Sounds like you are in the market for a new halyard (modern synthetic line actually stretches LESS than the wire you have) and possibly a new winch. Wire reel winches are dangerous, as has been noted. If you go to lower the main by simply releasing the brake on a wire reel winch, the wire can spring as it runs out. This causes kinks in the wire, besides a possible jam that can be difficult to release. Is it lots of fun to have your sail half way up and twenty minutes of prying with a screwdriver to get the halyard clear? To prevent this, the crew has to hold the handle in the winch while releasing the brake, then back the handle down in order to safely lower the sail. This makes for a S L O W operation, which can also be dangerous if you need sails down quickly - in a squall, for example. The winch you picture also appears to be set up for a combination rope/wire halyard. The top (outer?) part of the drum is for the rope. You pull the rope halyard up as far as you can, and when you get to the wire splice, you put the wire on the bottom section of the winch (between the base and the flange) and then take two or three wraps around the drum with the rope part. A full wire halyard should have a different type of winch that will accept the entire wire on it's spindle. Usually these have cages around them, to keep people from losing fingers if the brake is released and the wire springs or develops a snag that protrudes from the reel. In order to fit properly on a true reel winch, the wire needs to be guided carefully onto the spindle in neat, flat spirals. The wire inevitably develops soldiers that cut hands and fingers with painful, salty slices. While you might be able to put up with giving crew broken arms and cuts, losing winch handles overboard, or the occasional finger, blood stains on the teak, the sails, or anywhere on deck are totally unacceptable. That is why you have to replace your halyard. There is no point to getting a new rope/wire halyard. The splice alone costs more than the line alone would, and as mentioned above, the wire stretches more than contemporary line. You may be able to continue using the main section of your existing winch with an all-line halyard, since is is designed to handle rope. How the brake works (or doesn't)may make it difficult to keep the original winch, however. Try and see, but you should be much happer (and safer) with an all-line halyard.
P.S. Just noticed you said the existing winch has no rachet. Toss it. (In an environmentally friendly way.)
Last edited by paulk; 04-21-2010 at 10:52 PM.
Reason: adtl info