Headsail Roller Furlers
Time was, roller-furling systems were regarded as fragile, fair-weather gear. Now they're a must-have for mosteven offshore. Here's a scan of major manufacturers, and the results of our reader survey.
Headsail furlers, once a novelty scorned by "real" sailors, are everywhere nowadays. The reasons for their widespread use boil down to two advantages: the convenience of "raising and lowering" sails easily from the cockpit, and changing the headsail size by rolling or unrolling the sail.
In the bad old days when headsail furler technology was new, it was common to see someone up on the foredeck trying to wrestle in a jib that refused to properly furl, especially in a blow. If the sail was fully unrolled when the mechanism jammed, then the jib could be dropped on deck like a hanked-on sail, though with the lowered sail not held captive on the headstay. However, if the sail was partly furled and jammed, this created panics, in that one could not roll up the sail nor unroll it to drop it on deck.
Today, headsail furlers work. Many of the original reasons for furler problems are understood and managed by the manufacturers. There are still plenty of purists around who insist that hanked-on sails are the way to go, mainly for safety reasons, but even if you fall into this category, you might as well read the survey results from fellow owners. Even if you don't change your stripes, you're likely to find that furlers are more trustworthy than they used to be.
Some months ago, we asked for your help in evaluating headsail furlers. Before we get to the results, here's a brief market scan to explain what's available out there now.
When compiling this scan, we started with the manufacturers listed in our survey results. To this list we added a couple of other manufacturers that may be too new to the US market to have shown up in the survey.
We collected the market scan information from the company websites and in some situations, phone calls with the company. We haven't done hands-on tests of the latest versions of all these furlers. We're not sure that would be possible, even given enough personnel and boats, especially because it's long-term dependability and customer service that count more than most other factors.
Instead, our goal was to try and boil down to a manageable format all the headsail furling products available. There's a bewildering number of brands and variations, so we limited our scan to those headsail furlers that use a foil that goes over the headstay, are mechanically driven, and allow some reefing of the jib. The following companies are listed in alphabetical order.
Alado Nautica has been making headsail furlers since 1990. Their gear is made in Brazil and marketed exclusively through the Internet. Since 2001 the US distributor has been Alado Nautica USA. Alado Nautica USA is a stocking distributor and advertises that, from date of order, one will receive their furler within four days via FedEx.
Alado uses an internal halyard for raising and lowering the sail. The internal halyard eliminates tension loads on the mast, since the drum, foil, and sheave plate form a "solid" system that rotates on the headstay. As a side benefit, the internal halyard frees a jib halyard on the mast. With this system, they claim that a winch is not necessary to tension the luff. If brute strength is not enough, then you can use a small purchase or a downhaul for the final tightening.
Alado has two different series: five models of the A series (A0 through A4), for boat sizes from 20' to 40' LOA, and the B series (B1 through B4) for boats from 40' to 70' LOA. The aluminum foil extrusion is split lengthwise and snaps together around polypropylene bushings that ride on the headstay.
The installation manual is available on their website. Looking over the manual before purchasing may help you better judge whether the system is really installable with your skill set. We found the online version of the Alado Nautica manual somewhat confusing. There are no diagrams showing how the system goes together, nor a parts diagram showing the names of all the parts referred to in the text.
For the past nine years, the Italian company Bamar has been making headsail furling systems for the European and Asian markets. Three years ago, SailCare, Inc. in Pennsylvania started distributing Bamar furlers in the US. SailCare is a stocking distributor that modifies each furler to fit the specific headstay measurement of your boat. Modifications include precutting of the foil, and all drilling and tapping necessary.
Bamar makes a number of different furlers, including manual, electric, and hydraulic ones. In fact, on their website they claim to have made the headsail furler for the 75-meter sloop Mirabella V.
For this survey, we restricted ourselves to manual furlers. In that category, Bamar has their Crociera (Italian for cruise) line. The six models (C0, C0T, C1, C2, C3, and C4) cover boats up to 51' LOA.
The 29.5" (75cm) aluminum foil sections slide over the headstay. The Crociera model will work with existing headstays. However, the lower headstay fitting may need to be changed, and there are special considerations for "ball" and "T" mast terminals. Check Bamar's online manual for more information.
