If you have ever used a self-tailing electric winch, you will appreciate how nice and easy it is not to have to wind the winch by hand. Having electric winches to wind your lines is certainly easier than hand cranking, but for me there has always been a major obstacle that doesn't seem likely to get any better with time, that is the very high cost of electric winches. I have seven Lewmar manual two-speed self-tailing winches in the cockpit of my schooner, Britannia, the cost of which to replace with electric versions would be about $3,000 to $3,500 each! Even a convertion kit is around $2,500 each.
With a cordless battery-powered winch winding machine, all thirteen winches on my boat are now “electrified.”
I made a simple winch-winder years ago, using an electric drill with a right-angle adapter with a special eight-point pinion in the chuck, which then fitted into the top of the winch. It worked tolerably well, but the drill's battery quickly lost power and if the load was particularly heavy it wouldn't turn at all. Next I bought the very powerful right-angled cordless Milwaukee M28 drill. This was the opposite, it was too powerful and big and heavy and not intended as a sailboat winch winder. My wife Kati simply couldn't handle it, and even for me using it two-handed on a self-tailing winch took some holding when the full torque came on the winch.
I now have a new generation electric winch-winder, aptly named the Ewincher2. It is made in France, from where have come many innovative sailing ideas and products. Ewincher is shaped more like a regular manual winch handle
The first thing which struck my wife and I as we opened the packaging was the small size and weight of the machine. It is only 5 lbs., and 11” inches long with the same turning circle as a normal winch handle, so it doesn't interfere with anything in our cockpit.
To operate the Ewincher, you first press the lever under the battery that powers the machine and also locks the drive pinion into the winch. Rotation speed is controlled by pressing a button on the vertical handle and is proportional, the harder you press the faster it turns. It took a bit of getting used to when I first used it, because if too much power was applied the handle was pulled out of my grip. Rotation can be reversed by simply pressing another button on the handle, which brings in the lower gearing for a two-speed winch.
The Ewincher will spin a winch at up to 100 rpm, which is much faster than anyone can continuously turn a winch by hand. Most fixed electric winches don't have proportional control and it is very easy to overload a line and damage something if you're not careful. I once pulled the clew out of a sail using one.
A major benefit of the Ewincher2 is its detachable 25-volt lithium-ion batteries, because reefing a roller furling mainsail is not the time to discover that the battery is about to die. With a removable battery, you can quickly slide a fully charged one in place, without even removing the Ewincher2 from the winch. The dead battery can then be charged in about one hour from either a 120/240v or 12v source. A series of different colored lights show the condition of the battery, both on the winder and when being charged. The kit comes with a very smart carrying bag, battery chargers from both 120-volt and 12-volt sources, a storage pouch and a hand strap. Batteries are available in black and yellow.
Ewincher2 can also be cranked by hand like a regular handle, and it also ratchets. If the battery is low, or the load is exceptionally heavy, the machine can be helped by hand winding, and the handle is long enough to be gripped with two hands. This acts a bit like power-assisted steering on a car, which makes turning the wheel so much easier.
Another important feature is that the Ewincher2 winch pinion is spring-loaded to automatically lock when pushed into a winch, the same as most manual winch handles. This makes using it in horizontal mast winches much safer, without fear of it falling out of the winch.
Amazingly, the torque, (the turning force), of the Ewincher2 can be adjusted from an app’ on an I-phone. This can save battery life and the state of charge can be seen on the phone, along with the remaining run time. Lowering the torque is helpful, as it reduced the counter-rotation force of holding the handle.
I put the Ewincher2 to good use on a short cruise in the Pamlico Sound of North Carolina, where it operated the sails effortlessly. When we were ready to weigh anchor in the morning at our first overnight anchorage I decided to give it what I thought would be the ultimate test on my 22-ton schooner, and find out just how powerful the thing was. This was not on a winch, but on my Maxwell windlass, to haul in 100’ feet of 3/8” chain with a 65 lbs. CQR on the end. I plugged the Ewincher2 into the hand-cranking socket on the windlass and pressed the button. The machine turned the gypsy easily enough, but it took some getting used to, because the socket is offset so any hand-cranking lever operates non-concentrically. It steadily hauled the chain in, then even swung the big anchor over the bow roller onto its bed with a resounding clunk as much as to say, “What do you think of that then?” Or more probably, "Que pensez-vous de cela alors?" It's just good to know that it works if ever it becomes necessary to hand crank the windlass. Another method of weighing anchor is to use a chain claw on a rope around a winch, after all, they are now all electric.
The next test was to find out if the Ewincher2 would wind me up my 56” foot mainmast in the bosun's chair. There was no way Kati could ever physically wind me up, so in case of emergency I fitted mast steps on both masts, then all she had to do was tension the safety line as I climbed up. This time, she locked the machine into the winch, and with someone else tailing the line I sailed up the mast and had to shout, "slower!” as I neared the top.
I wanted to make one other heavy load test, which other sailboat owners will never need to do. Britannia is a brigantine schooner, with a square-sail on the foremast The yard and sail weighs 140 lbs., and we occasionally lower it to reduce windage. Winding it back up the mast by hand is hard work, with its single block on a horizontal winch, but the Ewincher2 effortlessly hauled the assembly 30’ feet up the mast in a few minutes.
There are other tasks an Ewincher2 can be used for: Like hoisting a dinghy up on davits, and you won't need those slow tackles now either. Just run your lines back to a winch and the machine will hoist the dinghy and outboard complete in no time.
Young people and women can now wind any winch as fast as the men. For me, it’s like having an extra crew member.
The Ewincher2 comes with a neat storage cradle that can be attached to any flat surface in the cockpit, using two 4”-inch wide Velcro strips, which saves drilling holes. Everyone then knows where to find the machine.
Ewincher2 is sold through a dealer network in the US and the warranty is two-years. If a problem occurs it can be returned to the US dealer or sent back to France at the maker’s cost. Most warranties require that the product be returned at the customer’s cost.
Having mentioned all the Ewincher2 advantages, there must be some disadvantages, but as far as I am concerned there is only one – the price. At $1,999 plus $30 shipping the product is quite expensive – and if you want a second battery it is an extra $290. There is a cheaper, special edition kit called the Ewincher-SE which consists of just the Ewincher, a charger and a cradle for $1,650. Whichever kit you choose it is still not as much as converting even one winch to electric, and I'm very pleased to have mine because the old biceps are not what they used to be.
the Ewinche2r website is www.ewincher.com and there are videos on Facebook and other social media sites.