How to: Choosing a Furling System

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A well-installed furler, like the Furlex model aboard this Hanse, is an indispensable item aboard any larger cruising boat   

A well-installed furler, like the Furlex model aboard this Hanse, is an indispensable item aboard any larger cruising boat   

The boat’s just gone back into the water after her winter storage, and you’re getting ready for a sail. The jib has run nicely up the headsail foil, and you’ve teased out the creases with an extra turn on the halyard. Now it’s time to furl, so you can get the main on.

Unfortunately, when you haul on the jib furling line, nothing happens. You haul a little harder. Still nothing. With one last heave, the sail comes in a turn or so, then jams solid. There’s also a noise like ball bearings bouncing on the foredeck, which proves upon further investigation, to be just that: ball bearings bouncing on the foredeck. With a sigh, you realize it’s time to replace your aged furler, for which spare parts don’t even exist anymore.

 A pair of Profurl furlers serves to tame the headsails aboard this bluewater cruiser   

 A pair of Profurl furlers serves to tame the headsails aboard this bluewater cruiser   

Choices, choices...

Where do you start? Unlike some pieces of deck hardware, there are quite a few manufacturers of jib furlers to choose from for boats with LOAs of 40ft and less, ranging from such giants as Harken, Profurl and Seldén/Furlex to smaller outfits like CDI. Not only that, but many of these systems are suitable for ordinary sailors to install on their own. “It’s definitely possible for a competent DIYer to install in an afternoon,” says Rick Wilfert of Harken Inc. “Although, it will usually involve one or two trips to the top of the mast.”

In terms of choosing a furler, one of the first decisions you will have to make is whether or not you want to keep your old forestay. In fact, most of the manufacturers we spoke to say that their systems should work with an existing forestay, with only Seldén’s Furlex system including a new forestay wire as standard.

That said, even if it’s not mandatory, you might still want to think about replacing the existing stay, since it can be hard to spot signs of fatigue in an old stay at the best of times, and doubly so when it is hidden inside the foil of the furling system. It therefore only makes sense to ensure the headstay is sound while you’re already working on that part of the rig. “Our typical recommendation, if someone’s going through the process of installing a new furler, is to start off with a new piece of wire,” Wilfert says.

It’s also important to be aware that some furlers can only be used when the headstay is fitted with a specific terminal at its base. Note that if you’re going to have to replace the terminal or shorten the forestay, then you will likely need to pay for a rigger, in which case—again—you might as well spend the small amount extra on a completely new stay for peace of mind, if nothing else.

 Halyard wrap occurs when there isn’t a great enough angle between the headstay and the jib halyard (left); A halyard restrainer is one way to avoid halyard wrap (middle);  A halyard deflector is another (right).

 Halyard wrap occurs when there isn’t a great enough angle between the headstay and the jib halyard (left); A halyard restrainer is one way to avoid halyard wrap (middle);  A halyard deflector is another (right).

After that, the next thing you need to make sure of is that whatever furler you go with is correctly sized for your boat. Most manufacturers offer a kind of general guidance based on a boat’s length overall, which is useful up to a point. However, according to Scott Alexander of Seldén, the real determining factor when it comes to furlers (and rig loads in general) is the righting moment of the boat, which is a function of beam, ballast, draft and displacement.

Although few sailors know their boat’s righting moment, Alexander notes that his company offers a righting moment calculator on its website. A boat’s headstay diameter and clevis pin size also offer some insight into a particular boat’s furler and rig load requirements. When in doubt, check with the furler’s manufacturer.

Along these same lines, you need to check that any unit you’re interested in is compatible with your boat’s recommended forestay diameter (especially if you’re keeping your existing stay), which is typically 8mm-10mm or 5/16in-3/8in in this LOA range. Also be sure to check that it will accept your existing clevis pin for easy attachment to the chainplates. You don’t want to be stuck drilling out the chainplates to accept a bigger pin. Finally, if your forestay has a turnbuckle, make sure that your chosen furler can accommodate it—Profurl, for instance, only includes a turnbuckle cylinder with its units as an extra item.

