Roller Furling Headsail Risks and Rewards

I had my Harken furler jam, a loop of the furling line managed to sneak off the drum between the cage and its top. Have no idea how that happened, but it left my genoa partially furled. Luckily this occurred in mild conditions and it didn’t take long to resolve. I’d recently made a change to the furling line fairlead, so I restored that to its original position…but really I have no idea if that was the cause. The change was small, and in line with the installation instructions.

Since this happened, I’ve been somewhat concerned about furler failure. By all accounts furlers are dependable. But recovery is what concerns me. There doesn’t seem to be a good clear way to deal with some failures.

As an example, Good Old Boat magazine had an article about a forestay failure, the clevis pin beneath the furler broke (crevice corrosion) and the forestay, furler and sail went swinging in the wind. Conditions were not great, and though the crew got some measure of control over the sail, they were not able to drop it.

They stabilized the mast with their spinnaker halyard then tried to head to the closest harbor. But this was upwind of them and due to the windage on the flogging sail they were unable to turn the boat around, even with the engine. They were forced to continue on downwind looking for shelter some distance away. It ended well for them, but the point is that they were unable to effect a repair while underway.

So this is the crux of the matter to me. Being able to deal reasonably with whatever failures might occur. Any equipment on board should have a backup plan in the case it fails, and it seems to me that furler failures just don’t really have good solutions…or least ones that are usable at sea under rough conditions.

Maybe some of you have suggestions for dealing with different failure cases?

That's a good question. It does you credit that you're thinking about the implications of your own experience and the Good Old Boat (GOB) story.

I have a few ideas about how to deal with that roller furler headstay clevis pin failure, and no doubt others will chime in in the comments. But the bottom line is that it would be very difficult and dangerous to get that failure under control, with a very small chance of success, particularly for a shorthanded crew offshore, so I'm not going to go there except to say dismasting is the most likely outcome, no matter what the crew does.

So, instead, the way I look at this (and many other things) is:

  1. First, evaluate the tradeoffs of the piece of gear I'm thinking about, in this case roller furling headsails, against simpler alternatives, in this case hank-on sails.
  2. And, then, assuming I have decided that the tradeoffs of the more complex gear work for me, think about how much the unavoidable associated risks of added complexity can be managed.


So if we start with tradeoffs, then headstay furlers are, to me, worth the added risks because the benefits are huge over hanks (see Further Reading for my reasoning).

On the other hand, for example, in-boom and in-mast furlers are not worth it because the benefits don't outweigh the risks, at least to me.

But wait, there are experienced cruisers who I respect (See Further Reading for one couple) who have stuck with hanks, so just because I have answered that question "yes" does not make it the right call for others.

So I would suggest you start your deliberations there. And even if in the end you decide that you will keep roller furling (likely, I suspect) the exercise of questioning that is good seamanship.

With that out of the way, let's dig down into the two failures you brought up.

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William Murdoch

In October 2014 I had the forestay on my Pacific Seacraft 34 replaced at Sailcraft Services in Oriental, NC. (They had previously replaced all the wire rigging on the boat.) The old forestay had a swaged fitting at its top and a Norseman fitting at the bottom. A Profurl roller furling unit rides on the forestay. Alan Arnfast, the yard owner, suggested that I install a swaged fitting at the bottom of the forestay instead of the Norseman fitting. He had seen five dismastings from forestay failures in the previous year, and two were apparently caused by a mechanical end fitting being unscrewed by the roller furling.


Ernest E Vogelsinger

A Noreseman, assembled correctly (read “using Loctite”) should not unscrew under no circumstances ever.
To be able to monitor one could simply paint a vertical line across both parts after finally tightened, using a waterproof sharpie. One would easily see when the terminal starts to unscrew, long before damage occurs.
Too bad the original Norseman is no more available.

William Murdoch

My lower forestay terminal, the one that was a Norseman swageless fitting, was completely enclosed within the furler drum and could not be observed without disassembling the furler, so marks would be of little use.


William Murdoch

Interestingly, I found at The Rigging Company’s website the following… this one at the top of the wire.

“Mechanical (or swageless) fittings are not without their problems either. We just completed two recent jobs with mechanical fitting failure; one where the toggle straps cracked on multiple fittings, not so much where the wire goes into the fitting (although that has also happened), but the jaw of the fitting itself… fatigue. The other job was on a furler where the mechanical eye fitting at the top of the stay, came unscrewed by the spinning action of the furler. So, unfortunately there is no perfect solution.

