Master sailor, offshore racer, sailmaker and author Brian Hancock tells a tale of a transatlantic delivery that turned into a nightmare in his classic 'Maximum Sail Power'. The crew had checked their sailing gear, sails, and lines. And all looked under control--or so they thought.
Off Cape Hatteras
...one specific vital line snapped. In a matter of seconds, their sail turned into a nightmare. Read on to discover how to avoid this common sailing situation with this simple sailing tip!
Beware of overconfidence on one of the most complex, sophisticated pieces of equipment on deck. Indeed, sailors often talk about systems. Sailboat systems could be defined as something that requires multiple pieces that work together to produce the desired effect.
Now, that could mean most anything, but in my mind, it means complex pieces of equipment, like your galley, your engine, your marine sanitation device. On deck, I would consider the roller furling unit to be a system. Why? This single system requires multiple parts to work together for the desired effect. A swivel at the hoist, drum at the bottom, fairleads, blocks, line and dozens of internal parts. If one of those fails, it could compromise this system.
Reliable? For the most part. Except for those 'weak links' we talk about from time to time. Each of your sailing boat systems has a weak link. And these gremlins are most often hidden, forgotten about, or those things that we sometimes say in a rush 'oh, I just checked it yesterday' or 'I'll get to it next month' or 'we'll do that later'.
So what was the culprit in the opening scenario? Furling line. It snapped and they were done for. In the blink of an eye, they lost control of the Genoa in those high winds. They needed it furled and they were stuck with no way to roll it up! That meant tons of time on a pitching, rolling foredeck doing the 'Bronco-Billy' to try to haul the sail down.
Friction fought them as they pulled and hauled to try to lower the massive sail inside the narrow furling extrusion tube. So here's the 'lesson-learned' in this sea story...
Check your furling line each time before you get underway from bow to stern. Any chafe means you need to change it out before you cast off. Also, you need to change out the entire furling line once a year as a preventative maintenance task. Remove and replace all of the furling line to give you more peace of mind throughout the sailing season.
But that's not all...
Do not leave the safety of protected waters without an alternate 'hank on' method to hoist a headsail. 'Hank-ons' are not some antiquated piece of equipment from the days of Bligh. They are a seamanlike sail that should be your primary means of headsail propulsion in case your furling unit fails. And if you need to claw off a lee shore to windward, you can bet a hank-on could make a big difference in your ability to do so.
Under no circumstance should you listen to any market hype that states that furling units are fail-free. They are not. I have yet to ever hear of a hank-on headsail that failed and could not be hauled down in a minute or two. They go up; they come down. Carry a hank-on headsail or two. Discuss rigging alternatives with your sailmaker or rigger (i.e. a removable inner forestay with proper mast support).
Use this easy sailing tip for safer sailing this sailing season. Keep your furling gear 'fit as a fiddle' for worry-free cruising on the waters of the world.
John Jamieson (Captain John) with shows you the no-nonsense cruising skills you need for safer sailing worldwide. Visit his website. Sign up for his Free, highly popular weekly 'Captain John's Sailing Tip-of-the-Week'. Discover how you can gain instant access to hundreds of sailing articles, sailing skills videos, sailing tips newsletters and Free sailing topic e-Books!