Rigging Projects – No More Procrastination

I have some things to do in a bo’sun’s chair, but I hate going aloft, and I’ve been putting it off under various pretenses. I can’t put it off any longer. Check out the photo below to see what happened while sailing with my father-in-law today.

See anything wrong with this picture?

See anything wrong with this picture?

If I remember correctly, last time I set up the rig I used zip ties to hold the cap shrouds onto the spreaders. Looks like this might be a bad idea. As I’ve discovered in other applications, they get brittle after prolonged UV exposure.  I had actually forgotten I’d done this. So we were out having a brisk sail today, hard on the wind, and I noticed that the lee cap shroud was looser than I remember. Really slack, in fact. I didn’t think we were putting that much strain on the rig, though we were heeled at maybe 20 degrees with the sheets hardened up. Then I looked to the windward cap shroud, and realized it had slipped the groove in the spreader.  I immediately dropped the sails, and we motored back to the marina. So sailing is off the schedule until I go up the mast and do what I need to do, which is:

  • Drop the head stay/roller furling gear
  • Build new head stay (then install on my second trip aloft)
  • check all the rig at the mast-head
  • attach two new blocks and halyards on the masthead bail
  • re-slot the cap shrouds into the spreaders, and secure with SS wire (no more zip ties)
  • attach new spreader boots
  • replace the deck lamp in the steaming light fixture

And I’ve made a decision:  I’m probably going to eliminate roller furling.  I have an old Harken 00 furler, that I have tried to take apart in the past (to no avail).  If I can’t get it apart this time and thread a new headstay wire up the luff extrusion I’ll do away with it completely.  The furler is really too old (maybe 20 years) to hope that it can be made to work again.  It might be possible, but I have my doubts.  I know for certain that the headstay hasn’t been changed during the time that furler has been on the boat, so it’s absolutely due.  It makes me nervous to watch it pulse as the wind and surface chop cycle it with pressure and release.  All I can think about is the wire at the terminals work-hardening as it cycles like that.

Having said that, it must not be too big a risk, as you rarely see boats with broken or failed headstays and broken masts, and you rarely hear of it happening.  Still, I’m confident that I’m pushing the limit on this headstay wire.  I’ve thought about this change a lot, and it’s been a difficult decision.  Roller furling is so incredibly convenient that I hate to give it up.  On the other hand, I like the idea of the simplicity, flexibility, and bullet-proof-ness of hanked-on sails and bare wire.  It’s also not a minor fact that to replace the furler is pretty pricey.  And while many sailors would consider roller furling an essential, I see it as a convenience.

Pros of roller furling:  Incredibly convenient.  Never leave the safety of the cockpit to deploy or douse sail.

Cons of roller furling:  Added windage.  Can’t check the wire easily at the terminals.  Extra running rigging.  Furler can foul or jam, if not adjusted correctly.  Sail stowed on headstay can deploy in high winds, and threaten rig if not secured.  Changing sails can be time-consuming.  Reefing headsail not extremely effective beyond 20-30 percent.

Cons of hanked-on sails:  Safety concern – leaving cockpit to deploy or douse.  Less convenient to deploy or douse.

Pros of hanked-on sails:  More flexible sail area management.  Rigging wire is exposed for easy inspection.  Better sail shape with smaller/larger, specialized sails for various wind strength.  Simple to maintain, no mechanism to jam or fix.  Less windage.

How to manage with hanked-on sails: I’ve thought about this quite a bit.  There are ways to make hanked-on sails much more convenient.

  • Store on deck in an acrylic canvas bag:  This solves the stowage while doused, and allows me to leave the sail on the headstay.  The halyard actually supports the bag when the sail is stowed so that it doesn’t rest its bottom on deck.  When ready to deploy, the bag is unzipped, halyard shifted to head, and sheets clipped on the clew.
  • Use a down-haul for dousing:  This is a line that attaches to the halyard shackle and can be led down through the sail hanks (or not).  Passes through a turning block on the stem head fitting, and is led back to the cockpit.  When dousing sail, the halyard is released and the sail is pulled down with the line.  Gathered to leeward side with the leeward sheet taut, it can be gasketed with line at a convenient time without fear of escaping until then.
  • Build headsails with reef points.  This is an old idea that works well, though has fallen out of favor.  No reason why a headsail can’t have reef points.  And as we know, reefing a sail like this provides a very well-shaped sail.

So there it is.  I’d love to hear from some of you about this idea of no roller furling, reefed headsails, or anything else I’ve mentioned in this post.  Except, please don’t beat me up for using zip ties on my cap shrouds – I’ve already delivered the beating myself.

  1. Tate said:

    Jeez man, what a scary experience. We have hank on sails on our boat too. The expense of a furler just put me off totally, that and we have a inventory of jibs.

    • Yeah, it was scary. I caught it almost right away, and I’m glad all my rigging is new (except for the headstay), so I wasn’t worried that the wire or fittings would fail. However, looking at the cap shroud without the spreader made me see in a graphic way how important the spreaders are to the security and strength of the rig. I felt pretty irresponsible about the wire ties. That was a slap-your-forehead-you-should-have-known-better mistake.

      Nice to know that there are other people who sail without roller furling. When I look across the bay at other boats, it makes me think I’m the only one who would consider it. I feel the same way about the cost. It’s really outrageous what I’d have to pay to put a new Harken furler on the boat.