We, at TRC, recommend using swage fittings over mechanical fittings when the stay is rigged with a furler, i.e. forestay.”


Eric Klem

Hi All,

Mechanical terminals and roller furling have long made me nervous although I don’t have a firsthand example of a documented failure. On our boats, I have always done swaged uppers and stalock lowers. This is true everywhere on our current boat with hanked on sails but previously with roller furling, we did a swaged lower on the forestay too. My mitigation for the issues of a swaged terminal, the criticality of the forestay and the other weird loads it can see was to replace it twice as often as the rest of the standing rigging. This is certainly not perfect but it is what made me comfortable especially as some furling systems can’t be properly inspected if the terminal is swaged.

By the way, from experience I can say that it can be difficult to get thread locker to work right on mechanical terminals if you fill them with sealant. The specific situation was using Boatlife and a brand new bottle of Permatex red in carefully cleaned stalock fittings. After they had been put together for a few days, I decided to check one with wrenches and discovered it and then all of the others were quite easy to undo, like there was no thread locker. After looking at it, I concluded that the Boatlife had traveled up the threads and interfered with the threadlocker. I have not asked Henkel or any of the other manufacturers about the effect of Boatlife or any other sealant contacting it prior to curing but it was visually striking how pink it had turned. I now put the sealant in, screw the terminal most of the way together to get excess sealant out, unscrew it, carefully clean the threads (really annoying on the female threads), apply Loctite 263 and then install and torque. If anyone has a different way they accomplish this, I would definitely be interested in hearing, most people I know just jam them together with sealant spurting out everywhere.


Robert Hellier

Hi John,

My wife and I have been sailing keelboats for 11 years and only have experience with roller furled headsails (OK, once I had to help manage a hanked-on headsail on a buddy’s boat while racing). I have a hard time imagining handling a cruising boat with just two (or god forbid one able-bodied person) with hanked-on foresails. So I can understand why so many are willing to put up with the added complexity of roller furlers.

Our new (to us. It’s actually 30 yrs old) custom steel sailboat is a mix of both furler and hank-on. It’s is a solent style cutter with closely spaced outer and inner forestays. The outer forestay has a furler for the genoas, while the inner forestay is detachable at the deck fitting via a robust over-centre latch. In normal sailing conditions the previous owners kept the inner forestay tied back near the mast, where it is out of the way of the genoa when tacking. Presumably the only times the inner forestay was ever used was when the hank-on storm sail was required to be attached to the inner. Judging by the crispy perfection of the storm sail, however, this has probably never happened.

I’m planning to trial the set-up this spring to confirm everything fits/works but your article got me to thinking, is this the only/best set-up for cutter rigs?

Eric Klem

Hi Robert,

In my opinion, the only thing to be intimidated by with hank-on is sail changes so think about how you will use that inner stay. If you are likely to do sail changes underway regularly with hank-on, then I would look for a different solution but if you can get away with only using a single sail or a single sail with occasionally another hanked on top or below, then it is just different but no harder. If it provides any motivation that it can be done, pretty much all the tall ships are hank-on and many of those sails don’t get taken in until 40 knots or so and can be 1000+ ft^2.

I am responding as I just reread the article about hank-on sails and noticed that it doesn’t include a key trick to make it all work. The key in all of this is a downhaul rigged to be handled in the same place that the halyard is (on fully crewed boats, rigging to different spots for different crewmembers is even better but it doesn’t sound like your situation). The downhaul allows you to get the sail down on deck and in a place where it is relatively contained without having to stand up on the bow trying to do it and not pinch your fingers and you will never lose the halyard. It also allows you to rig the sail to launch very easily by having a way to contain it that can be quickly pulled off, there are many ways to do this including with sail bags. For a downhaul, I recommend starting with it tied to the end of the halyard and then lead through the first hank before going direct to a block that is relatively close to the forestay chainplate but not so close that the downhaul really interferes with the flakes of the luff when down. Once you figure out the right angles, you can rig it in a more permanent way. When sailing, just tension it enough that it doesn’t thump against the sail and annoy you.


