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Surface Winch Testing (05&07/05/06).

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05/05/06 (Ambrose,Charlie and Mike): After building up the winch last month we managed to order 115m of 5mm stainless steel cable for it, and it was time to put it through some paces. We got to Mark's place mid morning and installed the cable - the prototype was fully completed now. After some brews and a chat with Mark we loaded up the car and headed for the Nent Valley.

Deciding it was better to not bite of more than you can chew, we headed for a small shaft of 16m depth which links into the Rampgill Sun Vein Workings above Hangingshaw Branch. Here the winch was rigged up and Ambrose was conscripted into trying the winch out (being the lightest). Since we are using the winch with only 5mm cable (breaking strain 1.4 tonnes) it will only ever be used with a life line, so after working the system out, Ambrose was lowered down and successfully reached the bottom - admittedly with many jolts, ups and downs - whilst the controls where got to grips with. On this first attempt we controlled his decent by using a stop and free wheeling the winch, whilst winching him up we actually fed his life line up through a jammer - in the end we refined this so that he descended himself on a stop, pulling the winch cable down with him and on the way up he was winched up whilst his croll and hand jammer went on the rope. The rope was also weighted at the bottom so that it fed through the cams easily. We tested the winch 6 times down this shaft a total of 90m of winching - so far so good. On average it took 1 minute to winch to the surface.

In the afternoon it was time to try something a bit more challenging and we moved over to a deeper shaft - some 50m. The shaft that we tried was the one at the south end of Smallcleugh Dam which links into Carr's Mine. Second time round the rigging was much easier and quickly Ambrose descended into the depths. He did not reach the bottom as the rope was just short and he ended up hanging above a churning sump of water. When he signalled that he was ready we brought him up, it took 3 minutes and 45 seconds - not a bad speed and it sure beats doing it under your own steam. After this I had a go at going down, this time however I was going to swing into one of the levels that intersect the shaft. At 24m down, I penduled into a level and came off the rope and cable. The level went on for some 15m where I reached a sump going down, I carried on past this and reached a collapse, you could get past it but I turned back here as it was deviating from the exercise. I could see foot prints and I wondered if this level connected with Carr's and had people come this was to investigate the shaft and sump as there was a rail line placed near the sump, was it an anchor point. There was also some nice white calcification in the passage. I returned back and attached myself back to the rope. At this point I decided to return to the surface, winching began, however I had tangled my ropes and had to stop a few times as the rope was not feeding through the ascenders. Finally I got going only to be dropped down about half a meter with shouts of sorry, not far, but when out of the blue it tends to give you a hot flush. I started getting winched again, however it felt a lot slower than when Ambrose was on it, in fact it started to get really slow, Charlie shouted down that I have might have to prusik up, great. I started to assist the winch by using the hand jammer and got up to the surface by its power.

A bit of a disappointment here, we started wondering about the winches power, was it that the batteries had gone flat (one had been just purchased and had not been charged), or was the winch just on the threshold of its limit - winching 11-12 stone OK, but not 14 stone or above. Both batteries where charged over the next day.

07/05/06 (Ambrose,Charlie,Karli, Mark and Mike): Back to the 50m shaft and Karli had a go on the winch. We rigged up really quickly now and winched him up twice with no problems, a total of 100m. Time was not on our side today and after that we had to pack up and head off home. In hind sight we should have tried winching the heavier ones of the group to see how the winch would have faired on fully charged batteries. Charlie was starting to think that the winch was not up to it and discussions started to go on about using a small petrol engine and then this moved onto making a hydraulic winch. If it is a power problem and even though it seems to winch lighter people OK, it is a bit on the risky side operating it so close to its limit.