grease.

We sat at the cockpit table, which we covered in an assortment of rags to keep it clean, with a basin of soapy water, scrubbing brush, paper towel, rags and even cotton-tipped ear buds to clean between the cog teeth. A mindless and tedious task. At least the sun was shining, the wind wasn’t blowing and we could listen to the radio.

We had a half-time break, wiped the grease off our hands and ambled up to Abundance, a lovely little café in Bellerive just near the marina, for a restorative brunch and two coffees. We also went on the search for another tube of grease – a white version, so hopefully we’ll be grateful for this next time around.

By the day’s end we had four smoothly operating winches. One of the four had obviously had some seawater infiltrate inside, as there was evidence of a bit of rust, so our task was timely.  It wasn’t until we were packing up, however, that we remembered we should have cleaned the grease off with turps! It would have made the whole task a lot quicker and easier. Let’s hope we remember that in two years when the task comes around again.

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