Cruising Sailboat Roller Furler and Track Inspection

Two reliable roller furlers and a low-friction ball-bearing mainsail luff track made it possible and safe for us to sail our 56-foot McCurdy and Rhodes cutter with just two people.

After four...count 'em, four...in-depth rig inspection articles:

We are now on the fifth and final before I pull the whole lot together into a downloadable checklist.

Seems crazy that it took that much detailed writing to get here. I figured two in-depth articles, three tops, would cover it. But now we are nearly done, I realize it actually makes sense that this was such a big task.

The rig is one of the big five things that really matter when we go offshore, and the one with the most details to get right, and keep right.

And the rig is also, more than any other system, the one where the failure of just one piece, perhaps just a toggle, can have the most disastrous and hardest-to-fix consequences—there's no fixing a dismasting at sea.

It's worth the effort to inspect this stuff right...and write 14,000 words about it. Or, at least it feels that way...now I'm done.

Let's get it finished:

  1. Six Reasons To Leave The Cockpit Often
  2. Don’t Forget About The Sails
  3. Your Mainsail Is Your Friend
  4. Hoisting the Mainsail Made Easy—Simplicity in Action
  5. Reefs: How Many and How Deep
  6. Reefing Made Easy
  7. Reefing From The Cockpit 2.0—Thinking Things Through
  8. Reefing Questions and Answers
  9. A Dangerous Myth about Reefing
  10. Mainsail Handling Made Easy with Lazyjacks
  11. Topping Lift Tips and a Hack
  12. 12 Reasons The Cutter Is A Great Offshore Voyaging Rig
  13. Cutter Rig—Should You Buy or Convert?
  14. Cutter Rig—Optimizing and/or Converting
  15. Cruising Rigs—Sloop, Cutter, or Solent?
  16. Sailboat Deck Layouts
  17. The Case For Roller-Furling Headsails
  18. UV Protection For Roller Furling Sails
  19. In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing—Convenience and Reliability
  20. In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing —Performance, Cost and Safety
  21. The Case For Hank On Headsails
  22. Making Life Easier—Roller Reefing/Furling
  23. Making Life Easier—Storm Jib
  24. Gennaker Furlers Come Of Age
  25. Swept-Back Spreaders—We Just Don’t Get It!
  26. Q&A: Staysail Stay: Roller Furling And Fixed Vs Hanks And Removable
  27. Rigid Vangs
  28. Rigging a Proper Preventer, Part 1
  29. Rigging a Proper Preventer—Part 2
  30. Amidships “Preventers”—A Bad Idea That Can Kill
  31. Keeping The Boom Under Control—Boom Brakes
  32. Downwind Sailing, Tips and Tricks
  33. Downwind Sailing—Poling Out The Jib
  34. Setting and Striking a Spinnaker Made Easy and Safe
  35. Ten Tips To Fix Weather Helm
  36. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 1
  37. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 2
  38. Two Dangerous Rigging Mistakes
  39. Rig Tuning, Part 1—Preparation
  40. Rig Tuning, Part 2—Understanding Rake and Bend
  41. Rig Tuning, Part 3—6 Steps to a Great Tune
  42. Rig Tuning, Part 4—Mast Blocking, Stay Tension, and Spreaders
  43. Rig Tuning, Part 5—Sailing Tune
  44. 12 Great Rigging Hacks
  45. 9 Tips To Make Unstepping a Sailboat Mast Easier
  46. Cruising Sailboat Spar Inspection
  47. Cruising Sailboat Standing Rigging Inspection
  48. Cruising Sailboat Running Rigging Inspection
  49. Cruising Sailboat Rig Wiring and Lighting Inspection
  50. Cruising Sailboat Roller Furler and Track Inspection
  51. Download Cruising Sailboat Rig Checklist
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Jeffrey Werner

Very similar for ProFurl but all their foil joints have split bearing inserts making it easier.

Red loctite recommended on the foil to sleeve set screws also. You don’t want these loosening, ever.

Rinse the swivel and drum assemblies regularly. The seals are well designed and the grease can last 10 years (easy on the swivels up high) but if you don’t service the drums every 3-5 years by removing seals and cleaning and lubricating bearings then at 10 years when you really MUST service these you’ll find you likely need a bearing and seal replacement kit.

Kits include circlips, seals, bearings and grease. Not hard to replace as the ProFurl drums come off easily due to their simple design.

