If you own a Catalina 30, you are probably intimately familiar with this absolutely infuriating piece of crap:


Yes, the clam cleat…that utterly useless fold of aluminum.  Why do i hate it so much?  Let me list the ways…

  1. It doesn’t do its job.
  2. It doesn’t act as a fairlead to the winch.
  3. Seriously, aren’t 1 and 2 enough??

Ok, I know, its 30 years old and the teeth are wore out.  But that doesn’t fix the constant battle with keeping the main sheet from winding up on itself on the winch.   And yes, I’m aware of the fact that I need to be able to quickly dump the main in an emergency.  But I really hate this thing.  A cam cleat would be a good upgrade.  The Colgate 26 I trained on used a cam cleat on the main sheet.  Many people also use a rope clutch.  I liked the rope clutch idea since there would not be any exposed holes from removing the clam cleat.  So I did some research and there were many recommendations for the Spinlock XAS.  I am not an expert on clutches, but the Spinlock consistently received good reviews for its design, construction and price point.  After sailing a few times, I really like it.  It is stupid easy to operate.  Lift up the handle, press the little clutch forward and it releases the rope.  Push the handle down and it locks the rope.  That’s it.  When we’re sailing, the clutch is open and he main sheet is on the winch.  The only time I close the clutch when under sail is when I need to make an adjustment to the halyard and need the winch.

Here is the link to the manufacturer.  Spinlock XAS clutch

Installing the Spinlock XAS was pretty easy.  This particular location on the Catalina 30 is backed by an aluminum plate, so you’ll need a tap and die set.  I picked up a basic DeWalt tap and die set from Home Depot for the job.  Aluminum is soft, so an expensive set isn’t really necessary for this job.  You’ll also want to pick up a set of brad point drill bits.  Brad point drill bits are the right bits to use on fiberglass.  Do yourself a favor and head over to RC Collin’s Compass Marine page linked here.  Check out his articles on re-bedding deck hardware.  It is a good primer for this simple job.  His site provides a plethora of DIY boating maintenance gold.  Buy a roll of butyl tape from him while you are at it.


  • Brad point drill bit set
  • tap and die set
  • countersink bit
  • drill
  • phillips head screwdriver
  • butyl tape
  • Mineral spirits

Ok, I didn’t do a very good job photo documenting my first upgrade project.  I’ll do a better job next time.  But this job is pretty straight forward.

First, I removed the old clam cleat.  I used my handy-dandy Ryobi impact driver. It made quick work of loosening the 30 year old stainless bolts from the aluminum plate.  I cleaned up the gelcoat under the old clam cleat with mineral spirits.  At this point, I took one of the old bolts to West Marine to buy two new ones for the Spinlock.  I matched the diameter, thread count and size so I could re-use one of the existing holes from the clam cleat.  Don’t reuse 30 year old bolts…they’re cheap anyways.

The Spinlock comes with a template. I poked a hole through the template’s rear bolt hole indication.  I then placed the clutch on the template and threaded the rear bolt so as to secure the clutch and template.  I positioned assembly so the front fairlead was pointed at the mainsheet fairlead on the traveler.  Once everything looked good, I taped the template down.  After removing the clutch, I was then ready to start working on the new hole.  I selected a brad point drill bit 1/16 larger than the bolt and drilled the fiberglass until I felt the bit hit the aluminum plate.   I replaced the brad point bit with the metal cutting bit supplied with the tap and die set.  Make sure to use the correct bit size! Drilling the aluminum plate is very easy, just take your time and make sure you keep the drill bit perfectly perpendicular to the surface. I would drill about a 1/4in, then use the tap to thread the aluminum plate and test fit the bolt into the clutch.  After a few times, I got the depth I needed.

In the above photo, the hole I drilled is the one farthest from the camera.  I angled the clutch slightly to the right to have a better angle on the main sheet fairlead on the traveler.

Once the hole was drilled, I applied butyl tape to the bottom of the clutch and around the bold heads.  The butyl tape seals the holes to prevent moisture ingress into the fiberglass cabin top.  Since the holes are not completely through the cabin top, and there was no balsa core in this location, it probably wasn’t necessary…but I figured better safe than sorry.

Butyl tape is used to seal the bolt holes.

Butyl tape around the bolt head to prevent water from migrating down the clutch bolt cavity.

The final step is to install the bolts into the clutch and tighten them down.  The butyl tape will slowly squeeze out from under the clutch, so give the bolts a hit with the drill after a day or so.  The excess butyl tape can be cut and pulled away with a putty knife.

Spinlock XAS next to original clutch.

And that’s it, pretty straight forward.  At some point, I’ll end up replacing all of the clutches.  I might go with a triple on the port side so I can run a reefing line to the cockpit.