Tag Archives: cleaning

How to Clean a Winch

I have a confession: I love cleaning winches. It’s really weird, but the idea of cleaning a winch with a beer or two sounds like a great way to spend a Friday night.IMG_20150702_202251

Taking apart a winch combines two of my favorite things among all boat tasks: 1) engineering – basic engineering skills in taking apart and putting it back together again, and 2) cleaning. The reason many boat owners actually like cleaning is that it’s easy – it doesn’t require any advanced skills like other boat tasks (diesel mechanics, electrical), and there’s pretty low risk of making things worse. Unlike mechanical or electrical jobs where messing up can make the situation worse than when you began, cleaning pretty much always improves the situation at least a little.

Supplies Needed:

  • Mineral spirits (aka paint thinner)
  • Winch grease (eg, Lewmar or Andersen)
  • Some plastic cups or dishes for soaking the parts in the mineral spirits
  • Plenty of paper towels
  • Spanner tool – for opening the circular plate at the top (on Barients). A deck key (eg, like you use on the fuel fill port) can also work if the plate isn’t too tight / stuck.
  • Hex wrench (make sure you have some of the larger hex sizes – ¼ inch was the largest I had, and it was the only size I needed)
  • An hour or two worth of good music.

This is what it looks like when a prior owner used way too much grease. Don’t do this!



  1. Disassemble winch, keeping related parts grouped together.
  2. Clean off dirt and grease. The small parts – bearings (the shiny roller ring thingies), gears, and pawls – can be soaked in mineral spirits. Just about 5 minutes is all it takes for the mineral spirits to work their magic.
  3. Reassemble, lightly greasing gears and bearings. Don’t grease pawls. You can use WD-40 or oil on them if you want.

I have 6 Barient winches, ranging from about Barient 12 to Barient 28. Only 4 of the winches are actively used however. Those 4 are all 2-speed and self tailing. The smaller ones can take as short as an hour and the larger one as much as two hours, all depending also on how much of a mess they are to begin with. You can find parts diagrams and disassembly instructions for most Barient and Lewmar winches via a Google search, or go directly to l-36.com

Cleaning a winch is just about one of the easiest boat jobs there is, *if* you’re good at taking things apart and putting them back together. The first time you do one, take some pics on your cellphone as you go and keep related parts close together. Be especially careful with the pawls and springs. I didn’t lose any pawl springs or need to replace any, but some people like to keep spares on hand in case they lose them.



The reassembled base gears - notice you can barely see any visible grease. That’s because it becomes translucent when it’s spread thin

The reassembled base gears – notice you can barely see any visible grease. That’s because it becomes translucent when it’s spread thin

Winches are amazing pieces of engineering. You can take it apart a 20-year-old winch and clean it and it’s basically as good as new. And you only have to do that about once a year (winch manufacturers recommend more, and some racers that really abuse their winches might need more, but once a year is more than enough for us).

This is about the most grease I’d put onto a part, and this part was one that takes more weight.

This is about the most grease I’d put onto a part, and this part was one that takes more weight.

Rebuilding Marine Head Plumbing

Project Summary:
  • Time: About 8 hours + research time
  • Cost: $100
  • Knowing your toilet won’t clog: Priceless

On our Memorial Day cruise the head (marine toilet) got clogged. Really totally blocked up – the pump wouldn’t move without a lot of pressure, and forcing it too much caused air / liquid to hiss out of a hose clamp.

So once back in Seattle we disassembled it. Needless to say, this is a messy job – quite literally a shitty job. Pulling hoses off hose barbs is actually really hard. It required a lot of muscle power in tiny tight spaces under the sink, all while knowing as soon as the hose popped off I might have a river of sludge flowing onto my hands and into the cabinet where it would be hard to clean up. We used garbage bags and large Ziplock bags as catch sheets wherever possible.

The holding tank under the nav seat, with the inlet fitting opened and a new hose lying on top.

The holding tank under the nav seat, with the inlet fitting opened and a new Trident 102 hose lying on top.

Inside the 90 degree PVC elbow that connects to the holding tank, we found petrified poop completely blocking the pipe. It had dried into a solid rock plug. It’s actually amazing liquids were still making it past. This had probably been developing for years, from the prior owner’s time, mainly caused by using the toilet without flushing enough water through the system to get the material all the way into the holding tank.

We decided to replace the old hose since it’d be easier to replace with new hose than trying to salvage, and we really don’t want to have to do this again soon. So starting fresh ensures we have new hose with no buildup or scale on the walls.

The Y valve below the vented loop

The Y valve below the vented loop

It turns out there are several types of sanitation hose vastly superior to the rigid white vinyl stuff we had in the boat. For some reason most boats have that unflexible white hose, and it’s the only kind of hose stocked onsite at the local West Marine and some other marine stores. This hose may be the cheapest, but it’s just stupid that so many people still use it – is it worth saving $50 on a head rebuild by using cheap hose?  I don’t think so, since we really don’t want to have to do this again anytime soon.

