One of the boats I test-sailed after the Annapolis show last month was the new Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 409, which happens to be the first production sailboat equipped with Harken’s new Radial Rewind winches. These electric winches, you may recall, can both reel in lines under load AND ease them without the user having to take the line off the winch.
Just how convenient is such a delicious innovation? In that I am among the first in North America to have sailed a boat equipped with these puppies, I thought I better share some impressions with you.
First a word about the new Jeanneau: it is equipped with what production boatbuilders are now calling a “German” mainsheet system. All this really means is that the sheet is double-ended and is led to either side of the cockpit, so it can be trimmed easily from both sides of the boat. Arrangements like this have been common on race boats for some time, as it makes it possible to keep more weight to windward, because whoever is trimming main need not go down to leeward to do it. In the last year or so, however, several different builders have seized on this as a feature that should appeal to us lazybones cruisers. As in, you can steer from one side of the cockpit and still have both the main and jib sheets ready to hand.
It’s a very nice feature. It works best, however, if you have two sheet winches (one for each sheet) on each side of the cockpit. If there’s just one sheet winch on each side, as on the Jeanneau SO 409, you must constantly shift the sheets on and off the winch when you want to trim or ease the different sails.
Bottom line: the Rewind winch is sort of wasted on a boat like this. The whole point to the winch is to save you from handling lines. If you want to make the most of your German mainsheet and not shuttle about the cockpit to control your sails, you must frequently handle the sheets regardless. Conversely, if you want to make the most of the winch and not handle lines, you must shuttle between either side of the cockpit.
To sail the Jeanneau properly, I ended up going into Total Power Mode. I flipped on the autopilot so I needn’t bother with the twin wheels, then just sauntered back and forth across the back of the cockpit steering by wire and trimming and easing both the main and jib by pressing buttons. This worked well and made me feel very… well… POWERFUL. I imagine it’s a feeling that appeals to many modern cruisers who like having electric autopilots and power winches on their boats. But if you’re a seat-of-the-pants-hand-on-the-tiller kind of sailor, it leaves something to be desired.
As to the winch itself: it works exactly as advertised. It does, however, get a little confusing at times. A toggle switch at the bottom of the winch controls the transmission. Flip it into rewind mode and you have one gear to trim and one gear to ease; flip it the other way and you have two gears to trim. On deck beside the winch are two buttons. In rewind mode, one button is for trimming and the other is for easing; in normal mode, one button is for low gear, the other for high. Keeping track of where you are transmission- and button-wise, I found, requires some concentration, especially when tacking. Several times early on in our sail, I was easing when I wanted to trim and vice versa, or I was trimming in the wrong gear. By the end of the sail, however, I started developing appropriate habits. The situation, I should note, was only aggravated by the Jeanneau’s lack of secondary winches. I am used to always having to going to leeward to control a jib, but at first I had a hard time remembering I always had to go to windward to control the main.
One very important fact: I found it was easy to both load and unload the Rewind winch. The double-sided tailing arm (capturing the line as it both leads into and off of the tailing jaw) in no way interfered with line-handling.
Meanwhile, we should also note that Harken’s only competition so far in the reversing winch game, Selden Mast, just scooped up the overall DAME award at the big METS gear show in Amsterdam with its new Reversible winch. Unlike the electric Harken winch, the Selden winch is entirely manual, and the transmission control seems much more intuitive. Just press a button on the handle and grind clockwise and the winch will ease line.
I haven’t actually seen a Selden winch yet, but I look forward to it. I expect the Selden winch will be very popular with the racing set (who aren’t allowed to use electric winches in most cases) and the Harken winch will do well with the decadent powered-up cruising set.