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Old 11-17-2012
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Lesson from newbies-how not to install a roller furler

Sorry…it’s a bit long winded but in my mind worth the read- by Foggy Bottom and Crazy Cat

After quite a bit of research on DIY installed furlers on Sailnet and Practical Sailor, we (myself and Crazy Cat-also on Sailnet) settled on an Alado furler. It’s a Brazilian company with a Sales Rep in the U.S. For a couple of newbies, the actual act of attaching all of the components on to the headstay went well. We won’t have a sail on it until next season to test function but it is clearly a solid product and should work as advertised. For under $1000 it looks like we got a great system. Shockingly, if you have a little more sailboat maintenance experience than we do and you can tie a great rolling hitch, it would have gone very well and we could have easily finished in two hours…..sadly, we do not have that much experience and two hours turned into six, long, bloody, bruised, swear laden hours that required several beers and tequilas to flush the humiliation away.

Everything went well up until the final step of the process…...Alado uses interlocking, aluminum halves as the foil. You slide everything up the headstay and never have to go aloft. It says it an easy one-person install but another set of hands is a huge improvement. It seemed to be going too easy considering the multiple cluster-f’s we’ve had as we rebuilt our 1975 Pearson 26 from the inside-out over the past three years (only been sailing for four…..we’re too old for this crap). So really, as expected, when all hell broke loose I guess we should not have been surprised.

At the final step, once the halyard sheath and foils are attached, you secure the mast using one of the halyards and disconnect the headstay so you can slide the drum on. Then you reconnect the headstay and you’re essentially done. The headstay on our boat has no tensioning turnbuckle(important to the story so hang on), it is a solid cable down to the bow so we had to loosen the tension on the backstay to free up the pin on the headstay. So we cranked down the halyard that the we had secured the mast with and went to the stern. The turnbuckle on the backstay is several feet over either of our heads so on my tip-toes I stuck a screwdriver into the turnbuckle and began to turn it (yes I was turning it in the correct direction). It was EXTREMELY difficult and put up quite a bit of resistance. After several minutes and what seemed like 6,352 turns, the headstay didn’t loosen at all. After several more turns and no progress the blood began to boil, the throwing of tools and kicking of tool boxes commenced and Crazy Cat began to insist that we let the Yard Crew finish it. This drove me into a furious DIYer state of “I’ll do this myself even if it kills me and destroys the boat.” So I went at that turnbuckle hard with WD40, a bigger screw-driver and all the strength I could muster….turning…turning….turning…..until finally I gave up turning and we took our now combined fury on the headstay. Apparently anger and frustration is contagious as Crazy Cat was now wielding a hammer on the pin holding the headstay on. A few well placed and emotional whacks of the hammer and PING, the pin came out and the headstay was free.

With the headstay free were able to complete the assembly and secured the drum and remaining hardware. All we had to do now was re-attach the headstay…. but of course, since it was still under so much tension that the pin had to be knocked out with a hammer, that was impossible. It was a full ½ inch from the attachment point. Hmmmm, we pondered…..maybe we should loosen the halyard a bit? Why would we do this? Why would we do the exact opposite of what we should be doing? We can only infer that we were blind with frustration and exhaustion because in retrospect, we knew we were wrong. We proceeded to mozie up to the mast winch and ever so slightly we backed the halyard off by what appeared to be a couple of inches and as soon as we did “BANG!!!!!” what sounded like a gun going off resonated through the boat. After releasing each other from our “we’re about to die and I always loved you hug” and checking our underpants for accidental soiling we surveyed the boat to see what it was. The noise was the backstay, twisting itself into a pretzel and the mast snapping back to the stern.

Our mistake, although Crazy Cat would like to imply it was my mistake, was that I DID NOT take the lousy, stinking, stupid, rotten cotter pins out of the backstay turnbuckle. Which means that all I was really doing was twisting 50 feet of stainless steel cable around itself and by cranking on the halyard, somehow keeping the thing in equilibrium until we loosened the halyard. Thus giving it enough leeway to twist around itself. See picture. At this point we were screwed. Since we did not realize we had made the cotter pin mistake, we could not loosen the backstay, it was twisted around itself and the halyard was the only thing holding the mast on to the bow, AND we could not re-attach the headtsay which had a $1000 worth of brand new furler hanging off of it. We broke down and had to get the yard to help.

The great Crew at the yard thought it was quite amusing as they took the 5 minutes to pull the cotter pins, untwist the backstay, attach the headstay and finish the furler install for us. Apparently the embarrassment we felt and the laugh they got was sufficient payment as they didn’t even charge us for the rescue.

So the lesson here for myself and Crazy Cat isn’t that we should not try to DIY any further boat projects, but only that “always take the cotter pins out of a turnbuckle”. As a side note, we have so far successfully re-bed every piece of hardware and portlights which transformed our Pearson from a mold and mildew, puddle soaked horror into an extremely dry boat, and we completely gutted and replaced all of the electrical system per “Casey” standards. Next season we’re going to tackle the blistering gelcoat on the bottom…..which we have no doubt will turn into another cluster.
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