I promise there will be absolutely no performances by Deborah Kerr at any time during this post.
I checked the day’s weather forecast while sipping my first cup of coffee. Fair to partly cloudy, with a 10% chance of afternoon showers. A small craft advisory in effect until 2PM, with winds from the NE at 18 to 20 knots, seas two feet. Sounds like a perfect day for sailing!
With nothing urgent on our calendar, we loaded up the truck and headed to the marina. We’ve had precious little time this year to use our new boat, and have yet to take it out in blustery weather. I have no doubt about our ability to put Eagle Too through her paces in benign conditions. But she has a feature, a bit of a quirk, that I know we need to learn more about, especially in the 20 – 25 knot winds that we’ll typically see down in the islands.
Our previous boat had a conventional mainsail, which you’d raise and lower as needed and pull in a reef or two (reduce the size of the sail by partially lowering it) when it starting blowing. We’d gotten pretty good at the drill. Turn into the wind, release the mainsheet, slacken the vang, take the reefing line on the appropriate winch (we had single line reefing), ease the halyard past the point we’d marked on the line, pull in the reef, and then re-tension the halyard. (If none of that makes sense to you, that’s OK. Imagine me using both hands, a foot, and my teeth to pull a bunch of ropes all at the same time and you’ll about have it).
Our new boat has a roller furling mainsail. And that, my friends, is a whole ‘nuther animal entirely.
So far we’re really liking the furling main. I don’t have to go forward and flake out a big sail, struggling to fold it in pleats over the boom in a neat pile with one hand while lowering with the other. There are no lazy jacks for the battens to hang up in, no cover to mess with. No sail ties to grip in my teeth, one arm wrapped around the swinging boom while I try to put the sail in bondage with the other. You just turn up wind, pull out or wind up the sail, and you’re done, easy peasy. Once the sail is furled, you’re left with a nice clean boom that’s easy to drape a boom tent over to keep the sun and rain off the boat. And for the crew of Plaintiff’s Rest (yes, I’m talking to you!) you never remove the main halyard, so there’s nothing to get lost up the mast.
That’s the theory, at least. In the real world, roller furling mains have gotten a bit of a bad reputation. So far, I think it’s undeserved, but many many people swear at them instead of by them. They claim they’re prone to jamming, always at the worst possible time, and require constant fussing with to get things to work properly.
Here are my thoughts on the subject based on our experience so far. The people who hate them have a point. Furling mains can be a royal PITA, IF you don’t take proper care of them. If you don’t make sure that you always have a nice new line on the furling drum, it’s gonna jam on you (replacing it every other season looks about right). If you don’t make sure the bearings on the outhaul car are clean and free, it’s gonna jam on you. If you don’t make sure to always release the mainsheet and vang to let the boom rise while you’re rolling up the sail, it’s gonna jam on you. If you don’t take a lazy wrap in the outhaul line around a spare winch to keep tension on the clew while furling the sail, it’s gonna jam on you. If you don’t take your sail in to the loft to get inspected every off-season to make sure it’s not stretching and developing a pot belly, it’s gonna jam on you. In other words, if you’re a lazy or inattentive sailor who can’t be bothered to keep up on the maintenance, you’re in for nothing but grief. You’d be better served by a conventional mainsail, which can be pretty much ignored until it’s ready to fall apart.
When we had the boat prepared for shipping from the marina in Tennessee where we bought her, the boat yard wanted to ship the mainsail inside the mast. We said no. Not gunna happen. We made them pull it out, which prevented it from chafing and flopping around inside the mast, potentially jamming the sail. Once we had it here, we put a new furling line on (which ran about $70, which was change in the couch cushions by that point), and dropped the mainsail off at Schurr Sails to make sure it hadn’t stretched any. We flushed the heck out of the bearings on the outhaul car with plenty of fresh water. No lubricants used here. Just regular flushing with water. When we stepped the rig, we made sure not to put excessive prebend in the mast. Furling mainsails like straight masts. So far, it’s seemed to work. The sail comes out, the sail goes in, just like an old-fashioned window shade. While I can’t always get it rolled up by hand once the wind pipes up, I’ve never had any problems putting the furling line on a winch and cranking it in.
But we hadn’t yet tried pulling in a reef while underway. And today looked perfect to give it a try. So we headed out onto the bay in 20 knots apparent wind and rolled out the main. I pulled it tight to get it nice and flat. Glancing at the wheel, I could see that Rhonda was having to compensate for way too much weather helm. She had the wheel about 30 degrees to leeward. Rolling out the jib 2/3rds of the way didn’t help. The boat still wanted to point up. Too much main, which was exactly what I was wanting, since this was going to be a reefing drill. So here goes—point up, loosen the mainsheet to douse the main, release the outhaul (but keep tension on it!) and pull the furling line with a winch. And it worked like a charm. It just rolled up. I pulled it in about a quarter of the way, which seemed about the equivalent of a single reef. Once everything was snugged back down, I re-tensioned the outhaul, and off we went. Sail shape was awesome. I’d always struggled to flatten the mainsail on our old boat once we’d pulled in a reef. You want your mainsail nice and flat in high winds to reduce the amount of lift it develops. But there was no problem at all here. The main looked great. And once we’d fiddled with things a bit, we got the boat balanced nicely. Just a few degrees of weather helm, and you could hold the course with one finger. Very nice.
So yes, so far we’re very much liking our roller furling mainsail. Does it take a bit more care to properly maintain? Yes it does. Is it worth it? I think so. In addition to the convenience, it gives us an infinitely reefable sail. I’m thinking it could even serve as a storm sail, because I believe that rolling out just a little bikini-bottom section of sail would be as good as a trysail if we ever get caught in something really bad.
So in conclusion, we’re getting to know Eagle Too, and because of all the beautiful and new things we’re learing about her, day by day, she’s helping to increase our confidence in her ability to take care of us when we ultimately embark on our Life On The Hook™.
After all that, you know there’s no way I’d let you leave without this. Go ahead, it will put a smile on your face!
See, I didn’t lie. That wasn’t Ms. Kerr. And I’ll bet you’re smiling 🙂