If you're not ready to retire from sailing, but have trouble muscling up the sail, there is rechargeable electric help at hand.
Getting old stinks! Now that I'm in my 60s, I recently realized when I went sailing with a friend that I am not as fit as I once was. Eager to be a helpful crew member, I offered to raise the mainsail as we got underway. All was going well, I got the sail about three-quarters of the way up the mast track when I began seriously starting to feel it in my chest. (I should add that I have had some heart issues.)
Raising sail was something I had done countless times before, many on boats considerably larger than the 33-foot sloop I was on, but this time it was an effort for sure. In all fairness, the winches, sailtrack, and running rigging could have done with a service and added to the friction, but, nonetheless, I was glad when the sail was finally set and I was able to resume my place in the cockpit.
Many sailors opt to switch to powerboats later in life because, let's be honest, turning a key is much easier than handling sails. But many old salts like me want to carry on sailing and tend to rely on younger and fitter crewmembers to help with the more physical tasks.
I enjoy sailing alone when there is no crew available, and so I've have become increasingly interested in ways to make things easier. One option is to use electric winches, which certainly remove the effort — but these devices are expensive. Another hybrid solution is to upgrade one or two of the most often-used winches with an electric conversion kit. In this case, an electric motor installed under the deck powers the existing winch without changing the overall look of the boat at all. Lewmar, Harken, and Andersen all offer electric upgrade kits.
The third option, and the one that I am going to opt for, is to use a rechargeable electric handle. I know this may sound too good to believe, but these devices slot into the winch handle hole in the top of the winch and operate with the push of a button. Various versions have emerged over the years. Winchbit ($49.95) is designed for use with a right-angle 24-volt drill. The Ewincher ($1,999), which looks more like a conventional winch handle, incorporates an electric motor and gearbox. WinchRite ($839) is a cross between the two previous products. While I'm carrying out some field tests, check out this video demonstration of the WinchRite in action.