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.
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.
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.~
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.
Pro 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 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 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 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 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…
Harken 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!