If you have any kind of sailing boat the chances are that you have some sort of furling gear to ease the process of sail handling. Back in the days of hardy hirsute sailors one could argue the pro’s and con’s of modern furling gear. But nowadays we increasingly find more votes for than against. So much so that almost all of us cruisers have at least the basics; a roller furling headstay. It’s no longer a ‘nice to have’ item, it’s on the ‘must have’ list.
And one day it will need maintenance!
There are many different manufacturers of these wonderful units but in my experience the one we see most often is the Profurl. They’re widely available, robust, reliable, simple and competitively priced. There are umpteen variations of the Profurl headsail units depending on age, size and purpose, but they are all basically the same. My most recent project was to overhaul my inner staysail furler, which is a type N31 and probably over 20 years old. It had done pretty well already but I was hoping to extend its life.
First and foremost (after removing the sail) you must make sure the mast is sufficiently supported to allow the removal of the stay. Slacken the turnbuckle on the stay in question. If the turnbuckle isn’t easy to access then you may have to slacken the backstay (and any other opposing stays). It’s a good idea to mark the position of everything with electrical tape before you start this slackening procedure to help when it comes to re-tightening. It’s also a good idea to take lots of photos to help check everything is going back in the right place.
Once the stay is loose, in our case the inner forestay, locate the grub screws which secure the aluminium foil extrusion. These are sometimes in, or part of, the drum or sometimes above it. Make sure you use the right size key. Once they are loose the foil will ‘float’ up and down on the stay a little. Next, unhook the lower support arms and remove the lower pin, the one with the two nyloc nuts. Completely unscrew the lower fork and turnbuckle from the stay. Now the lower unit should slide right off. Remove any sail feeder fittings you may have still in place and the top unit should come off now too. Refit the toggle and turnbuckle and quickly reassemble the forestay so that you can leave everything secure whilst you work on the furler.
The following describes the procedure for the older N31 upper unit but all of the most frequently seen units follow a similar pattern. It’s important to be careful not to damage anything as you dismantle the parts; a workbench, vice and the right tools will help.
Starting from the top, pry out the old oil seal, generally an old screwdriver or some kind of hooking tool will pull them out. Clean out any old grease and debris with solvent or degreaser. Next comes the hard bit; there are two or three circlips, or snaprings, holding everything in place. These need to be removed without causing too much damage to the working surfaces. Despite having various circlip and long reach pliers, this part of the job proved to be the biggest challenge. The first clip eventually surrendered to a pair of modified long reach pliers but the next one just wouldn’t budge. I finally managed to tease a length of monel seizing wire through one of the holes and carefully pulled it out with that.
Once all the circlips are removed the inner part of the assembly can be pushed out, either with a big vice or press. Failing that, you might try a hammer, some hardwood blocks and a suitable drift. Next, turn it around and tap out the old bearing going the other way. Use a hammer and long steel punch, and be sure to keep it square in the bore all the way or it will jam up and damage the sides.
Once the unit is in bits it’s important to examine closely all of the components and make an assessment of their condition. This will have a big effect on the longevity of your rebuilt unit. First check the condition of the grooves for the circlips. It is often wrongly assumed that the furler takes the load normally taken by the forestay. In the case of these Profurl units that is not the case. However, the upper and lower units do carry the full tension of the genoa luff and it bears directly on the rotating part of each one. So test fit all your new circlips before reassembly. Next, check the surfaces on the remainder of the inner tube, in particular where the seals will bear. They can become badly scratched when the circlips are removed. Dress them up if necessary.
Reassembly is more or less a reversal of the above but with the following points to note: Fit the new bearing to the outer stationary part first, tapping gently on the outer part of the bearing only and being sure to keep it square and true all the way. Bearings, seals and clips can be purchased over the internet at a fraction of the price of your local ‘Profurl’ dealer. Just use the numbers stamped into the old bearings. Pack the new bearings with fresh grease, pushing it through with your fingers from one side only until it comes out of the other side. Everything should have a good coating of waterproof grease.
Refit your refurbished parts onto the stay and you’ll have extended the life of your furler with minimal cost and effort and have the satisfaction of a job well done.
Sim Hoggarth is a British merchant navy marine engineer now cruising in the Caribbean with his wife Rosie on board their yacht Wandering Star.