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Pontos Winches – Gorillas in the midst

by John Curnow on 19 Oct 2015
Pontos Grinder in Action Event Media
So, Dian Fossey was American and Pontos are French. Her gorillas were the stunning primates of the misty Rwandan jungle, and the latter’s are mechanical aids for running rigging. Hmmm. Not exactly parallel. Now after all that, you may think that this thread has nowhere at all to run. Fear not, however, for there are certainly gorillas in our midst.

Way back in the day, you used to see six or more pumps on the deck of the maxis and teams of gorillas would man them. Little wonder then that crew sizes where well into the mid-20s. All that meat needed a break at some point, and the other watch would take up the challenge. Today, they can be found once more, just look at Comanche. They not only trim, they also hoist the kite and then snuff it in like four seconds on a 50-footer. That’s some power and it comes from having ‘gorilla gear’. It’s a first so low you’d think it might be used for getting a funicular up a mountain!


Pontos are the revolutionary range of three winch types that do in fact extend the opportunity for ‘gorillas’ to be found on all manner of craft everywhere you sail. David Whitcroft, from the Australian importer, Waterlines, explains, “There is less load on your crew as they perform their normal tasks. Pontos winches can get novices and younger people involved, where hitherto you would have been very reticent to see them anywhere near running rigging.”

“They are safer, with less likelihood of fingers getting caught doing wraps after hauling in, due to the self-tailers on all of them, and when under high loads, they require as little as only one third of the effort to move them, when compared with equivalent standard winches. Higher cordage throughput per rotation and lower loads on crew mean you will sail better and faster shorthanded. To get similar performance you would have to install bigger and heavier three speed traditional winches.”


Whitcroft added, “Pontos winches retro-fit straight into Harken Performa templates and will sit easily in many other locations. They require the same service as conventional ones and use standard pulls and springs, so you can use nearly any service kit from chandleries all around the world. Given that Pontos are French, it is little wonder that multihullers are singing the praises of these wonders and are now standard fitment on boats like the terrific Gunboat G4. There really is no downside. They work better and bring a host of added benefits. It is a complete no brainer!”

Find the Pontos winch for you

The Pontos range consists of the Grinder, the Trimmer and then the Compact. All share the same, new technology and Tekno of Italy builds all of them. Tekno are no strangers to the market, as they used to make all of Harken’s winches. The Grinder and Trimmer come in three sizes to suit a wide range of applications. Being four-speed does not sound like much these days when cars have six manual ratios and up to nine in automatic. However, most winches are just two speed, so gaining 100% more is a coup and having them fully automatic is all part of the ease, simplicity and practicality that are the hallmarks of the brand.


The baby gorilla, the Compact, may only have two speeds, but it punches well above its weight and will make boats up to 30 feet wish they’d had them all along. “The Compact is the size of a 28 with the power of a 40 and is great for smaller craft, trimarans or older boats with limited spaces and one speed, non-captive winches presently. The mainsheet or traveller have been popular choices so far, and as it too is captive, it makes it that bit safer”, said Whitcroft.

Now the Silverback, if you will, is the Grinder range. You can tack with just the one person performing both hauling and tailing. Trimming, hoisting and furling will be faster. Plain and simple! No matter which of the 40, 46 or 52 Grinders you have on board, near as 700mm of sheet or halyard will come per rotation of the handle. As it loads up, gain more power by winding back the other way and you’re automatically in gear two, which is still lower than the first of a traditional two-speeder. Go back the other way again and you’re in third, which is the equivalent of a traditional first, earning you around 140mm of cordage per rotation, which is just one fifth of what you started with. The final direction back the other way is fourth, where you’ll be getting 30 to 40mm, depending on the model.


Whitcroft details this for us, “The Grinder is the most obvious application of the technology. Think of it like a close ratio gearbox in a sports car. The next step is not big, as the load increases and speed is of the essence. With a powerful overlapping genoa, you may have to luff up longer or slower to get it in whilst depowered during your tack. Not so with the Grinder, just load and go hard.”

“The Grinder can also decrease the number of crew you’ll need, which is advantageous on light days or for some ocean races. The Northshore 38 NSX, Leeway, won IRC passage at the recent Airlie Beach Race Week. She has a 130% heady and raced with one less soul on board than normal.”

Real life experience

“They are great for racing, even if you don’t have a race boat, such as for social racing, and you also get to stay on the rail longer. It is a performance upgrade for helping with racing or whilst operating shorthanded. Normally when you lose the kite you have to trim in heaps and then let most of it back out. Here, you’ll get it earlier and with less sheet needed to be dragged in. We installed two Grinder 40s on Tony Considine’s 10m Granger catamaran, Mad Max 2. This allows them to hoist the Screecher as they approach the mark, without having to loose anyone off the flying hull”, said Whitcroft.


George Owen is Mad Max 2’s Skipper and he’s more than happy to comment on the two Pontos winches they fitted to the outright racer. “We were second at Airlie Beach Race Week and missed first by just five seconds, which is pretty handy considering we have the highest OMR rating. For us, having the Pontos winches really was a game changer and part of the success there, especially with windward/leewards.”

