Do you have winch envy? I mean do you wish you had shiny new self-tailing winches like on bigger and newer sailboats? It’s easy if you think about how you have to go to the extra effort to cleat off your sheet on every tack when the other guys only have to give them another wrap. Depending on the position and type of the cleats on your sailboat, that can be frustrating.
Before I get any further, a bit of legal housekeeping. This post contains affiliate links. That means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using these links. You can buy these products anywhere you like, of course. For a complete explanation of why I’m telling you this and how you can support this blog without paying more, please read my full disclosure.
When you look at the prices of just one new self-tailing winch, the luxury of self-tailing on a trailerable sailboat isn’t worth the price:
Lewmar #14 $456.00
Andersen #12 $490.50
Harken #16 $1,153.44
Yikes! A pair can cost more than the total value of some pocket cruisers. No, it just isn’t logical to spend that much money to replace working winches just for the sake of a little convenience or a little bling. That would be like putting $1,000 worth of new wheels and tires on a 1985 Ford Escort. Self-tailing winches are the Rolex watches of sailboats — sailboat jewelry.
But don’t get an inferiority complex over it either. You can upgrade your current winches to self-tailing convenience for about the cost of a tank of gas. The clever folks at Barton Marine designed a flexible rubber collar that can slip onto the top of your existing winches and converts them to self-tailing. Called Winchers, they are essentially the part of a self-tailing winch that that you can add to your regular winch. You can install them in minutes.
Out on the water
A self-tailing winch uses a feeder arm to guide a wrap of line off the top of the drum up into a pair of spring-loaded jaws, sometimes called crowns. The jaws grip the line similar to the way a cam cleat does. Since the winch secures the tail of the line (also called tailing) you don’t have to hold tension on the line while you crank or recleat it.
Winchers work on the same principle but without a feeder arm. On a true self-tailing winch, the feeder arm is stationary and attached to the winch stem. That part is not practical to add to a regular winch. But the ribbed groove in the Winchers can hold a line in the same way as self-tailing winch jaws.
I added a pair of Winchers (size Small) to Summer Dance over the winter and have enjoyed them all summer. They’ve been particularly helpful for the first mate who doesn’t have as much upper body strength. She used to struggle with cleating the sheets when we were close hauled. Winchers end the need for that last pull on the line to set it in a cam cleat.
Winchers work two ways. The first way is to just wrap the winch drum completely and let the line snub up against the ribbed bottom of the Wincher like in the following picture.
This compresses the Wincher slightly and increases its grip on the line. In light to medium air, this alone is often enough to hold the line. Just haul the sheet in and then relax. The Wincher holds the line for you. When it’s time to switch tacks, it’s effortless to unwind the sheet off the drum.
The other way that the Winchers work is to first fill the drum as above, but then make an extra wrap in the groove of the Wincher like in the picture at the top of this post.
The line wedges into the groove slightly and the ribs in the groove together with the line on the drum also pressing up on the bottom of the Wincher puts a surprisingly good grip on the line. This is usually enough for medium to heavy air. I have had the sheets slip through the Winchers in heavy air though, so in sustained heavy conditions, I resort to using the cleats like normal but that’s not very often.
The one function that Winchers don’t have compared to true self-tailing winches is the ability to automatically feed the line up off the drum and into the groove as you crank the winch. This is because there is no stationary feeder arm to guide the line. They will, however, self-tail while cranking if you don’t make a wrap around the groove. As you wind line onto the bottom of the drum, it squeezes the line at the top of the drum up against the ribbed bottom of the Wincher, which guides it out away from the drum at the same rate as new line winds onto the drum.
In my experience, self-tailing for a sailboat the size of the C-22 isn’t a big deal. The sails aren’t so big enough that I can’t harden them with just a little more muscle most of the time. I seldom need to crank my sheet winches with a handle and even then, it’s only a quarter to a half a turn. A feeder arm and continuous self-tailing is only useful for more taking in more turns to harden bigger sails.
Even so, I like the Winchers for their self-cleating action alone. As you can see in the pictures above, the winches on Summer Dance angle outboard, which places the cam cleats below the winch bases. That makes for an awkward place to set the line into the cam cleat. The Winchers make the process very natural and intuitive.
Winchers come in four sizes: Small, Medium, Large, and Extra Large to fit drum sizes from 64mm to 100mm. For help in selecting the right size for your winches, see the chart at the bottom of this page. They are sold at many popular marine outfitters, including Amazon, West Marine, and Defender.
If someone were to steal my Winchers, I would miss them and would probably replace them, but I wouldn’t relapse into winch envy.
Would you like to be notified when I publish more posts like this? Enter your email address below to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. You will also receive occasional newsletters with exclusive info and deals only for followers and the password to the Downloads page. It’s free and you can unsubscribe at any time but almost nobody does!