Install a headsail furler on your sailboat and enjoy the benefits of a furling genoa
by Adrian Biffen
Furling was high on my list of wants as I often go sailing with Serenade by myself,
and single-handing a sailboat without a furler can be quite dangerous in rough conditions. I didn't find it much fun standing on the bow, trying to douse my massive hanked-on genoa in rough seas, relying on my remote control autohelm
to keep the boat into the wind while I flopped around up there on the foredeck, not to mention the serious effort it took to raise it in the first place.
I also found that when sailing solo I was motoring more than I had to because I would drop the genoa early if the wind was increasing, and not deploy it at all if conditions were rough when leaving the harbour. So I decided that 2007 would be the year of the headsail furler, and it quickly became my main spring improvement project for Serenade.
I spent a month thoroughly researching the situation on the net before I made any purchases because there are a number of important decisions that have to be made when starting a project of this nature.
A. Headsail Modification or Replacement?
I looked at the cost of having the sail hanks removed and a new luff tape sewn on by a sailmaker, but soon found that it was more expensive than I expected, not to mention that spring is NOT a good time to try and find a sailmaker - everyone at the lofts I contacted was booked up for at least 2 months.
For those of you just learning about this, luff tape is a continuous strip attached to the leading edge (luff) of the sail containing a small round bolt rope that slides up into the furler groove. This replaces the function of the hanks on a hanked-on sail, and generally provides a much smoother leading edge on the sail, thereby increasing its aerodynamic capabilities.
I also looked at other alternatives, like buying plastic sew-on (do it yourself) slides that would fit the #6 luff tape groove in a typical furler foil extrusion. This could be a viable option if you had no desire to replace your headsail, but I doubt the leading edge aerodynamics will be as good as luff tape.
However, I also had issues with my large 150% genoa because it was fairly old and stretched, and the foot was quite deformed from riding on the safety rail (it was too big and cut wrong for the boat). I had always had a visibility problem as well, not being able to see under the sail, especially when sailing to weather. I didn't want to go to all the cost and effort to modify a sail that really wasn't that suitable in the first place.
So I got on the net and started looking for used sails, and was quite amazed to find just how many used sail inventories
are listed on the internet. I found a perfect sail at a loft in St. Petersburg in Florida (Masthead Enterprises
) and had it shipped up ($475). I was very pleased when it arrived and I saw that all the corner tabling, edging and luff tape was new, and the sail itself couldn't be more than one or two seasons old. I will certainly go back to these folks for any future needs, and I highly recommend them for anyone looking for a new or used sail.
It was about a foot smaller in each dimension, as I was hoping to resolve the visibility problem without compromising the performance too much (I figure it is now a 140% genoa instead of 150%). Little did I know at the time that the improved aerodynamics of this sail, in combination with the furler, would turn my boat into a rocket! More on that later ...
The picture above shows it fully deployed, although I later shortened the upper pendant and raised the sail another 4 inches so that it is actually above the pulpit railing, greatly improving visibility. The cost was less than any modifications I would have made to my existing sail and I had a sail that was a perfect fit for my boat, with an extra backup genoa.
We'll soon be having some fun hoisting the old genoa in addition to unfurling the new genoa into a 'wing on wing' configuration - this will create a massive 'wall' of dacron that should provide for some interesting downwind sailing.
B. Choosing a Furler
There are many furler manufacturers out there, and several different approaches to the basic design, with a price range that goes from about $700 to $3,000 (and beyond for exotic designs we won't cover here). Being a thrifty type, I first looked at the lowest cost alternatives, to see what kind of compromise I could make. I found that you can essentially divide the market into two different types: self-hoisting (self contained halyard) vs. mast-hoisting (external mast mounted halyard).
Self Hoisting Furlers:
The self hoisting type is generally cheaper because it doesn't usually involve the use of swivel bearings, at least at the top. The Alado furler
is a good example of this; it is one of the least expensive and does not require that you remove the headstay for installation. It uses a sectional foil extrusion design that slides up the headstay the same as any other furler (these are aluminum, but some are one piece plastic), but the sail is tensioned in the luff tape groove by a halyard that runs up the foil and over the top to attach to the top of the sail, thus the foil is compressed by the halyard tension. There were a few things about this design that I didn't like:
-halyard tension deforms the foil somewhat and increases rotational friction
-it doesn't provide any backup if your headstay snaps
-the external halyard may interfere with the sail aerodynamics
Nevertheless, I've read several good reviews on it from sailors that have been perfectly happy with it, so it may be a good choice for some of you, depending on your needs.
Mast Hoisting Furlers:
The other type uses a swivel attached to the head of the sail, and is tensioned by the regular in-mast halyard that you would use to raise a hanked-on sail. Harken makes a very nice furler that they refer to as the new Mark IV jib reefing series (they also have cruising and racing furlers). After looking at most everything else, I chose the Harken Mk IV Unit 0 (the smallest in the series) because I felt it had the best price/performance ratio (at about $1500). I'll say at this point that I have been totally pleased with the construction quality and effortless operation of this unit, and I would highly recommend it to anyone.
It has very low friction, extra strong double-race Torlon bearings at both the top and bottom, and the aluminum extrusion system is beautifully engineered and very strong. It has a double luff groove to fly two sails at once or make quick sail changes when racing. I don't do that, but I did find that it is actually easier than raising hanked on sails, and it is designed to be self feeding - I could actually raise the sail by myself from the cockpit without it jamming at the point where it enters the groove.
The only shortfall in the design is that you normally have to hire a rigger or get some help to remove the headstay as the foil sections and swivels are engineered to be installed on the headstay while it is lying on the ground. Nevertheless, I figured out a way to install it by myself without removing the headstay, and I'll cover this in the next article. Here is the Harken Mark IV Unit 0 headsail furler instruction manual
(it's a somewhat large PDF file, so give it some time to open/download).
The combination of new headsail and Harken furler has made an enormous difference to the enjoyment of the boat. She sails upwind much better, I've gone from tacking through 100 degrees to about 85 degrees, and she is fast! As they say, 'nothing goes to weather like a 747', and this is pretty close :)
The other day I sailed at 7 to 8 GPS knots (a portion of the speed due to current), going to weather, past a number of sailboats that were powering down Trincomali channel, and they all raised sails when they saw me speeding by, but nobody could catch me. Most of them were dots in the distance by the time I reached active Pass - not bad for a 33 year old boat!
Downwind performance is as good as before, maybe even slightly better with a good following breeze, and definitely better in light airs. I use a whisker pole to keep the sail open and full when sailing downwind in light or medium airs, and that makes a big difference.
I hardly use the engine anymore because I don't have to worry about getting into trouble raising or lowering the old genoa. I used to do a fair amount of motor sailing when going into the wind, because she just didn't tack that well. I don't have to do that anymore - most of my usual passages through the Gulf Islands can be accomplished in a single tack. The motor is lowered briefly for docking and departure, and that's about all I use it for these days.
My Dad and I ran into gale conditions out in Georgia Straight this summer and I was able to finally bury the toerail and see how she handled in some heavy weather (very nicely as it turned out, with no weatherhelm). I wouldn't have risked that with the hanked-on genoa as it would have been impossible to get it doused in those conditions - I had enough trouble holding on in the cockpit, let alone being up on the foredeck. Now, I can push her to the limits, then just pull the furler line to reduce sail area if necessary (or douse the sail altogether in about 5 seconds). I don't even have to change course and turn into the wind. Sweet!!
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