He is a little embarrassed to tell this – not sure why, except he thinks he should know better.

Recently the brake on the starboard sheet winch stopped working. The drum turned freely both ways – no comforting click. Now that both winches have been removed from Blue Mistress for her refit, this is the obvious  time to repair and service them.

For anyone who hasn’t seen inside, a winch is one of those objects that is fine in itself but, to be honest, is a complete mystery. How does it work? What makes it click? What stops it rotating anti-clockwise? And if the clicking stops does it mean some sort of spring or clip or finely engineered dubris has fractured? Will this be highly expensive? Does it need a specialist to sort it out?

At the very least, it means getting out the ‘how to’ books and reading them very carefully.

‘How to’ books are hot on warnings and the sections on winches particularly so. Instructions like ‘gently’, ‘slowly’, ‘carefully’, ‘remember to record the order the parts come off’, ‘ use a container to put all the bits in’, ‘a coordinated softly-softly approach’, ‘do not lose these springs and makes sure they don’t jump out as they are freed’, ‘always take special care that you don’t lose any of the tiny springs etc’, ‘spread a sheet under the vice to catch them’ and so on.

This is all very sound advice, and now that he knows, he understands why. However, by the time he had finished reading, he was jolly sure it would be an impossible task, especially as the winch in the pictures looked nothing like the winches in front of him.

And he’s left-handed, which means that all the pictures had been taken the wrong way round for him. Eighty per cent of the time, this doesn’t matter – after all, he’s had a lifetime to get used to looking at ‘right-handed instructions’, but when a job needs ‘care’, gentleness’, ‘slowness’ , i.e. has all the hall-marks of a precision job, he needs to be spoon-fed (or he thinks he does).

The reality usually turns out quite differently, of course.

However, it took three days of looking at the winches, absorbing the instructions, downloading the parts manual from the internet, before he plucked up the courage to start.

When he did so, the bomb-squad would have been proud of him. He made absolutely sure no one was anywhere near him. (The area had been cleared!)

Carefully, gently and slowly, he prised off the circlip on the top of the first winch and, placing his thumbs on the drive shaft and his fingers around the drum, he gingerly lifted the drum millimetre by millimetre until it was clear of the base. At any moment he expected a small explosion and a shower of little springs to fly across the room.

And this is what he found?

First winch (1) First Winch (2)

He could have removed this drum in an open cockpit in an Atlantic storm and not lost a single part!

Now he could see why the clicking has stopped – all four pawls (the comma-shaped objects at either end of the drum) were jammed by grease and salt – as were the rollers. Every other part was dry and covered in salt.

It took two hours of soaking in paraffin, carefully separating parts, brushing, scrubbing, polishing, light greasing and oiling to get it back together again. There was no corrosion or fracture or any engineering defect whatever – four pawl springs were replaced. It works perfectly again – job done.

Second Winch - ready to grease

It took half an hour to strip the first winch and five minutes the second.

Now he knows it’s straightforward he will service them again next year.

He’ll have to be careful, of course, next time the parts really will be freer – and just maybe will explode everywhere.