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Dking59 03-11-2004 05:39 PM

Furling Main Sails
Iam looking for cruising boat to take us to the Carribean, Centeral America, etc. And some offshore work. Several of the boats on my short list have in mast roller furling.
I am conerned about these systems not working at the worst possible times and the complexity they had to the sail handling system. I would like to hear from sailors who have used mast furling and the good and bad.

Jeff_H 03-12-2004 02:50 AM

Furling Main Sails
To some extent it depends on the installation and the particular model boat, but in talking to sailmakers and people who have used them, and reading an evaluation by a regional PHRF authority, I have drawn some conclusions.

To begin with, I talking with people who have in mast furling, most really love the system, until the first time it locks up in a heavy wind. They do lock up and they can be a real problem to clear. I have heard separate two stories, where to save the boat they literally sent someone up the mast to cut away the sail in a blow. With jib roller furling there are a variety of options for dealing with a jamb. Those options are not available on in-mast furling. On that basis alone I would say that in-mast furling is not a suitable set up for offshore work.

Talking with the sailmakers who have been open and honest with (rather than trying to sell me a sail or a system), mainsail furlers give up a lot of performance over a normal sail. If I remember correctly, the PHRF analysis concluded that depending on the sail options and the design of the boat, the performance difference was roughly 12 to 30 seconds a mile. Those are very big differences. Accoring to the PHRF report, the difference can be far greater in light air, where the greater turbulence and drag of the oversized mast, and the poorer sail shape (cut flat to minimize the chance of jambing when furled) can really handicap performance.

Although there is a significant loss in performance in light air, the most serious problem with mainsail furling occurs in prolonged higher winds. In high winds sail shape becomes expecially critical. In heavy winds ideally you are sailing with a comparatively flat sail with minimal twist (leech open) or hook (leech hooked to weather). If you carefully furl the sail, you can end up with a pretty desent initial sail shape for heavy air sailing. But when sailing with partially furled sail for a period of time, the layers of sailcloth slide over each other so that the leech creeps down toward the tack. This puts more sail cloth into the body of the sail and greatly increases leech tension. As a result you end up with a very round and powered up sail with a lot of leech hook. That is the perfect combination for a lot of heeling and drag, with minimal drive. In other words exactly backwards of what you want in heavy air. Sailing that way also really strains the leech area of the sail which is why you see a lot of furling mainsails with stretched out leeches and a lot of leech flutter. According to the sailmakers mainsail furlers greatly shorten the lifespan of a sail. Additionally as the sail creeps down the roll it also bunches up which is one of the predominant causes of jambing in high wind sailing.

Given your planned cruising grounds, my conclusion is that the presense of a furling mainsail would be a deal breaker.


WHOOSH 03-12-2004 06:00 AM

Furling Main Sails

I don''t use a mainsail furling system so, in that sense, I can''t reply directly to your query. However, two thoughts leap to mind...

The first is how surprised I have been over the last 4 years, most of it while transiting the East Coast twice, offshore cruising in the Caribbean and while crossing the Atlantic, in how favorable have been the comments about mainsail furling. Especially with European systems such as those made by Selden, many owners have praised these systems without reservation. I didn''t get to listen to comments about performance and boat speed and such because, frankly, I think they are generally so afraid of going on deck and so appreciative of cranking a winch from the cockpit (or if going on deck, being able to crank something at the mast in 2 mins vs. pulling in a reef for perhaps 5 mins while dancing on the coachroof a bit) that performance as a consideration slides off into never-neverland. I honestly expected to hear more equivocating about furling main performance...and I haven''t. What I have seen are those (rare, I guess) cases where boats limp into harbors with their mainsail on deck (or torn apart) when the system didn''t work at all, jammed or couldn''t be fully furled, and where the trip ended up being longer (and more expensive) than expected. In truth, I''ve only seen 5 boats with this problem so far, out of many hundreds of I guess the odds are pretty good. But of course, the real question is whether this is one of those areas where you want to ''have odds''.

(BTW I''ve found that a conventionally reefed main can get pretty blown out in the leech over time, too. Any form of reefing is going to wear the sail unevenly. You''ll find in the Caribbean some boats never shake out a reef as they move up/down island, a guaranteed way to prematurely wear a sail, it seems to me).

My second thought relates to your description that "I am looking for cruising boat to take us to the Carribean, Centeral America, etc. And some offshore work." This can cover a LOT of ground and refer to some very different circumstances. E.g. sailing the Thorny path down to the Eastern Caribbean, and then perhaps across via the Greater Antilles to the Bay Is., up the Rio and then N thru the Yucatan Channel, I would not consider a mainsail furling system the ''deal breaker'' that Jeff mentions. The runs can be done in short stretches, there''s readily available wx f''cast info available thru-out that area, plenty of hidey holes inbetween, and in truth the wx is usually pretty manageable - rarely more than 30 kts sustained. OTOH if I were e.g. considering a run across the bottom of the Caribbean (VZ-Columbia-Panama) or running down the W coast of Central America from Z Town, I''d have a real worry about that kind of gear, because the winds can be truly horrendous on occasion, due to funneling effects off the Andes or thru the Central American backbone''s gaps, respectively. So...perhaps another issue to sort out is just where you hope to be going - specifically, and in which seasons - and what the implications might be for those waters.

