Just returned from a few days sailing on the yacht of a good friend of mine. First day out we noticed that one of the main winches was a tad stiff and revolving none too smoothly.
We decided to strip it down, clean it, re-grease and re-assemble it. This sounds a daunting task if you have never done it before, but in fact it is really quite simple and any sailor can do it easily with the few simple tools required and a little patience and care. It is a good exercise and one that should be included in your general maintenance programme from time to time.
Take a look at the illustration and you can see what you need. Some winch manufacturers supply a key for unlocking the top inner ring, but in the absence of that, Allen keys, a hammer(hard rubber preferred), brush, tube of winch grease, rags and a bucket with a goodly depth of diesel fuel in it. I prefer to use diesel as it is readily available(from your tank if you are in a far away place), but kerosene is ok too.
Insert the key in one of the holes in the top plate and tap it anti clockwise until it revolves. Once freed it should undo four to six revolutions quite freely. Always be super careful as you lift it off so that if it slips or falls, it drops inboard not outboard.
Gently prise off the main cover - usually done by standing astride the winch, one foot in the cockpit and the other on the deck and working it upward until it comes free. If it hasn't been off for sometime and dry inside, it could take some effort to move it and then come suddenly. Once again ensure that you have some ready hands outboard in case a loose part pops out unexpectedly. Remove the self tailing piece as you go and place in the bucket.
Take a Allen key the right size and undo the three or four screws at the base of the gears unit. From here you take each piece(cogs and spindles) and place them into the bucket as you go, noting carefully the order in which they come apart. Be careful not to dislodge the pawls and springs as they tend to fly away in directions you would rather they didn't!
Wash all parts thoroughly in the diesel with your brush and then wipe clean with the rag. Lay them out in order on your cockpit seat as shown.
Wipe a thin coating of the grease on spindles, inner surfaces and flat surface of the base. Grease the bearing races well and ensure they run well. Dob liberally into and onto gears and cogs. It is good to have them well coated but don't overdo it - too much grease and the surplus tends to dry out and go hard over time.
Re-assemble taking care that every part goes in in the correct order and fits properly. Check that you have not left any stray bits in the bottom of the bucket.
Refit the top ring, polish with your rag and you will have a shiny new winch again.
Spin it a couple of times and you will hear the satisfying way it revolves freely with the muted clicking of a newly greased winch - you will be most pleased with yourself.
Allow yourself a couple of hours for the first winch - after that it will be cinch.
We carried out this operation and the winch sounded so good that we stripped down all the others on the boat the following day - great fun.
You can read more about daily maintenance when you are passagemaking in my ebook 'Voyage of the Little Ship 'Tere Moana' downloadable from my website http://www.sailboat2adventure.com/