Note that if you are a cruising sailor with a heavier-displacement boat and aspirations to cross oceans, you might be tempted to choose a size above what is recommended. However, most manufacturers counsel against this. “The problem with going with a larger furler is mismatches for the clevis pin size,” says Harken’s Wilfert. “It won’t mate up with the boat correctly.”

Also be aware that most manufacturers spec their own toggles to sit between the boat’s chainplate and the turnbuckle or headstay terminal, and while these are a necessary part of the setup, it inevitably lengthens things by a few inches. “The question is whether your turnbuckle can shorten up enough to compensate,” Wilfert says. If the answer is no, you’re looking at a new headstay.

Necessity aside, another reason you might want to shorten the stay would be if your chainplate is located in tight by the pulpit or anchor. In this case, you might want to raise the drum of the furling unit off the deck a little to offer more clearance. Most brands offer custom fittings to do just this by means of a chainplate extender or stainless steel strap.

Either way, if you plan to install the system yourself you will need an accurate measurement of your headstay length. Depending on the unit, you then apply a series of deductions to compensate for the extra toggles, etc., to get your new wire length. Additional deductions will then be necessary to work out the required length of the luff foil, which usually has to be cut to size. Only Facnor avoids this stress by using a telescopic bottom foil.

These two furlers are representative of Harken’s ESP line (right) and it’s more advanced Mk IV line (left)   

These two furlers are representative of Harken’s ESP line (right) and it’s more advanced Mk IV line (left)   

The cut of your jib

No matter what system you choose, you may have to get your jib or genoa recut to compensate for the shorter luff length provided by the foil. If you’re moving from a hanked-on system, you will also need to have the hanks removed and luff rope sewn into the sail. Some sailmakers recommend a foam patch sewn just inside the luff to make the sail flatter and avoid wrinkles when reefed. You may also have to get the luff of the sail cut away as it approaches the tack, so the sail will clear the furler’s turnbuckle cylinder. Seldén, for example, recommends cutting back the luff by 60mm (2 23/64in) at the tack and tailing that in over 4ft 6in. This will allow the tack swivel to help flatten the sail as you reef.

By contrast, at the head of the sail things are more straightforward. Just make sure the jib halyard pulls slightly away from the forestay. Otherwise, if the pull is parallel, it’s possible to get the halyard wrapped around the stay, which could stop the sail from furling.

“Halyard wraps are the #1 reason systems have to be replaced in the offseason,” Seldén’s Scott Williman warns. “You want to see at least a 10-degree angle between the stay and the halyard. That’s why every Furlex kit comes with a halyard restrainer.” Other systems also sometimes offer the option of a halyard deflector—a disc with round edges that sits on the forestay above the swivel to force the halyard away from the stay.

        Note how the halyard cleats off on this CDI furler   

        Note how the halyard cleats off on this CDI furler   

Bells and whistles

Once you’ve got the basics taken care of, your final choice of furler will likely depend on your budget and the unique features offered by each model or brand. Some manufacturers, for example, offer the option of both a simpler system—like the Harken ESP or Facnor’s LS—or a higher-performance system—like Harken’s Mk IV or Facnor’s LX or RX (racing) ranges. If that’s the case, the simpler systems are typically manufactured without such extras as a removable drum, which can be a useful feature for racers concerned about switching out to faster racing canvas and lighter weight. They also have a single luff groove in their foil extrusions, as opposed to two, making it harder to rig a double headsail for long downwind passages or effect seamless headsail changes when racing.

Other more performance-oriented types that racing sailors, in particular, might be interested in include belowdeck furlers, like those included in Harken’s MkIV line or the Furlex TD—in which the entire furling drum is located beneath the foredeck—and low-profile webbing-based systems, like the Facnor FlatDeck—in which webbing is used in place of a traditional furling line. In both cases, the advantages include the fact that less of the luff length is given over to the furler, thereby maximizing sail area. Using webbing in a furler drum also offers the advantage of minimizing the chance of overrides when unrolling the sail.

