Roller Furler Mystery - Solved!

If you have been reading this blog for a long time, or have read my back entries you will probably recall that when I sailed Windsong around Florida (via the Okeechobee Waterway), I experienced some significant problems with the roller furling unit.  When I first got the boat and during the first few trials, the furling unit worked seamlessly. It is a strange looking unit with a wire furling cord (rope spliced on end), and interestingly enough the unit is actually the forestay.  The bottom drum/barrel is connected to a thick aluminium rod that acts as the forestay and has a groove for the sail.   After some research I found out that it is a Hyde Streamstay.  These units were used heavily decades ago, particularly in charter boats, but have since mostly disappeared.   The unit:

Here are some excerpts to catch you up:

From: Bringing Windsong Home, Let 1: Inglis to Gulfport

After the mainsail was down I crawled back to the cockpit to roll in the jib, the last remaining sail.  As if Windsong decided we needed to be tested further, I found the roller furling completely jammed.  I was unable to roll in the sail, and if I couldn’t figure it out I would need to somehow wrap it around itself by hand, up at the bow, plunging into the waves…scary thought.

I realized the jib sheets were tangled around the flag hoists, so I ran up to untangle the horrible knots they were in.  This had no effect on the roller furling, so I began to get extremely worried what would happen if we couldn’t get the sail down and needed to go into a narrow channel.  I did the only thing I could and went back up to the deck and onto the bowsprint.  I ran up there to fiddle with it, cranked on the roller line and made sure all other lines weren’t tangled on anything. This was easily the most terrifying moment of the night, and one of the most of my life.  Seeing each wave come at me one after the other and splash over me as the bow plunged into them is something that is burned into my brain.  If I fell out, Jeff would have had a near impossible time getting back to me.

I held on tight, grit my teeth and did what I could though. Unfortunately, the jib still wouldn’t roll in.  To help things, we angled more Northeast so the jib was holding wind and helping us along, instead of flapping wildly.  I made it back to the cockpit and we motored uncomfortably in the washing machine towards the channel entrance.

From: Bringing Windsong Home, Leg 2: Gulfport to Ft. Myers

As we were about two miles from the inlet, I got tired of thinking about it and just decided to deal with the sails. Unfortunately, I was never able to figure out what was wrong with my jib, it would not furl by pulling the furling line. At least I was able to roll it up by turning the drum by hand, and this time wasn’t nearly as much of a rodeo ride as the last trip. With all of the sails down we motored towards the inlet, straight upwind.

From: Bringing Windsong Home, Leg 3: Ft. Myers to Stuart

Unfortunately, the jib roller furling decided to give me more troubles once again. It rolled out just fine, and I thought it would roll up since nothing looked tangled aloft. But it would not roll up by pulling the furling cord, and wouldn’t even roll up by hand as it normally had. I could roll it up the opposite way (sail inside out) and that seemed the only way I could get the sail put away. I proceeded to roll it up inside out, by hand on the bowsprint. My roller furling line is wire spliced into a rope, but the rope isn’t supposed to roll up into the drum. Rolling it up the wrong way caused the rope to coil into the drum, eventually clogging it up and preventing me from rolling any further, with a few feet of sail still out. I had to improvise and we just threw the sheets around the sail a few times trying to roll the tip up as best we could. It proved to be a lot more difficult than you would think, so we left it baggy and decided to fix it when we were on the mooring in Stuart......

We approached Stuart around 5:00 pm. As the river widened the wind picked up across the waterway at about 20 knots. The mooring field at Sunset Bay Marina was in sight, but the jib decided to begin to unwrap where we rigged the final rolls. I ran up to the bowsprint to struggle with it, and struggle I did. The winds caused the sail to flap wildly as the sheets were not secured or lead aft. My hands were extremely sore from gripping the sheets and trying not to get blown away as the sail whipped me left and right. Eventually Mark came up to help, and we tamed the sail by beating it down with the boat hook. I found a way to lasso the sail with a dock line and secured it enough for it to not unwind for a while.

As can be seen, I had a lot of trouble with it after the first big sail.  The furler just wouldn't roll up for some reason.  I had an idea that it was the upper drum not turning correctly, but after taking the mast down and inspecting the unit, the culprit was apparent:

Yes, that is a big ass crack going all around and through the drum.  When I would turn the unit by hand to roll the sail, all I was doing was grinding the crack upon itself, not actually turning the unit.  What is terrifying about this is that such a crack could have taken down my whole mast since the unit is the forestay.

I had originally planned on buying a bearing replacement kit for the unit, hoping that was the fix it needed.  Unfortunately with this big crack, the investment in this unit to repair makes looking at a new unit much wiser.  Plus, I don't really like the idea of this being my forestay.   While the thick aluminium rod may be stronger than the stainless wire forestay, it is an integrated unit that can obviously fail.  I am now trying to figure out which new furler to eventually get, and unfortunately they are all amongst the most expensive pieces of equipment I will buy.

I also face the problem of getting rid of this 40+ feet of solid aluminium rod.  If someone were to buy it, it would be one of the most ridiculous things to ship.