Anchor management

When we bought her, Ramble On came equipped with a Simpson Lawrence 555 Sea Tiger manual windlass for cranking in anchor and chain.  Our refit budget includes a line item to change it out for an electric windlass, but after weighing the pros and cons of manual vs. electric, we figured why shell out the $5000+ on new installation when we have a perfectly good one sitting on deck?  Well, almost perfectly good…..

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I’m not going to get into the debate of whether or not an electric windlass is one of those essential items on a cruising yacht.  Google it and you’ll find hours of enlightening opinion on matters of such.  Cruisers Forum is famous for that.  Bottom line: if Lin and Larry Pardee can grind chain at their age, then so can we.  I am, however, going to explain a bit about our decision to remain manual.  Mainly, cost and simplicity.  Five Grand is a lot of money, and we already have a windlass that [pretty much] still  works; why dump it and buy a new one?  We’d rather use those funds to purchase more chain and  better anchor(s), or new sails, or electronics, or a Hydrovane, etc.  Secondly, batteries, solenoid, wiring, and, the charging thereof.  To do it right requires waaaaay more work, additional weight onboard, and a loss of storage space.  And, not to mention the propensity for anything electrical to eventually fail in a saltwater environment.  Best case, it’s a switch or solenoid of some sort that got splashed with salt spray and left you hanging without power.  Worst case, it’s the motor that fails at some remote anchorage in Bum Fuk Thailand, and a replacement is only 16 weeks away via Fed Ex.  Pretty sure we’re not willing to deal with that down the road.

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So began the task of stripping down our “Triple Nickel”, assessing the condition of the parts, sourcing a supply of replacements, and putting it all back together.  I’m known for doing a fair bit of research prior to taking on a project, but there’s a very limited amount of information available regarding the rebuilding of this windlass.  All I could find were a few PDF diagrams and a six page owner’s manuals, some pictures of them installed on deck, one or two sailing blog entries, and a couple of [long expired] for-sale ads online.  The thing I found most frequently  was an overwhelming consensus of satisfied sailors on various websites that love the bomb-proof reliability of their SL555; plus one more in the Pros column for sticking with our existing manual windlass.  Of what I can glean from the internet, Simpson Lawrence merged with Lewmar sometime back in the late 90’s and our windlass has long since been out of production.  Spare parts are as rare as snowballs in Saudi Arabia.  Fortunately, there’s an engineer in Scotland who used to work for the Simpson Lawrence factory who purchased all the remaining spare parts to be sold out of his garage over the internet (or something like that).

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Jeni cracked open the case cover and began scooping copious amounts of hardened grease from within the housing.  Everything on this British-built windlass is metric, and I’m an American with American tools, so that made it fun.  With copious amounts of PB Blaster and engine de-greaser we managed to get her torn apart and cleaned up.  Most of the bushings had failed, grease was leaking from various seals, and there was a fair amount of corrosion on the main shaft.  I ordered the parts we needed from SL-Spares and they arrived from the UK via Fed Ex within 4 days!!  Simultaneously, an unrelated order placed with Defender Industries here in the U.S. took eight days.  Go figure.

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I was going to prep and paint the housing with some left over AwlGrip from the fridge project, but Jeni suggested looking into powder coating.  After a few phone calls and a week of waiting for our parts, we received our freshly coated housing, chain gypsy, and warping drum.  Applied Coatings and Graphics in Lodi, CA did the sandblasting and powder coating for a cool $150, and it was money well spent, versus my time dicking around with sanding aluminum and spraying multiple coats of 2-part urethane during the unusually wet winter we’re experiencing right now (California is supposedly in the midst of a drought…not).

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I had to fabricate some custom grease seals from washers procured from the local Lowe’s Hardware, along with some new, longer 6mm screws to hold them in place.  New bushings from SL-Spares were carefully pressed into the case (with a hammer and wooden block), shafts, gears, and new o-ring seals were  reinstalled according to the 50 or so iPhone pictures I took, along with the online PDF assembly diagram, as well as the online owners manual.

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Since the average time that any one person spends reading our blog is roughly two and a half minutes, I won’t bore you with all the assembly details.  If you have one of these windlasses and would like more information regarding the entire rebuild, I hope to have a very detailed description posted on our Projects Page in the near future.  Until then, you can post here in the comments section or email me at rich@svrambleon.com and I’ll be happy to answer any questions.  I still need to pack the housing with waterproof grease, install the bottom gasket, and grease the main shaft.  It was a bit of a bitch and I had to do some “customization” modifications along the way, but I basically got her back together and she works once again, good as new.

Back it up
The skinny little cabinet full of paper charts
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7 comments

  1. I second your opinion on SL 555. I usually pull anchor chain by hand, but when I burn out or were anchored w/ lots of rode out the manual windlass works well. I too love the simplicity and reliability. Rich

    1. Thanks Rich. We had our doubts, but in the end simplicity won out over convenience.

  2. Thanks for the excellent post. I have a Muir Neptune manual windlass on my Spencer 35, but am thinking of replacing it with a 555 (I prefer the 555’s gear drive to the Neptune’s chain drive). One question I have about your rebuild is how well the black powder coat will hold up on the gypsy. Have you used it enough to say? It certainly looks great. Thanks again.

    1. Thanks Patrick for the compliments. They’re a great windlass if you can find someone willing to sell one, and the going price seems to be about $400-$500 from what I’ve seen. We haven’t used ours enough to tell if the powder coating on the gypsy will hold up, but I imagine it will eventually wear down in the chain grooves. Ours was originally galvanized, and it’s sized for 3/8″ chain.

  3. Hi Rich,
    You did a reel good job. I have the same windlasses and I wonder how much grease did you put back in? When I opened it, it seemed to be 3/4 full… I also wonder what kind of grease you have used? Did you use the same grease to lubricate the nipple on the main shaft?
    Thank you

    1. Hi Isabelle, we used a green waterproof marine grease on both the shaft, and inside the gears (got it from NAPA auto parts). I don’t recall how much I pumped into the gearbox (maybe two tubes plus a little more), but I filled it pretty much all the way up before reinstalling the bottom cover. With the case upside down,make sure you squirt it all the way down to the bottom (top) and fill the entire cavity up to where the gasket bolts down. Good luck with it and keep your windlass happy. They’re great machines, they don’t need batteries, and as long as you take care of them, they won’t leave you stranded.

  4. Thank you Rich!

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