Offshore Sailboat Winches, Selection and Positioning

Cockpit of Morgan's Cloud, a McCurdy and Rhodes 56. Note that Phyllis is comfortably and safely positioned within the cockpit but still has good sight lines to trim the jib. She is also close to a sheltered watchstanding position under the dodger.

We have already published two chapters on offshore sailboat cockpits in our How To Buy a Cruising Boat Online Book, but even so there are still a bunch of selection criteria I have not covered, so let's dig into winches, both those in the cockpit and generally.

Why It Matters

With offshore sailboats the devil is absolutely in the details and never more so than when we come to winch setup. A poorly-positioned winch:

  1. Can result in repeated injuries, particularly to shoulders, neck and back.
  2. Will force the crew into an awkward position so they can exert far less force on the handle than they would be able to otherwise.
  3. This in turn can require the installation of electric winches, with all of the associated expense and potential dangers.
  4. Can encourage crew members to adopt unsafe positions, often outside of the cockpit and in the way of the boom.

Given that, let's look at how to identify boats with winches done right:

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John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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