Good luck; you''ve got a lot of fun headed your way!


Dking59 03-13-2004 06:23 PM

Furling Main Sails
Jeff and Jack thanks for your replies, I think they were both of value. Let me give you a bit more detail.
The Plan.
My wife and I have owned several boats from a wooden Snipe to a Starret&Jenks45. We sailed on the Chesapeake, Lake Champlain and the Atlantic Coast from Solomons to the Canadian Border. We have also chartered in the Virgins, Belize, Georgian Bay and the Strait of Georgia. Now our kids are getting older and we want to cruise. Now exactly where and what time of the year is hard to nail down, this is a work in progress. What I don''t want to do is limit ourselves too much with a choice of boat. I would like to do the Bahamas or the Florida Keys. We would like to go back to Belize and on to Central America. If we get brave perhaps we would try Panama Canal and Costa Rica. So we are looking for strong boat, reasonable performance, shoal draft, moderate displacement to carry us and a lot of stuff but not a "crab Crusher".

The Boats.
We are down to two boats; Brewer 12.8 and Bristol 41.1. The Brewer thatwe are looking at is a cutter ketch with furling everything, jib, staysil, missen and electric in mast furler.We like the boat but find the Furling main scary. Plus with a ketch rig you are already giving up some performance for the sake of ease of sail handling why give even more to the furling? Oddly enough the boat came from the builder with a tall rig and more ballast and after one season the owner replaced with the standard rig and furling-rama. The Bristol that is in our area is also main furling and a sloop. My feeling is that we would be better off with a cutter rig with slab reef main, furling jib and hanked on staysil.

Am I too old fashioned or is main furling going to be the new standard for cruisers??


Jeff_H 03-14-2004 03:38 AM

Furling Main Sails
You are not old fashioned. In talking to experienced delivery skippers who have spent much time offshore with mainsail furlers, they tell me that it is only a matter of time until a jamb occurs when reefed. I think that Jack and I have said the same thing but from a different angle. The type of people who generally buy a mainsail furling system are less concerned with performance that ''push button'' sailing, and for those people, they love the in mast furling until the first time it jambs and they can''t clear it. I have generally understood that the Selden is a better set up than some of the other furling systems, but one of the most harrowing stories that I heard was a Trinitella with a Selden.

As to the so-called Brewer 12.8 "cutter ketch", first of all, there is no such thing as a "cutter ketch" or a ketch rigged Brewer 12.8. You are looking a ketch with multiple headsails and what distinquishes a Brewer 12.8 from a Whitby 42 is that the Brewers have a cutter rig (vs the ketch rig on the Whitbys) and the Brewers have a Keel/centerboard (although some of the last Whitbys have a fixed keel.) The Whibys were a significantly less expensive boat and so you see a lot of the later Whitby 42''s advertised as Brewer 12.8''s.

The Brewer 12.8''s (cutters) are very good sailing boats. My father has one and I have been very impressed with how well his sails. (By the way,Dad''s boat which has slab reefing and a dutchman system is for sale in Sarasota, Florida. He does not have it listed so you would need to call him directly at 941 371 0659 or email me for a listing) The cutter rig on the Brewer 12.8''s have an ingenious rig that allows the staysail to be quickly and easily relocated to the base of the mast so that the boat can be normally sailed as a sloop but with the staysail ready to go at any time. Set up as a sloop is a very much easier way to sail any cutter when you need to tack a lot and so helps make the boat an excellent coastal cruiser as well as an offshore boat.

The ketch rigged versions of the so-called ''Brewers'', fall heavily into the "crab crusher" category in terms of sailing ability. The added loss of performance involved with a mainsail furling system would only push it further into the realm of crab crusherdom. we each determine what is an acceptable level of perforance for our tastes and needs, and there is a wide range of ''acceptable'' sailing performance out there. But a Whitby 42 with an in-mast furling system, would fall heavily into the bottom of a performance range for anyone who cares about performance.

With all due respect, the Brewer 12.8''s (in other words the Cutter rigged K/B boats) were conceived to be just what you are looking for, an offshore capable distance cruiser that can be handled by an older couple. The genuine 12.8''s all came with very heavy duty hardware and electric primary winches that can also be used to haul up the mainsail, taking away the usual primary arguement for having a furling mainsail.