Standard PVC hose

Standard PVC hose

Raritan Sani/Flex hose

Raritan Sani/Flex hose








This unflexible hose is a giant pain to install or remove from tight spaces. Since it doesn’t bend much if you need to go around a corner you need to splice in a PVC or Marelon elbow joint. We wanted to minimize elbow joints since they can increase the chances of a clog – you don’t want flat spots or upslopes in the system where sludge can sit and dry.

Premium hose like Trident 102 (which we ended up buying from Fisheries Supply) is better because it’s easy to bend, yet still very strong and odor proof. Raritan Sani/Flex hose is also supposed to be very good, although it’s one of the most expensive ($17/ft list, $14/ft at Defender). Also Maine Sail (a well known boat maintenance writer whose opinion I trust) recommends Trident 102, and says the old PVC hose should basically die a horrible death.

This job ended up being the toughest we’ve done so far. It’s surprisingly difficult to get hoses off hose barbs in tight spaces. It makes you wonder why so many people would ever worry about double-clamping hoses. The hoses in our head plumbing, after removing the hose clamps, probably wouldn’t have come apart even if a giant sat on them. I’ll still do it for below waterline fittings, but probably not above waterline.

Anyway, we’re very happy to have a clog free head now, and looking forward to not doing that again anytime soon! On the plus side, after disassembling holding tank hoses, all other boat jobs seem pretty pleasant in comparison.

You can read more on hoses here:

Tackling the Mold Monster

Mold is a dreaded word amongst boat owners. Mold is insidious, and sitting in a wet environment doesn’t help a boat’s chances.

Violet Hour had some minor mold on the headliner of the berths. Sitting idle in Vancouver for a few months in the fall and winter while it was for sale hadn’t helped. The surveyor noted it as minor, and I agreed. When we stepped onto the boat, it didn’t smell mildewy or damp like other boats we visited (a couple of which had really bad mold problems!) – Natalie has a sensitive nose, so she was our mold detector, and Violet Hour passed.

But, I discovered I have a sensitivity to mold – a mold allergy. Sleeping on the boat resulted in bloodshot, watery, itchy eyes and a runny nose. Within 8 hours I’d have the symptoms of a cold, and it would last for a couple days. So this minor mold presence became top priority to clean up.

After exploring the boat more we found mold in a few other places, deep inside hard to reach lockers and crevices that are rarely viewed. Many boats in the Northwest probably have some mold and their owners don’t even realize it.

Paper towels after scrubbing mold washed with a bleach water solution

Paper towels after scrubbing mold washed with a bleach water solution

Cleaning up mold is actually really simple.

Steps to Tackling Mold:

  1. Clean + kill the mold.
  2. Reduce moisture in the air.
  3. Fix sources of water being added to the boat interior (leaks).


  • bleach
  • sponges
  • paper towels
  • dust mask for nose/mouth
  • clear safety eyeglasses (optional)
  • dehumidifier (I used this one – the Eva-Dry, which is very compact for storing on the boat)
  • Damprid (optional)

Other Options I haven’t tried:

  • Borax
  • Tea tree oil – some say this is a natural mold fighter, but I’m skeptical – it sounds just like the hippie natural supplements store version of Clorox.
  • Ozone machine – this is the Big Bertha of mold treatments, and something I would consider a last resort.
Minor mold on the headliner

Minor mold on the headliner

After two months gradually working on this problem, I’m happy to say the mold is conquered – or at least as much as it ever will be on a boat.

We scrubbed the surfaces with a sponge coated with Clorox or a bleach water solution (about 1 cup per 3 gallons), wiped down surfaces below the headliner that mold might have fallen onto while cleaning, and then ran a dehumidifier. The dehumidifier was run in various sections of the boat for 2-3 days at a time once per week for 3-4 weeks, usually collecting about a ½ cup of water each time.

I also deployed Damprid to 5 or 6 locations around the boat – mainly in galley, cabin and head cubbies that have reduced air flow. I fashioned individual Damprid containers out of leftover plastic food containers because I figured it’s cheaper to buy one 4-pound Damprid bucket rather than 5 or 6 of the individual sized containers.

Damprid 4-pound tub

Damprid 4-pound tub

Homemade Damprid container - inner container with drainage holes in the bottom, inside an outer holding container.

Homemade Damprid container – inner container with drainage holes in the bottom, inside an outer holding container.

One thing I would do differently next time – wear gloves when working with bleach solution! I stuck my hand in the cleaning bucket each time I wrung out the sponge, and this made my hands a little red and irritated. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?

