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The insanity of Windlass Removal

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

After our last few posts on ALL of the repairs we had to do, as well as showing some struggles on our IG account, we got a few questions specifically about the windlass repair. What broke? What were our options? How difficult was the replacement? Why did we pick the same kind that previously broke? So, I decided to dive into more of the specifics surrounding the windlass repair.

The windlass is a winch that pulls the anchor chain up. I believe when this broke it was when we were pulling the chain back into the boat. The chain is allowed to crawl up the wall and sometimes it jams when there is a backup. One particular time it was being pulled up while there were 20 other things happening, and when I looked back to check on it, I saw that it had jammed. I think this is what ended up breaking the motor. It didn’t just stop working completely, but it slowly became worse and worse. We noticed that instead of it going full speed, it started going half speed and then it was only intermittently working, so we knew we had to pull it out and at least to get it repaired. We looked up the cost for a repair versus replacement and the repair actually would have cost us more, so we went ahead and pulled it out for a replacement. Easier said than done! Let me tell you about these troubles...

So, the chain goes through the windlass head, and the windlass head lets the chain out and brings it back in. In theory, you are supposed to simply take off the board which is glued on and then take the two bolts out. After that, you can remove the head by pulling it up. Once you get inside, there's a shaft that goes down to the gearbox. The time came for us to pull it out and it wasn't budging. HOW FRUSTRATING! We come to find out the reason for this is because, over time, the gearbox gets welded to the shaft due to electrical currents and the process of electrolysis.

Let me break this down quickly--

On every boat, there is an electrical current that you deal with, and electrolysis tends to lead to some boat issues. Electrolysis is “the passing of a direct electric current through an electrolyte producing chemical reactions at the electrodes and decomposition of the materials.” A lot of boats ((and us)) use zincs to help combat electrolysis for certain parts of the boat, but in this specific case, it wouldn’t have helped us. Essentially there is a leak of electricity somewhere that could be very small. That electricity goes through the motor, goes up through the gearbox, crosses from the gearbox to the shaft, and goes up all the way to the chain. Then that electricity goes down to the water. Electricity is always looking to escape, so over time, when it's going from the gearbox to the shaft, it essentially welds it together and there is no real way to stop it from happening. Needless to say this was very annoying!

Jeremiah was finally able to take the head assembly off, and once he did, we found that what was left was this aluminum plate. We were confused so we called the company and asked if there was a way we could remove or disassemble it, but they kept telling us no. So, what Jeremiah ended up doing was buying a saw and slicing this aluminum piece in a million pieces and then eventually got it to the point where it was about the width of a can, and then he had to push it down through, and remove it down from the bottom.

From what we researched, normally people will use a gear puller on it, which will help push the shaft up and out, but unfortunately, we couldn’t do this because of the way that the boat is designed. The shaft and gearbox are literally sitting right on top of a fiberglass wall, so there was no other option.

After a lot of work, Jeremiah finally got it done, but it definitely took longer than expected. Just like a house or vehicle project that you think will take you an hour, and it ends up taking all day-- boat repairs are no different and most of the time, worse!

Next time I’ll write about the specs of our new windlass and the installation process, stay tuned!