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: Making the strongest run in the OEM market, in-mast furlers, are found on more new production boats than conventional masts these days. In-mast furlers offer the user a relatively short list of benefits. Due to the foot of the sail being a lot shorter than the luff, a vertically furling mainsail has less sail to furl. Also, the boom weight is significantly reduced when compared to that of a conventional or in-boom furling unit. The last part of the in-mast furler’s “list of benefits” is the reduced cost in purchasing/replacing the sail….which is a good thing considering in-mast furling sails require regular replacement for efficient furling.
Behind-the-Mast Furlers: Although more uncommon, and typically a custom built, non-OEM afterthought, the behind-the-mast furler is also an option to help overcome your mainsail management woes. With Facnor’s behind the mast furler being the exception, the behind-the-mast furler has the additional advantage of being externally mounted; so there is no little slot to try and squeeze the sail in between. Due to these furlers being essentially a headsail furler mounted on the aft face of the mast, they make life a little easier when it comes to diagnosis, repair, service or even a jam.
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.
Boom Furlers: With that, let’s move on to the in-boom furler benefits list. With an in-boom furler, you have the ability to reduce weight aloft when comparing it to an in-mast or behind-the-mast system. The slot in the top of the boom is usually quite wide, minimizing the chances of a pinched sail as it’s rolled away. In-boom furlers allow for a fully battened mainsail, this promotes a much nicer sail shape with more ‘roach’, and often times even a more powerful sail-plan. Although these sails are more expensive due to the full length battens and heavier material, they offer better performance in regards to power and sail shape. If nothing else, this more robust sail will last much longer when compared to conventional or in-mast furling sails. The last benefit, and perhaps the most important is, the system uses gravity to furl the sail away. So if for some reason the user has issues with the furl, one can always just drop the sail.
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.
~Read more here on yet another option to handling that pesky mainsail.
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. The Formula and Selden in-mast furlers have luff rods that can be tensioned, this makes for a much stiffer furling axis and therefore a smoother furling experience. Also, these two in-mast manufacturers are the only two current builders (that we’re aware of at least) offering an electric or hydraulic drive which powers the luff rod itself. Lastly, the Formula spar, like the Hood spar that it succeeded, has a sail housing entry slot that is quite a bit bigger than the other in-mast furling spar manufacturers on the market. 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). For more information regarding boom furlers, we have put together a few words on that subject here.
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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