Question: I have a hank-on genoa that was new 4 years ago and has had little use in that time. I am wondering about converting to a roller furler. I can budget the new furler I would need, and probably a sail conversion, but doubt I can budget a new furling head sail along with a new furler. The boat is a Columbia 9.6 meter sloop.
Answer: A lot of people don't even think about budgeting for the sail when contemplating an upgrade to a furling unit. The sail is a significant part of the equation whether you opt for a new one or retrofit an existing sail. Converting a sail from hanks to fit a furler usually costs right around a third of the price of a new sail. Which makes sense considering almost everything but the basic membrane of the sail and the patches are being reworked.
If your existing sail is only four years old then it likely will make a good candidate for conversion. To be sure of this you’ll want to have a sailmaker look at it to ensure the weieght and size of the sail are appropriate for use as a furling sail.
There are several steps involved in the conversion. The first issue is that the furling system's line drum and head swivel both use up some of the headstay. So the sail, if not already short on the hoist, will need to be shortened. A sail can be shortened a few inches with no problem. If the sail needs to be shortened by more than about a foot it can get a little more complicated. Usually any shortening of the luff can be taken care of during the luff conversion and doesn’t add any additional cost. But luff length must be correct when the sail is converted. If it is not adjusted at this time it can be much more difficult (and costly) to shorten it later.
The sail will need the luff changed over from hanks to a luff tape that feeds into the furling system’s foil. This is a straight forward operation. Most furling systems accept a #6 luff tape which has a finished rope diameter of 6/32”. You’ll want to have the head and tack rings changed to webbing at the same time that the luff is converted. Webbing loops roll much more smoothly than pressed rings.
The final step is to add a sun cover to the leech and foot of the sail. This UV cover is needed so that when the sail is rolled it will be protected from UV damage. Without a cover the sail will not last long at all. In a single season sails without a cover are visibly affected and usually within two seasons the material along the leech and foot is shot. We use Sunbrella since it has the longest life expectancy. This is an expensive job and you don’t want to have to replace the UV cover any sooner than you must. Sunbrella will generally last 8-12 years and a UV stabilized dacron will generally last 5-7.
The expense can't be nailed down completely until you know how much the luff may need to be shortened, but the bulk of the conversion is the luff tape and UV cover installations. Most lofts charge by the foot for these jobs and could give you a firm price based on a quick set of sail measurements.
A new furling headsail is cut a little differently for a shape that will roll well and clew height and overlap are also given serious consideration in the design of the sail. So a new sail will always work better on a furling system since it is designed from the beginning to be furled, but converting a good used sail can save two thirds of the cost and work very well.