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, a furling 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.
In-Mast Furlers: 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.
Behind-the-Mast Furlers: In the case of the behind-the-mast furler, there is the additional advantage over the in-mast furler and that is, there is no little slot to try and squeeze the sail in between (Facnor behind the mast furler excluded). 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.
Boom Furlers: 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’. Although these sails are more expensive, they offer better performance in regards to power and sail shape, 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: None of these systems are considered inexpensive by any means, but whether we are talking new mast construction or existing mast conversion, in-mast units are the most expensive, followed by in-boom furlers. The least expensive, but also the most unsightly option is the behind-the-mast furler.
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 (now branded under the UK spar builder Formula Spars). Based on service experience, newer models of in-mast furling masts are lacking in design, are cheaply made and cause more issues for boat owners than convenience. The runner up however has to be Selden Mast’s in-mast furler. Selden, like the Formula masts, are two of the only in-mast manufacturers that offer a winch handle socket near the drive mechanism so that the system can be overridden manually…a must in my book. To elaborate a bit more on the Hood/Formula and Selden in-mast furling mast, they offer tensioned luff rods, a huge plus as it offers a stiffer furling axis. Also, I believe these two in-mast manufacturers, are the only two current builders offering an electric or hydraulic drive which powers the luff rod itself and makes for a much nicer furling experience. Lastly, the Formula spar itself has a sail housing entry slot that is actually bigger than just the thickness of the sail fabric, as is the case with in-mast furler manufacturers. So, thank you Formula Spars for keeping alive a good product.
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’. For more information regarding boom furlers, read here.
Lastly, as for behind the mast units (excluding the Facnor CF Furler), 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 short answer is yes, but read more on that here.
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