Eric Klem

Hi John,

I think that half the battle in risk management is to even know what can go wrong. How this knowledge is gained is an interesting problem that I don’t know the solution to. In the engineering world, we literally go through component by component, subassembly by subassembly, etc with a group of people discussing how something can malfunction, what will happen if it does, how likely it is to happen and whether we need to mitigate it and still mistakes are made. I can tell you from experience that trying to do this for a design you didn’t create is incredibly difficult, even the best people can’t eyeball whether there is a 3X or 10X safety factor and they are forced to sit down and do real calculations. The people who seem to do best in my observation are methodical and think through everything and can understand what could go wrong but I don’t know how you teach that short of long intensive study similar to getting a specialized degree. The next best thing seems to be constantly trying to learn by reading books, sailing with others and doing constant gear checks to learn what wears or breaks but this is all quite time consuming and no one every knows everything.

As an example, one of the things that I find scariest about roller furling is what happens if the top or bottom bearings lock up. For both the drum and the swivel, if they lock up they can impart huge torque relative to the wire diameter they are trying to spin which will greatly weaken the wire and potentially break it. But how is the average Joe supposed to know about this and prevent it? There may be a warning about it buried in the manual but it probably will only tell you that it could lead to failure and not say how. It is also likely buried amid several pagefulls of warnings that cover every eventuality including low severity and low likelihood ones and since there is no prioritization, I kind of doubt that anyone reads them anymore.

While we use hank-on sails, I don’t feel that a well maintained roller furling system with knowledgeable operators is any less safe. If our boat had a cutter or solent rig, we absolutely would have roller furling at least on the genoa/yankee and when we get older, I fully expect to need to convert the boat to one of these rigs. We use it because the boat came with it (probably part of the good price we got as others were scared off), we have experience with it on much larger boats so felt comfortable with it, and I can’t stand the shape of the rolled headsail on most sloops in above about 20 knots and didn’t want to convert the rig right away.


Eric Klem

Hi John,

Yes, a lot of this site is about identifying risks and what to do about them which is great and it is enhanced by the different people contributing. I sometimes feel bad for not chiming in more and saying how great a suggestion is but I don’t want to clutter the comments too much so I take mental note and hope that the person stating it feels their article or comment is appreciated. I appreciate that you have covered things like your article on the “Big 5” and the book on getting out there both of which are great contributions to taking a pragmatic approach to risk management.

What worries me is the shear amount of equipment people can put on boats all of it requiring specialized maintenance coupled with people new to doing maintenance and who may have never even changed engine oil before or done a brake job or rebuilt a carb or any of the many other ways that you learn how to do maintenance. As someone who has always done pretty much all of their own maintenance on everything and designs machinery for a living, it is still amazing how much time I need to spend reading manuals, asking others or searching the net for answers. This isn’t helped by manuals which have been written with lawsuits in mind and not practicality so they ask for impractical amounts of maintenance (you could never daysail as it would take the whole day to check every piece of gear per the manual). One of my relatives once created a maintenance spreadsheet based on the by the book suggestions for things he owned like cars, lawnmower, chainsaw, bike, appliances, etc and it was a full time job so he just ignored it and went back to doing what he had always done. Unfortunately, paying your way through it doesn’t work very well in the marine industry as we have often discussed because many of the “professionals” don’t actually know what they are doing and won’t read the manual. That leaves me concluding that for people who want to enjoy things other than boat maintenance, the key is to keep as simple a boat as possible and always buy the best quality gear so that the maintenance burden is possible.

In the context of making this all attainable, I fear it can get a bit overwhelming for some people. The sailing press is full of stuff saying that you must buy all these different products and prioritizing among them would be really hard as someone new to the sport. It also seems that many maintenance articles are well intentioned but counterproductive when they suggest things like full winch rebuilds every 3 months. Add to that my observation that the average yearly usage for coastal cruising boats has to be 20 days or less and you can end up really upside down on the work to fun ratio if you idea of fun isn’t spending the day in the boatyard. Offshore sailing is even worse in terms of effort required but at least those people seem to get more usage. I will admit to being amazed that you and Phyllis have been willing to dedicate so much time and effort to maintenance over the years, I guess the rewards of a place like Greenland must be phenomenal. Most of my offshore experience was more work oriented than fun oriented so I have really grown to love the slower pace and easier maintenance of coastal cruising. Hopefully this reply is not too pessimistic, I just worry about the death by a thousand cuts that I have observed as boats get more complicated without proper prioritization but I do also appreciate the efforts made at AAC to not fall into this trap.


Ernest E Vogelsinger

Eric, John, it has been said often at this site that John must have a gut feeling as to when to publish about a topic… as far as I am concerned I am at the very beginning of a boatowners life, just recently having purchased a 20 year old steel Van de Stadt, and I know there are a myriad of topics I need to turn my attention to as I have no actual idea about the condition of most of the systems, except what the survey brought up. And I believe a survey, as good and professionally as it might be conducted, barely scratches the surface of things.
So my approach is to create three categories: MC/mission critical, AN/annoying when it breaks and possibly prone to some costs and longer layover time, RM/regular maintenance items (everything else). For example, furlers belong into the MC category, while Mattress covers clearly go into RM. A lot is influenced by my impression of the previous owner how he handeled things, for example I know and am convinced that he meticoulously cared for the hull, but had absolutely no plan for his electrics (which are a mess, see picture…) at the current condition the electrics clearly go into MC.
This is the way I try to not get overwhelmed so I would be able to be “out there” as soon as possible, knowing I wouldn’t have a boat in perfect but in reasonably safe condition. And I’m not planning for “bluewater” for at least two years!

Eric Klem

Hi John,

Ouch, that work to sailing ratio would be hard to continually motivate through, good for you two. I guess it is still better than winter mountaineering where you spend most of your time uncomfortable in a tent. After the first 2 years of ownership where there is a lot more work, we have found that we spend about 100 man hours a year in the boatyard and another 50-100 in the shop at home for our pretty simple 36’er. If we take just my wife and I and call a day 8 hours, our ratio is in the 6:1 range. But much of it is how you do the accounting, if we count our kids, we double the ratio and if we consider that our days are actually longer than 8 hours on the boat, we can make it look better again. Likewise, most of the work we do is time based and not usage based so if we used the boat half as much our ratio would drop by almost half. I guess it isn’t hard to see why so many boats fall apart or people start out with big dreams and then never leave the dock.

Hopefully you can find a next boat that gets you out there quickly without a ton of upfront work and then keeps you out there with much less work.


Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
There are lots of things that have caught my anxious imagination over the years, but the forestay going walkabout at sea with sail deployed has not been one of them. What an awful thought!
You point to a number of issues, but one is over-reaching and, I believe, under-emphasized. That is when gear (such as roller furlers) gets blamed for what is more likely maintenance issues. I would probably say that the louder and more public the complaint, the more likely the fault lies with maintenance (the other area where gear gets undeserved bad press is poor installation.).
The PO of my boat had Schaefer RF gear which I was initially hesitant about. Over time I realized that both RFs (cutter rigged, so jib and staysail) were spec’d out for sail areas greater than flown, a good thing. I also came to appreciate that it was easily stripped, which I learned about after “blaming” the gear for getting “sticky”. It had drum flushing holes about which I was unaware and so never used. The gear was easily stripped allowing for the drums to be soaked in warm water and all parts inspected including the usually hidden rigging screw and bottom clevis pins in their articulating links. Schaefer was also great at talking me through procedures.
Another point in regular stripping is that, had I waited a year more, getting the screws and bolts out might have proved very difficult or impossible due to corrosion in general, and dis-similar metals in particular. It is one thing to use an impact hammer to a fitting on a mast, but not so on RF gear.
So, we strip, inspect and lube/Tef Gel yearly.
Another thing was to up-size our pennant: it would likely not ruin my day, but a roller-reefed jib suddenly unfurling because the pennant broke or chafed through would be lousy, especially alone at zero-dark-thirty. A nice rigging shop let me play with line sizes till I found bigger line which mostly filled the drum. It was a high quality double braided Dacron, much better than the original pennant.
Random thoughts, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Marc Dacey

Once again, you have an almost psychic sense of timing with your topics. Got a call yesterday about our new standing rigging…and our new Harken ESP furler, both ready to go to the yard. Both rigging and furler replace freshwater-only versions original to the boat and were replaced proactively before the ocean criticized our usual tendency toward thriftiness. Speaking of which, the Sta-Lok terminals were deemed in good to excellent condition, only needing a bagful of cones. But it will feel good to have these critical systems rolled back to zero sea miles.

