A Deeper Look at Top Down/ Spinnaker Furlers

Top down furling is the new revolution that makes flying the big sails a much more achievable task. However, nothing is just push a button and ‘bang’ there’s your spinnaker. Although this system makes it much more viable to fly a spinnaker there is still a learning curve. This system is all about set up and even then, it is not without its problems.

Spinnaker Furling for Sailboat

The 1st secret to a good Top-Down Furler is the torsion rope. Then it’s also the bearings in the drum, tack swivel and head swivel having a large capacity for high loads. Lastly and most importantly, it’s very much the users technique. That being said, the issue that seems to haunt top down furlers (and it’s always something) is called “back twist”. This is where the sail has suddenly stopped furling, but the person on the furling line is still furling. This means that torque has to go somewhere and that is up the torsion rope. This induces lots of stress on the system and the sail, but also creates a lot torsion loading on the rope itself (hence the rope being the most crucial component). Then once the person realizes the sail isn’t furling, stops furling, eases the tight furling line, and all that torsion comes spinning back down the rope and into furling drum. This can make a partially furled sail unfurl, or even worse, begin to furl the sail in the opposite direction and make for a sail that won’t furl or unfurl any further. This will need to be lowered spread out on a lawn and dealt with that way. The good news if this should happen, it can always be lowered.

Bliss yacht Spinnaker furling

One way to alleviate this is to ensure the torsional rope is very tight. This will stiffen the cable and reduce cable torsion, and also provide a better axis for the sail to furl around. Adding a 2:1 spinnaker halyard or tack line…or both is also a great way to achieve this. However, over-tightening can lead to the bearings in the furler trying to bind and thus make furling very difficult. So it is a fine line. The next component is to make sure that the sheet trimmer is paying out enough line during the furl, especially during the initial portion of the furl.

~Lastly, make sure that the person on the furling line never ever lets off of the furling line if it feels tight or bound up.~

Comanche Spinnaker furling

So let’s take a quick look at the various manufacturer’s and what their doing to address these issues: The systems worth looking at are Ronstan (click link for more info.), Pro Furl, Selden, Karver, Facnor, Bamar, and as of recently Harken joined the line up. All of these systems are very similar as it’s pretty hard to reinvent the wheel but each offer some unique feature or selling attribute.

Profurl Spinex Top down and code zero furler at The Rigging CompanyPro Furl offers the Spinex. They have very good reputation, have a very nice looking product, and use the balls along their torsion rope to help alleviate stress on the sail and perhaps alleviate the ‘back twist’ issue. Hampidjan, maker of some of the best torsion cables on the market, makes their cable.

Selden GX/CX Top down and code zero furler at The Rigging CompanySelden Masts offers the CX/GX systems. One of the first to bring this to the mid size cruisers market. They have won some consumer awards for these furlers. They also, just like Pro Furl, are using the Hampidjan cable.

Karver KSF locking Top down and code zero furler at The Rigging CompanyKarver offers the KSF. Karver utilizes a unique ratcheting drum that locks in one direction and spins in the other. This is their solution for dealing with the ‘back twist’ phenomenon. Not a bad idea, perhaps? With Karver you’ll need to find your own torsional rope as they didn’t want to partner up with any one cordage company.

Facnor FX Fast Top down and code zero furler at The Rigging CompanyFacnor offers the FX+ Fast system. This is and was one of the markets leading “go-to” pieces of hardware for Code Zero furling. If you look at the impecable quality of their hardware you’ll see why. By adding their swiveling Fast Thimble, also a nice piece of hardware, you’ll turn this legend into a great top down furler. Also, top down cable not included.