Owners of smaller boats, on the other hand, might want to check out Winnipeg-based CDI, which specializes in furlers for shorter LOAs (although its largest FF9.0 system would suit a 38-footer.) CDI furlers are unique in that each has its own built-in halyard and uses a PVC luff extrusion with three channels—one for the forestay, one for the halyard and a groove for the jib itself, which makes halyard wrap an impossibility. A proprietary sheave fitting at the top of the foil also eliminates the need for an expensive swivel. The halyard is made off to a cleat on the furler when the sail is hoisted.

If, on the other hand, you have a rod headstay, you might want to take a look at Ubi Maior’s Jiber system, which uses special swivels between the top and bottom toggles of the rod fitting, allowing the forestay itself to rotate. (The sail is attached to the rod using soft hanks or a zip-up luff bag.) The beauty of the system is that it allows you to save weight up high in the rigging and facilitates a more efficient sail shape with less drag. With the belowdeck version, you can also use the full luff length of the sail.

           By using webbing Facnor was able to minimize the size of this furling drum (left);  It’s obvious in these two renderings of Reckmann furlers how a belowdeck configuration maximizes luff length (middle & right)  

           By using webbing Facnor was able to minimize the size of this furling drum (left);  It’s obvious in these two renderings of Reckmann furlers how a belowdeck configuration maximizes luff length (middle & right)  

Power Assist

Finally, while hydraulic systems are almost exclusively the purview of much larger boats than those in the sub-40ft range, electric furlers are fast making inroads in the mid-size cruising market as part of the never-ending search by the industry to make sailing as “user friendly” as possible.

In the case of our hypothetical 38ft sloop, for example, which is right at the bottom end of the size range suitable for installing an electric furler, there are products available from Facnor, Profurl, Furlex, Reckmann and Harken that could all work. As an added benefit, while the housing for an electric furler’s motor will take up some space, it is often less bulky than a manual drum, so fitting it in at the bow shouldn’t be a problem. The motor typically drives a worm gear, so that the forces from the sail aren’t applied directly to it.

Of course, as with an electric windlass, there is the added complication of having to find a way to provide to the unit. Usually, the electric furlers in the mid-size range we’re focusing on employ 700-800W motors that draw 60 amps on a 12-volt system. You are therefore likely looking at fairly hefty cable runs between the battery and the forepeak, although Seldén has found an ingenious way around this by running the furler motor at 48 volts, which drops the current draw to less than 20 amps—thereby requiring much smaller wires and a more compact motor. Seldén also supplies a DC-to-DC converter, which you can install close to the main battery to step up from your boat’s 12 volts to 48.

For those who decide to go with a 12-volt electric furler, it is common practice to hook the furler up to other power sources at the bow, such as an electric windlass or bow-thruster. All electric furlers also have a manual backup in case of power failure. The Harken system, for instance, has a manual drive slot that will accept a specially adapted bit in a cordless drill. Many of them also work with a winch handle. 

   This Schaefer furler (left) has been configured with a long toggle link to raise it farther off the foredeck.  The overall dimensions of an electric furler (right) are comparable to a manual one .  Ubi Maior’s Jiber uses a rod headstay to furl the sail .   

   This Schaefer furler (left) has been configured with a long toggle link to raise it farther off the foredeck.  The overall dimensions of an electric furler (right) are comparable to a manual one .  Ubi Maior’s Jiber uses a rod headstay to furl the sail .   

Resources

CDI sailcdi.com

Facnor facnor.com

Harken Inc. harken.com

Profurl profurl.com

Reckmann reckmann.com

Schaefer Marine schaefermarine.com

Seldén seldenmast.com

Ubi Maior ubimaioritalia.com

A lifelong sailor, Sam Fortescue has crossed the Atlantic aboard the Sadler 34 he currently cruises with his family

April 2018

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