The riding turn - it happens to all of us, and usually when there's a tack imminent. Tim Bartlett explains how to tackle a sheet jammed on a winch
How to free a riding turn
A riding turn, when a line jams around a winch, is usually more of a nuisance than a danger. But it can be one link in a chain of events leading up to a more serious accident. Trying to clear the snarl-up is often what turns a minor drama into a crisis.
Usually, when you’re using a winch, the line leads onto the bottom of the winch barrel. Each subsequent turn reduces the amount of effort required to hold the load in the rope. The figures vary, but if the genoa is pulling on its sheet with 250 kilogram-force (kgf), the first turn might reduce the effort required to hold the sheet to 25kgf. The second turn reduces it to 2.5kgf, and the third to just 0.25kgf.
A riding turn happens when the heavily-loaded first turn flicks up and over more lightly loaded turns, jamming them against the drum.
There are four common causes of a riding turn
~The lead is too high. The rope should lead upwards onto the winch, at an angle of about 5°, so if the genoa fairlead is 12ft from the winch, it should be 1ft below it. An extra fairlead at the aft end of the genoa track can help to maintain the correct angle.
~Too many turns on the winch. Riding turns often occur in the early stages of sheeting-in a genoa, when you are pulling in a lot of rope hand over hand. It is best to start off with one or two turns around the winch, until the sheet is under steady load, adding more turns only when they are needed.
~The load is snatching, for instance if the headsail is flapping during a tack. Try to avoid having too many turns on the winch.
~Careless easing of a heavily-loaded rope. Always use two hands to surge a heavily loaded rope, one to control the end of the rope while the other, cupped round the winch, keeps the turns flat against the barrel.
Winch it out
The quickest and easiest solution, if another winch is available, may be to winch it out. Start by easing the load on the winch as much as possible, such as by turning downwind to blanket the genoa behind the main. If you’re in luck, this may be enough to allow you to undo the riding turn by hand.
If not, take the free end of the rope anti-clockwise around the jammed winch, and across to the second winch, then start winching. Take special care that the improvised lead onto the second winch does not create a second riding turn! Repeat the process to release each turn one at a time.
Transferring the load
The slower solution is to remove the load from the winch altogether by taking the tension up with another line. Most people attach the new line to the jammed line using a rolling hitch. See our website for how to tie two other easy knots you can use, a Prusik hitch or a selvagee.
How to tie a rolling hitch
There are two kinds of rolling hitch – the pretty kind, shown in many text books, which doesn’t work, and the ugly kind, which does! Here’s how to tie the ugly one: