There was an interesting piece in a recent edition of French sailing magazine Voiles et Voiliers on gennaker furlers. These gears are very popular in France, and through their extensive use aboard racing multihulls and Vendee Globe boats have undergone real battlefield testing over the last ten years, to the extent that they must now be considered well and truly proven. And, it has to be said, the French manufacturers have tended to lead the world in their development.
The test looked at seven sets of gear from different manufacturers – Bamar, Bartels, Facnor, Harken, Karver, Profurl and Selden. Ease of handling was extensively covered (removal of furling line, clevis pins etc), and all gears were tested for their ability to operate under high load conditions, which yielded some interesting results. Some gears struggled to handle their rated working loads without an increase in the load requirement on the reefing line, for example. Several interesting points were raised that were peripheral to the test itself, that might be pertinent to anyone considering a furler for their own boat.
One of the attractions of these gears is their versatility. The same gear can be used for a gennaker, Code 0 or a staysail, suitably equipped with a high load torque rope, keeping cost down. But it should be born in mind that the loads generated by these different sails would increase dramatically as the wind angle moves forward of the beam, and that the maximum load bearing capacity of the gear must be adequate for all expected uses. A simple way of viewing this was suggested, with a 100sq.mm gennaker being equivalent to a 75sq.m. Code 0 or a 50sq.m. staysail for a gear rated at 2.5T.
There was a big difference in weight between the gears with the Bartels (stainless steel) weighing almost four times the weight of the Karver. The Karver, aimed as it is at the racing end of the market, was by far the smallest, lightest gear, although this was at the expense of more effort being required to furl a sail due to the small diameter pulley.
A nice innovation on one of the newer gears (Selden) was a rubber armoured top swivel. From our own experience we know that the swivel tends to fly around a good deal when being hoisted or lowered in less than calm conditions, and can ding the mast in some cases, so this is a neat way of minimising the risk of damage.
The new Profurl NEX had a simple and effective slide to secure the clevis pin securing the torque rope, as well as a titanium snap shackle from Wichard, (Profurl are now part of the same group), as well as some rather lurid but eyecatching apple green fittings.
The winner overall was the Facnor. This is hardly surprising given their long-standing involvement in this field, and speaks volumes for their commitment to continuous improvement. But it was all the more merited as their gear was far from the most expensive (less than one third the price of the Harken), performed impeccably throughout and was one of only two that continued to operate at its best under full load. Under ‘Against’ the reviewers simply remarked ‘we’re still looking’ – quite an accolade.
The other gear that performed at its best when the load was on was the German made Bartels. All stainless, beautifully made (‘Le Rolls’), this gear suffered a little from appearing slightly old fashioned compared with its colourful opponents, and might not appeal to the racing man due to its weight. It has one odd weakness, however, as we can attest (we have one) in that it was the only gear that tensions the furling line effectively in only one direction (clockwise) due to the spiral gear that is used to grip the line. This isn’t necessarily the major flaw that it sounds – as long as tension is kept on both sides of the endless line it works OK, but it can be a little awkward until you’ve worked out the technique. We find that it’s a great gear for our asymmetric spinnaker, and are very pleased with it.
These gears are really impressive. They enable a variety of sails to be set flying, without any permanent weight penalty aloft. Once you’ve used one you tend to become a convert. But as this test showed, there are still innovations coming through, despite the fact that these are now relatively mature technology, and that has to be a good thing. Given that they are effective, versatile and not hugely expensive it shouldn’t be too long before we see them appearing on more and more cruising boats going long haul.