Winches for operating sails have been around for roughly 50 to 60 years, and they still look more or less the same. Even technically, winches operate basically the same way they did when Grandpa was in his prime. So what’s the big deal, when Ronstan now launches their new Orbit Winch?
‘Well, a lot of things’, says Thomas Galster, content manager at Ronstan.
‘More than anything, for most of our customers it’s the QuickTrim feature. Every sailor knows the endless procedure of making minor trim changes. Especially with jib sheets, but it could be a halyard or basically any trim line. When the line needs to be tightened, it’s easy enough – just take a turn or two on the winch handle. But easing is a bit more time consuming: You need to remove the handle, take the line off the top, ease the line and then put everything back. In most styles of sailing this has to be done with short intervals.
‘So making that part easier would make a real difference. And this is exactly what we have done with the new Orbit Winch: All you have to do is use one hand to rotate the self-tailing top, and now you can just ease the line out as needed with your other hand. You don’t have to take the handle off or even remove the line from the jaws.’
For more than 10 years, Ronstan has delivered stainless steel winches under the Andersen brand, regarded by many as the strongest quality winches on the market. The Orbit series are the first ever Ronstan branded winches and the team went a long way to ensure that they would stand up to the Andersen legend.
‘We have of course benefitted greatly from the Andersen lineage and the Orbit Winches have the famed Power Ribs known from Andersen winches,’ says Galaster. ‘They have proved to give an exceptional grip, which means you need fewer wraps around the drum. The load on the self-tailer is reduced, and the ribs assist the line in sliding slightly upwards, which helps avoid the dreaded riding turns. Also, Power Ribs are softer on the rope than an abrasive surface finish. Running rigging simply lasts longer. The self-tailing jaws on the Orbit Winch accept line dimensions between 6 and 10 mm.’
But there’s more to the new Orbit Winch: ‘It’s a brand new design,’ Galster explains. ‘Everything is optimised, all the way from the base to the top. Our expert design teams in Denmark and Australia collaborated on the project and of course our heritage in the winch industry, the legendary Andersen winch, has been a great asset. The Orbit is a different creature, though – a lightweight aluminium winch, not a stainless steel winch. We know that there is growing interest for aluminium winches, they are not only lighter, they are also less expensive. Especially smaller racing boats and midsize performance cruisers will benefit from the design features we built into the Orbit Winch series.’
The material selection is carefully chosen: Machined, hard anodised aluminium drum and self-tailing arm, aluminium centre stem, and grade 316 stainless steel shaft and pawls. Axle pins are made from grade 2205 stainless steel, gears are aluminium bronze, self-tailer is a UV-resistant glass-filled nylon, and bearings are made from self-lubricating acetal.
‘We also made sure that service would be as easy as possible’, says Galster. ‘Actually, you don’t need any tools at all to open the winch, all you have to do is push a spring-loaded lever at the top. Internally, Orbit Winches have the proven Andersen winch gearing configuration. This ensures a low line entry, with ball bearings carrying thrust loads and roller bearings carrying radial loads.
‘It’s a configuration known to reduce friction and increase mechanical efficiency. So far, three models are available: 20ST, 30QT and 40QT. Only the two bigger models are two speed and have the QuickTrim feature. So, even if a winch just looks like a winch, there’s more to it than meets the eye. A lot of minor improvements and a few bigger ones actually makes a very noticeable difference.’