We are keeping the hank-on staysail. We’ve never seen the point to “convenience” that aspect of the rig.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Marc,
I am sure you are onto this:
As with all new systems (or anything that comes out of a boatyard): give them a good workout coastally before going offshore.
Enjoy, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Marc Dacey

Thanks, Dick. Fortunately, that decision has been made for us by the pandemic. The situation in Europe is too unknowable and the possibility of having to quarantine more than once now that the UK is out of the EU so likely that we will be “coasting” this season in the Atlantic Bubble and attempting a trans-Atlantic, fingers crossed, in June, 2022. So the new rigging, furler and other improvements made this winter will get a thorough trial period as the Canadian Maritimes have no shortage of interesting conditions. So many people are constrained or limited by current events, and we feel very fortunate to have actually gotten to salt water and needed maintenance.

Peter Vandenberg

So I’m a fan of roller furling because I’m too old for too much foredeck work. Also when I’m teaching people the tendency is for these guys to be enthusiastic and often foolhardy, so I’m keen to keep them back where I can keep an eye on them.
Ive had two significant issues with roller furlers though. The first is that the furling line Gets a rolling turn in the drum and therefore won’t furl back up again. It’s crucial to keep some tension on the furling line when “Hoisting” the Genoa. That prevents, to a large extent, the chance of a riding turn. Once the sail is out to the right reef point or fully unfurled, there should still be tension in the furling line – just enough to prevent slack line from riding.
The second issue I’ve faced is that the furling line breaks. Now this will only happen when you are trying to make the headsail smaller. Lo and behold – the opposite happens. There’s suddenly a full sail where you wanted a small one. That necessitates someone going forward and either using the remnants of the furling line to try again, or physically winding the sail at the roller at the forepeak and hoping you don’t get whipped to bits by flailing jib sheets.
I’ve experienced both. Line maintenance in the second case is the cure. Don’t trust this idea that webbing is strong enough (RM think it is but I’ve sailing enough RMs to know it’s not). Get the largest furling line that will fit through the fair leads in the system and replace this linea more often than sheets. There’s a lot of weight on a furling line when you most need it.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Peter,
You bring up a good point: the only times in my memory, that the pennant has gotten into mischief is when there has been slack in it. And agree that tension when rolling out is important: a jib can really slam open if just let go and is likely to induce a tangle around the drum.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Bill Attwood

Hi John
A solution to one problem, being able to drop a fully unfurled genoa and still control it. My sailmaker has installed Kiwi Slides on my no. 1 and no. 2 genoas. This allows dropping the genoa as if it was hanked on. I can recommend them.

Stein Varjord

Hi John,
As always, I can’t find anything to disagree with you about. Still, with this type of topic, I like to remember the often underestimated:
“Risk = Probability x Consequence”.

The headstay is a mission critical item. If it breaks, dismasting is highly probable. It will at least mean a serious problem, and might even be directly life threatening. Breaking the headstay has close to the highest level of consequence possible on a cruising sailboat.

Since this is such a dramatic issue, we should do all we can to reduce the other item; probability. Maintenance and frequent inspection is obviously the best remedy. To make this happen, it must be relatively easy. Putting a profile and furling equipment on the headstay makes it much harder to inspect the headstay. The furling gear has several not unusual failure modes that can damage the headstay critically.

In real life, a furler will, on the vast majority of cruising boats, mean that the headstay will almost never be inspected. Also, the furler will be serviced only when it’s failing. This means that the furler is the direct single reason why the majority of boats run a very much higher risk of loosing their headstay, (plus several other problems).

In my mind this means that the present reality gives furlers on cruisers the judgement: Total FAIL. The vast majority of cruisers should have furlers just as much as they should have precious big porcelain vases in the boat…

A diligent cruiser can reduce the probability of failure a lot, but no amount of care can get the probability down to the level of what it would be without a furler. The presence of the furler introduces several considerable added risks, even with perfect diligence. Again, reality is that the vast majority is very far from suitably diligent on this issue.

I do have a furling headstay on our 40 foot cat, only on a 100% jib. The non negotiable demand for that to be acceptable is that I have redundancy. I have at least one extra heavy duty Dyneema halyard attached at a strong point forwards. If the headstay fails, the halyard will hold the mast. For similar reasons, an in mast furler I want just as much as I want a cactus stuffed up some dark place.

