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Last Updated on September 2, 2020 by Amy
A good anchoring system is crucial for a cruising sailboat. We rely on our anchor system to keep our boat, our possessions, and our lives safe.
It also has to be convenient. While a chain counter is not essential, it makes our lives a little bit easier by ensuring that we have the proper scope out – 5:1 scope in most cases or up to 10:1 in a storm.
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Chain Counter Stopped Working
While we were coming across the Pacific last year, the Quick anchor chain counter that’s installed with our Quick Dylan DH 1512 windlass on Starry Horizons stopped working. I was quite reluctant to start taking things apart and potentially making things worse. 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.
How the Quick Chain Counter Works
Now the cyclone season in New Zealand is over 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 inside the bottom of gypsy (the part that grabs the chain). 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. The sensor counts each rotation of the gypsy and, when properly calibrated, the counter calculates how much chain the windlass has lowered or raised.
Problem – Bad Magnet
I researched the problem before I took the windlass apart. I 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.
Problem – Bad Sensor
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, they incorrectly ran the sensor wiring between the windlass platform and the base of the lower unit. This likely caused the failure of the sensor.
Sensor Repair Kit
Quick USA sells a sensor repair kit that includes both a new magnet and a new sensor. We purchased one and brought it back with us from our trip back to the States.
Disassembling Quick Dylan Windlass
Now armed with both of the necessary components I set out to disassemble the lower unit of the windlass only to discover that that was impossible. I attempted to remove the bolts from the lower unit, but it required contorting in ways that I definitely cannot contort. 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 drill it out from the top. I had been corresponding with Quick customer support. They said that I could drill through the base of the lower unit to get a cleaner run for the sensor wire. Since the sensor wasn’t working anyway, I figured: why not?
The rest of the windlass was easy to take off.
Installing the New Sensor
I used a 3/8″ drill bit with my power drill 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 multimeter and checked the continuity of the sensor when both sides of the magnet were present. Fortunately, both sides worked so I didn’t need to worry.
However, when doing a test run 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. The epoxy dried for 24 hours before I sanded 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 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 display at the helm (found under the Utilities menu). Success!
Assembling the Windlass
I cleaned up all the wiring connections, making sure I heat shrank and tucked away the wires 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. I’ll still admit to a few whoops of joy when the chain counter actually fulfilled its stated purpose again!