Speaking of manuals, the Crociera installation manual is available online to look at before making any decisions. The manual has lots of drawings and photos illustrating installing the headsail furler. However, the English translation from the Italian leaves a lot to be desired, for example, "The purchaser will have to check the goods carefully and should claim from the carrier in the due terms." The photos do make the installation very clear.
The Crociera model uses the existing jib halyard for raising the sail with the swivel. Bamar ships with the furler what they call a "halyard swinging block" that attaches near the top of the mast to get the correct 10° angle from the headstay to prevent halyard wraps.
Cruising Design, Inc. (CDI)
CDI has been making headsail furlers since 1979. For trailerable sailboats, Joe Dahmen, the owner of CDI, says that they have captured 80% of that market. Asked for a clarification of "trailerable," he defined it as a boat with less than 8-foot beam and a manufacturer-provided way of lowering and raising the mast.
CDI's popularity with trailer-sailors is that the foil is a flexible, single-piece PVC extrusion. Unlike aluminum foils, slight bends in the foil don't become permanent with the CDI system. The flexibility makes it easy to step and unstep a trailer-sailer mast and still have headsail furling.
CDI makes six models of the Flexible Furler: FF1, FF2, FF4, FF6, FF7.0, and FF9.0. The first four units come standard with a solid plastic bearing (ball bearings are optional). The FF7.0 and FF9.0 come standard with oversize Torlon ball bearings.
The Flexible Furler uses an internal halyard for raising and lowering the headsail. This system keeps the tension load off the mast and its supporting rigging. This type of system also greatly reduces the furler's complexity. In fact, the Flexible Furler has just twelve parts.
The manuals for all the headsail furlers are available online at CDI's website. The manuals seem very complete, including many photos and diagrams.
Even though the CDI web site says that the Flexible Furler will work on boats up to 40', we found that the limiting factor on furler selection was not headstay wire length, but the wire's diameter. For a 30' boat, if the headstay was 7/32" instead of 1/4", the price would have dropped $375.
Facnor has been making headsail furlers since 1980. The French company's US distribution is handled through Charleston Spar, a subsidiary of Facnor, located in Charlotte, NC. Facnor furlers come as standard equipment on many French boats, including Dufour, Beneteau, and Jeanneau.
Facnor makes many different headsail furler models: 10 cruising "SD" models and seven racing "R" models. The cruising models are for boat lengths of 18' to 46' and the racing models cover the boat length range of 21' to 59'.
Facnor uses the existing jib halyard for raising and lowering the sail. On the headstay above the halyard swivel is a halyard deflector designed to ensure the correct halyard lead to the swivel.
The headstay foils come in two different lengths: 79" (200cm) and 122" (310cm). The foil sections slip over the existing headstay and do not require removing the headstay.
The Facnor website does not have a manual available for viewing nor for downloading. Also, for those metrically challenged, the entire site is in metric units.
FaMet has been producing headsail furlers in the US for a very long time. The company has passed through various ownerships over the years, but since 2001, Ron and Tamera Peterson have owned FaMet in Lawrence, Kansas.
FaMet ReeFurl comes in 13 different models. There are five "A" series models for boats from 27' to 61' with headstay wire sizes of 3/16" to 9/32". Additionally, there are eight "B" series furlers for boats from 27' to 78' with headstay diameters of 5/16" to 1/2".
ReeFurl uses an internal halyard for hoisting the headsail. To tension the headsail, a bicycle chain called the tensioning chain pulls down on the halyard car via turning a tensioning sprocket.
The ReeFurl system comes with a lifetime warranty. There are no internal bearings. The system will need the thrust washers under the drum changed out whenever they get too thin. According to the information on the FaMet website, owners end up replacing the thrust washers every decade or so.
The website does not contain a user's manual. However, there are a lot of installation pictures available. We found the site navigation difficult.
Seldén Mast AB of Sweden has been making a headsail furler system since 1983. Called Furlex, the system is available in the US from Seldén Mast Inc. of Charleston, SC.
