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Securing a furling headsail in heavy weather conditions

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What is the issue?
Roller-reefing/furling headsails offer excellent reefing potential. They make it possible to reef the headsail to the precise amount of sail required for most every condition by effortlessly turning in-and-out sail. A problem we found with continuous loop furling systems is they rely on friction to hold the sail in place. After a little wear, we found that the rope’s purchase became unreliable, occasionally causing it to slip free under load.

Why address this?
The last thing we wanted in a stiff wind was for the furling gear to slip and spill out all the sail. If the furling gear spills the big genoa out in heavy weather conditions the sail would happily flap itself to pieces potentially damaging the furling gear and jeopardising the rig itself in the process.

How to address this?
After a few unwelcome events, we started to add a precautionary preventer to the continuous-loop furling gear and implemented it when the sail was reefed and under load. We always applied it in heavy weather conditions.

Simple preventer to stop the roller furling from spilling out
Photo: Tony Gibson

All that is required is a strop a few feet long and it does not have to be too heavy a line. Attach one end of the strop to the furling drum’s sail shackle and secure the other end to a deck or pulpit fixing point. If the furling gear should slip the strop takes the load preventing the sail from spilling out.

You will have to go forward to set it in place and that is less than desirable, and again to remove it when conditions ease, but this is far better than having to deal with the full headsail unfurling in a blow. If the load comes on it and the preventers' knots bite down too tight to be undone, the line can easily be cut in an emergency. It is worth saying that you can reef down the headsail into a storm jib like shape for heavy weather conditions but do not expect it to give a reasonable performance. If you do not have a staysail or other arrangements, you will have to make do with a dramatically reefed down sail.

We also used the strop to tie off the furled headsail when at anchor so it was regularly to hand. Another time that would be unfortunate for the sail to spill out, is when the vessel is unattended at anchor and this was a regular procedure we adopted.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.
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