Boat Rat: Rolling Furler Revolution

It was not so long ago that blue water sailors looked askance at roller furling headsails on cruising boats. They were considered to be labor saving gadgets that were prone to failure at exactly the wrong moment and gave you a sail that was either too flat when rolled all the way out or too baggy when partially reefed.

Roller furling booms—the old style that rolled the sail around the boom itself—had been around for a long time, and while they were okay, they also created seriously baggy sails when reefed; some skippers used to roll towels in the sail as they reefed to add bulk and flatten the sail.

Ted Hood, the sailmaker, yacht designer and equipment inventor, came up with one of the first roller furling headsail systems that really worked because it had swivels at the head and tack that effectively flattened the reefed sail. And singledhanded round-the-world race winner Philippe Jeantot won the first BOC Challenge with a Profurl roller furling headsail system, proving that the gear was truly blue water capable. The revolution had begun.

In-mast roller furling evolved from systems mounted on the aft side of the mainmast. The in-mast systems made handling the mainsail a snap and soon found their way onto boats in charter fleets, where thousands of sailors discovered just how convenient the systems are. But the drawback to in-mast furling is the poor sail shape; the sails have to be cut very flat so they will roll smoothly around the mandrel inside the mast. Without much draft and no roach—no horizontal battens to support it—the sails are not very efficient and really lack horsepower. Vertical battens allow the sailmakers to add about 15 percent more sail, which helps a bit.

In-boom roller furling, which was also pioneered by Hood, eliminates this problem. You can build the best looking, most efficient mainsail with a good draft and plenty of roach and full battens and it will still roll right into the boom. Forespar Leisure Furl, Schaefer and others have developed systems that work. But in-boom furling can be tricky since the angle of the boom to the mast (89.5 degrees) is critical to get an even roll around the mandrel. Experienced sailors have little problem with the systems, but novices have to develop the required skills.

It is amazing how roller furling systems have changed sailing. No more cold, wet nights on the foredeck changing sails, no more struggling with mainsail reefing lines at the mast, no more folding and bagging genoas or furling and lashing a stiff mainsail. Sailing is much easier now, so we all should be sailing more. That’s a revolution I can fight for.

For more great tips, pick up the October issue of BWS on newsstands now.

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