We’re going to tear down an old yacht winch, identified only by the words “Gibb England” stamped on the top. The Gibb company that made them has long since vanished, possibly acquired by Lewmar at some point. But the winches live on aboard various Westerly and Hurley and other older boats.

Removing the body

Winch base

The outer grey shell of the winch is held on to the base by a single machine screw, which lives in the winch handle hole. Once you remove that, there’s nothing holding it on except accumulated gunk and corrosion. Use a large screwdriver or pry bar to lever the body upwards as you rotate the body by hand and it should come free. But remove the screw and washer first, or put a bit of tape over them, otherwise they’ll fly away when the body jerks free.

On the base there are two pawls and their springs which are what make the winches only spin in one direction. Pawls only need light oil, such as 3-in-1. They don’t need grease, which just traps dirt and clogs everything up. If the previous owner has slathered everything with grease, clean it all off with degreaser or solvent.

In the middle of the body is a plain bushing, made out of a brown synthetic material, possibly tufnol. The bushing, and the bronze shaft on the base that runs inside it, should be nice and smooth. A winch which wasn’t turning smoothly might have damage here. The bronze shaft can be tidied up either with sandpaper, or on a metal lathe. In this particular winch the bushing was cracked and sitting at a slight angle, which was causing the winch to bind.

Removing the upper part

The upper part of the winch where you insert the winch handle is held in by a metal circlip that can be levered out with a small screwdriver. Once that’s gone, the central casting is held in by friction alone. You just need to pull the casting upwards to get it out, but that’s not easy since there’s nothing to hold onto. I used some plumbers grips to grab onto the casting and pulled straight upwards. Once it’s out, you’ll see how it was held by the friction of the two L-profile rings that sandwich the rim of the casting. This gives you access to clean out the top two pawls. These pawls are what allows the winch handle to ratchet backwards.

Removing the bushing

If the bushing is damaged or cracked, it needs to be replaced. Sadly, there’s no simple way to push the old bushing out of the body casting. It lives in a blind/dead-end hole and there’s no access to push it from above. There’s an old engineer’s trick of using oil to hydraulically push bushings out of blind holes, but even that won’t work here because we have the hole where the machine-screw came out rather than a truly blind hole.

When I first looked at the bushing, I thought it was metal. So my first attempt was to pour boiling water over the body in the hope of expanding it away from the bushing. When I tried to pull the bushing out using a pair of vice grips, this caused the bottom part of the bushing to break away, leaving most of it behind.

But this made it clear that it was a synthetic material rather than a metal bushing. Good news, because it meant I could use a Dremel tool to grind away a slot up one side of the bushing, and use a tiny screwdriver to wedge it away from the wall and break it into pieces.

Making a new bushing

There’s a range of materials which you could make a replacement bearing out of. Delrin is a good candidate – it has low friction and is easily machined. It does swell slightly when exposed to water (see Dupont design info). You can buy small amounts of Delrin from ebay, or larger amounts from plastics suppliers. You need access to a metal lathe to produce a correctly sized bushing from the raw material, taking careful measurements from the winch body to ensure a good fit. But a yacht winch doesn’t require super high precision – you need to allow for the Delrin to swell a bit, for example.

To fix the bushing into the main casting, you can either make it a very close fit or you can epoxy it into place. Delrin does not glue very well, so instead you can score the outside of the bushing to make grooves so that the epoxy has a chance to make a mechanical bond.

Truing the base and casting

This winch had damage on the metal parts – the result of years of use with a broken bush. To address this, I used a metal lathe to true up both the body casting and the central pin. A four jaw chuck and dial test indicator was used to center the workpiece, and then a few light cuts were taken to address the worst of the damage.

Renovation complete

Now that the winch has been refurbished, with a little light oil on the pawls, the reassembled winch turns smoothly and effortlessly with a satisfying click-click from the pawl teeth – and is ready for another few decades of use. You can get rid of salt buildup by flushing the winch with fresh water without disassembling it. At the end of the day, these older winches are simple robust devices and there’s very little to go wrong.