Always! Really? (proper loading of a winch)

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Times in Sailing when the Word Always Applies

I always raise and lower the seat appropriately when I use the head. I always make sure that my bride, Lisa, knows how much I appreciate her. I always do a thorough pre-check of all systems before I leave the dock. I always have a good time when I’m on the water. I always get my ass kicked when I round Frying Pan Shoals, off Cape Fear North Carolina.

The real truth defined, always

Liar, liar pants on fire! Shame on me. The truth is that I do try to remember to use the seat correctly, to let Lisa know that I appreciate all the things she does, and to check my boat out before I leave the dock. The vast majority of the time I do have a good time on the water and yes I usually get my ass kicked when I round Frying Pan Shoals (one time I remember actually basking in the sun with smooth following seas). Maybe as often as 99.99% of the time but, NOT ALWAYS!

If you GOOGLE the word “Always” (isn’t it amazing that I wrote that rather than: if you lookup the word “Always” in the dictionary) you will learn that “Always”, used as I am in this post, means the following: Invariably. In other words it means absolutely every single time without exception.


Few things in life are the concrete, but there are sometimes when sailing that the word “Always” is accurate. One such time occurs when speaking about the proper way to load a winch.

Clockwise, always

When you put a line on a winch you ALWAYS wrap the line clockwise on the winch drum. Doing so insures that the winch will be helping you and not the object, usually a sail, attached to the other end of the line. Winches are designed to give you a significant mechanical advantage,, and they are ratcheted so that they only work in one direction (guess which way that is). So, if you load the winch clockwise you are super strong, counter-clockwise and the sail on the other end of the line, already very powerful, becomes a Goliath.

If you were born during a time when we actually used clocks that told us the time by representing it in a circle then clockwise is a simple concept. If not, then clockwise means you rotate the line to the right as you put it around the winch. Some people get confused when wrapping the line, so a simple way to get it right is to just spin the winch drum before you load it. If it rotates in the direction that you spun it then load the line that way. Another simple and faster method is to load the line and then give it a little tug. The line should come toward you easily and you will hear a little clicking sound. That sound means you are the Goliath rather than the sail.

Uh, oh! Now what?

In the event that you have not loaded the winch correctly and you don’t discover it until you start pulling the line in, there is only one thing you can do. Immediately take the line off the winch, and I mean right now and completely! The line may respond wildly and it may be difficult to control. Don’t try to control it! Without applying any tension to the line place one loose wrap correctly around the winch, pull in some slack and then quickly apply a second wrap. Pull the line quickly and hard. Get all the slack out of the line you can and finally get a third wrap, cross the silver feeder bar, and place the line into the self-tailer. Now grind like hell cause you got a mile of line to bring in due to the loading error.

Whether you have loaded the winch correctly or not, you should generally (notice I didn’t use the word always) start the pull with two wraps of line around the drum. Pull all the slack you can and then add additional wraps as needed to provide the necessary friction to hold the load. Do not start with the winch loaded with more than two wraps. Doing so is a great way to perfect the technique of “knife tacking” (tacking and cutting the sheet with a knife to be able to clear the over-ride that is on the winch), which, while fast, is very expensive.

Always is a very powerful word with a very clear and important meaning. I’ve talked about one time to apply it. Do you have any others? Let me know when you think always applies to your sailing and life!

Finally, Lisa, I will try very hard to fulfill my vow to you; to ALWAYS do my best in all my endeavors!

While I’m trying, be sure to see me On the Water…With Captain Frank

Series NavigationALWAYS, revisited (Additional critical items that must be conformed to) >>

One thought on “Always! Really? (proper loading of a winch)”

  1. Winches 101 was excellent as were your reflections on the word always, but. . .
    I gotta tell you, the rope burn on my wrist got my attention big time regarding the power of the wind magnified (a lot!!!!) by incorrect wrapping on the winch. The burn is healing fine, and I’ll remember that wrist every time I load a winch in my future sails. Thanks, Frank, for telling me to “let go” when you did, and thank you for reinforcing the importance of winch-wrapping with your wise words before and after the incident.

    Sometimes a picture’s worth a thousand words, and sometimes, actions speak louder than words. Both lines applied to my line-handling experience last week, and I learned a lot from words, pictures, AND experience. Thanks for the lessons.

    p.s. thanks too for the toast and the well-named drink to go with it!

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