The Hard Road to Convenient Sailhandling

Installing a roller furler is a simple path to Easy Street, provided you avoid the pitfalls along the way. "Hands-On Sailor" from our April 2009 issue

March 26, 2009

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The Schaefer Marine Snapfurl is designed to fit over a small boat’s forestay, though in this case, the bow pulpit meant a tang would have to be added below the drum. Michael Lovett

A major breakthrough occurred at last year’s Newport Folk Festival, and it wasn’t of the musical sort. While rock-and-roll luminary Levon Helm was belting it out on stage, I was nearby singing the praises of sailing with roller furling.

The festival takes place at Fort Adams, near the mouth of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay, where pleasure boats of all shapes and sizes vie for prime anchoring spots within earshot of the main stage. As I entered the crowd of boats on AO, Cruising World’s motor-less Albin 26, I prepared my unwitting crewmates for the possibility of catastrophe. Up to now, the process of anchoring involved a hasty dousing of the genoa followed by a clumsy foredeck ballet involving trying not to slip on the headsail while giving the anchor the old heave-ho. With 20,000 spectators, this was sure to be the day I’d tumble into the drink with anchor in hand.

But it wasn’t, because we had that new roller furler installed. When we found our spot among the revelers, I simply pulled the furling line, watched the headsail wrap cleanly around the headstay, and strolled up to the bare foredeck to nudge the anchor overboard. Easy as spreading out a blanket on the lawn.


Months before, when we were deciding what type of roller furler to add to AO, the Schaefer Marine Snapfurl CF-700 stood out as a logical choice, not merely because Schaefer had agreed to donate the unit for the purpose of our hands-on story but because the CF-700 is intended for a modest-sized sailboat. Designed for smaller boats-with headstays measuring less that 38 feet long-the CF-700 is compact, reliable, and relatively simple to install. Ideally, you simply snap the plastic foil over your existing headstay, slide the furling drum into position, and raise the headsail.

Of course, nothing is ever that easy.

Still, the project is well within the abilities of a fairly handy sailor with access to two extra sets of hands-in my case, these hands were supplied by CW senior editor Mark Pillsbury and Steve Majkut, Schaefer’s marketing director. The job also requires a few tools: a screwdriver, cordless drill, wrench, hacksaw, tape measure, wire snips, and a bosun’s chair.


Getting Started
The first step was to take some measurements. I ran a tape measure up on a halyard to find the headstay length-this would tell us how long to cut the foil later on-and checked to make sure the existing end fittings on the stay would fit the furler’s specifications. (Nota bene: Look up the mast to verify that the headstay attaches to the mast with a standard fitting such as a swaged-on eye or tang. I didn’t inspect the mast fitting on AO closely enough, and as you’ll soon see, it came back to haunt us.)

While taking measurements, I did make one troublesome discovery: AO’s awkwardly shaped bow pulpit was going to interfere with the drum unit and prevent it from being mounted flush to the stem head. Steve suggested that we add a 6-inch toggle fitting between the drum and the bow. This addition served to raise the drum up above the obstruction, but it also required us to shorten the headstay and lop off a significant portion of the headsail.
A local rigger fashioned us a new, shorter headstay. (Even if AO’s irregular bow pulpit hadn’t necessitated replacing the existing headstay, it would’ve been worth it to get a new one anyway, since inspecting the stay with the furler installed is difficult.) Next, it was time to cut the foil down to size. To determine the appropriate length for the foil, deduct the length of the furler unit from the length of the headstay. Be careful when loosening the coiled lengths of foil for the first time: They unwind with a vengeance, lashing out at any unsuspecting bystanders. Use the hacksaw to sever both halves of the foil at the appropriate length.

Even if you choose to install the furler over an existing headstay, you’ll still need to detach the headstay from the stem head. Needless to say, secure the rig with a spare halyard that’s been led to a winch and tensioned before pulling the pin, or, if possible, do the job with the mast off the boat. Because we were replacing AO’s headstay outright, we chose to assemble the headstay, foil, and furler unit in the shop before taking it all down to the dock, where all we had to do was attach the respective ends to the mast and stem head. If we’d been installing the system over an existing headstay, we’d have slipped the head swivel over the turnbuckle, snapped the two foil halves together over the headstay, slipped the drum unit over the turnbuckle, screwed the foil into the feeder assembly on the drum unit, then pinned the drum and headstay to the stem head.


Up the Mast
Our preassembly shortcut would’ve saved us time on the dock if not for one nasty hiccup. When we hoisted Steve up the mast to detach the old headstay and attach the new one, he discovered that AO employed a T-shaped fitting at the mast connection. The Sta-Lok fitting on the new headstay wasn’t going to fit, so we had our rigger make another new headstay, this time with the correct T fitting. Once we had the proper fitting, attaching the headstay foil was a snap.

Using a spare line, Steve pulled the top of the furling unit up to him as I walked the bottom of the foil and the drum along the dock; then he secured it to the mast.

While he was up there, Steve used a cordless drill and screwdriver to install a halyard lead just below where the line exits the sheave in the mast. This simple fitting controls the angle at which the halyard meets the forestay, preventing it from wrapping around the foil and locking up the furler when the sail is rolled up.
That done, we lowered Steve to the deck, adjusted the turnbuckle at the end of the stay to tension the forestay, then pinned the headstay foil and furler to the stem head (via the toggle, in our case). With the system in place, we could let off on the halyards and check the tension on the stay a final time. Steve quickly installed the furling-line hardware- lightweight padeyes that clamp onto the stanchions and lead the furler line back to a cleat in the cockpit. You could install a dedicated furling-line cleat if you wanted, but we used the boat’s existing spinnaker cleat.


Setting Sail
Early on in the process, we decided to hold off on modifying our headsail until we had the furler in place and knew that the foil length wasn’t going to change. Given the X factors we encountered, this was definitely the right choice. When the time came, we got a new luff measurement and dropped the sail off at the North Sails loft in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Sailmakers replaced the old hanks with Number 6 luff tape, shortened the luff, and added protective Sunbrella material along the leech and foot of the sail. We’d installed the furler so that it rolled up in a clockwise manner, so the Sunbrella cover was sewn on the port side of the sail-that way it will always be on the outside of the furled sail. While they had it, the people at North went the extra mile to reinforce some of the sail’s deteriorating seams, which should help us get a few more miles out of a headsail that’d been looking pretty tired.

With the sail cut to size and the furling system installed, we’d reached the home stretch. I took the sail down to the boat, fed the luff into the foil, attached the head to the head swivel, the head swivel to the halyard, and raised the genoa. All I had left to do was pull the furling line and wind up the sail. Of course, when I started tugging, nothing happened. D’oh-forgot to prewrap the furling line around the drum before hoisting the sail. Compared with previous setbacks, this was nothing. In a few minutes, I had the line wrapped around the drum, and I was furling and unfurling the genoa with great satisfaction.

Was this the world’s most troubled furler installation? Perhaps, but probably not. Every boat is going to throw a few curveballs. But I’ll tell you what: The few extra hours we spent wrangling that CF-700 into place have paid tremendous dividends on the water. Now anytime I want to go for a sail, I simply hop aboard, uncleat the furling line, trim the genoa sheet, and pop-we have headsail!

Michael Lovett is CW’s web editor and an associate editor at Sailing World



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