If you were following the 3-5 year service/inspect then maybe you’ll have no problem with the disassembly since you removed the screw/bolts and cleaned them up. 10 years? maybe some frozen bolts to contend with.

Parts available from Wichard/ProFurl, in the US I find Vela and Mauri Pro good parts distributors. You can also find OEM specs for bearings and seals online if you want to go that route and save a few dollars.

Bottom line on ProFurl is maintenance. wait much more than 10 years and the bearings just rot and frag then it is no fun. It will still furl, maybe, using a winch and likely destroying the bearing races, now that’s expensive.

Dan Perrott

Good information. It seems the new ones aren’t as well made as the old ones. We swapped ours old one (35 years +?) when we couldn’t find a replacement for a damaged foil section. The drum and swivel bearings on the old one were still perfect.

Dan Perrott

Does anyone know if it’s possible to pull a new wire through a furler by sticking the ends together with epoxy?
(For when there isn’t a handy welder)
Possibly overlapping core and outer wraps for greater surface area.
I would have thought this would provided enough strength?

Star Tracker

While I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, as there’s usually a welder around anywhere you’ve got the mast down, it will take less than 15 minutes to do it properly. That being said if you absolutely HAD to, I would think of using a plexus adhesive, or testing out the Devcon Plasti-weld. I was told it is actually rebranded plexus in a small retail package, it is definitely a methyl-acrylite and seems to do the trick where epoxy doesn’t. If I really didn’t want to be dealing with it coming apart halfway inside the foil, I would grind the tips down to a taper, and wrap a bit of glass in there with the glue.

Steve HODGES

Thanks for this series of maintenance and inspection articles. 
 
Regarding the Tides Marine track: I had one installed on my 36 ft sloop in 2010 and it performed very well including during a cruise in Mexican waters, and two round trips between California and Hawaii. I had no problem downwind reefing, which was a main goal for having the track. When I let the halyard loose, the main dropped like a rock. When the track was installed, I secured it to the mast to prevent movement using ~6 inch long Sikaflex beads about every 3 or 4 ft. Earlier this year I had the mast down and standing rig replaced. The Sikaflex had held, but the 12-yr old Tides track was trash; it cracked badly in places as I pulled it off the mast, and it was not hard to break it apart with my hands. I shuddered to think what might have happened if the track had failed and the main luff had come off while sailing. A sample of the track was sent to Tides and they said it was UV damage and it needed to be replaced, which I did. Tides Marine thinks it’s normal and expected to replace their track after about 10 years. I don’t see that caveat in their literature. Here’re some images of the old track: https://photos.app.goo.gl/VmTE6yiHsdrW3zr19

Alastair Currie

Furlex Type D (now Selden) on my boat. It’s getting on a bit old now, hence serviced every 2 years by my local rigger. To routinly lubricate it is a dab of grease in 7 places. I use a large, plastic syringe, about 500 ml size and pack it with the correct grease. The syringe size is based on the plastic nozzle size which can be pressed into the grease hole and a seal made, not the volume of grease. With a bit of pressure a small bead can be injected injected into the bearing. I try and force grease in at rate equal to match the bearing rotation speed so that each race gets a light coating, full circumference, instead of ramming a large dob into the race. The syringe makes this easy and mess free.

The system is +20 years old, so I am thinking of replacing it.

Rob Gill

Leisure Furl / Forespar publish a manual with maintenance schedule for our in-boom reefing system:
https://www.forespar.com/pdf/leisure-furl-owners-manual.pdf

Maintenance is in many ways similar to head-foils, with the advantage that everything is carried out at deck level. Main things we have learned as follows:

Regular (3->6 months) fresh-water wash down front and back of mandrel and coating of PTFE lubricant on the mainsail luff tape where it runs in the mast track. If the halyard or furling rope starts to make lots of noise (strain) on the winch, then we know it’s time to wash down / lube again.

Ev 24-36 months (or whenever our mainsail goes in the shop for service), support the mandrel weight and remove the shaft through the mast, clean and grease shaft and bearings.

These booms are significantly heavier than conventional booms, so very important that:

  • the gooseneck and vang attachments and attachment plates at the mast are equal, substantial and have large backing plates.
  • regularly check the bolts securing the boom to the gooseneck mounting plate are tightened properly (see photo – we removed our bolts and replaced using larger Helicoil threads, and Locktite). We will also replace the bolts when next re-rigging the boom / mast.
  • check also that all tangs attaching the mainsheet and vang fittings to the boom are properly secured in their track under the boom and are free of cracks. Replace tangs when re-rigging.

