Boat Project Boat Systems

Lewmar CPX3: A Change In the Right Direction?

Sunday, March 22, 2015S.V. CAMBRIA

It seems like we’ve had nothing but problems with our windlass over the past three years.  But finally, it looks like our troubles are over. 

Back in September of 2011, we were anchored at a small marine park just south of Desolation Sound in British Columbia.  The bottom there is rocky; so the next morning when we brought our anchor up and the windlass kept stalling out, we assummed the chain had worked its way into some cracks and crevices in the seabed and was jamming in the process.  We hadn’t had any problems before that nor did we have any afterwards, so put the windlass low on our list of things to keep an eye on and went about our business.

In hindsight, it was more than that.

Fast-forward to August of 2012 and an anchorage near Fiordland Recreational Area along BC’s Central Coast (think remote location).  We tucked into Windy Bay for the night and when we tried to leave the following morning, the windlass struggled to bring the anchor up and the circuit breaker tripped several times despite the fact that we were in mud.  It was at this point we started to put two and two together and realized the windlass had progressivly been growing weaker and slower over the last year.

From then on we ‘babied’ the windlass.  We did a good job, too, until October came around and we got hit by the first major storm of the season.  We were in Pender Harbour (still in BC) which is notorious for poor holding in gooey mud and got hit with 35+ knot winds.  It was no surprise that we ended up dragging in the middle of the night but, because we couldn’t count on the windlass to up anchor quickly, we dropped everything we had and reset.  The next day, the gearbox completely failed upon retrieval so we had to bring the remaining 100 metres of chain up by hand – no easy task considering David was having problems with his shoulder and I had to do most of the heavy work myself.  Needless to say, we stuck to moorings and docks for the rest of the season.

As it happened, Defender was having a sale on Lewmar windlasses that week.  The one we’d just lost was a Muir Atlantic and had given Cambria over ten years of service.  In an ideal world, we would have just bought a new one and switched them out; but at a cost of over $6,000, it wasn’t going to happen.  The rest of the gear on Cambria is Lewmar and because their base plate is the same as the Muir, we were able to make the jump to a less expensive unit – the CPX3 for $1,200.  So, David ordered a new one and had it shipped to a friend’s house, giving Defender our chain dimension (10 mm) for the gypsy sizing. 

From the beginning, David had concerns about the gypsy size, so he contacted Defender who assured him they had sent the correct one.  But only two weeks into the 2013 cruising season, we were having problems.  The chain was jamming in the chain feeder bringing everything to an abrupt stop.  So he e-mailed Lewmar directly to  express his concerns.  The engineers at Lewmar responded that, after consulting with their experts, we had indeed received the “best fit” for our chain.

So, we moved on to the next thought.

That spring, we’d taken our chain into Seattle to have it galvanized and, because it was twisting and locking up in the gypsy, we thought the problem might have been caused by the centrifuge.  So, we dropped all of our chain when we were deep water to see if we could remove some of the twists and hockles.  It took us about 45 minutes to haul it all back in, stopping several times because the windlass had tripped the breaker.  When all was said and done, you could fry eggs on the motor and gearbox. 

David did the calculations (because that’s what David does) and, based on the factory specifications, our new windlass should have been able to easily handle the job – it was performing at less than 50%.  But it worked better after straightening the chain, so we carried on . . . carefully. 

We have two points on the boat from which we can retrieve the anchor – foot switches at the bow and another control from the helm.  Because we carry so much chain with us, it piles up in the locker and can jam the windlass from below if you don’t “flake” it out as you bring it in.  David operates the unit from the helm while I sit aft of the chain locker with a boat hook and spread the chain so it doesn’t pile up.  With this new windlass, my job was expanded to include keeping  a watch over every movement.  Any signs of stress on the motor, and I’d give David the signal to stop so it could rest.  Any signs of twist in the chain, I’d give him the signal to drop the chain back in the water so it could straighten out.  If I missed something, we paid the price with a sudden jam and the boat would shake from stem to stern.  It was disconcerting, to say the least.

We were at a loss. 

The unit was installed correctly and in compliance with the given criteria – alignment, chain drop, etc. – and Lewmar wasn’t proving to be very helpful at this stage.  Because dropping the chain to get rid of some of the twists worked to a certain degree, we removed all of it from the locker and straightened it by hand on the dock over the winter.  Sections of the chain were twisted so tightly it was no wonder we were having problems.  Surely that would be the end of everything.

But our concerns continued during the 2014 season and, eventually, the anchor windlass control arm started to give us problems:  It was no longer making contact with the chain.  David attempted to fix it by removing the arm and adjusting the spring but had limited, if any, success.  From then on, we had to apply manual pressure (i.e. David’s foot – if you can imagine him straddling the windlass to keep one foot on the lever and the other on the foot switch) to bring up the anchor or risk multiple circuit breaker failures and chain jams.

We were beyond disappointed but focused on safely getting through the rest of the season and back to Washington where he could work with Lewmar to figure out our next step.  David felt he had one shot at resolving the issue with them directly before it fell to us to buy a new unit and start from scratch – essentially throwing $1,200 into the rubbish.  So, he spent the winter months working on an e-mail, but this one would go directly to the top guy – Peter Tierney, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer. 

 Happy endings (we hope).

To their credit, the head honchos at Lewmar responded quickly.  As it turned out, Defender HAD sent us the wrong gypsy for our chain size (why didn’t anybody realize that two years ago?) so Lewmar sent us a new base unit and a gypsy in a matter of a few days, completely restoring our faith in them and their products.

It turns out that their engineers have been busy since we bought our unit in 2013 and have addressed the design issues, making significant improvements to the deck unit base including bulking up some of the more vunerable sections that had either broken off or been worn down on ours, making the chain drop opening larger, improving the chain track configuration to allow more space (and less jamming) and enlarging the chain capture casting.  In fact, the current model looks exactly like our former Muir.

We haven’t had the chance to get out of the marina and test the new windlass yet, but we think we’re going to be happy with change.  From where we’re sitting, it’s like night and day . . . and the new gypsy fits like a glove.


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