02 August 2013

How Not to Explain Roller Reefing to a Cat

Someone I know recently read our post about buying our boat Rainbow's End and was highly impressed with my knowledge of all things sailing. He seemed rather interested in the description of our roller reefing system and asked me if I could explain the following:

"In terms of sails, she came with a Ligard main sail with four battens and two reef points and a Ligard headsail with a Reef Rite roller reefing system. For those that don't know (and I certainly didn't), Reef Rite is a New Zealand product and regarded as one of the best roller reefing systems made. The beauty of it is that the lower drum has holes in it where a pawl is inserted to reef the headsail. The pawl is attached to a wire that is led aft along the toe rail to the cockpit. This means that there is no tension on the reef line and you never have to worry about the headsail rolling out accidentally even when completely furled. Now that I've experienced a roller reefing set-up, I don't think I could ever have a boat without one. It makes life so much easier."

Yikes. I think I have just been caught out as a sailing fraud. I have a confession to make - I didn't write that paragraph, Scott did. The only thing I wrote was "It makes life so much easier." And that's true. I don't know how the thing works, but I do know that it means that when we want to unfurl the headsail, I can stay in the cockpit with a cup of tea and give Scott salient instruction on things I know nothing about (my favorite pastime). The alternative would be for me to make my way to the bow clutching the headsail in my arms, collecting bruises on my legs as I bash into things and trying desperately not to fall overboard. Then I would have to attach the tack to the tack shackle, hank the luff to the forestay (ensuring all the hanks are the right way around), attach the jib halyard to the head, attach the jib sheets to the clew of the headsail using bowline knots (my favorite knot, not) and then make my way back to the cockpit collecting more bruises on my legs on the way.

If you were impressed by my description of how to attach the headsail, don't be. I don't actually retain information like that in my head. I reserve all available brain space for thinking about my next meal and wondering why aliens haven't yet visited our planet. I just looked up this information in Penny Whiting's book. A book Scott considers his personal "tome of terror" as I quote frequently to him from it with corrective prescriptions to his eccentric seamanship.

From the description above, I think you can see why I am such a big fan of the roller reefer system. The choice is clear - stay in the cockpit with a cup of tea or perform contorted, bruise inducing acrobatics while tying complicated, convoluted knots up on the bow.

Unfortunately, I'm catching up with the guy who wants to know more about roller reefing set-up next week so I thought I should try to be able to explain it. I should clarify - it isn't unfortunate that I'm seeing him next week (he is very good fun). It is just unfortunate that I have to pretend like I know what I'm talking about when it comes to sailing. Hopefully, he is easily fooled. So I asked Scott if he would email me an explanation that I could relay. I was expecting something simple along these lines - "There is this gizmo and this locking mechanism. When the lever is in the upwards position, the gizmo locks and the sail doesn't come unwrapped."

Here is the explanation Scott sent me:

"The furling system is basically three parts that spin in unison to furl and unfurl the sail and is attached to the forestay which is a wire that connects to the top of the mast to the bow of the boat and helps hold the mast up. The wire passes through the three parts and is the axis for the system to turn. In order to keep the system from sliding up or down the wire a stationary attachment is placed on the wire at the bottom of the furling system
The top part is like a collar the fits around the rectangular sail track (middle part). The bottom part is also a collar like the top part except bigger. The top part is attached to the top of the sail (the head) and can slide up and down the sail track so you can hoist and lower the sail. When these collars are spun they also spin the sail track in unison to furl/unfurl the sail. The sail track has a slot for a bead (a bead is just like piping found around the perimeter of cushions). The bead runs the full length of the luff of the sail. The luff is the most forward of the three sides of a triangular sail with the most aft being called the leach and the bottom called the foot. The bottom where the luff and foot of the sail meet is called the tack. The bottom where the foot and the leach meet is called the clew and is where the sheets are attached with bowlines. The bottom collar (or drum) as mentioned is bigger and consists of two flat plates one on top of the other but separated by about a 2 inch gap. The sail track passes through the middle of the top plate and then terminates and is fastened to the middle of the bottom plate. A snap shackle is attached to the top of the top plate and is where the tack of the sail is attached to. Again when the collar spins it works in tandem with the sail track and top collar to furl/unfurl the sail. The gap between the two plates of the bottom collar is where the furling line is wound or unwound to spin both collars and sail track. When you want to roll the sail up you pull the furling line. When you want to unfurl the sail you pull in one of the two sheets attached to the clew of the sail. When the sheet is pulled it unfurls the sail and winds in the furling line into the gap on the bottom collar/drum. That is way you make sure the furling line is ready because if it snags anything the sail will only partially unfurl.
The pawl is located just below the bottom plate of the bottom collar/drum and is a short stainless steel rod. An integrated circular lip extends down from the middle of the bottom plate of the bottom collar/drum. This lip partially encapsulates the bottom stationary attachment that keeps the furling system from sliding up or down the foreguy/wire. The lip being part of the collar/drum also spins but has a hole in it. When the pawl is tripped the pawl passes through the hole in the lip and into a hole in the stationary attachment. So the bottom collar can't spin thus the interconnected sail track and top collar also can't spin."
Okay, I have no idea what to do with this. I actually stopped reading after the third sentence and watched a couple episodes of 24 instead. If Scott had been here imparting this gem of sailing expertise in person, I likely would have given him my patented cat-like disinterested stare. When I'm particularly disinterested it looks something like this.

Yep, it is pretty clear Scott and I have very different approaches to sailing. While he is busy contributing to online sailing forum discussions about the pros and cons of bolt on keels vs. encapsulated keels, I am happily reading books about how to make gourmet meals out of canned goods. Much like cats, I spend my days thinking about my next meal in between naps.
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  1. Hi Ellen, love your blog, entertaining and educational! I am intrigued by your comment that you spend time "wondering why aliens haven't yet visited our planet" I sense an untold story here! - so please tell us what conclusions you have come to??

  2. Hi Mr. X - I was able to post your comment using anonymous. Not sure why it isn't working. (I'm calling you "Mr. X" to protect your secret identity.) There was this documentary series called "The X Files" which originally ran on PBS I think. You should check it out. It will answer all of your questions.

  3. The second most important person aboard is the Chief Cook. If you can make gourmet meals out of canned goods and Scott does everything else, you are pulling your weight.

    1. Thanks Bill - that's sweet. Sadly, my meals are less of the gourmet kind. But at least they're nutritious and filling! Fortunately, Scott isn't too fussy about what he eats :-)


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