Tips:

  • Careful use of preventers and topping lift to stop cycling / loading in seaway and prevent uncontrolled gybes,
  • A substantial solid vang is a must-have, ours is from Forespar and works well
  • Pre-set solid vang and mark topping lift in any seaway, so when the vang and mainsheet are released, the boom is held above horizontal (our boom is set and furls best about 5 degrees above horizontal).

We are still learning, but as a whole any extra maintenance is out-weighed by the benefits to us – much the same our roller headsail.

IMG_3764 small.jpeg
Rob Gill

I usually buy whatever PTFE spray I can get from a local hardware/auto-part store. Haven’t noticed any practical difference between generic and the Harken McLube (except price). Anyone know if there is an actual difference..?

I have been considering making a track cleaning “slug” from a 300 mm section of old luff tape, and a disposable cleaning J-cloth attached (soaked in a wash-detergent mix). With an eyelet top and bottom, attach the halyard and a downhaul to hoist / retrieve several times to clean out the inside of the track, perhaps once a year?

Any thoughts / experience from your sailmaker days on cleaning inside foil tracks John? Thanks, Rob

Rob Gill

Hi John, good point about the frequency of track usage. A benefit of this system is how quick it is to prepare and hoist the sail, which means we use our main all the time, unless there is absolutely no wind.
So good reminder – I’ll increase the frequency of treatment as you suggest. By the way this is the spray I have been using recently:
https://www.crc.co.nz/Dry-Glide/6895-9ee13c8c-4e95-452e-9dc4-3952edfd0036/

Alain Côté

Hello John,

Thanks for another thorough article. I have a question on what you mean by “tracks and sliders usually supplied as standard”. Would you consider that an Antal HS24 track and slider system is “standard” and therefore worth considering replacing on a 47-ft, 13 tonne sailboat? Do you think the improvement in mainsail handling would be worth it and should a roller bearing system be considered instead?

Dick Stevenson

Hi Alain,
I do not know of any slippery track being standard: the Antal and Harken are likely just too expensive.
I have the Antal system (12m/15 ton+ live-aboard weight), and while I have no direct experience with roller bearing systems, I have lots of friends with mostly Harken RB systems and, in conversation and comparing impressions, I have heard no difference in performance.
Mine is pushing 25 years old/70k miles now and have had no problems.
I consider slippery track not only a large improvement in mainsail handling, but also an impressive safety improvement as I can reef and douse the main without rounding up.
I also consider slippery track as essential gear for passage-making sailboats.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Alain Côté

Thanks John and Dick for these comments. I can effectively reef and douse the main without rounding up, other than when I’m sailing dead downwind in very strong winds, so I guess I’ll leave well enough alone!

Dick Stevenson

Hi Alain,
It is exactly that scenario where I most appreciate slippery track: dead down wind in very strong winds.
I have reefed the main progressively DDW wing and wing putting in a third reef in near gale (B7) conditions and later dousing the main altogether in gale (B8) conditions.  It was a day of just steadily increasing winds.
In setting the three reefs and eventual dousing of the main, all was done on a relatively steady un-heeled platform perfectly safely. There was no rush as there was no flogging of the sails nor any safety issue. The lowering was done incrementally, took time, but all was done without flogging the sail and the boat just kept charging along under control.
It is in heavy air downwind where I consider slippery track a boon to safety, especially for couple cruising.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Terence Thatcher

We have a ProFurl genoa furling system. I had top and bottom swivels rebuilt by Pacific Offshore Rigging in San Diego in 2016 after about 20 years of coastal cruising. That was a preventive measure for offshore work, since it still worked very well. I have friends who have rebuilt their profurls, but it is a little complicated. Pacific Offshore really knows its stuff. More recently, my top swivel got misaligned and the only solution was to replace the upper swivel for $1,000. Pacific Offshore says it has seen the problem a half dozen times in the last 15 years. The part is now redesigned to eliminate the issue, but may have new ones I cannot predict. You cannot inspect the bearings on the ProFurl, of course, without taking everything apart. Pacific Offshore told me that all main company systems have pros and cons. Nonetheless, when maintained, as John says, they have made short-handed sailing much easier.