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Roller furling maintenance

Apr 24, 2014

Though highly dependable, furling units still require regular attention

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In-mast and boom furling

In this case, the line is wrapped too loosely on the drum possibly leading to overwraps and binding of the furling line.

Although similar to jib furling systems, in-mast and boom mainsail furlers have some of their own unique problems. As these systems tend to vary in construction and design, it is best to follow manufacturers’ instructions for maintenance. Like jib furlers the biggest enemy will be salt and corrosion.

Both types of systems really need you to remove the sails for a full inspection of the mechanical parts. The biggest issue with in-mast and in-boom systems is jamming of the sail as it is rolled in or out. Sail shape and fit have a lot to do with jamming. It is important to start with a sail that is designed to work with your system. Sails stretch and change shape with age and this can cause problems. The sail will no longer lay flat when rolled and folds will develop that lead to binding. It is important to keep an eye out for this as your sail ages. Wind direction, line tension, and boom angle during operation all affect the performance of these systems. Most systems recommend the sail be rolled in with little or no wind pressure. Keep tension on the outhaul for in-mast and halyard for in-boom as the sail is brought in.

For all systems it is important to be observant while rolling the sail in or out. Watch to make sure it is not binding or getting caught in anything. If it feels like it is hard to operate or is binding, you should stop immediately and find the cause. Applying more pressure will often make matters worse. Check that no other lines or halyards are becoming fouled in the system. This is a common problem and even a flag halyard caught in the sail can jam it. Make sure your control lines are free and not binding within the furler drum. Care needs to be taken when using electric or hydraulic drives and winches as these systems remove the “feel” from the operation and can easily overpower a system and damage a sail or furler. Pay attention to the tension on the furling line and stop if it seems to be getting too tight. If possible, have another crewmember watch the gear and sail while another operates it.

Examples of in-mast furling (top) and in-boom furling (above).

Should a problem develop at sea it can be difficult to repair, but there are some tactics that will help. Try to take your time to look the system over and see if you can find any obvious problems. If the system starts to bind, stop and back it up a bit to see if that clears it. Don’t go back more than a turn or two; if a line is caught in the sail, reversing too far could just pull it in from the other direction.

With jib furlers, should the sail become stuck fully or partially open it is best to turn downwind and ease the sheet to take pressure off the sail. If the sail is fully open, your best option may be to simply drop the sail until you can fix the problem. If the sail is partly furled, but will not go either in or out, there are a couple of things you can do. The easiest is to use a spare halyard to wrap around the stay and sail in spiral fashion to secure the sail until you can make repairs to the furling unit. Another option is to furl the sail either by turning the boat in circles under power while wrapping the sail around the stay or pulling the sheet around the stay to roll the sail up.

For mainsails your best tactic is to turn the boat into the wind to take pressure off the sail. For in-boom furling the sail can then be dropped and secured to the boom. In-mast furlers can be a bit more challenging, working the sail in and out some may free the jam once pressure is off the sail. To get a better pull on the sail, try tying the clew car all the way aft at the end of the boom and pull the sail out with the outhaul while turning the furling drum. If the sail is stuck with the boat headed into the wind, disconnect the outhaul line and attach a free line to the clew, take this line forward around the mast to pull the clew as far forward as possible. Next, turn the boat downwind and try rolling the sail as much as possible by hand starting at the clew. As with a stuck jib, wrap a halyard around the sail and mast pulling the sail to the mast, although you will only be able to secure the sail below the spreaders, this should help control it. Any sail above the spreaders may require going aloft to secure. In rare cases the sail may have to be cut free.

Many voyagers take their furling systems for granted as they normally do not require much in the way of maintenance. For any vessel planning an extended passage, a thorough inspection of all your rigging including the furling systems will help avoid problems at sea. Remove the sails and do a visual inspection of all parts.

Rotate all furlers and note anything that does not feel right. The furler should rotate a full 360° without any hard spots or binding. Inspect furling lines for damage or chafing. Look for loose fasteners; it is not enough to just visually inspect but try tightening each, you should not be able to move any with average pressure. For powered units check all electrical connections and hydraulic fittings. While your sails are down, check their condition and pay close attention to the clew, tack and head fittings. Make sure any shackles used are seized with stainless steel wire. Finally, for jib furlers make sure you inspect the stay ends as well.

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Capt. Wayne Canning lives on his Irwin 40 Vayu, in Wilmington N.C. Canning is a marine surveyor, freelance writer, and consultant/project manager on major repairs. Visit www.4ABetterBoat.com and www.projectboatzen.com for more info.

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