I’m aware that I’m not exactly kindling the fuzzy feelings of all sailors with these claims, 🙂 but these thoughts have been with me for a long time and I really think they are worth considering. As one might already have guessed, I like hanked on sails. If it’s done right, (it normally isn’t) I really don’t think it’s more work or time than a furler.

Some might think I’m into traditional sailboats, gaff rigs, etc. On the contrary, I come from racing in the multihull formula classes etc and I’m still a speed fanatic. Efficiency and weight saving are the additional reasons for my preference for hanks and hate for added failure risk.

Bill Attwood

Hi Stein
A clear analysis of just how serious the consequences of a broken headstay are. Prompts serious reflection. 😉
I have two thoughts on reducing this risk:

  1. Proper toggles with movement in both directions on both the furler and the headstay. I always wander round marinas wherever I am and notice how often the toggle on the headstay, half-hidden inside the drum, is missing.
  2. An inner forestay, set close enough to the masthead not to require running backstays. Preferably demountable, so when coastal cruising or otherwise needing frequent tacking it can be moved out of the way. Our inner forestay is for hanked on foresails, and can be set in two positions, parallel to the headstay, and further aft for the storm jib.

Yours aye

Rob Gill

Hi John,
We had our original 15 year old Facnor headstay furler seize about one quarter into furling in a 30 knot squall. When we tried to release the furling line, the sail stayed fast even with considerable sheet tension. And because of the rolls, we couldn’t drop the sail to the deck. Needing to get into port before dark, I chose brute force (and ignorance) as we were due to pull the mast and re-rig anyway, and luckily the furling rope suddenly freed itself and we could roll up the sail (turned out to be the top bearing jamming on the forestay.
And a few weeks later we found out why – when we unshipped the mast the riggers found the individual forestay wires had opened up under the pressure of repeated furling and we were very lucky the stay didn’t give way.

So the lessons?

  1. The furler had become increasingly stiff so we had had the top and bottom bearings cleaned and lubricated the previous year, But it continued to get worse. This was a major “red flag” that I had stupidly ignored.
  2. Furling equipment takes a real beating in a hostile environment. Working life is probably the same as the rigging = 10 to 15 years depending on usage?
  3. Discussing later, we could have lowered the main and under motor, untied one sheet and then cut the second free at the bowline and gybed / tacked in the same direction as the furl until the sail was stowed and headed in having secured the clew. Not great for the sail, but better than risking the mast.

Br. Rob

Rob Gill

Thanks John, not entirely sure as we’ve never done it, but the retrospective thought was to cut the last sheet off at the remaining bowline – so the jib was free to rotate in the strong wind with no sheets attached, and no one forward of the mast. Won’t be a perfect roll but in 30 knots it would be pretty straight…? We order our sheets longer than needed (in case of a sheet winch override they can be quickly cut off at the clew bowline and re-tied).

Timothy P Lamarre

Just a note: Bought a boat that had been sitting, for years. Schaefer 2100 stays’l lower bearing, despite flushing and numerous other palliative interventions, was rough and sticking. 3100 yankee upper bearing–completely seized. The systems are 18 years old. I was able to replace both. I did the lower then, figured out how to do the upper, without dropping stay. Just thought I would share as, prior to, I searched to no avail to find something on web that said I could do upper without dropping stay.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Timothy,
It is exactly those systems, the Schaefer 2100 and 3100, that I have been living with for a couple of decades now and that I referred to in an earlier post. It sounds like you got sorted. I was quite pleased with the easy with which the system could be stripped, cleaned and put back together. As I suspect you know now, there is a hole in the lower drums where you can put a hose nozzle and allow the drum to be flushed of dried out salt deposits. I do this in the occasional marina or wharf I might get to.
When apart take a good look at the lower turnbuckle and clevis pin and lower swage. There have been no friction problems since I started soaking the drums once a year in warm water when disassembled (give them a spin in the water every now and again). When reassembly’ing, I would also take every screw and bolt and use TefGel. And, yes, you can do it all without dropping the stay.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Dick Stevenson

