This article was originally published on SailNet in May 2001.
Wrestled any monsters on the foredeck lately? Slippery folds of Dacron that tumble down onto the deck can come to life with each gust of wind as you battle to control a flailing sail that seems to have a mind of its own. You know if you lose this round, it means another wet sail that can't be folded or stowed until it's dry. When you compare this scenario to the ease and joy of being able to quickly furl or reef your headsail from the security of your cockpit, it's easy to understand why roller furling is considered one of the greatest innovations today by sailors worldwide. Whether your boat is 18 feet or 80 feet in length, the addition of roller furling will help you tame that foredeck monster and make your time spent sailing not only safer, but more enjoyable as well.
Though roller-furling units haven't always been fool-proof, modern roller furling systems are better than ever, allowing allow you to easily and reliably reduce or eliminate sail at any time. You simply roll in as much or as little sail as you want. As the wind pipes up, you furl the sail until you've reduced the sail area enough to balance the boat and the helm is no longer overpowered. Later, if the wind goes light, you can unroll the sail and presto—full speed ahead! The task of having to go forward to change from one size headsail to another, or to douse and stow sails, quickly becomes a relic of the past.
Not long ago we installed a roller furling system for the staysail on Serengeti, our 46-foot Formosa Peterson. As we almost always sail shorthanded, we felt this was the perfect complement to the existing furler on our headsail to further minimize our time spent on the foredeck and to make sail handling an easy, one-person job.
By installing it ourselves, we not only saved money, but learned a great deal about what we consider to be one of the more important systems on our boat. The unit we chose is a Schaefer 3100. Like many of the new systems, it's designed for easy owner assembly and installation. Although our particular installation was on a staysail, the procedure is identical for a headsail. We'll show you and describe in detail how the Schaefer 3100 goes together.
Different furling manufacturers offer their own unique extrusion shapes, methods of connectivity, type of drums, bearings, etc. For example, ProFurl joins their elliptical extrusions together with setscrews, whereas Schaefer connects their round extrusions with stainless steel pop rivets. Conceptually, the installation of similar sized furlers by different manufacturers is pretty much the same and each manufacturer provides detailed instructions. Our installation should give you a good idea of what to expect regardless of the brand you choose. And some of the components for roller furlers designed for smaller boats are engineered to simply snap together. This makes their installation much faster and easier than on larger boats.
Choosing a Unit To choose and order a roller furler to fit your boat, you'll first need to compile some basic information:
- What size is your boat?
- What diameter is your forestay?
- What is the length of your forestay? (Measure from center of pin to center of pin)
- What is the diameter of the clevis pin on the stay?
With the above information in hand, you'll be able to follow each manufacturer's guidelines to correctly size your unit. There are also some other features you may want to take into account when shopping. Some manufacturers like Schaefer, Harken, and Hood incorporate a removable split drum into their design. This introduces a new flexibility. For racing enthusiasts, high-tech racing sails can replace a furled cruising sail, and the removal of the drum decreases windage and weight. Some extrusions are manufactured with twin grooves instead of just a single groove. These allow the racer to quickly execute headsail changes while the cruiser may find them useful on long downwind passages for flying double headsails wing-on-wing.
Headsail Concerns When upgrading to roller furling, you'll need to modify your existing sail or order a new one. If you choose to modify your old sail, your sailmaker will replace its hanks with the appropriate sized luff tape to fit the extrusion, and add a UV cover to the leech and foot of the sail so that the dacron is protected from the sun when the sail is furled. Deterioration of sail shape is always a concern with partially furled sails because of their built in draft. Over the last few years, sailmakers have addressed this problem by adding a "foam luff." Foam sewn into the leading edge of your headsail forces the sail to flatten as it is furled. The result is better sail shape when you sheet in a partially furled sail.
Step by Step Assembly Get your tools together and review the instructions in advance. Don't forget the bucket to contain all the little parts. If you've prepared in advance, you should be able to do this installation by the end of the day.