Joys and sorrows of the furler
This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)
The furler is no doubt one of the very first pieces of equipment able to give comfort and satisfaction onboard as well as hysteria and trouble in a matter of seconds.
Over the last few decades the foresail, be it genoa or jib, has undergone such a technical revolution enabling to hoist or hand it with a simple move from the cockpit: this is as effective when it works perfectly as it is troublesome when it doesn’t.
Yes: the furler will never let you down while you’re moored at a marina and enjoying a drink in the cockpit, and it will hardly leave you high and dry in a 5-knot wind. No: the furler usually turns into a problem in a 20-knot wind and at a few hundred metres from the harbour green light, when most of the track homing manoeuvres have already been carried out … Then and there the troubles start. No irreparable damage but the risk to rip a sail is round the corner. This is why checking the furler should one of the priorities of your routine maintenance and check schedule.
What are the hacks to prevent your recovery line from the cockpit from suddenly block without an (apparent) reason? Quite simple: wash, lubricate, check and, when necessary, regular overhaul of the basic parts.
Older furlers, no matter whether from prestigious manufacturers, can give you a bad headache: you don’t necessarily have to replace the whole item but spares are often difficult if not impossible to find. Then comes the time when it’s more convenient to get a pen and paper and do some totting up because it often happens that replacing a single part – for example the drum – costs half as much or even more than buying a brand new system. Another solution is the DIY.
But let’s proceed step-by-step starting from the very beginning.
Routine maintenance of the furler is decidedly simple: use fresh water to constantly rinse the drum installed on the bow and the shuttle or swivel that goes up the forestay and that the halyard is fixed to. Both drum and swivel rotate on ball bearings that collect dirt and encrusted salt: this is why accurate cleaning is so important.
There are ball bearings that don’t require greasing, others are made with bores for greasing and in yet other cases the shipowners have greasing holes bored on purpose.
Once a year I recommend to disassemble the forestay, pull out the drum and swivel, and carefully check the ball bearings because they are the main cause of trouble. It’s not unusual for the furler to block and, trying to release it, be hit by a rain of balls of the deck.
Disassembling the forestay is simple but very dangerous when not caring for safety because the risk that the mast collapses on the deck is real. If you’ve never done it before, I suggest that you apply to specialized staff, who often act also on the shrouds and then carry out adjustments.
Anyway it’s necessary that you fasten as much rigging as possible on the bow and harden it: first of all genoa and spinnaker halyard because they will hold the mast and ensure safety.
Now you can disassemble the forestay. Once the drum and swivel are pulled apart, proceed to a thorough cleaning: pull out the circlips around the bearings, clean with some gasoil to remove old grease, salt encrustations and dirt, and then grease before assembling.
Every now and then it would be a good idea to check and overhaul the aluminium profiles wrapping the forestay, taking care while assembling to perfectly stick to the measures and to the correct angle between halyard and forestay, which is another point that might cause trouble.
On deck you’d better keep under control the conditions of the line wrapped around the drum and its correct sliding in the guides and fairleads that enable return to the cockpit.
I don’t recommend the use of a winch when furling the sail is excessively tiresome: this means something doesn’t work properly and gearing down the effort when trying to close the genoa might be treacherous and cause serious damage.
In the unfortunate event that the ball bearing break down and you have a hard time to find them on the market, be aware that nothing is lost. You have two choices: the easiest is to replace the whole drum with a new compatible one having, of course, aluminium profiles; but you can also go for a handmade solution, which is decidedly cheaper. Have a drum made by a reliable workshop: the internal diameters should be slightly modified to house new off-the-shelf ball bearings.
The same applies to the swivel that goes up the masthead. That’s it and you’re off for several years.
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