Bamar RLG EVO 2.0 Top down and code zero furler at The Rigging CompanyBamar offers the Rollgen. One of the only companies that I know of that offer electric or hydraulic asymm. or code 0 furling drums (Reckmann is the other). Bamar is the grandfather of all top-down furling, claiming they were the first to take on this endeavor. Their systems were being tried and tested on really big boats where spinnaker handling is a REAL task. Rollgen also uses some beautiful hardware on their EVO 2.0 unit. Lastly they offer a foam buffer on the torsion rope (acting much like Pro Furl’s balls) which is said to provide a superior furl, help alleviate ‘back twist’, AND apparently, is nicer for the sail in general. I am not sure if their torsional cable is provided, but please comment if you know…

NEW Harken Reflex Top down and code zero furler at The Rigging CompanyHarken offers the Reflex. Harken’s waited the longest to release their furler and watched while everyone else fumbled around with this new tech. So this is the newest product on the market in this category, but if Harken does anything right it’s furlers and bearings. The big bonus is their very own proprietary torsion rope which is said to have next to NO TWIST! They say halyard tension doesn’t have to be so incredibly tight that it will bind the system, instead their new rope transfers torque up to the top better than anyone else’s. I’m looking forward to giving one of these a whirl. It looks like it works really well…

ALL of these companies either offer the addition to add an adjustable tack or one can be easily retrofitted. This certainly is not a must in our book, just another string to pull, but it’s there if you want it.

ONLY Harken and Selden offer complete packages where all items needed (other than the sail) are included. Sounds like these two have a lot going for them if you ask me.

ASK US MORE about the various products as well as information including pricing, availability and what system might be right for you!

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19 Responses to A Deeper Look at Top Down/ Spinnaker Furlers

  1. James Gordon says:

    No mention of the KZ Racefurlers Brand? http://www.kzracefurlers.com. We are one of the largest players on the market! We offer a great range of bottom up and top down furlers also integrators to convert a bottom up furler to a top down furler.
    I see a picture of Comanche on the blog who actually use KZ Racefurlers…! We also are the sole furler supplier to the Volvo Ocean Race yachts, also GC32s, 100ft super maxis, TP52s, Mini Maxi 72s and countless race yachts and pleasure yachts, large and small, all over the world. We also offer torsion cables through major suppliers.
    Please visit our website for more info. Would be much appreciated if you could add us into your blog.
    Thank you

    • The Rigging Company, LLP says:

      Thanks James. I will certainly take a look at the product and at the very least offer a mention. The truth is, I am finding out just how many TD furler brands there are since writing this article, almost too many to keep up with. So just having this comment with link is very helpful for our readers.

      We appreciate your comment.

      ~T.R.C.

  2. John Sumner says:

    Hi, I have an asymmetric masthead spinnaker fitted to a Magic Furl system from Crusader sails of the UK, on My Beneteau Oceanis 411. I cruise extensively on the west coast of France and across the bay of Biscay (300mls) each year. The system relies on swivels at the top and the bottom of the torsion rope. There are 2 strings tied onto the torsion rope at approximately 1 third and 2 thirds up. These strings are attached to the luff of the sail. This system uses a Bartels furling drum ( made by the German Company). The system works fairly well but we have a lot of trouble getting a tight furl which is very important to enabling the sail to stay furled in position when the conditions become unfavourable, without the wind getting into it. This is particularly important to us a s we are a husband and wife team (not so young), who do not want to go on the foredeck when crossing Biscay particularly when there are large swells. I am considering locking off hte top swivel and effectively making the system into a top down furler but am concerned about the twist in the furling line. Any suggestions?
    Thanks for a great article.
    John S

    • The Rigging Company, LLP says:

      Hi John,

      Thanks for asking us. We’ve been working a lot on these spinnaker furlers lately and with many different manufacturers. I have to say, I do not know the Bartels or the Magic Furl systems (pictures are welcome, jimmie@theriggingco.com). However, all of these systems suffer from a loose furl from where the clew gets wrapped up, on down. We think the ultimate best solution is to have a sail especially cut to accommodate better top down furling. I think (and I am no sailmaker) a longer leech and shorter luff promotes better furling. This will offer a lower clew height and allow the user to manipulate the sheet longer before the entire sail is furled away. Beyond that I think wrapping the sheets around the sail like a candy cane from the clew most of the way down, and then pulling the furling line (both parts) tight and cleating it tight against tight sheets will keep the furled sail put. Ultimately, we think it the best idea to just lower the system on deck and securing it until needed, but I know some users want to leave it up all of the time. You just have to do your best to make sure it doesn’t come undone.

