2023 - upgrading the windlass

My father had fitted a vertical hand windlass sometime in the 1980's, but I hardly ever used it - it probably took more total effort to weigh anchor with the windlass, and took longer. I just hauled the chain up hand-over-hand.

The original hand windlass

This year I was having some health issues that affected my ability to lift things, and decided to bite the bullet and upgrade to an electric windlass.
I picked a Lofrans X1 horizontal windlass from a local marine store. It happened that the only one they had in stock was the display model, so I took that. Unfortunately, I hadn't measured the chain size beforehand (I had bought it second-hand a year ago as most of the original chain was getting too old and leaving rust stains on the deck). I estimated the size at 1/4 inch based on seeing new chain in the store, but it turned out that I probably had 5/16 inch chain. That meant I had to change the gipsy in the windlass from a 7mm metric gauge to an 8mm one. I also had to replace a 3/8 inch joining link in the chain with 5/16. The new gipsy was not cheap, but at least I didn't have to start over with a different model of windlass.

Chain sizes are more complicated than I realized - when I was raising it by hand I didn't give it much thought. It seems there are ISO and DIN sizes, plus Imperial used in North America, in different link lengths (G4,G70,BBB styles).

The first problem, before actually buying the windlass, was to ensure the chain could self-stow. The Nic 32 I believe was originally sold with 90 feet of chain, but at some point my father had extended that to 120 feet, and moved the hawse pipe from its original location in the anchor well to accommodate the vertical windlass. I forget what it was like originally. Ever since I had owned Alastor, the chain would not self-stow for the last 30 feet. Either someone in the fo'csle pulled it into the locker, or it got flaked into the anchor locker.

Testing the self-stowing

I got some ABS pipe to replace the (much nicer) stainless hawse pipe, and made a new chain locker cover with the entry hole further aft, in the middle of the locker rather than at the forward corner. I also carved an inch or so off the fibreglass tab that secures the end of of the chain. With those modifications, the full length of the chain stowed itself in the locker. so I felt confident to go ahead with the installation and cut more holes in the deck.

Testing the new cover

The hand windlass had four bolts to secure it to the deck, plus a hole for the hawse pipe. The new windlass has those (in different places, of course) plus a shaft piercing the deck. I ended up using the orginal hawse hole for the shaft, cutting a new hawse hole, and filling the original bolt holes with epoxy. The shaft was not long enough to span the fo'csle head lining as well as the thickness of the deck itself, so I had to cut away the lining to accommodate the motor and bracket. To get the hawse pipe to clear the gear housing, I had to bend it, which I did by cutting some slots in the ABS and heating it. Not very elegant, but functional.

Underneath the winch - motor, worm drive and hawse pipe.

To power the winch, I fitted a small sealed lead-acid battery under the starboard bunk, along with the provided relay. The battery is connected to the main house batteries and solar charge controller with thinner gauge wire and a thermal breaker. The idea is that the winch draws power from the local battery, which is then recharged at a lower current. I haven't actually tested that yet.

Battery and relay

The winch is designed to be controlled via the relay by a pair of push switches, one for up and one for down. The store sold me a couple of deck switches, but I didn't want to cut yet more holes in the deck until I was certain that everything was going to work. So for now I mounted the switches on a sheet of plywood. You can either press them with a finger, or flip the cover up and press them with a foot. They should have a disconnect switch to prevent accidental use, but I have not yet fitted that.

Deck switches

New windlass in place on the foredeck.

Andrew Daviel