While we were coming across the Pacific last year, the anchor chain counter on Starry Horizons stopped working. I was quite reluctant to start taking things apart and potentially making things worse because while not having a working chain counter is annoying, not having a working windlass is a big problem. So it went on our “we’ll fix it when we get to New Zealand” list.
Well, we’ve finished the cyclone season in New Zealand and here is the saga of my attempts to fix it. But first a quick explanation of how the chain counter works. A magnet is fixed inside the bottom of gypsy (the part that grabs the chain) and as it goes around, it passes over a sensor that is located in the base of the windlass. The presence of the magnet over the sensor completes a circuit and thus each rotation of the gypsy is counted and (once calibrated!) the counter calculates how much chain is being lowered or raised.
I did a bit of research before taking things apart (yay for having lots of internet!) and discovered that a common cause of this issue is that the magnet rusts away. Sure enough, upon inspection, I found that our magnet had rusted away. Figuring that it would be an easy fix to just replace the magnet, I used a spare magnet we had on board to test. Don’t laugh, but I used one of those clips we use to keep bags of cereal closed. Hey, whatever works right? The way to test this is to use a multi-meter and check for continuity. In the presence of the magnet, the circuit should close and complete the circuit.
Unfortunately, this didn’t fix the problem, which meant that not only did our magnet rust, but our sensor had gone bad. When FP installed the windlass in the first place, the sensor wiring was incorrectly run between the windlass platform and the base of the lower unit and this likely caused the failure of the sensor.Quick sells a sensor repair kit that includes both a new magnet and a new sensor so that was purchased and ready for us on one of our trips back to the States.
Now armed with both of the necessary components I set out to disassemble the windlass only to discover that that was neigh impossible. We have a Dylan model windlass and just removing the bolts from the lower unit required contorting in ways that I am most definitely not made to contort and once those bolts were off, the lower unit wouldn’t come off!Apparently, it has completely seized on the shaft and no amount of Corrosion X, banging on it or getting leverage with the tools I had on board was going to persuade it to move. Of course I was attempting this project after 30+ hours of travel back to New Zealand so my mind was incapable of thinking through alternative solutions. Fortunately, the internet came to my rescue again. Another Helia owner suggested that instead of accessing the sensor from the bottom, I just drill it out from the top. I had corresponded with Quick customer support and they had informed me that I could drill through the base of the lower unit if needed to get a cleaner run for the sensor wire. So since the sensor wasn’t working anyways, I figured: why not?
The windlass itself is easy to take off and I used a 3/8″ drill bit which was the exact size needed to drill out the entire old plastic sleeve for the sensor.With the hole drilled it was time to tackle replacing the magnet in the gypsy. Since the old had rusted out, I used my Dremel to clean out the remaining junk. You’re supposed to use a 2 part epoxy to secure the magnet but before I did this, I wanted to confirm that it didn’t make a difference which way the magnet was installed. I took my multi-meter and checked the continuity of the sensor when both sides of the magnet was present. Fortunately, both sides worked so I didn’t need to worry.
However, when doing a test run of the magnet into the gypsy I discovered that the magnet sat flush with the edge. I wanted the magnet to be a bit inset so a layer of epoxy would provide a bit of protection. Solution? Drill out the hole a bit more.Next I whipped up a small batch of epoxy and secured the magnet. I let this dry for almost 24 hours to make sure it was good and cured before sanding it down, making it nice and aligned with the edge of the gypsy. Now it was back to the windlass to get the sensor in place. After cleaning up the windlass, I did one wrap of electrical tape around the sensor. This made it fit nice and snug in the plastic sleeve, but didn’t affect the function of the sensor (I checked!) and would let me remove it later if needed. Around the plastic sleeve, I put some more epoxy and slid it into the drilled out hole. At this point, I stopped for the day to let everything cure. The next day, I tackled the wiring. Blue to Black and Brown to Red. I held my breath as I ran the Sensor Status test on the chain counter display at the helm (found under the Utilities menu). Success! I finished up all the wiring connections, making sure everything was nice and heat shrinked and tucked up away where nothing could tug on the sensor wiring. Since the windlass was already taken apart, I took the opportunity while putting it back together to give it a good greasing. It runs nice and smooth! And finally, it was time for the real test: lowering the anchor. Since I had constantly tested each part of the process, I felt fairly confident, but I’ll still admit to a few whoops of joy when the chain counter actually fulfilled its stated purpose again!