Furlex has five different models, covering a boat size range from about 30' to 70'. It's not easy to determine which model is right for a specific boat. Instead of basing the selection on boat length or headstay length, Furlex uses a boat's righting moment to select the correct furler. Scott Alexander of Seldén Mast Inc. was easy to reach, and helped us select the proper Furlex for our comparison boats.
Furlex uses the existing jib halyard for raising and lowering the sail. The bearings are open-designed to facilitate cleaning. The ball bearings are stainless steel. The drum easily removes if you want to race and attach the tack of your deck sweeper directly to the foredeck.
The delivered Furlex system comes complete with just about everything you need for installing it. Included in the price is a new headstay, stanchion blocks for leading the furling line aft, and even a set of Torx drivers.
The web site contains a lot of information, including good installation manuals.
Harken has been making headsail furlers for at least 20 years. The present generation of manual furlers is the MKIII series, available in 11 models for boats from 20' to over 100'. The models are named 00AL and Units 0, 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.25, 3.5, 4, and 4.5. The 00AL and the Unit 0 both aim at the small boat market of 20' to 26'. The difference between the two is that the 00AL does not use a tack swivel for furling, which makes the reefed sailshape less efficient than with the Unit 0.
The MKIII series uses the existing headstay and jib halyard. For those interested in racing, some of the MKIII furlers are also available with lightweight carbon fiber parts in the drum and torque tubes. Also, the standard drum splits apart for easy removal when going racing.
The MKIII series use stainless steel ball bearings, which are open to facilitate cleaning.
Harken keeps complete installation manuals online.
Hood Yacht Systems is now part of Pompanette, LLC, which also owns the hatch manufacturer, Bomar. Hood has been making headsail furling systems for the past 35 years.
Hood has three main flavors of headsail furlers that we have included in this market scan. For the small-boat and trailer-sailer market, Hood has its Sea Flex model, which uses a single PVC extrusion that slips over the existing headstay. The unit ships with three different-size clevis pins to accommodate different headstays.
Stepping up one notch, Hood has the model 707 and the new 808 for boats from 26' up to 46'. These two systems use 72" long round extrusions that slide over the existing headstay.
For bigger boats and those that want an airfoil-shaped foil instead of a round foil, Hood offers the Sea Furl 5 series. This series has a split drum for easy removal for racing. Also, the Sea Furl 5 has a lifetime warranty to the original owner.
Hood has a very attractive upgrade offer for owners of older Hood furling systems: 50% off the list price for purchase of a Sea Furl 5 as an upgrade. That's a serious incentive.
We found it difficult to get complete information from Hood's website. Not all models are available to look at online, and there are no tables to help one select the correct headsail unit. Only the 707 owner's manual is available for review.
In 2002, Wichard bought Profurl, but still markets the headsail furling systems under the Profurl name.
Profurl makes four different types of headsail furler. The T26 is a small-boat furler meant for boats in the 16' to 23' range. The other models are the Basic, Classic, and Elite. The Basic model comes in two different sizes, the B29 and the B35 for boats of 23' to 42'. The number refers to the diameter of the round foil extrusion.
Profurl, in addition to the foil size differentiation, also has different-size drums for different size headsails. The B29 comes in small and large, and the B35 adds a medium size to this menu. The Basic series has to be ordered directly from Profurl. The prime application for the Basic series is the OEM market.
The Classic series comes in six different foil sizes for boats from 19' to 82'. Two of the six (R25 and R42) have oval foils and are marketed as mostly racing systems. The other four (32, 42, 52, and 70mm round foils) again come in sub models with different drum sizes and extrusion lengths. The NC models have fixed drums, the C models have a split removable drum, and the LC versions have a fixed drum, longer extrusion, and a slightly larger drum. Two models can also have an S or R suffix, denoting a reinforced swivel for a round (S) or oval (R) foil.
The Elite series use the same numbering system as the Classic series, with the addition of an E suffix. According to Bert Brodin of Wichard, the difference between the Classic and Elite series is the color: green and white respectively.
Profurl does not have installation manuals available online.
Reckmann Mast System & Sails of Germany has been making headsail furlers since the early 1980s. In 1992, Reckmann introduced their RS 2000 manual furling system for boats from 30' to 90' in length. The Reckmann units are available in the US from Euro Marine Trading, Inc. in Newport, RI.
