April 3, 2016

The perils of roller furling

I REALIZE it makes me sound rather more than a little eccentric, but I have never trusted roller-furling or roller-reefing headsails. In fact I have never owned a roller furler. No wait, that’s not quite true. I once bought a used Cape Dory 27 that had a roller furler. The first thing I did was to throw it away.

I have to admit that few developments in sailing systems have been so widely and gladly accepted as headsails that roll themselves up, or partially reef themselves, at the pull of a line. The attraction is obvious: you don’t need to struggle on a wet and bouncing foredeck to reef a headsail, or, worse, change it for a smaller one. Only gung-ho racers and cruising masochists enjoy changing headsails in heavy weather.

Furthermore, the system usually works well. It has a good reputation for reliability. The problem is that it cannot be trusted to work properly every single time. It cannot be totally 100-percent reliable. And that’s what worries the small minority of us with over-active imaginations who foresee ourselves being caught in fearsome gales and not being able to douse a flapping, out-of control foresail. The wonderful thing about a regular common-or-garden jib with hanks is that it falls down of its own accord when you release the halyard.

Now I know that singlehanders who race 60-foot sailboats non-stop around the world say they wouldn’t be able to do it without the aid of roller reefing.  They also claim that their furling equipment has improved to the stage where it’s almost foolproof. Nevertheless, there are plenty of true stories involving these sailors climbing the forestay somehow in the midst of a savage storm and physically cutting away the sail to gain control.

These are not ordinary sailors, of course. These are the super-sailors, the men and women of mighty muscle and guts of iron.  These are not me.  I am never going to shinny up a forestay full of flapping, lashing canvas in a gale with a knife clasped between my teeth.

I may be a coward, but I have a reasonable amount of common sense, and it tells me that it’s safer to lower and gather a regular foresail than to battle with a stuck roller furler.  I know that statistically, my roller furler would not be likely to get stuck. But there’s always the possibility, and sailing is dangerous enough already without deliberately adding possibilities.

Today’s Thought
The wonder is always new that any sane man can be a sailor.
— Emerson, English Traits

Two pink elephants, a mauve spider, and two yellow snakes entered a local bar.
“Sorry, guys,” said the bartender. “You’re a bit early. Vigor isn’t here yet.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for another Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

Mike K said...

An alternative possibility is to have a roller furler on it's own, lowerable forestay/halyard set inside a permanent forestay. If it ever gives trouble the entire sail and stay can be lowered and removed and another headsail set on the outer stay.