A new line of winches doesn't come along every day from sailboat hardware manufacturers, so the announcement by Harken of a new series dubbed "Radial" drew a crowd and made the first day of the U.S. Sailboat Show a bit out of the ordinary.
CEO Bill Goggins led the proceedings, which included announcement of other new products, notably the company's new line of hydraulics, which is a whole new division of the company headed by America's Cup sailor Robbie Young. On any other day, such an announcement taking on the Navtec brand, would turn heads. But winches are still the principal tool with which we control our sails, and it's been a long, long time since a whole new winch line was announced. This one, as Goggins emphasized, has been re-engineered from the bottom up.
The winches are built in a dedicated new facility in Italy, and they come in aluminum or chrome and each style has a different and distinctive drum surface. When they start shipping in early 2010, they will range from 20s to 80s. They are reportedly anywhere from 25 to nearly 50 percent lighter, and also much easier to disassemble and clean without losing parts inadvertently.
As the guy on my boat who often cleans the winches, I like the fact that while the ears require greasing, these winches have greaseless Delrin bearings that only need cleaning periodically.
A detail that gives the winches a different and distinctive look is their tops, which Goggins said were designed with safety in mind. The top of the winch seems unlikely to snag anything and those equipped with self-tailers stay steady under your hand even when the drum's turning.
Another detail that most sailors won't have to worry about is the installation, which is quicker and easier for builders or any sailor rebedding a winch. A skirt around the base of the drum pops off and captive-head bolts can be snapped in from the sides, poked through the holes drilled in the deck, and then fastened from belowdecks.
Harken has also developed a new more compact motor for powered winches, and you can retrofit any of these winches (except the smallest ones) by bolting a new under-deck unit into pre-drilled holes in the base.
The event finished up with recognition for McGee Industries' Ward McClatchy and Ron Rosenberg for 10 years of partnership between Harken and the manufacturer of McLube Sailkote, the sailing hardware lubricant that Harken distributes. In his inimitable fashion, Peter Harken thanked and congratulated his partners for their "good snake oil that really works". He added that they had a new One-Drop Conditioner for traveler ball bearings. Ward explained to me that it was formulated to solve the problem of ball-bearings getting too lubed and sliding, rather than turning.