Roller-furling gear is generally robust, but it can be damaged by mishandling or improper storage over the winter. Repairing damage or replacing parts on a furling system in the spring can be an exercise in frustration as you watch other sailors launch and take advantage of the beautiful early-season weather. Beside the time spent, however, is the expense involved, and replacing a furling system may not be in your sailing budget next spring.
Up or Down? The first decision regarding your furling system has to be made in tandem with the mast and rigging—to leave it standing or take it down. There is no doubt that pulling the entire rig is more work, since electrical wires to mast lights and VHF need to be disconnected and standing and running rigging must be cleaned, coiled, labeled, and stowed. But it is much easier to inspect, clean, repair minor defects, and stow the mast and rigging in the down position than when it is left standing.
Many winter storage yards, in fact, will not offer you an option. Winds that accompany winter cold fronts have been known to knock boats off their cradles or jack stands, and their insurance company, and perhaps yours, often insist on removing the mast during storage. If the boat is to be transported any distance, or stored inside a building, the rig will obviously have to come down.
Look on the bright side. Taking the stick down allows you to wax the mast once a year, clean the halyards and vang, oil the standing rigging and masthead sheaves, replace light bulbs or broken masthead wind indicators, and protect them over the winter. And the best protection is to take home as many of these parts as possible for storage in the basement or garage. The boom and spinnaker pole can be cleaned, padded against damaging the interior woodwork, and stowed inside the boat. This keeps them out of the snow, dirt, salt air, and pollution, and guards against theft.
But the roller-furling system itself requires special attention. It should go without saying that even if the mast is left up, the sail should be lowered, cleaned, and properly stowed—a genoa left on the furler for the winter is an open invitation to finding a damaged sail and furling system in the spring. Beyond that, a furler in the up position should have the halyard tied well away from it to prevent abrasion to both the foils and the cordage. I have seen wire halyards nearly saw an aluminum furler foil in two over one winter by ceaselessly rubbing against it. The best thing to do is to pull a light tracer line over the masthead sheaves with the halyard, taking the running rigging home for the off-season. A little 1/8-inch line will not mar the mast nor damage other rigging, and the main halyard is preserved from sun, chafe, and snow.
If left up, there is little you can do to protect the furling foils themselves from the elements. It is best, of course, if they can be cleaned and waxed. This can be accomplished by a brave and determined sailor in a bosun's chair, but most of us would not bother, especially on a small boat. Whether plastic, composite, or aluminum, the foils will need to be cleaned and lubricated before the sail goes back on in the spring, and at a minimum, the Fastrac system can be used to complete this chore on the luff grooves.
The other parts that need a little attention are the bearings and turnbuckle. There are several types of bearing systems:
- Sealed bearings such as on the Profurl require no maintenance.
- Open-race Torlon ball bearings on the Harken and Schaefer systems should be flushed well with fresh water and allowed to dry. Never use a petroleum-based grease or oil.
- Flat bearings such as those found on the Cruising Design Flexible Furlers can be treated in the same way as Torlon.
- Open steel, stainless steel, or steel and Torlon mixed bearing, like that found on many Hood models, if not used frequently are subject to some corrosion when water is allowed to stand inside the bearing races. These may need to be cleaned, dried thoroughly, and then completely sealed with plastic sheet and tape. But be sure to never leave tape directly in contact with any mast or furler parts over the winter, because the tape residue may present a horrible removal job in the spring.
|"Don't forget to treat the bearings in the upper swivel the same as the lower drum."|
Don't forget to treat the bearings in the upper swivel the same as the lower drum unit. If the furler has a swivel, a split gasket cut from nylon or other plastic sheet material should keep it from falling on top of the sail feeder. I've used systems as simple as a plastic bag wrapped around the foils at the top of the feeder, held in place with some good tape.
Many furling systems have a turnbuckle lurking underneath the drum, and this bit of threaded hardware rarely sees the light of day or any maintenance. Lift the drum (easy on some furlers and tough on others) and check the condition of the turnbuckle. Pull any cotter pins or rings and apply a thin layer of LanoCote to the threads. My favorite way to do this is with the 10-cent acid brushes with the tubular metal handles that I always keep on board for winch maintenance and other grease or glue applications.
On the Ground If it is possible, this is where the mast and furler belong for the winter. After the sails and covers have been stripped off for proper storage, a good boat yard will gently lower the entire rig to the ground. Depending on your contract, either you or they can commence the storage process on the spars and rigging. With the boom and spinnaker or whisker pole done, the standing and running rigging disconnected, cleaned, labeled, and stowed, the only two parts left are the mast and the furler. Some yards store these two unwieldy parts underneath the boat to which they belong, while others have racks in a separate area for mast stowage.
Your main concern is that the mast and furler are handled properly and not damaged during the removal or moving process—while most yards are very conscientious, a careless yard hand can do major damage in a few moments. And here's the challenge—most furling systems are longer than the mast. If the furling system is left pinned at the upper toggle near the masthead, it may well stick out many feet beyond the bottom of the mast. Since the furling drum and the turnbuckle area are also the heaviest and bulkiest portion of the furling system, they have a nasty tendency to roll and flop around like a dying fish, threatening to twist the foils, bang the base of the mast, and give everything in their path a hard knock.
|"If stored together, a layer of padding should separate the mast and furler so that they don't scratch each other."|
It is best to unpin the furler completely, fastening it to one side of the mast for transporting with the drum snugged up against the butt of the mast and the lighter top foils protruding beyond the masthead. If the spreaders are removed as they shoud be, the space just aft of the spreader bases between the fittings on the side of the mast and the sail track is usually clear. A layer of padding should separate the mast and furler so that they don't scratch each other—a roll of bubble wrap is ideal. Again, do not lay tape directly on the spar or furler as the tape may pull paint off the mast and leave a sticky mess on everything. Cut strips of light plastic sheet, wrap them around the mast and furler where the tape is to go, then tape away to your heart's content. Keep the furler straight, and in the spring you can simply cut the tape and plastic away to find a clean surface.
Whether on blocks or sawhorses under the boat, or on spar racks elsewhere in the yard, the whole spar and furler assembly needs to be oriented in such a way as to prevent damage from being left in one position over many months. Being round or oval, masts tend to lie on their sides, which is OK if they are not allowed to twist or develop a major bend. Masts up to 30 feet in length will be fine with only two support points, but longer masts require additional sawhorses or rack arms to prevent the spar from sagging. Obviously, the furler should end up near the top of this assembly since the weight of the spar may damage it.
If the top end of the furler sticks out beyond the masthead into an area with traffic, it is wise to protect it by taping the unsupported area to a length of two by four—but buy a good straight one and tape it to the spar well for support. Hang a red flag on the end if necessary. For the ultimate in winter furler protection, cover the whole assembly to keep snow, ice, and dirt from collecting. Do not use tightly taped plastic, but lay a sheet of light plastic over the top of the furler to provide waterproofing. The inexpensive plastic woven tarps sold in home improvement stores (usually blue but now also silver) can be cut into strips, grommets added to their cut sides, and they can be lightly lashed over the plastic sheet. Try to get the lacing tight enough to stand up to howling winter storms, but loose enough to allow ventilation up from the bottom.