Sunday, 21 October 2012

Roller-Furling Your Problems or Hanking-On Old Ideas?

A debate of purist and modern sailors 
about the pros and cons on head sails

        0300. Heading 225T. Falling barometer at 760mm, winds starting to gust to up to 35 knots with increasing following seas. My wife is staring at me just after she wakes me up during her watch and shouts once more, from the bottom of her heart: “WHY DID YOU TAKE THAT BLOODY ROLLER FURLER OUT?”. She still thinks she cannot run up on deck, lower our jib and take an easy-going reef point with all that wind and waves washing over our 32’ light displacement sailyacht.

The idea of taking the roller furler away

            It’s been know a few months since I decided that I wanted to get back to the origins of the jib-hoisting art. We sold our ProFurl Roller Furler in Cartagena, Colombia for a ridiculous amount of money because we were really going broke. Influenced by the thousands of seamen that we crossed our way, me and my wife always had different ideas about the subject, but I had it once when I sailed away with a mate that really brought things to pot. Being caught in a tropical storm and not being able to furl your sail on a really strong lee-shore was the drop for me. Funny thing is that she wasn’t there when all this happened.

            I wasn’t gonna take it anymore and I had always been sailing with the g’old hank-on sails. I tried to explain it to my wife that was quite new to the sailing business; I drew up a whole new sail plan for our Endeavour 32’ to make it suitable for any kind of weather, making it from a sloop to a cutter; we got an old school gaff sail, stretched it out, cut, glued, patched, sewn it, and made a brand-new #2 heavy jib with 2 reef points. Same deal with our staysail. Made a really outstanding rigging for our little floating home so she can work out in any kind of weather. But she wasn’t convinced. Not at all. And she hadn’t been until the moment she saw what she had to do just to put a sail up or down. And that wasn’t funny. Well, maybe it was to all the other people at the marina when after they heard all the deal, and they all looked at my face and said “we told you that roller furlers are good, and they only make women happier”. What a night I had sleeping on the cockpit by myself…

Real sailing or an easy cruise?

            It is well-known by a fact that when you sail with hank-on sails, your boat works way better. The way you can stretch your sails even with reef points while beating against the wind; the way it pulls your boat and improve the movement of it; the shape she has when going on a real broad reach with following seas. All of that not talking about the strength of the sail as well, because you are making it work the proper way whereas when you furl your sails, you’re making the material to force in a different way that it was meant to, therefore reducing its lifetime.

            The deal is: I do understand her. When it’s 3am, and you have already a fair wind like 30 knots or so, which isn’t much but it is already enough to make things difficult when handling a flapping sail over deck, rolling it and tying a reef point to it. All of that with jolting of the small yacht, waves washing over. Throw a little rain with it and you all have probably been in that situation. Needless to go on. However, when you have enough discipline, and you get your moves right, that works out normally: bring the sail down, tie the reef, redo the sheet, up she goes. Done deal. What most people are worried about is at the time of bringing the sails down. There is an old technique of making an easy jib downhaul, which is the best stuff you can probably have. A shackle around your stay, with the two lines to it: halyard and downhaul, add a clip to it as well to fit to the head clew. You just bring the downhaul to the cockpit with a single block and you´re all good.

Easy handling and low storage but poor liability

            So I keep wondering why over 90% of the boats still have roller-furling systems when I just found out such a revolutionary thing for my own existing being. And since I cannot actually get it, my wife comes telling me simple stuff that I can’t see with my old school mariner’s mind. The easy handling of the fore sail can be done straight from the cockpit through two lines. Wind goes up and… Wapt! The sail is reduced within seconds to the exact desired size. On a 32 foot yacht, having 3 different set of jibs is not quite a practical thing when you have to store them around, when the furled sail is always there, not taking extra room.

            Taking that into account, I put myself to think. If you are to free some space, that means you will only have that one sail always over there. What if she rips? Specially during a nice blow on a lee-shore? How many people would put themselves into the situation that you have around 40 knots of wind and you have to open your 135% (or even maybe 150%) jib and pulling it down? And then, even if you have another sail to go up, the trouble to feed it into the slot is way more complicated than hanking up some hooks and it’ll take lot longer, maybe just the time for you to reach that lee-shore you were dreading so bad. In that situation, the little effort you have every time of going up on deck and hanking your sails is paid to, because you have the practice, you know your moves and you can respond quicker.

            Let’s talk about other aspects not so tragic now. The simple fact that roller furlers are so expensive these days could be just a good reason for someone to have a super sail arsenal with less than a quarter of the money they would spend on just the furler itself. Not talking about sails for furlers that can reach an exaggerated price, specially in richer countries. Taking all of that into account, I found out a good way to go around with hanks, not having to give up MUCH room (but you still have to, it is inevitable) and making life cheaper.

An ideal sail plan without a roller system

            We’ve got a 100% #2 Jib with 2 reef points, thick Dacron; Staysail, moderate thickness; 150% #1 extra light jib with 1 reef point; storm sail. What we do is simple. I always have to heavy jib and the staysail hanked, which already makes life much easier since you don’t have to hank them up all the time. Then:

  • 10-15knots: Full Sail Up. Jib, Staysail and Main
  • 15-20knots: Single reefed main, Jib
  • 20-25knots: Double reefed main, single reefed jib, staysail
  • 25-30knots: 3rd reef on main, double reefed jib, staysail
  • 35-45knots: 4th reef on main, either double reefed jib or just staysail, depends on sea conditions
  • 50knots-over: 4th reefed main, ready to come down and storm sail hanked on inner forestay
  • Anything under 10knots, full 150% jib goes up if we are in a place known to have light winds all the time, and sky reading will allow us to keep it like that for a while, otherwise is too much of a job to change jibs at every single squall that comes round


            Having said all of that, my conclusion was definitely to hank-on the old ideas that the sailors from afar have taught me throughout the years. And due to them I try to just drop a little seed regarding current questions that linger inside every sailors’ minds, and hope to hear what you have to tell us as well.