There are five models in the RS 2000 product line: RS 2000-10, -20, -30, -40, and -50. The headsail furler has its own built-in headstay adjuster in lieu of a turnbuckle. The adjuster has an adjustment range of approximately 60mm (2.3") and is easy to reach.
Reckmann does not have the installation manuals available on-line.
Reef-Rite Reefing Co. of New Zealand manufacturers a line of headsail furlers. Since 2001, the US distributor for Reef-Rite has been Anzam Yacht Refurbishing in Sacramento, CA.
Reef-Rite is designed a little differently than the other systems outlined here. You must replace the headstay (included) when installing a Reef-Rite unit. Included with the headsail furler is a new upper swage that is three times longer than a conventional swaged fitting. Reef-Rite claims that most headstay failures with furling gear occur at the top of the stay where the wire exits the foil. The longer swage fits down inside the foil and supposedly extends the headstay life by a factor of two or three. The fitting comes already swaged on the replacement headstay.
The aluminum foil extrusion comes in sections approximately 13' long, thereby minimizing the number of foil joiners.
The drum has a pawl on it to take the load off the reefing line when reefed. One disengages the pawl from the cockpit via a lever and cable.
In an interesting twist on sail luff attachment, Reef-Rite uses a system called a "Downloader with Kiwi Slides." Sort of like mainsail slugs, but designed to work with a headstay foil, the slides allow you to raise and lower the sail with less friction. Additionally, dropping the sail keeps it captive on the headstay (i.e., foil) like a hanked-on jib. This system does require modifying your existing sail.
The 13' foil sections present some interesting challenges regarding shipping costs. To keep the shipping costs down (they are included in the purchase price) the furlers are shipped from New Zealand to the closest airport to the customer. The customer then has to collect the furler at the airport.
The Anzam web site has an easy-to-follow installation manual for the Reef-Rite furler.Schaefer
Schaefer has been making headsail furlers for many years. Currently, their product line encompasses two different styles within the boundaries of our market survey. For boats in the 16' to 28' range, Schaefer offers two models of their SnapFurl system. The SnapFurl utilizes a single length section for the foil. The PVC extrusion comes in two parts that snap around the headstay after being trimmed to the proper length. The SnapFurl includes Torlon ball bearings in the swivel and drum, together with an external halyard. According to Schaefer, a main target for the SnapFurl system is the trailerable market.
The other Schaefer model line is the Rigid system. Within this line, there are five models, each with different versions—systems 750, 1100, 2100, 3100, and 4100. These models cover boat size ranges of 20' to 65'.
For owner installation the system comes with a Sta-Lok fitting to connect to the masthead. For professional installation or for rod rigging use, the system is also available without the Sta-Lok fitting. Schaefer allows you to reuse your existing headstay, but the headstay length may change because of their heavy-duty toggle. Thus the need for the Sta-Lok fitting. If there is an existing custom headstay fitting at the masthead, another option is to keep that fitting and reduce the headstay length from the bottom.
The Schaefer website does not have any owner installation manuals available for viewing.
After the reader survey results had been tabulated and this article drafted, we received a letter and brochure from Cal McGrath of Spin-Tec, a furler maker in Auburn, CA. We wanted to mention the furler here because, although we have no experience with it, it looks promising by virtue of its simplicity, apparently well-made parts, and unconditional lifetime warranty for the original owner.
Spin-Tec's Triumph 2000 system is made for boats from about 28' to 60'. Interesting features are a fully open drum design without guide arms, slide-together foil sections, and a hoisting system similar to a dinghy halyard lock: The headsail is hoisted on its regular halyard, which is knotted, messengered, and lodged in the bottom of a hook fitting. When the hook engages a closed bail at the top of the furler, the halyard is freed and pulled back down with the messenger. This not only relieves the system, but eliminates that halyard-wrap problem that plagues many furler installations.
We'd be interested in hearing from readers who have experience with this furler. There's a nice endorsement from Dawn Riley on the Spin-Tec website. Maybe she'll write in.
We received 261 responses from our website survey and 27 mailed-in responses, for a total of 288 responses. The average boat length represented is 32', with a range from 16' to 52'. To those who filled it out, many thanks from us and your fellow sailors.