“We carry a Masthead Screecher for downhill and also a fractional one for light upwind work. Previously, we had to send one guy to the bow and then another, who would end up in the leeward hull, to tension the halyard, for getting the luff taught is critical to the sail’s success. Mad Max 2 is only a five-up boat, so losing that much of the overall weight from the windward hull is not ideal and you have to throttle off a lot. For the soul down in the leeward hull it is not comfortable or dry, either.”


“Now we can raise sail and tension it from the windward cockpit, so the for’ard hand only has to go forward to ensure we clear the spreaders and hounds and then comes straight back. Accordingly, we are five on the windward hull for much longer and more importantly, stay on the gas. Our hoist is far quicker overall. Pat Considine, who does the hoist/tensioning, is now known as Pontos Pat, for he can get 7/8 of the way there in first and then tension in second gear! It is the speed that really makes the difference and you get to keep the crew where you really need them. We use the same winches for the sheets and during gybes the line speed is far superior to the old school method”, Owen finished by saying.

They just Arrrrrrgghhhh!

Bill Hutchinson’s 2005 Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 40.3, Scallywag, is somewhat at the other end of the spectrum. He fitted two Grinder 46’s as Genoa Primaries to replace his Harken Classic 46s. Scallywag does Sunday morning club racing, with specials if they choose, as well as taking out newbies and friends for a sail, meal and swim.


“Because my old winches were slipping, I started the investigation into my options and ended up finding Waterlines. I spoke with David who said he had two in stock and that he’d fly down with them and put them on. The old ones were already off, we dropped the Pontos replacements in and went for a test sail the next day”, said Hutchinson.

“The real beauty of them is that you can get most of the sheet in whilst the heady is slack during a tack. This means it is a one-person affair, as there is no need to tail and grind, as per previously. Gone are the days of hand over hand, then insert it in the self-tailer, put the handle in and wind. We save bucket loads of time, especially with a newbie or novice. We have a 130% heady, and you can bring it in to nearly one foot of maximum trim before changing gear! That gives you a lot of confidence in knowing you’re not going to lose out with a manoeuvre. After all, that sail is our power.”


“Overall I am very happy. We also got new spectra sheets and they grip well on the drum. I was tossing up with electric, but the Pontos Grinders are terrific and under 30% of the cost, let alone finding the room for the cables and fuses, along with being far safer for people to operate. Funnily enough, I do find myself showing people in marina their operation and then afterwards they really do understand the nature of the four-speeder and how clever it is.”




Whitcroft added, “If you have post-2010 Harken Performa winches, then the stud pattern will allow for a direct drop in of the equivalent Pontos winch base. We also have risers and can make temporary solutions via thermo-plastic adapters. Please go to www.pontos.fr for the full mounting details.”

Power to the people

So then, if the Grinder is all about speed, then the Trimmer is all about power. Whereas the most a Grinder can drag in is 700mm of line, the least a Trimmer can do is just 11mm per rotation. Such little effort required for control of a fully-maxxed out headsail for instance is a boon. You won’t struggle and if you’re racing, you could find yourself making more trims and thereby getting the edge you need to win.


It’s all about having little load on you when there are big loads on the clews or heads of your sails. Best of all it is totally automatic, with no buttons to be pushed or mechanical arrangements to be conducted and you’ll reduce your winching effort by a massive 50%. That is really cool and you didn’t have to install a powered winch to do it, either.

Whitcroft provides the rationale, “The Trimmer comes in same 40, 46 and 52 sizes, but rather than the two low gears, it has two high-power gears above the traditional two speeds. This means smaller line haulage when under huge loads, but significantly, the Trimmer requires far less body strength to do the job – around a third, actually. You would hand over hand until the sheet started to load, then put it in the self-tailer before winding away, changing gears automatically as you go.”

“The 40 offers the same power as a 113 winch (if it existed) and the 52 is the equivalent of a 149, where the number reflects the output power per kilogram of input power. Think of it next time you’re trimming a 130%+ overlapping genoa, whilst on a heel in a breeze. The reduction in effort is amazing and it would be ideal as the fine tune on a mainsheet. It is typically a cruising winch, rather than one directly suitable for racers, but having said that it would be ideal for craft with large runner loads.”


“Overall we've had good success in Australia with our Pontos equipped Beneteau winning its division in the CYCA Winter Series, and the Ladies’ Series. Pontos equipped boats are performing well in the Queensland IRC fleet, the Multihull fleets and there is also strong interest from cruisers and short-handers. The winches are being used in the Route Du Rhum Fleet, and on the new Gunboat G4, so their application spans the breadth and depth of the sailing scene”, Whitcroft commented.

See through all the mist, available online through www.rosswhitcroft.com.au, where you can get all the Pontos product specification, performance and dimension/fitment material you’ll need. If you want your crew, family or even beginners to trim and hoist like gorillas, then the safety of the new technology in winches, Pontos, will make them, and especially you, enjoy your time out sailing that much more. Having gorillas in your midst will prove very, very worthwhile…

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