The iWinch is a borderline-genuis idea, which allows anyone with a drill to have an electric winch handle on their boat. Bruce Jacobs, tests it out
Sometimes, a solution to a problem comes along that is so obvious, you wonder why it hasn’t been there for years. In my opinion the iWinch, an electric winch handle fitting for a drill, is a case in point.
Some tasks on a yacht are just hard work: getting that halyard up, sheeting in a headsail, tightening the reefing pennant – all big, heavy jobs and none of us are getting younger.
You’ll always get the traditionalists who say electric winches are unnecessary or dangerous as you can’t feel any blockage or snagging. The truth is though, that sometimes having some powered assistance is very useful, especially when you’re sailing short-handed.
If you’ve ever thought about getting electric winches as a solution, you may well have stopped short when you’ve seen the £3,000 price tag (for a common 44 size) – and then there’s the space they need under the deck and the power drain on the batteries. Space and cost are show stoppers for many.
What stopped us using either on an ongoing basis was firstly their size (where do you store them?) and secondly their cost. The WinchRite costs over £600 and the Ewincher close to an eye watering £2,000. Great ideas both of them, but ultimately not something we could justify.
Which brings us to this neat idea. We’re a bit late to the party on the iWinch, but we love it. It’s basically just a winch socket and drill bit combined. It fits into a standard drill, though you do want one with around 90-100Nm of torque, and it will need a 13mm chuck, so do check this. Otherwise that’s it. You have a powered winch handle that’s highly effective, but only costs £55.
We have given the iWinch quite a beasting over the summer, using it on our heavy 60ft expedition yachts where the loads are much greater than you’d expect on a standard 40ft cruising yacht. Every skipper, without exception, loved the iWinch for its utility and practicality, even if it wasn’t seen necessarily as being an everyday piece of kit.
Your drill may not have the full 110Nm torque of the WinchRite or Ewincher, but so long as it has around 100Nm this is such a useful, cheap solution to a problem that you really can’t go wrong with it (other than dropping your drill overboard or risk it getting salted up!).
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Other Electric winch handles
The Ewincher is a sophisticated product that can actually be used as a manual winch handle as well as an electric motor. It has a variable speed reversible motor and generates a useful 80Nm of torque.
We tested it in the Norwegian Sea, en route from the Faroes to Arctic Norway, just as the winds hit gale force. The crew were feeling a bit breathless after swapping out our yankee
2 for the yankee 3, the yacht was screaming along and I was feeling guilty about asking them to trim the sails yet again.
I brought out the big yellow handle to general looks of astonishment and amusement, but this died down as I effortlessly trimmed in our headsail and the double-reefed main while drinking my tea. Suddenly there was a host of crew trying to grab the handle for their go and I had my first inkling that this could be a big success.
I did worry we might drop it overboard or that it would run out of battery now my crew had become lazy, but neither happened.
After two hours of hard sailing and trimming, it still had plenty of power, and these were big sails in strong winds. When the warning light did finally come on it took only seconds to swap batteries and we were off and running again.
Rachael agreed to try out the WinchRite on the Ocean Crossing Masterclass she was running from Spain to Madeira. This was a crew full of aspiring Yachtmaster Oceans and a serious test for any piece of kit.
Again, it was tactically deployed as the winds reached Force 6 and the loads all became that much heavier.
As a reef was called (a skipper’s perk and what skipper in their right mind would go forward where the hard work happens and it’s bouncy and wet) one of the crewmembers commented that he’d been to the mast so often he was now on first name terms with the deck fittings up there.
He was given the WinchRite and the change in mood was conspicuous. He came back beaming and there was no going back thereafter.
The powerful motor made short work of the next reef and the genoa too. Bearing in mind we are sailing 60ft expedition yachts and the genoa sheet is on a 66:1 ratio winch, this was pretty impressive. The WinchRite doesn’t have the capacity to be used as a normal winch handle, and the battery is built in so when it runs out the unit is unavailable until recharged.
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