Features October 1, 1998 Issue

Offshore Log:
Big Change in the Foretriangle

After much deliberation, we decide to fit the inner forestay with furling gear.

Although Calypso is rigged as a cutter, we sail her as a sloop. Most of the time we use the genoa, reducing its area as necessary with our Profurl C-42 reefing and furling system. Only when it really blows—30 knots or more upwind—do we roll up the headsail completely and switch to the staysail. Our hank-on staysail was built by Doyle as a maximum size ORC (Offshore Racing Council) storm jib. At about 145 sq. ft., it is very large for a storm sail.

For the last year, the staysail has lived on the foredeck in a zippered bag designed and built for us by Thurston Sails. The sail is permanently hanked to the inner forestay, with sheets attached. Setting the staysail requires crawling forward to hook up the halyard, removing the sail bag and leading the sheets aft through two blocks to the primary winches.

You then crawl to the mast and raise the sail, dodging the flogging clew and sheets as you struggle back to the cockpit to trim everything. One time, the flailing sheets tore the staysail lead car off the track (the stop had not fully engaged) and the heavy stainless steel car hit me solidly in the arm. It’s a miracle I wasn’t seriously injured and that the only damage to the boat was a few dents in the teak deck.

Enough is enough. While a sail hanked to a stay is pretty foolproof, a fool can still manage to get himself killed setting it. The process can be so difficult that you put off the sail change until far too late, making a bad situation even worse.

I have always been leery of roller furling storm sails, fearing the gear would jam or the sail would tear out of the foil in 50-knot winds. In fact, the ORC requires an alternative means of attachment to the stay for any storm headsail set in a headfoil.

In reality, a headfoil is a good way to secure the luff of a sail, distributing loads far more evenly than a few hanks. Provided the luff tape is properly sized for the foil, the foil is undamaged and the head of the sail is designed so that the halyard has no tendency to pull the sail out of the foil, there is no reason a foil-mounted storm headsail should present any unusual risk of failure.

With this in mind, and theorizing that I would set the staysail far earlier if it were easier to do so, we converted to a double roller-reefing foretriangle.

Furlex 300 S
Our choice of furler for the inner forestay was the new Furlex 3OO S. Gear this size may seem overkill—it is the same size we would use for our 600 sq. ft. genoa. But storm headsails can see much higher loads than you would ever experience on a gcnoa. A mistake we see repeated again and again is sizing a staysail furler for the area of the sail, rather than for the loads the sail will generate in storm conditions.

The Furlex 3OO S is a development of previous Furlex systems. Most of the aluminum components of the previous system—except for the foil extrusions—have been replaced with either stainless steel or high-impact plastics.

The stainless castings are of superb quality and are beauitifully finished. The pre-feeder is permanently attached to the tack swivel housing and stows out of the way in a clever holder when not in use.

There are full-length plastic liners isolating the foil from the stay. Even the foil extrusion joining sleeves are insulated from the stay.

Furlex systems are supplied in a comprehensive kit form which contains not only the basic components, but also a new stay, furling line, furling line lead blocks, halyard leads, thread locking adhesive and specialized assembly wrenches. Even the mounting fastenings for the halyard leads and a drill bit to install them are thrown in.

The new stay may seem like an unnecessary expense, but it comes with a special swaged-on stop that guarantees you won’t put a new system on an old piece of wire that is at the end of its useful life.

Because the Furlex is supplied in such complete form, it is somewhat more expensive than other furlers. Our Furlex 3OO S, with its optional turnbuckle cylinder, lists at just over $3,600. When you add up all the bits and pieces, however, there is very little difference in prices between furling systems of comparable quality.

In the U.S., Furlex is sold only through riggers and sailmakers, with the expectation that the furler will be professionally installed. The instruction manual is so thorough, however, that a handy owner who is not afraid to assemble a Sta-Lok fitting could do the job.

In fact, we found the assembly of the Furlex to be straightforward and uncomplicated. The hardest job—other than the assembly of the Sta-Lok terminal, which can be intimidating when done for the first time—is the accurate measurement of your old stay to make sure you get the length of the new system absolutely correct.

Since our Furlex is used on the inner forestay, we chose the optional turnbuckle cylinder (a beautiful piece of bronze machining) so we could set up the mast bend exactly the way we wanted. Where the final headstay length is fixed, you can do without the adjuster. We like to tweak our mast, and our Profurl genoa furler is also equipped with a turnbuckle cylinder.

Because we wanted to raise the furling drum and sail tack well above the deck, we designed a pair of heavy stainless steel link plates which were made for us by Metalman Fabricators in Trinidad.

Normally, alteration of an existing hank-on headsail to fit a furler is an uncomplicated job, assuming the sail is in good condition. At its simplest, it involves little more than taking off the hanks, installing a luff tape, and sewing a sacrificial UV strip onto leech and foot.

As usual, however, we do things the hard way. We raised the tack to clear the new dinghy which we plan to carry forward of the mast. At the same time, we shortened the leech to raise the clew, getting the sheet lead further aft on the staysail track and reducing the size of the sail. A simple re-cut turned into a major re-design, and it’s not clear that we wouldn’t be better off simply building a new sail. It’s very hard, however, to discard a nice sail that has only about 60 hours of sailing on it, even if all those hours have been in 3O to 40 knots of wind.

Our first impression of the new Furlex 3OO S is that it is a well-designed, well-executed furling system. We did not use the included furling line lead blocks with their small sheaves and plain bearings, replacing them with the same Schaefer Clear Step lead blocks and pulpit-mount block that we use with our genoa furler. The larger sheaves and ball bearings used in the Schaefer blocks result in lower friction than plain-bearing blocks—a critical consideration in any furling system with a lot of lead blocks.

The first test of the new staysail furling system will take place when we head to Venezuela in a few weeks. We can’t wait to get sailing again.


Contact- Sailsystems, Inc., PO Box 1218, Marblehead, MA 01945; 978/745-0440.

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