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Southern Spars

The fantastic world of Lewmar R & D

by .. on 20 Dec 2008
Somewhere in a Lewmar laboratory... /AUS ©
Location: a top secret R & D laboratory somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere. You are an elite sailor that has been blindfolded and dropped into an unknown foreign country in the dead of night by a Black Hawk chopper. When your blind is removed by the marines that have accompanied you on your parachute drop, you find yourself standing in front of a metal lined door.

The laboratory door creaks open and standing there is a very strange group of men, sporting white coats and holding something that appears to be an elongated door knob on a stick. Tubes of chemicals are bubbling over Bunsen burners, there are little tanks of water with model boats in them, and in the corner of the room a fax machine is constantly spewing out reams of paper covered with intricate drawings that resemble crop circles, but which are actually winch schematics. A discreet sign on the wall reads ‘Welcome to the Fantastic World of Lewmar Research & Development.’

The lead scientist is a man with intense blue eyes and he comes towards you holding the elongated door knob with a kind of fanatical pride. ‘We’ve done it’ he says, gesturing to the tired group of scientists hovering like proud parents in the background, ‘we’ve come up with the perfect winch handle!’ He hands you the plastic object he’s been carrying and it’s obviously very light, comfortable to hold and extremely strong. In a reverential tone he murmurs ‘we’ve named it the Lite Touch.’

‘Now’ he says, looking grave, and sending the other scientists an apologetic glance, ‘your job is to try and break it. You need to expose it to the worst conditions nature has to offer, and see if it survives them; give it to men and women who are at their physical and mental breaking point, and see if they can still use it; and have it on boats owned by people who want to win, whatever the cost. How about the 2008 Rolex Sydney Hobart?’

Ok, so this probably a slightly exaggerated version of how Lewmar develops and tests their fantastic marine products. But parts of it are true: Lewmar really does send their newly developed gear out to be used in the world’s toughest races by the world’s best sailors. Name any top level sailing event and there’s a good chance that some of the competitors either work for Lewmar or are racing on boats which have Lewmar gear on board.

The Lite Touch winch handle had extensive sea trials during its development. Lewmar’s Carl Crafoord, also Rear Commodore of Middle Harbour Yacht Club, took one with him during the recent Newport to Bermuda race and used it on board Andrew Short’s ASM Shockwave 5. They’ve been tested during hardcore Farr 40 racing and will be handed out to a number of this year’s Sydney Hobart crew.

‘The Lite Touch is a development from our winch handle that won a design award two years ago at METS (Amsterdam’s Marine Equipment Trade Show), which was the One Touch. We’ve taken the same design and have changed the grip slightly; we’ve a knob on the top that you press to release…It’s a floating plastic racing handle.’

Katie Spithill, another Lewmar employee and an extremely competitive match racer, observed that the lightness of the handle would make it a highly desirable object for weight obsessed racing crews. Like many members of the Lewmar team, she combines her passion for sailing with her day job.

‘We have all been testing the Lite Touch out, taking them out twilighting and Saturday racing…the official launch will be at METS and we’ve already got a backlog for the production side.’

When Spithill isn’t working out of Lewmar’s Sydney office, she’s pursuing a very successful international match racing career. Recently her Wot Chicks team made it through to the semi finals of the Busan Women’s World Match Race, only to be beaten by two teams of full time sailors.

‘We are very elated with her performance because she went up against Claire Leroy, who’s world number one, and Sally Barkow, who’s also highly ranked’ said Carl Crafoord. ‘Katie has an office job and works as a non-professional sailor, the other guys are professional. She did great getting third place. It was a fantastic effort on her behalf and probably one of her best efforts all year.’

Spithill herself observed that while working in an office full of dedicated sailors was great fun, it did make things difficult when they all wanted to go to the same event- apparently there’s intense competition for a place on a Hamilton Island boat.

‘But we don’t get too many fights for the Hobart’ she joked ‘Carl goes to that one, and Grant Pellew. The rest of us are smarter than that.’

Lewmar has fitted out a number of this year’s Sydney Hobart fleet including the new Limit, Loki and Living Doll- if you take a close look it’s likely that some of their crew will be clutching a Lite Touch.

Crafoord is onboard Quantum Racing as her navigator, while Lewmar’s Queensland Sales Representative Matt Von Bibra will be on Black Jack. Lewmar winches and deck hardware are onboard ASM Shockwave 5, Chutzpah, Quantum Racing and Wild Oats XI.

Meanwhile, in the secret laboratory, somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, the Lewmar scientists are busy with their latest invention…

Lewmar Contact details
Address : Unit 4, 224 Headland Rd, Dee Why NSW 2099, Australia
Phone : (02) 9936 7111

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