I spent some time last year installing new “disc springs” on the two Andersen primary winches in Lunacy‘s cockpit. At that time I knew I should have also taken the trouble to clean and grease those winches, but I have exceptional procrastination skills and so managed to talk myself out of it. This season, however, the winches were screaming so loudly every time I turned them, I knew I could no longer forestall the inevitable.
Servicing winches is definitely a chore and can be a bit time-consuming if you do it properly. But it is also a pleasant job, so long as you do it carefully and deliberately and don’t rush through it.
In the photo up top you see the few things I assembled beforehand to take care of my winches: a plastic bowl for retaining parts as they are removed; an Allen key set (needed for this particular type of winch to remove the top and some bits inside); some lamp fuel (used here as a cleaning solvent); a tin cup for cleaning parts in; an old toothbrush to clean parts with; some WD-40 (used here in lieu of light oil); Lewmar winch grease (a known reliable grease product); a can of spray-on lithium grease (an experimental product); and a roll of paper towels for managing the mess.
When you’re a novice tearing a winch down for the first time it can seem a bit intimidating, but really there’s nothing very tricky about it. All winches come apart differently, but the variations are fairly limited. Once you’re familiar with one type you won’t find anything too confounding in the other types.
Step one is to remove the winch drum, which always involves undoing something at the top of the winch. On these Andersen winches (mine date back to 1998) there are four Allen screws. Sometimes you’ll see simple screws. Often (I know Lewmar winches are always like this) you’ll find big a circlip around the winch-handle socket that holds everything in place. To remove such a circlip, just pry it off carefully with the tip of a straight-edge screwdriver.
Having removed the fasteners (or fastener) on top of the winch, you can then pull off the drum. When dealing with an unknown winch, you should always do this very carefully, as on some winches there are spring-loaded pawls that directly engage the base of the drum inside. If you pull the drum off quickly, those pawls may jump loose and go flying God-knows-where, and it can be a major pain if you lose one or, worse, its spring. On this Andersen winch there are no pawls engaging the drum, so you can yank them right off.
One unique feature on these Andersens is that the central stem comes off. It too is fastened with Allen screws. On most winches the stem is an integral part of the winch body and any roller-bearing races slip right on to it. With these winches you need to take the stem off to both remove the main bearing race and to pull apart the gears underneath.
This is where things get a little tricky. In the base of the winch body you’ll find different sets of gears. In some winches, as on these Andersens, the gears are secured with removable vertical axles that you can pull out with the winch body fixed in place. On others you have to remove the winch body from the deck to access the gears, which is a decidedly inferior design.
Frankly, when shopping for winches this is my one major criteria–I want to be able to fully service the winch without dismounting it.
In this case you’ll see there are three sets of gears, one of which (in the very upper part of the photo) is secured with yet another Allen screw. To keep from getting confused, you should if possible treat each gear assembly separately. Take one apart, clean and lubricate it, then put it back together and reinstall it before moving on to the next one. If you pull them all apart and service them all together at the same time you’ll find it much harder to remember which gears go where.
Here you see one of the Andersen gear assemblies removed and how there are gears within gears to retain the pawls.
Here’s the same gear assembly in pieces getting cleaned up with lamp fuel. Even when dealing with these smaller pieces, you can easily lose a pawl spring, so it pays to move slowly and carefully. (It’s also a good idea to have some spare springs and pawls handy just in case.) I’m using lamp fuel here because it was the only light solvent I happened to have onboard at the time. Diesel oil, kerosene, gasoline, acetone, etc., will all work too. Lamp fuel is nice because it’s not very harsh. Using something more aggressive like acetone on plastic parts, like those seen here, might actually be bad idea.
Here I am putting the gear assembly back together after cleaning and lubricating it. I used WD-40 on the pawls. Any light lubricating oil is good, but you shouldn’t use grease, as it could eventually cause the pawls to get sticky. All the other parts should be greased, however. I ended up using the Lewmar winch grease, as the spray-on lithium stuff was too weird and messy. You should go light with the grease. You need less than you think to get the job done, and if you lay it on too thick things may get gummed up once the grease gets cold and/or dirty.
After disassembling and servicing each of the three gear assemblies in turn, I turned to the biggest internal moving part–the central spindle that rotates inside the stem. This is where there’s the most friction, so it’s important to clean the spindle and the interior of the stem carefully. This is also the one place where it doesn’t hurt to go a little heavy (but not too heavy!) on the grease. When greasing the bearings, however, (in this case you see one fixed set of ball bearings and a removable set of roller bearings) you should go very light on the grease, as these parts can get sticky easily.
After cleaning and servicing the spindle and stem as well as the bearings, I had the winch all back together in no time. As long you don’t do the gears all at once, as I mentioned, it’s not at all hard to remember what goes where.