      Thanks for the comment.

      ~T.R.C.

  3. victor lick says:

    Hello, I am designing my own retracting bowsprit to fit on the front of my 1976 30 foot Fisher NorEaster. It will be for another Doyle sail, their UPS. The sail area will be 326 sq. ft. approx. I will use Facnor FX+ 900 max. it is for 322 sq ft so I can adjust to meet limits. My bow sprit will be approx 2 1/2 ft unsupported. I can put a amsteel bobstay underneath down to my bow if necessary? If I make bowsprit out of either aluminum or Stainless Steel what size of material and wall thickness would be necessary? What kind of load should I be putting on the torque rope? Would a 2:1 block arrangement be necessary? I have a very short mast approx. 29 feet I think.
    Regards,
    Victor.

    • The Rigging Company, LLP says:

      Hi Victor,

      Yes a Bob-stay should be doable here. You will need to devise some sort of tensioning system for the stay however. OR have you seen these ….http://www.batsystem.se/en/peke/segelbat/gpt100 ?? This eliminates all of the tubing diameter questions and may be a great fit for your boat style. However for tube sizing guidance look to Selden Mast’s <a href=”http://www.seldenmast.com/services/calculators/rm_calculator/__lang_.html”>RM calculator</a> and <a href=”http://www.seldenmast.com/products/spinnaker_-_gennaker_hardware/gennaker_bowsprits.html”>bow sprit recommendations</a>. This then will get you into maximum unsupported length (USL) and minimum distance between supports (DBS). Granted these are based on their spar design, not a true tube. If going this route it might even be advisable to start with one of their tubes and modify that as needed from there.

      Lastly, although 2:1 halyard and/or tack configurations are very helpful to these systems in terms of tensioning and also in keeping the parts from spinning that aren’t supposed to be spinning, you can get away with 1:1 at both ends. I say this primarily due to the boat’s size, any bigger and I’d say you’d have to go to 2:1. I always start with simple approach first, use the system, and if you need to add the 2:1 feature later you can always add it. In terms of tension… the tighter the cable the better the furling action due to the stiff axis, but if you over tighten the cable…the bearings could bind; so it is a fine line. It will take some practice using to determine how tight is tight enough.

      I hope that helps.

      ~T.R.C.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hi thete
    Thank you very much for the article. I greatly appreciate its intension of bringing more knowledge to the the average sailor about this important add on to sailing boats which in many cses will totaly transform the way people experience sailing on their boats.
    Having said this I must olso say that you take apon ypurself a gret responsibility towards the boat ownwers and also towards the producers. And hsre I think ypu do not fully live up tp expectations. Yoor explanation for not having included Ronstan in ypur first run is not very convincing nr trust building in tegards to you total grasp of the marketplace. Sorry to say so.
    As a exmple of yet another miss let e mention tyour total negligence of the German producerr Baftelaqs who have a full range of welll poven furler systems on the market.

    • The Rigging Company, LLP says:

      Hi Anonymous,

       You aren't the only one that has mentioned the lack of <a href="http://www.ronstan.com/marine/range.asp?RnID=034h">Ronstan</a> being mentioned in this article. I will say their furlers should not be forgotten as another good option. Please read my reply (three comments below) where I address this with a Ronstan representative. As far as the German manufacturer is concerned (and I am a German national incidentally), I am always looking to learn more about the various products out there. Please share a link (or any other information) so that I can better inform myself as well as our readers. 
      

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment. You are correct in that we have taken on a great responsibility in informing our readers about the various products and concepts as they relate to sailboat rigging. Hence any help from you, our reader, is greatly appreciated.

      Thanks for the sincerity and we will keep trying to make The Rigging Company a great resource for all things rigging, with your help of course ;-0)

      ~T.R.C.