Altogether, the survey included 14 manufacturers. We received only single responses for Alado, Bamar, Hyde, and Plastimo, and two responses for North. These responses were not enough to be included in our analysis.
While tabulating data, we read a comment from a reader that said, "I was going to respond personally from my subscription copy of Practical Sailor, but this [survey form] was prompted by CDI sending me a copy, which I am sending to you." This got us looking at the other mailed-in responses, and we found that 20 mailed-in responses seemed to all came from the same photocopier. To clarify, the forms were duplicated—not the information on the forms.
We called Joe Dahmen at CDI, and he confirmed that CDI did mail the survey forms out to their customers. We certainly understand that, from a marketing point of view, getting as many responses as possible into the survey was a good idea from CDI's point of view. However, we were concerned that those additional survey responses might skew our data. After carefully analyzing the data, we feel that the data is still valid. We did, however, break out the CDI data into its own table (see chart at end of article), so that readers can judge for themselves.
It's very clear that readers are happy with their headsail furlers. Our sailors have had their furlers for an average of 6.5 years, with the longest time being a whopping 25 years (FaMet).
To try to measure satisfaction, we asked a number of questions with a grading scale of 1 to 4, where 1 was "poor" and 4 was "excellent." We asked questions regarding the installation instructions, ease of assembly, disassembly, and maintenance, manufacturer tech support, and an overall level of satisfaction with the unit. We then averaged all these grades together to get an average level for each manufacturer. To us, the data suggest that it would be difficult to go wrong with any headsail furler purchase, provided that the furler is meant for the size and expected use of your boat, and that it's properly installed.
Obviously, the fewer responses gathered for a manufacturer (like FaMet or Reef-Rite) the less "reliable" the ratings should be regarded. For example, all four respondents with a Reef-Rite system installed it themselves, and found all aspects excellent. If 100 people had responded, the numbers would likely have varied.
It's extremely difficult to compare prices, or to predict installation cost—those data in our surveys jumped around too much to attempt it.
Some furlers come direct from the manufacturer, others are purchased through chandlers. We tried in the Value Guide on pages 8-9 to find "street" prices on all the furlers, where they were available; however, some must be ordered directly from the manufacturers.
We do have a couple of tips to pass along, whether you're considering self-installation or hiring a rigger. First, look over the installation manual very carefully, noting the needs for skills, tools, and helpers. If the manufacturer doesn't have the manual online, call and get one before purchasing the furler. Second, replace the headstay wire when installing a new headsail furler. Some furlers come with replacement wire, and others don't. Once the foil goes over the wire, there's no way to check the wire condition. Think of it as insurance.
• Alado Nautica USA, 972/943-8262, www.aladous.com
• Anzam Yacht Reburbishing (Reef-Rite), 916/489-5431, www.anzam.com
• Bamar, +39 0543798670, www.bamar.it
• Cruising Design, Inc. (CDI), 978/371-5508, www.sailcdi.com
• Euro Marine Trading (Reckmann), 800/222/7712, www.euromarinetrading.com
• Facnor USA, 704/598-1105, www.facnor.com
• Famet, 785/842-0585, www.fametreefurl.com
• Harken, 262/691-3320, www.harken.com
• Hood Yacht Systems, 603/826-5791, www.pompanette.com/hood
• Profurl (Wichard, Inc.) , 800/852-7084, www.profurl.com
• Pyacht.com, 877/379-2248, www.pyacht.com
• Reckmann Yacht Equipment GmbH, +49(0)4101-3849-0, www.reckmann.com
• Reef Rite, +64 9 407 8794, www.reefrite.co.nz
• Rigging Loft Inc. (RiggingOnly), 508/992-0434, www.riggingonly.com
• SailCare, Inc. (Bamar), 800/930-2060, www.sailcare.com
• Schaefer Marine, Inc., 508-995-9511, www.schaefermarine.com
• Seacraft Outfitters, 206/547-5439, www.seacraft.com/equipcontents.htm
• Seldén Mast Inc. (Furlex), 843/760-6278, www.seldenmast.com
• Spin-Tec, 877/774-6832, www.spin-tec.com