Furling a head sail in high winds

Posted by Grant Headifen on February 5, 2011 under Bareboat Charter, Crew, Skipper | 2 Comments to Read

Sailing last weekend reminded me of this tip so here it is.

Often times when using a roller furler head sail you’ll find that if you’re furling it in really high winds, there is not enough furling line in the spool. And this has the potential problem of damage if you’re not watching what you are doing.

Here’s the scenario: You’re trying to stop the sail from flogging whilst furling so you’re holding the sheet on the winch and releasing slowly. The high wind puts a lot of tension on the sheet and thus you require a lot of tension on the furling line. The sail then furls up very tightly. This means that it takes more turns to furl to sail. Turns that you don’t have stored in the furling drum.

Now you’re cranking and cranking and all of a sudden it becomes very hard to pull in more furling line but the head sail is still a little bit out and needs a couple of more wraps. If an inexperienced crew member is doing this then, with the power of a winch, something is going to break. Ouch!

This happened to us last weekend sailing in a 30 knot blow in Tasman Bay, New Zealand on a 42 foot PDQ Catamaran. Fortunately I was doing the furling cranking and determined the problem instantly.  Not that I’m the world’s greatest expert, but I’ve just seen this plenty of times before.

Oh oh - no more line left in the furling drum

Oh oh - no more line left in the furling drum

I’ve got two solutions for this issue – of course once you reach shelter you can unfurl the sail and furl in back in with out all the back tension and problem is solved right? Well sort of. Not really because you might not be so lucky with the next crew member. So that’s not counted as a solution.

Here’s number one. Get some more wraps into the furler so you don’t have to deal with this again but how do you do that? I can remember the first time taking the end of the furler line, lying down on the deck with my head cocked all skew and feeding the line in and around the drum with great difficulty and frustration.

No the solution is much simpler.

(1) Pull out the head sail sheets forward and out from the fairleads, coil the sheets  and bring them forward.

(2) Wind the sheets around the furled sail  until the sail is fully wrapped then three more times for good measure.

(3) Pat yourself on the back that you read this blog.

(4) Uncoil and feed the sheets back through the fairleads – you’re done.

Wrap the headsail sheets around the furled sail

Wrap the headsail sheets around the furled sail

BTW – notice the awesome bay in the background.

A quick note however, some drums are really small and you might find that there is not enough room for those extra wraps. In that case you might consider a smaller diameter furling line.

What a small fine point of learning to sail this tip is. And now you’re understanding that it’s impossible to train your crew members on all the things like this on a sailboat but it can be a real problem and ultimately who pays for something on your boat when a crew member breaks something. You do!

So here’s the second part of the tip – A) Send this blog onto your crew members and also send to them your personal NauticEd Promocode. They’ll get $15 off their first NauticEd sailing course and you’ll get friend kudos and $10 credit towards your next NauticEd sailing for beginners Course. Cool eh!

Don’t know about the personal NauticEd Promocode? See here.

  • wsailing1 said,

    Good info – I’ve done this several times. You do have to use caution, as too many wraps equal a jammed drum when you pull the sail out. We teach our students to get the boat on a broad reach when furling the jib in any significant wind, as this causes the jib to be blanketed by the main and makes furling much easier. Tony – Windward Sailing

  • admin said,

    Great Idea- Thanks for the input on that.

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