DISCLAIMER: Although we will try to cover most aspects regarding halyard wraps, remember this is a BLOG and it is impossible to address every possible nuance and potential cause of these issues. It is always best to contact your local friendly yacht rigging service if you have any doubts as to how to deal with halyard wraps
In this post we will discuss some of the common causes of halyard wrap, how to spot them, and how to make sure they don’t happen again!
By far the most common cause (in our experience) of halyard wraps is a combination of poor halyard lead angle (the angle that the halyard makes when it exits the sheave box and runs to the top furler swivel) and lack of halyard tension.
To try and make this very simply. WHEN THE FURLER SPINS, THE HALYARD SHOULD NOT ALSO SPIN WITH IT. What is supposed to occur when furling and unfurling is that the halyard swivel allows the foil to spin while at the same time allowing the halyard attachment point, or top half of the swivel, to remain static. Most roller furling manufacturers recommend that there is a lead angle of greater than 7˚. If the manufacturer does not require this angle they install some kind of wrap preventer that is fixed to the forestay wire directly above the foil that (in theory) prevents the halyard from passing around the forestay wire. With poor halyard tension or condition, wraps can still occur to these systems.
To create the 7˚ lead angle one usually has to install a halyard restrainer of some kind. Harken makes one and so does Selden. The Harken restrainer is good for all rope halyards, while the Selden restrainer can accommodate both wire and rope halyards. The restrainer is mounted directly to the mast a few inches (depending on the situation) below the halyard exit point and the halyard is routed through it before attaching the halyard to the top furling swivel. The restrainer deflects the halyard downwards and then outwards towards the foil at an angle that makes it almost impossible for a wrap to occur, provided enough halyard tension is applied to prevent slack in the jib halyard up top. Even with the halyard undertensioned a good lead angle is usually sufficient to prevent wraps occurring
Another potentially cheaper way to create this 7˚ angle is to install a strop between the head of the sail and the swivel, this works if your sail is very short and leaves a lot of halyard running parallel to the foil. By installing a strop that allows the swivel to reach close to the top of the foil (minus a couple inches) you can potentially create enough of an angle to prevent wraps from occurring.
Furlers that have a “wrap preventer” attached to the forestay wire require that the preventer be tightly clamped to the wire so that it does not simply spin around when the halyard (or arm of the swivel) comes up against it. There are written instructions with these parts, follow them closely or they will not clamp tightly enough to the wire to be effective. Once they are worn out, replace them.
On halyard tension: When hoisting your headsail make sure to put good tension on the headsail, as if you were sailing in a good stiff breeze. Feel the luff to make sure it’s nice and snug. Sometimes a tight fitting boltrope can make a sail appear as if it is fully tensioned when in fact there is actually some slack up at the masthead. Feel that luff by hand before furling! If you are adjusting halyard tension whilst sailing, make sure to only slack the halyard once the sail is unfurled, and re-tension it before furling again.
An occasional cause of halyard wrap is a sail luff that is simply too long for the furler, thereby making it impossible to get adequate halyard tension and most likely pulling the top swivel over the top of the foil. This is bad. You should be able to see at least 1″ of foil sticking up above the top swivel with the sail fully hoisted. If you can’t, you need to shorten your sail.
How to diagnose the problem: This one is simple. If your furler is “jamming” or requires you to release a little and then furl some more in order to free it up, you most likely have a halyard wrap occurring. How to be sure? Break out the binocs or cast your eyes aloft whilst this jamming is occurring and watch the halyard. You will see it wrap around the top of the foil or forestay while someone is attempting to furl or unfurl it.
DO NOT PUT THE FURLING LINE ON THE WINCH. EVER! This is a wonderful way to break your forestay and potentially bring your rig down. If you are stuck out in a blow and can’t seem to get the sail to furl, depower it, let it flap, and keep trying. If it will completely unfurl but not furl up, unfurl it and drop the sail on the halyard. Winching it while a wrap is occurring is not going to help. At all.
Worst case, if a bad wrap has jammed everything and the sail is partly furled, obviously you can’t drop the sail, so remove the sheets and manually pass the sail around and around the foil to get it as under control as possible. WORST WORST case. Send someone aloft to try and free the wrap. If they can’t. Cut the sail off. Rather lose the sail than the mast.
A final word of warning: If you have been experiencing halyard wraps, and know that someone has attempted to winch the furling line to get it to furl, or that 250lb monster buddy of yours has heaved on it with all his might. Have a rigger go aloft (or you go aloft) and inspect the forestay at the masthead. There is a strong chance that the twisting tension on the forestay has damaged it. Look for wires that appear to be unraveled or even broken. This is VERY SERIOUS. You need a new forestay. Do not sail until one has been installed.