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Boom It Yourself

Tinker Toy, the author's perfect "South Pudget Sound" attained that status once the author and his wife accomplished the Herculean task of installing a boom furling system without professional assistance. 
By Al Cameron

In 2000 my wife Lori and I moved to Olympia, WA. For me this was a return to my boyhood home; for Lori this was yet another location in our more than 20-year military lifestyle. Upon returning to Southern Puget Sound I had to have a sailboat since sailing for me is second nature. I literally grew up on the water and my father was one of the founding members of the South Sound Sailing Society. Yet, since 1978, I hadn't sailed but a handful of weeks while Lori had only been on a sailboat twice in her life, once for a week on our honeymoon and the second time for a week cruise on a summer vacation. With this combined wealth of experience, we set out to buy and rig the perfect south Sound sailboat. Eventually we found Tinker Toy, a very well-kept 1988 Catalina 30 MkII, and we began learning about the current state of sailing.

Over the last 30 years that I've been active (and not so active) in sailing, the biggest change that has taken place is the advent of roller furling. This is a wonderful tool that has made shorthanded sail handling an easy reality. So we thoroughly researched mast-furling systems, but the former club racer in me just couldn't come to grips with a roachless mainsail. We knew then that we weren't really looking for a mainsail furling system; what we wanted was to minimize the amount of time either of us had to spend on deck and a safe way for one of us to reef the main in heavy weather. Finally, after some more extensiveresearch, we got hooked on the idea of using a boom furling system.

Even though boom furling is more expensive, it seemed a safer and, in my eyes, a more logical alternative. Should the furling system fail, the sail would still drop to the deck like a normal mainsail, unlike what happens with a mast furling system where, if the furler jams part way in or out, you can neither raise nor lower the sail. After a few weeks of web crawling and deciding that we didn't really want to cut a big hole through our mast, we settled on the ProFurl boom furling system. Thus began our major upgrade project.

Once we contacted our ProFurl dealer, they sent a list of measurements and a tasking to provide an outline or a profile drawing of the mast. The required measurements were pretty straight forward. They involved getting out the tape measure, stretching it over the required distance, taking a reading, doing it again, and inevitably trying to figure out why the two measurements were never the same—you know the drill.

The profile drawing was another story. Of course the best way to do this is with the mast off the boat; then you can take a piece of paper, place it over the butt end of the mast, and trace around the shape. Nevertheless we were not yet ready to drop the mast, so how were we to get the shape transferred? After much head scratching, we finally settled on bending (and mainly pounding) two coat hangers snuggly up against each side of the mast and then placing them on the paper and tracing the shape. This seemed to work.

Although the author followed the manufacturer's directions concerning the angles for the new vang and the gooseneck mounting brackets, in retrospect he believes that he could have left the boom in the OEM location.

One thing that all mainsail furling systems seem to have in common is the need for a rigid boom vang. The vang that comes with the ProFurl boom requires very specific angles. After consulting with our ProFurl dealer's tech support we decided to reverse the normal mounting position of the mast fitting for the vang and move the boom gooseneck fitting up the mast some six inches from the OEM position. This would satisfy all the ProFurl specifications and still allow us to open the port over our dinette. 

However, 20/20 hindsight would reveal that the angles specified by ProFurl may be overly cautious and and that my measuring may have been suspect since the boom could easily have stayed in the OEM location. Reversing the fitting on the mast for mounting the vang was all that we really needed to have done. Eventually, with all the appropriate measurements and drawings in hand, we faxed our order to the dealer.

The complete ProFurl kit, new boom, vang, and mast track, arrived in about two weeks. It showed up in our driveway one night, a 15-foot long, two-foot high, two-foot wide cardboard box with many, many aluminum pieces and parts inside. For the next week and half, we dry fitted all the mast track pieces together. We fitted all the fittings onto the boom and tried to visualize just how the sail would connect to everything. The installation instruction book provided by ProFurl was very complete and specifically stated that this was not a "do-it-yourself" project, "installation [was] only to be performed by a rigger or a ProFurl authorized dealer." As you might guess we sort of ignored that last part.

The desired final project: the new mainsail completly furled in the new boom. A lot of hardwork and creative thinking were necessary prior to arriving here.
Probably the most complicated part of this whole installation was attaching the gooseneck and the boom vang to the mast. ProFurl took the drawing that we had made and prebent some sheet aluminum plates to conform to our mast profile and predrilled the plates for their vang and gooseneck fittings. It was then left up to us to drill the connection holes through these plates into the mast: eight holes in each plate (four plates: two for the gooseneck, and two for the boom vang), 32 new holes in the mast (that took some pucker power). I didn't really think about it until after the installation was over, but when I was drilling all 32 of those holes in the mast it was a very good thing that I had removed all the halyards (I had taken them home to be washed).