  5. SY Xtraordinary says:

    Great articule! The “problem” is I am more confuse to choose one of the brands. I have a X-yacht 482 and looking for this kind of furler for a gennaker and, if compatible, with a yankee. Any suggestion? Thank you.
    SY Xtraordinary

    • The Rigging Company, LLP says:

      Hi SY!

       Thanks for the read. There are many good choices here. For your size boat a few options are eliminated, so that narrows it down a bit. I'd say you are down to a <a href="http://www.facnor.com/uk/products/asymmetric_spinnaker_thim/default.asp">Facnor</a> system or, <a href="http://www.bamarusa.com/products/rollgen-elg-evo-furling-systems/">Bamar's Rollgen</a>. I'd give Bamar's Rollgen a try....http://www.bamarusa.com/wp/media/OSE_Bamar_RLG-EVO_Broch2014_WEB.pdf. It comes complete with a torsion cable, but read around to see who's experienced either one of these, in that boat size catagory. And either way <a href="https://theriggingco.com/fill-out-our-online-work-request-form/">let us know</a> when you are ready and we can make it to length here in house and ship out the system complete to you. All you have to do is have the sail rigged. 
      

      Regards,
      ~T.R.C.

  6. Nice helpfull Article thanks. We use a custom modified Harken code zero furler for a Top down furl on our Quantum Vision V3 of 2100 sqf. Our boat is a Van de Stadt 47 foot cruising yacht with a big fractional rig. We are thinking of replacing the Marlow torsion rope for a Manufactured one by Future Fibres in an attempt to reduce the amount of twist in the rope when we furl. Do you have any comments regarding the different performance by changing the rope? Its a lot of money if the gain is marginal. We do not lack tension, we have a 2:1 top swivel as we run a 800 sqf code zero. We do get problems with back twisting making the whole set up unreliable.
    Thanks Andy

    • The Rigging Company, LLP says:

      Although I am not 100% in the know on the Future Fibres cable, if it’s anything like the Navtec AT cable (which I think it might be) it will make a difference. This furler’s secrets are all about the cable. Invest in a good one and it will certainly make a difference.

      Marlow’s Pro Drive was a good go-to when these systems started on the market, but it has long been surpassed. I think for your size boat, using the Pro Drive was always at the top end of the ropes abilities. Hence I may have recommended something like the expensive Navtec AT cable from the start. It is pricey, but…you get what you pay for (sorry to be cliché).

      I was looking at Harken’s new cable as far as fitting your boat. It is a great anti-torsion cable at a good price, but it looks like you are just out of range for their system.

      Thanks for taking the time to contact us and I hope that helps.

      ~T.R.C.

  7. Alan Prussia says:

    You didn’t mention Ronstan’s Top Down furlers. These are quite popular with many sailmakers and found on top level race boats (Carkeek 40’s, 47’s, Kerr 43’s, TP52’s, STP 65, Mini-Maxi’s, Gunboats, ect.) as well as many cruising boats.

    We offer complete solutions and specify FSE Robline’s GFL anti-torsion line for boats under 50′. For larger race boats we recommend an engineer cable (Future fiber, Navtec, ect.). You can find out more about Ronstan furlers by visting our site or clicking on this link:

    http://www.ronstan.us/marine5/furlers.asp

    • The Rigging Company, LLP says:

      HA, Thanks for the reminder. Ronstan is by no means a small player and shan’t be forgotten. Thank you for the link. I will include it on the blog for sure.

      The truth is, I had it on there and took it off because I couldn’t find a YouTube video and I was going with a theme.

  8. Matt @ Wichard / ProFurl says:

    Nice article!

    For the record the ProFurl Spinex uses Hampidjan cable.

    • The Rigging Company, LLP says:

      Sweet thanks Matt! Does it come with the system or must it purchased separately?

  9. Viki Moore says:

    Great post! We don’t currently have a furler of any kind on our current boat, but hope to have one on the new boat, so this is great info. Thanks heaps :)

    • The Rigging Company, LLP says:

      You Viki, are very welcome. Please let us know whenever your ready to try one of these systems. They are very reasonably priced and they’re a blast! When your ready I’ll let you know what info we need.

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