  2. Man, Rick, zip ties? Kidding. I’ve used even the UV resistant ones and had them fail over time. My cap stays are ss tied to the spreaders then booted and taped and it looks like a good rig. As long as the boots stay in place the sails shouldn’t hang on the ss wire ends. Still need to replace the boots over time of course.
    Great, thoughtful analysis. Think another pro for hank-on is a slightly larger fore-triangle area since you don’t lose the area consumed by the top and bottom of the roller furler assembly. I really hadn’t considered the unintentional deployment of the fore sail in a blow, but it sure could happen and cause a knock down or “just” damage the sail. Now I have something else to worry about.
    I have an original-to-the-boat CDI furler and it’s still working, but who knows for how long. Since I single hand usually and have no autopilot the convenience of the roller furler keeps me going and not having to abandon the helm. Sure increases the risk of going overboard w/o recovery having to go forward while single handing. I know: clip on at all times when leaving the cockpit even in good weather. I do that. I still imagine being dragged alongside over the rail though in my harness and having to decide to cut loose and keep breathing but watch the boat sail off w/o me or try to battle back aboard while breathing water. Even with that when the present furler dies I’ll probably go hank on. Maybe by then I’ll have installed an autopilot.
    I already lean toward hank-on since, as you know, I’m working on installing a cutter stay for flying stay sails. Yeah, yeah, Greg you need a larger boat. What’s next, square rigging and rat lines? Crow’s nest anyone?
    I still want to install a spinnaker I can use single handed and that either comes with another roller furler, or rolling stay, or some dowser to make the big bag deploy and dowse easily and fast. So I may have two of what you want to get rid of before I’m back to one.
    1. I really like the plan for remote dowsing of the hank-on. Hadn’t heard of that. So keeping the lee sheet tight will keep it from billowing again while on deck? I just envision it flapping about like a wounded goose while I worry about the damage and can I leave the helm to properly secure it with the weather on top of me.
    2. I do need to ask what you’re doing with the two halyards attached to the mast-head bail? I had none when I got the boat and am going to install one to use for the eventual spinnaker haul. What are yours used for? Likely some things I haven’t thought about.
    3. Also, are you making up your own stay? You have the swaging gear or access to it or is there a mechanical fitting you’re using that you trust? I need to create my cutter stay and the running back stays (I might use Spectra for the RBSes though since the stays would be lighter and easier to stow, and not be a flying hazard should they get loose in a blow).
    3. Your deck lamp went out? Is that usual? Surely you don’t burn that lamp that much, do you? How long’s it been in place? I’m waiting on my new Hella combo steaming/deck light and debated installing an after market led bulb before raising the mast again. Prices are high for the bulbs, but I have to weigh that against going aloft in a chair(or balancing myself on an extension ladder from the bow like I’ve done.)
    4. And finally, I think, how are you going to swap the fore stay while you are up the mast w/o causing the mast to come down with you? Temporary guy to the bow? Be careful, my friend. Sounds hairy to me.
    A pleasure as usual, Rick.
    Greg W.

    • Sounds like you have what I should have done with the cap shrouds, Greg. That is what I will do when I go aloft.

      Hadn’t remembered about the slightly greater sail area gained without roller furling. Good thought. I’ll need to build a new sail to take advantage of it, though. Unintentional deployment in a blow is one of the biggest drawbacks of roller furling. I always tie a line around my furled sail when at the pier. Just in case. I have friend who’s sail came unfurled in a storm and self-destructed. He was lucky he didn’t bring down his rig or his neighbor’s.

      Going forward while solo sailing always concerns me. I wear a harness in blustery conditions, but I admit to not bothering when it’s calm. I don’t have an auto helm (anymore – my old one gave up). But the thought of the boat sailing away without me was sobering. There are a few things you can do, like trail a knotted line (150′?) attached to your stern ladder, which will deploy when you pull on it. That’s a “last chance” line. Trailing in the water, or just over the rail in your harness is no fun. Have no idea how you would get back on board. Not sure I could do it – it would take a lot of strength, providing I was uninjured and conscious. The harness should be rigged to keep us on board, and the tether length adjusted accordingly. See this post for my jacklines and tether arrangement: https://middlebaysailing.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/safely-single-handing/

      Keeping the lee sheet tight should keep the sail under control until you can go forward and tie it off, or bag it.

      The two additional halyards are 1) spin halyard, and 2) extra halyard (in case you lose one up the mast). Also nice to have an extra halyard for a safety line when going aloft.

      I’m going to make up my own stay with mechanical fittings. Self-swaging tools are inadequate for standing rigging.

      My deck lamp did not burn out (I have the Hella combo light too). It got whacked with a halyard, popped out, and broken on deck. One of those “how did that happen?” situations. I’ve had the Mega light on my masthead for 7 years. The photo sensitive switch stopped working a couple of years ago, but the light still comes on with the manual switch. An LED would be better and brighter.

      When I work on the forestay, I’ll guy off the mast with a halyard. Should be completely fine.

  3. Paul Kube said:

    Hi Rick;

    This latest posting has me square in it’s sights . That you are considering going to hank-on foresails comforts me in my decision to stay with them.
    I recently damaged/destroyed my steaming light and need to replace it. I’m not too sure.that I’ll. attempt a mast-climb; but more-than-likely will drop the mast this off-season.. Am considering the combo fixture as well; but will try to add a. cage to keep halyards from catching it……again!

    Great posting on an even better blog,

    • Paul, I think one of the biggest selling points to hank-on sails is the “what can go wrong?” factor. They are just dead simple. Roller furling, not so much. Mine has jammed a several times, and it takes a good bit of fiddling to get it adjusted so that it won’t jam. Wanna talk about safety risk? A jammed furler is a big safety problem that has to be solved.

      I need the cage for my light too. That’s what happened to it last time.

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