Boom Furler Test is Overdue

Does Southern Spars approach set new high-bar?


I was re-reading your review of in-boom furlers (PS, October 2001) in which you compared five different manufacturers products. You did not review the unit made by Southern Spars, which is a spinoff of the Leisure Furl system by Forespar, but I wonder whether you have ever reviewed and compared the Southern Spars in-boom roller furling system?

Ford Ebner
Synapse, Leopard 48 catamaran

New Zealand-based Southern Spars ( is on a bit of a tear. In the last five years, the company has acquired fellow-New Zealand company Martin Spars. It also acquired Aramid Rigging in Portsmouth, R.I., to form the new company Composite Rigging. Southern Spars is also represented by Rig Pro in Rhode Island.

Until recently, Southern Spars has focused primarily on custom, hydraulic furling systems for big boats in the 70-foot-plus size. However, at the most recent Marine Equipment Trade Show (METS) in Amsterdam, the company unveiled a new line of small-boat boom furlers. The first line-booms 15 feet or shorter-is now available for ordering. Booms 15 to 24 feet long will be available in April 2014, and those in 24-foot to 36-foot lengths will follow.

The new Coastal Furl system combines features found in the furling systems that Martin produced, as well as those that Southern Spars developed over the years. The open-top boom and internal mandrel (around which the sail furls) are carbon fiber. The manual line-drive system is at the front of the boom, connected to the mandrel with an articulating universal joint that allows the boom to move freely. The top of the boom is wide open to prevent jamming and has an integral sail cover. One of the key features is the ability to install the new system without unstepping the mast. Southern Spars also offers an optional carbon-fiber gas vang to help keep the boom at the correct angle for furling.

Although weve not tested the new boom furlers, weve been generally impressed with equipment from Southern Spars. The gear needs to be rugged and reliable in order to survive with the local sailing conditions in New Zealand, and the government-supported sailing industry benefits from a pool of talented engineers.

While we prefer boom furling over in-mast furling, we often recall a quote from that first test of boom furlers: Why would I need a $20,000 sail cover? That said, the expansive fat-head mainsails and high coachroofs on modern catamarans make furling booms a very attractive option.

Two concerns we have (apart from the cost) with any boom-furling system for your boat: The boom required to swallow your sail is going to be heavy and bulky (although carbon fiber will help with this). We are also skeptical that the new products have resolved all the issues with furling booms that we raised in our last test. Among the challenges: dealing with batten compression at the mast, preventing the sail from jamming as the sail comes down, and ensuring the boom is at the correct angle for the sail to furl properly.

We will be revisiting furling booms this year and will be sure to include Southern Spars new system.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him at