After all of the conveniences that technology has afforded us sailors, there is still one luxury that has eluded us. Although more popular than ever, furling the mainsail is still not 100% standard equipment on today’s boats. The reason for this is that it has always presented some negatives that leave many people unsure about whether or not to take the big plunge. Let’s explore some mainsail furling options and the pluses and minuses associated with these systems.
The benefits list of the in-mast furler compared to that of the in-boom furler is relatively short. A vertically furling mainsail has less sail to furl due to the foot of the sail being a lot shorter than the luff. The boom with an in-mast unit is similar to that of a conventional mast and therefore weighs less than that of typical in-boom furling units. The last part of the in-mast furler ‘benefits list’ is, reduced cost in replacing the sail, which is a good thing considering these sails require regular replacement for efficient furling. The behind-the-mast furler has one additional advantage over in-mast furlers and that is, there is no little slot to try and squeeze the sail in between. Behind-the-mast units are externally mounted (aft of the mast) and therefore allow us to diagnose, repair, and service the furler a lot easier than one that is inside the mast.
Let’s move on to the in-boom furler benefits list. Here you have the ability to reduce weight aloft over in-mast or behind-the-mast units, this is a big plus in my book. In-boom furlers allow for a fully battened mainsail which promotes a much nicer sail shape with more ‘roach’, and if nothing else the sail lasts much longer compared to that of a vertically furled sail. The chances of an in-boom system jamming on you are relatively slim and even if it does you can always drop the sail with the main halyard. Cost wise, whether we are talking new mast construction or current mast conversion, in-mast units are the most expensive, followed by the in-boom furler. The least expensive, but also the most unsightly option is the behind-the-mast furler. If I were given the choice, I would be inclined to meet in the middle and choose an in-boom furling unit.
So which manufacturers are the best? Well that is a matter of opinion, and in my opinion if you absolutely have to have an in-mast furler choose a Hood system (if you can still find one that is). It is purely my opinion, but I think all of the newer models of in-mast furling masts are all lacking in quality and design, they are cheaply made and cause more issues for boat owners than any of the other convenience items aboard a boat. The Hood in-mast furling mast was superior in that it offered a tensioned luff rod, electric, hydraulic or line drive furling gear (try and stay away from the line drive model, it slips). Also the slot that the sail furls into was actually bigger than just the thickness of the sail fabric (as is the case with these modern day in-mast furlers). Thank you Hood for a good product, I can only hope that you start making these again.
If you are leaning towards an in-boom furler, I would look at the Scheafer Beta Boom or Leisure Furl system. Why? Well the short answer is both companies have a product that has been ‘tried and trued’. These products achieve safety and functionality through simplicity (our mantra). Not to mention they are both the most serviceable and robust option of their competitors’.
Lastly, as for behind the mast units, these usually need to be custom retro-fitted and therefore really don’t have a preferred manufacturer, simply find a quality rigger that you trust. They are usually custom made and use headsail furling units of which I might be inclined to recommend Schaefer or Harken (click the links to see why). In the case of the behind the mast furler, you’ll need to talk to your local rigger and ask about what system they might use and how they would go about installing it.
FAQ: Can I convert my in-mast furler to an in-boom furler? The answer is yes, but it will require you to replace the mast.
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