Other resources:

Sailing to Vashon Island

This past weekend we sailed to Vashon Island and anchored in Quartermaster Harbor. It was the perfect weekend – sunny, warm and a steady 15 knots of wind both days. We flew the spinnaker for the first time on Saturday and the ATN sock was fantastic – made hoisting and dousing so much easier.



We also had lots of other “firsts” – first time using a whisker pole (ever! None of the club boats we’ve sailed had them), first time going south of West Seattle, and first time sailing upwind for over 8 hours. A whisker pole by the way for non-sailor readers, is a pole that holds out the foresail (genoa) when sailing downwind – to help catch more wind and make the sail easier to manage.

The Ballard Locks continues to be the most challenging part of our trips, but we’re getting better each time. The Locks seem like they’d be about as easy as docking, but I think that’s a deception – I’d take docking over the locks any day. The Locks are like docking would be if 5 other boats were trying to simultaneously dock next to you, the entire marina was watching, your target slip could be randomly changed at the last minute, and there was a 1-2 knot current or forward/aft breeze in the marina.

Going to windward like a champ

Going to windward like a champ


Cleaning Nearing Completion

In other news, we’re almost finished up with all the cleaning projects! Cleaning an old boat is a lot of work (there are lots of nooks and crannies!) and we’re perfectionists so want to do it right once and not have to worry about a deep clean for a while.

A toothbrush really is your best friend for a lot of boat cleaning jobs. I always thought scrubbing floors with a toothbrush was a joke or something only prison convicts do. But actually it’s the best way to get into small nooks, and the hundreds of bristles on it scrub off dirt quite quickly – I guess that’s why they work so well on our teeth.

Before cleaning

Before cleaning

During cleaning with a toothbrush + water

During cleaning with a toothbrush + water

After cleaning!

After cleaning!

Cleaning the Boat & Climbing the Mast

Now that we have the boat in Seattle, there are lots of cleaning projects to work on. We’re discovering new ways to contort arms + legs to get into narrow cubby spaces and lockers.

It’s amazing how much stuff accumulates in the corners of a boat – some of the surfaces we’re cleaning probably haven’t been touched in 10 years. It’s a 30 year old boat, so we’re also discovering stuff from the 90’s – old manuals for equipment that was purchased, invoices, etc. It’s interesting seeing some of the old sailing equipment ads, and tracing the history of the boat.

The canvas for the dodger, bimini, sail cover, and wheel cover probably hadn’t been cleaned in 4 years, and the deck stanchions had 4 years worth of dirt / moss accumulated around them. So those items were first on the cleaning list.

Canvas after cleaning and waterproofing

Canvas after cleaning and waterproofing

Dirty canvas on the dodger

Dirty canvas on the dodger

We cleaned the canvas by soaking in a solution of about 1 cup bleach, 1/4 cup dish soap, and 3-4 gallons of water. Then we treated it with 303 Fabric Guard, which is a waterproofing and protective solution.

Bleach water after canvas cleaning

Bleach water after canvas cleaning

I pumped out and cleaned the bilge – the boat has a dry bilge now for probably the first time in quite a while! And topped up the batteries which the surveyor had said needed water.

Bilge Before Picture (and this is the least dirty and shallowest of the 3 bilge compartments!)

Bilge Before Picture (and this is the least dirty and shallowest of the 3 bilge compartments!)

Bilge After Photo - Clean and dry!

Bilge After Photo – Clean and dry!

Watering the batteries

Watering the batteries

Going up the Mast

I also went up the mast, which is my first time doing that on any boat. It was a lot harder than I expected!

I used ascenders (climbing equipment that allows you to ascend a rope unaided) because we had found previously it was too hard for Natalie to winch me up.


It was super tiring! Basically you inchworm up, moving 2 feet at a time, doing probably about 50 squats in total. But at the same time you’re trying to deal with the ascenders (not jam them) and avoid swinging into things protruding from the mast.

It was also scary. I didn’t expect this since I’ve climbed indoors a lot and outdoors a bit (mountaineering, a few rock and glacier summits) and heights don’t scare me normally. I think with climbing a mast it was different because you have no wall to grab on to – just a smooth aluminum mast – and if you fall, you’re likely to hit a spreader or impale your crotch upon the boom.

Fixing the Head

The next weekend Natalie and I worked on fixing the head (marine toilet). On the trip down from Canada it had clogged or something – the pump was very difficult to operate. We figured this was going to be a messy job and we might have to remove sanitation lines to clear a calcium build-up or other blockage. However, I realized the Y valve which controls where the discharge goes was set to overboard discharge. And the seacock for that line was set closed (as it should be, since discharging overboard is illegal close to land). So the pump was hard to operate because we were building up pressure in a line that had no where to go!

This ended up being the easiest head fix job ever.

Tight spaces getting at the seacocks

Tight spaces getting at the seacocks