Hi John and all,
In thinking (actually re-thinking) about risks and rewards, and my prior experiences with a sloop and a yawl (single headsails both), I find myself wondering about how much I favor having roller furling because I have a cutter where I can downshift easily by rolling up the jib topsail. The jib top also reefs well as it is high-clewed and smaller than the sail on a sloop would be. So, this seems the best of both worlds.
On the sloop, my single headsail was moderately sized (28 foot boat), hanked on and my sailmaker had suggested that I put in a slab reef which worked a peach and was really pretty quick and easy. On the yawl, my headsail was bigger, roller furled, and much lower clewed, so it roller reefed far less satisfactorily and I really hated to reef it. Luckily, on this boat, I could just douse the main (jib and jigger), be reasonably well balanced, but then I also carried the jib into higher winds than optimal.
In essence, I am thinking that a cutter really allows optimal use of roller furling and roller reefing.
Random thoughts, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Marc Dacey

I have used a light genoa on my forestay with a furler (see photo), as well as a fairly large staysail on hanks, in Lake Ontario, but we returned to our original configuration of jib topsail. Unfortunately, a storm staysail went overboard to placate Neptune on the way here, but I still think my “cutter kit” would be more complete with either a way to reef down the staysail or to have something heavy and small as a downwind staysail for the snotty weather, in conjunction with our very deep second reef on the mainsail.

Having a bowsprit commits us in my view to a furler, as changing down as we did on our old sloop would be very difficult with a crew of two, but I’ve never seen a compelling case for a furling staysail that is otherwise easy to douse inboard.

20150915_Fenders Photoshopped Out.jpg
Eric Klem

Hi Dick,

For fair weather day sailors who don’t go out if they might see winds above the low 20’s and if they get a squall will just motor, then I can see roller furling on sloops making a lot of sense. For people wanting to sail a sloop without some form of removable inner stay in more boisterous conditions, then I agree that roller furling is not the way to go simply because a single sail won’t work over such a wide wind range even with roller reefing. Reefing hank-on headsails is an interesting topic, I have had decent success with it (although I have only tried it on high clewed sails, not a big genoa) and it allows you to carry and get wet 1 less sail and storing sails, especially wet ones is one of the worst things about hank-on. I fully expect to switch to roller furling on our boat at some point in the future but then we will also add a removable inner stay as I don’t want to give up the ability to fly small sails with good shape. I would think that we would have something like a large staysail with a reef that removes 1/3 of the sail area so it could take us all the way from mid to high 20’s to 40 knots.

But also on a cutter, I think roller furling makes immense sense on the jib. By the time it is rolled up enough to start to really lose shape, you can usually put it away completely in favor of the staysail. And I think you and John have me convinced that roller furling is even a decent idea on the staysail.


David Nutt

I have over 100,000 offshore miles including a 6 year circumnavigation and a trip to Greenland on Danza, a 60′ steel ketch. She had a roller furling jib, either a genoa or a Yankee depending on conditions and a roller furling staysl. We found this to be a perfect combination with the ability to manage the headsails from the cockpit under all conditions. I had issues two times; a new crew member who considered himself the most esteemed sailor and was a true legend in his own mine released the jib halyard clutch just before leaving NZ for Minerva Reef. This resulted in loss of critical halyard tension and we were unable to roll the sail in that night as the winds picked up. I missed the halyard tension issue and we had to wrap the headsail around the headstay enough to retreat back to an anchorage were was made good the next morning excepting the fellows ego.
I also had the toggle at the top of the headstay fail and thus the headstay was supported by the halyard. Fortunately it was quite calm in sheltered waters and I was actually able to furl the Yankee in a loose but serviceable furl. This occurred right after a very rough passage into NZ from Tonga. It could have had a very different outcome if it had occurred on passage. The replacement of the upper toggle with the rig in her was a challenge.
My take away from this is constant vigilance is imperative. No crew, no matter how much he thinks of himself can step aboard and know my boat. I did not do a complete walk around before heading to see but the rigging inspection had been done top to bottom of the mast thanks in part to the mast steps on both the main and mizzen. I would like to think I would have caught the toggle failure during a rigging inspection but no one catches everything.
And I would go with roller furling regardless of a handful of issues throughout the sailing community. At the time of the above issues the oldest of our four kids was 13 years old and life would have been significantly more challenging for us with hank on headsails.