A tall order
When the windlass on the iconic R Tucker Thompson tall ship sighed its last after decades of faithful service earlier this year, a little collaboration was required to find a replacement.
The R Tucker Thompson gets a custom-built winch.
With a 60-tonne displacement, the 26m gaffrigged, square tops’l schooner operates in the Bay of Islands – its duties split between taking tourists on day charters during the summer months, and hosting an active youth leadership programme during the winter months. Both programmes involve plenty of anchoring. The vessel carries two anchors – a Manson Supreme and a CQR – and rather than riding on bow rollers, both are hoisted up to hang off either side of the vessel’s bow. The retrieval-and-stowing process is called ‘catting the anchor’.
The grunt work has been handled by a hydraulically-powered windlass cobbled together from various bits of machinery – including a power take-off (PTO) from an old Fahr D90 tractor. Overall, its operation was fairly crude, requiring a hefty hammer for releasing the clutch.
Though the old windlass’ use-by-date was already a distant part of history, the crew elected to refurbish it during a recent haul-out for general maintenance. But finding replacement parts was easier said than done. The operators approached Auckland’s Absolute Marine – initially just to find a compatible chainwheel.
“Given that the R Tucker Thompson operates a community service,” says Ron Mossman, Absolute Marine’s showroom manager, “we were happy to provide our services and some components free.
“We soon realised, though, that the windlass was terminal. I suggested an element of windlass future-proofing was desirable – fitting an entirely new unit from a reputable manufacturer, with better reliability and easily-available spares.
“But again, reality proved far more difficult than the concept. The old windlass was squeezed into an awkward area of the foredeck, with a configuration that was anything but traditional. The replacement wouldn’t be an off-the-shelf item – it would have to be a customised unit, adapted to the existing space.”
And with that brief, Absolute Marine approached Auckland winch manufacturer, Maxwell. In a similar charitable
The grunt work has been handled by a hydraulicallypowered windlass cobbled together from various bits of machinery...
vein, Maxwell agreed to take on the project and offered its considerable expertise to customise and commmission the winch, free of charge.
“To say it was an unusual project is a massive understatement,” says Craig Pretty, Maxwell’s senior design engineer.
“We started with a standard VWC4500, but we had to design and fabricate additional bits to make sure the windlass operated seamlessly within the constraints of the vessel’s layout.
“For example, we designed a stainless steel ‘spacer box’ to raise the windlass to the appropriate level to receive the chain. This design also needed to take into account the structure above and below deck. It was definitely a one-off solution.”
The end-result is a massive improvement. The vertical orientation of the windlass gives it a much smaller footprint than the old windlass – crew have more space to handle the catting process and tackle general foredeck work.
As a bonus, the new chainwheel is perfectly compatible with the ship’s existing 16mm chain, and the hydraulic pump driven by the John Deere diesel is easily able to handle the new windlass’ demands.
Working with Maxwell and Absolute Marine, the ship benefits from a network of parts and advice for the future. And the icing on the cake – releasing the clutch doesn’t require a hammer!
MAIN IMAGE Maxwell’s senior design engineer Craig Pretty with the final assembly of the tall ship’s new, customised windlass.RIGHT The old windlass used parts from a tractor and offered limited space for the crew.
RIGHT Anchoring the lady is now much quicker and easier.
ABOVE A spacer box was fabricated for positioning the new windlass correctly.
BELOW Assembly and final installation. The smaller footprint gives crew more working space.