Once all the holes were drilled, we riveted the plates to the mast with stainless steel rivets provided in the kit. Attaching the mast track behind the mast may have been the easiest part of the whole installation. The mast track is actually the same aluminum track used for some of ProFurl's Genoa furling systems; ProFurl just adapted the joint connectors so that they attach to a mast track fitting. All we had to do was slip the connectors into the mast track, bolt them in place, and slip on the new track. Again, the instructions were well written and walked us through all the steps. They even provided a laminated template to help us determine just how far away the mast track had to be from the backstay.

The one really annoying part of the installation came when we had to fit the boom onto the gooseneck. While dry fitting everything at home in the garage we never had a problem. The boom had a good-sized hole to receive a pin from the gooseneck. We just had to flip the boom over and reach down through the furling drum to insert a cotter key into the end of the gooseneck pin. Well, of course once the gooseneck was mounted on the mast there was no flipping anything over, so someone had to lay on his back and reach up into what was now a small furling drum and fit the cotter pin in place. Naturally I had no luck maneuvering a little cotter key into the hole on the end of the pin while standing on my head. The three yard workers helping me step were also unsuccessful, so finally my wife resolutely walked right up and put us men to shame by getting it on her second try.

The sweet taste of victory: the head of the sail feeds into the new mast track feeder without a hitch.
Once the boom was installed, we again hauled out the measure tape and figured out what the new dimensions would be for our new mainsail. Armed with the measurements of our newly installed boom and the sailmaker's instructions from ProFurl, we ordered the new mainsail. One of the advantages of a boom furling system over mast furling was that there aren't any restrictions on battens, so the new cross cut main has full-length battens.

After another short four-week wait (a short time that took lots of patience), the new sails arrived and off we went down to the boat to go sailing. Actually on the first day we didn't make it out of the marina. It took all evening to fit the new mainsail to the boom, and then to adjust the boom vang so that the sail would go up the mast and come back down and roll up into the boom. And of course we had to fit the new full length battens into the sail.

When the system was brand new, hoisting the new mainsail up the mast track was considerably difficult. We used plenty of luff tape lubricant (a complete tube, in fact), but it took six to 10 hoistings before I could pull up the main halfway up without using the winch handle. After a couple of months, the sail goes up most of the way by hand, and then the halyard goes onto the winch for the last five feet or so. The outhaul is fixed, and although there isn't a provision for a Cunningham, the ability to control the shape with the halyard is all we really need for cruising. And of course the ultimate ability with this configuration is reefing. You basically have an infinite number of reef points, although ProFurl does recommend bringing the head of the main down to one of the mast track connection joints and using them as a guide or reef point.

Bringing the sail down could not be any easier: just ease off on the halyard and pull in on the furling line. The same principle applies when reefing, except that when the head of the sail drops to the appropriate point, you lock it in place and tighten up on furling line to get the appropriate tension.

Wing on wing into a Pacific sunset, Tinker Toy proudly displays her new boom furling system proving that the author's tenacity and complete disregard for the manufacturer's words of caution against DIY installation paid off in full.
ProFurl's instructions state that this installation can be completed with the mast on the boat. This may be true, but I'm definitely not that adept at bosun's chair work. And then there is the whole gooseneck and boom vang riveting aspect; you definitely need an air gun to secure those rivets. And drilling 32 holes into the mast with the halyards in place could be more than a little tricky.

Sailing with the new boom is an outstanding success.  Reefing is a one-person task, and shaking out a reef is so simple that we often change from reefed, to deep reefed, or no reef depending on the wind speed, rather than the crew's willingness to go on deck. I don't know if we use the boat any more than we did before, but I can say that the time we use the boat is more enjoyable. 

Tips for Installing a Boom Furling System

If you too are concerned over going on deck in heavy weather, or you really want to simplify your rig for shorthanded sailing, and decide to follow in our wake, here are a few final "lessons learned:"

· You need a serious rivet gun (we used an air gun) to attach the boom vang and gooseneck fittings to the mast.

· Drilling into the aluminum plates should probably be done with a drill press, especially if you want to countersink the holes to make it look good (I had a friend do this for me).

· Really watch out for the halyards when you drill this many holes in the mast. Since we took the mast off for our installation, we removed and cleaned all of the halyards.

· Check your angles. I probably moved the gooseneck up the mast needlessly being overly cautious.

· Remember that this system (each brand is a little different) moves the entire sail aft, so if you keep the same foot length the sail will be much closer to your backstay, and if you add more roach with full battens, you do need to check your clearances (I was lucky, a standard rig Catalina 30 has plenty of room).

· Plan for at least two months of downtime: you've got to install the boom and order new sails to fit the new boom.


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