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Old 17-07-2019, 14:57   #1
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Jib sheet winches before 1959

I've been reading that the "modern" top-driven winches that have been a part of my sailing experience for decades were not invented until 1959. I'm currently writing a novel set in the 1950s that involves scenes where folks are sailing a relatively large yawl in the South Pacific--and involves my describing and using winches that would have been used to control jib sheets. I have been Googling extensively and have not found images of pre-1959 winches or detailed descriptions of their use. I would appreciate the assistance of anyone who could steer me toward such info. Thank you!

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Old 17-07-2019, 19:47   #2
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Re: Jib sheet winches before 1959

There’s a company still making bottom acting winches which may be similar to what you are looking for.

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Old 17-07-2019, 19:56   #3
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Re: Jib sheet winches before 1959

Tis true that top-cranked multispeed winches arrived after 1959, but top-cranked single speed winches have been on cutting edge racing boats since 1903 (e.g. Reliance, a contestant in the America's Cup). Of course, not all of the early winches were on deck - such things were often below deck to separate them from salt spray, water, etc.

Pre-1959, a large recreational sailing boat might have used any (or all of):

* top-action single speed winches - some of which were below decks where the gorillas were kept;

* snubbing winches (ratchet winches, without a crank handle);

* tackles (multiple block and tackle assemblies);

* bottom action winches.

Bottom action winches were around, but were not common. Snubbing winches and tackles were more common.

If you desire authenticity, you'll need to do more research and decide whether your characters were rich people and had the latest technology on a cutting edge boat, or had an older boat with a mix of technology.

I can only suggest you need more research, better skills using a search engine, and perhaps you need to look at yachting and boating magazines from the 1940s and 1950s. And visit a maritime museum or three.

Graphic images of bottom-action winches can easily by found by a search engine. Andersen still makes its Classic bottom-action winches (; Murray winches are also around in various forms ( and

Snubbing winches/ratchet winches and tackles are everywhere.
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Old 17-07-2019, 21:04   #4
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Re: Jib sheet winches before 1959

Thanks for the reply. Most helpful!
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Old 18-07-2019, 09:48   #5
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Re: Jib sheet winches before 1959

I don't think the issue is top vs. bottom action winches; I think it's the type of handle and the use of gear reduction in the winch. I don't know exactly but I believe that winches that use a four sided (or eight point star) drive, directly from the top of the winch, like Barient, Barlow, Lewmar, Arco, Anderson, etc. were developed around the late 1950s. However, winches that used a flat-style handle that slides in horizontally predate those "modern" winches by decades. The handle slides into the top ratcheting part of the winch, but it doesn't offer gear reduction; it simply drives the winch drum at a 1:1 ratio.

Racelite Southcoast was one of the manufacturers, and it wouldn't surprise me if Merriman also made them.

The winches had more sculpted drums than today's cylindrical drums. They had what you could call a "wasp waist" so that the turns on the drum sort of jammed in the middle. I am not sure if this was aesthetic or practical.

Here's one example:


(I can't seem to paste the link in correctly...)


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Old 18-07-2019, 11:10   #6
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Re: Jib sheet winches before 1959

If you are interested, I have many copies of RUDDER magazine from 1946 to 1949.
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Old 18-07-2019, 11:56   #7
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Re: Jib sheet winches before 1959

Type of winch may very well depend not only on tear but type of sailing vessel.
A 10 or 15-year-old vessel in 1959 may not have had winches at all.
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Old 18-07-2019, 12:33   #8
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Re: Jib sheet winches before 1959

Barient invented the FIRST SELF TAILING winches in 1974.
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Old 18-07-2019, 13:41   #9
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Re: Jib sheet winches before 1959

My first boat had cotton sails. The weight of the sail when water logged was the biggest factor. Felt like the sails doubled in weight for their effect on boat stability and hauling around. Think Dacron was one of the biggest technologic advances that allowed mere mortals to sail boats much larger than a dinghy. The invasion of synthetic sails occurred about the same time as your date for top handled winches.

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