A Little Work Under the Hood

The day started out promising.

Despite a call for cloud and chance of rain, the sun was out when I got to the marina.

And it was windy. Bonus.

However, I soon discovered that I couldn’t drop Madsu’s keel all the way down.  Back to the dock for us.

Madsu’s swing keel is a brilliant piece of work.  Catalina made a big impact on the trailerable sailboat market with their simple yet effective swing keel system. At the forward end, the keel pivots on a big pin that’s held in place by hangars.  A bit like a hinge turned sidways.  At the aft end of the keel there’s a cable that comes up through the bottom of the boat, through a tube (affectionately called the Volcano) that reaches ABOVE the waterline, and the cable exits to a cable winch that’s sits just under the companionway.  It’s quite ingenious – here’s this hole in the bottom of the boat, with a cable running through it, yet by inserting a pipe that extends above the waterline, it all works, and the water stays OUT where it belongs.  (That pipe is really just a piece of what looks like big radiator hose).

Madsu’s steel keel weighs a bit over 500 lbs, and even though it’s pivoting on that pin at the foreward end, there’s a lot of tension on the cable pulling up the aft end.

Often as I’m winching up the keel, the cable will jump a bit as it doubles over itself and then ‘slips’ back (imagine winding a spool – except that the cable is feeding in from a fixed point, so it starts to pile on as it is wound up).  Of course, the winch is hidden, and you can’t see the cable winding on, so all you really have is the sound and the feel of it as you’re winding it up or down.

I’d had a fairly extreme case of the ‘jumps’ the last time I wound the cable up – and I guess it just managed to cross and lock itself up.

After removing a panel that covers the keel winch, I was able to see that there was in fact an over-ride on the cable.  It was jammed tight, so I could crank the keel all the way up, but on the way down, the cable jammed.

With the tension on the cable, it was impossible to budge the over-ride, and at first I figured I was going to have to haul the boat and block the keel up to get the tension off the cable.   I tried various ways of locking off the cable, but it really wasn’t working.

Fortunately, I was at the marina, and not off on a trip (though I usually leave the keel down when cruising).  In any event, I put the boat to bed and on the drive home contemplated my options.

The next morning (this morning) I headed back to the boat with a couple of piece so hardwood, some wood clamps, and a plan.  I managed to MacGyver a way of clamping the hardwood on either side of the exiting cable, and by jamming the wood up on the companionway coaming, was able to take the tension off the cable.   After about 5 minutes of  futzing (and a few salty expressions) I was able to clear the cable.

While I was in there, I greased the winch sprockets and wound up the slack, removed the MacGyver clamps, and voila – back to normal.