Riding turns always occur at the worst possible moment - here's how to shift a riding turn from a winch

The angle of the line as it comes on to the winch is important - Harken recommend an angle of 8 degrees

The angle of the line as it comes on to the winch is important – Harken recommend an angle of 8 degrees

Sod’s Law states that you’ll only get a riding turn on a winch at the worst possible moment – such as when you need to ease the spinnaker sheet in a gust, or do a quick tack in a narrow channel.
There’s usually a good reason for your winch to snarl up:

  • The sheet lead is wrong. If the line is coming on to the winch at the wrong angle, it often leads to a riding turn. Signs that this is about to happen include the turns riding right to the top or bottom of the drum as you pull or ease.
  • Self-tailers are prone to riding turns if you don’t load them properly – and you usually won’t notice until you’ve wound in a lot of sheet.
  •  Easing sheets too aggressively. If you let it surge around the winch, chances are you’ll induce a riding turn. Instead, ease slowly and carefully, with a hand on the outside of the wraps to control it.
  •  Pulling hard on a line with too many turns around a winch can cause a snarl-up. When sheeting a headsail after a tack, it’s best to do the pulling with three turns or so then, once you have to start winding, add a couple more turns to make sure the winch grips.

 

How to get rid of a riding turn

1 If there’s any slack in the sheet, tie a rolling hitch on to the offending sheet and take up the tension using another winch, or use a ‘handy-billy’ tackle if you have one. This will give you enough slack in the sheet to let you release it safely. It’s best to use a smaller diameter line to relieve the tension on the sheet, as it will grip better.

1 If there’s any slack in the sheet, tie a rolling hitch on to the offending sheet and take up the tension using another winch, or use a ‘handy-billy’ tackle if you have one. This will give you enough slack in the sheet to let you release it safely. It’s best to use a smaller diameter line to relieve the tension on the sheet, as it will grip better.

2 In light airs, or if the riding turn isn’t too bad, you can sometimes ‘unwind’ the jam, using enough force to pull the line out from beneath the wraps on the winch. It can help if the helm luffs up while you do this, to release some of the load on the sheet.

2 In light airs, or if the riding turn isn’t too bad, you can sometimes ‘unwind’ the jam, using enough force to pull the line out from beneath the wraps on the winch. It can help if the helm luffs up while you do this, to release some of the load on the sheet.

3 Then comes the last resort – the knife. If you’re approaching an obstruction and really need to tack, sometimes the only way to get it off in a hurry is to cut through the sheet. Beware though: in any breeze a sudden release of tension can cause sails, especially laminates, to fracture and tear – but in an emergency this might be your only option!

3 Then comes the last resort – the knife. If you’re approaching an obstruction and really need to tack, sometimes the only way to get it off in a hurry is to cut through the sheet. Beware though: in any breeze a sudden release of tension can cause sails, especially laminates, to fracture and tear – but in an emergency this might be your only option!