I guess in the end it comes down to what you can live with. As Jack says, for some, a furling mainsail is an acceptable risk. Having listened to a few more stories of failures than Jack has encountered and with the greatly reduced lifespan of a furling mainsail, I would consider a mainsail furler system a ''deal breaker'' but that may just be my opinion.


Dking59 03-14-2004 05:59 PM

Furling Main Sails
I tend to agree with you on the furling main sail. There are times on a boat when the main just has to come down, now. I think I want gravity on my side. What did confuse me is what you said about Brewers vs. Whitbys. The boat I have been looking at in Maine is a ketch with two head sails and a keel/centerboard and a split underbody. It also has the elect. primary winches and the interior off a Brewer. I''m fimiliar with the Whitby42 and this ain''t one. Can you fill me in???


WHOOSH 03-14-2004 08:36 PM

Furling Main Sails
Dennis, I think you provided the fundamental answer to your own question:

"My feeling is that we would be better off with a cutter rig with slab reef main, furling jib and hanked on staysil."

I can appreciate that it may ''feel'' a bit stodgy to hold that preference when you see all the furling hardware popping up on both retro-fitted boats and new boats everywhere you turn...but IMO it''s a functional preference you are holding based on your sailing plans, and which is also based on what I would describe at this point as a good backdrop of prior experience. Few of those hardware-intensive boats are going where you want to be able to.

You may simply have to shop a bit more until you find what you''re looking for. And don''t forget that adding an inner stay is a reasonable job to take on, should an otherwise suitable boat show up without such a feature. In your preferred boat size especially, being short handed, you''ll definitely want an inner stay. I added a Solent Stay because it was simplier than the staysail stay seen in the U.S., but Solent Stays are very common here in Europe. I found the job easily done by myself with some forethought and research.

To try and close the apparent gap a bit between Jeff''s view and mine on the relative fallibility of mainsail furling systems, I think one reason we hear about/see differing levels of system failures is that we''re drawing on the experiences of different audiences. I can''t think of a group of folks that are forced to deal more with system failures on boats than delivery skippers. For every rich owner and gold-plated cream puff that needs to be moved, there is a boat that''s been used, not looked after, and now the owner chooses to replace effort and care with money, sticking the delivery skipper with the headaches. I principally run into boats being sailed by owners and, when they face the kinds of ocean work we''re all discussing, they are more motivated to attend to their hardware. It doesn''t make mainsail furling systems inherently bullet-proof, but it does lower the odds a bit.<g>

BTW and FWIW and so forth, you''ve ended up describing boats that sound somewhat hardware intense, and which may be priced noticeably higher (and require a bit more maintenance) than the simplier kind of boat you express an interest in. I''m not sure if that''s the result of brokers pushing more expensive boats or you being attracted to the extra gear, but I do want to mention that if you own the boat long enough, you might in the end appreciate systems that are more manual (assumming they are adequately powered and properly serviced). I think you were saying that, but the boat choices seem to tell a different story...

Good luck on the hunt!


kimberlite 03-14-2004 08:57 PM

Furling Main Sails
I LOVE my main roller refing !
Amel has built over 700 50 foot offshore boats with in mast furling. We have backup systems for a non functioning reefing system, which we have never used.
I find it convenient that we can sail right up to a squall and furl at the last moment.
we can also furl on a moments notice without getting the crew out of our bunks.
you don''t have to go out of a safe cockpit in 40-50 knot winds to put the third reef in.The most important feature is that you can sail short handed- many couples sail their Amels all over the world. I would never have another boat without in mast furling.
fair winds

Jeff_H 03-15-2004 02:30 AM

Furling Main Sails
When you say, "I find it convenient that we can sail right up to a squall and furl at the last moment. We can also furl on a moments notice without getting the crew out of our bunks. You don''t have to go out of a safe cockpit in 40-50 knot winds to put the third reef in. The most important feature is that you can sail short handed- many couples sail their Amels all over the world." This is also exactly true of a boat set up with two line reefing systems for each reef, plus Two line reefing allows affords you the chance to control sail shape with the halyard and outhaul, which gets expecially important in high wind conditions.

You clearly seem to fall in the category of a sailor who loved thier in-mast furler but has yet to experience a major jamb in heavy air. That said, I have not seen the In-mast furler installation on an Amal so I am curious, how does the "backup systems for a non functioning reefing system" clear a HIHO (half in half out) jamb, which after all is the most common form of a jambing problem with these systems.


rleslie 03-15-2004 01:18 PM

Furling Main Sails

My wife & I have also narrowed it down to the Brewer or Bristol. If you have not done so, I suggest that you go to:

You will find some very helpful info. It seems that many people call the final generation of Whitbys (that were built in Florida) Whitby/Brewers, when in fact there is a difference in these boats and the "true" Brewer 12.8; primarily the skeg hung rudder and modified keel.


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