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A hankering for heresy

Behold the humble brass sail hank: Is it the nautical equivalent of a buggy whip?

For a guy who knows insufficient knots and ropework, and who is woefully deficient in anchor-themed tattoos, I have a somewhat old-fashioned take on boat gear. Partially, this is based on a reluctance to dispose of that which can be repaired (see "spawn of WWII and Depression-era children" and "part-Scots"); but equally, I respect the utility of older objects, even if they are not as, perhaps, convenient as newer designs. Newer designs can incorporate undesirable (to me) complexity for too little utility: I have an adjustable socket wrench socket that is a little handy, but it feels a little sloppy and...I dunno...isn't as good as the right socket. For me. Today.

The SocketPro: Eh, it's OK.

My older boat has non-self-tailing Barlow and even less current, or rather more superannuated, Gibb winches. I sailed for many years with only a manual Whale bilge pump.  I have considered sculling oars for the steel boat, for Neptune's sake . To be fair, we don't have a bow thruster nor do we have a desire to weld a pipe for one through our fair bow, so the idea of literally rowing in and out of tight corners...the cheap skipper's Azipod...isn't that crazy.

A Gibb winch. I have these sort on my boom and mast, only in better shape.
Like this, only cleaner.
So it's probably no surprise that I neither have furling on my sloop or on the staysail of my cutter, but that I really don't intend to get it.

To some, this is Luddite and heretical, at least for the cruising crowd. The convenience and perceived safety ... you don't need to go forward onto that nasty, wet and dangerous foredeck... of headsail furling trumps the issue of bad sail shape, furler failure perhaps bringing down the rig and, lest we forget, the greater cost of a sail requiring a complex cut and UV protection and pads, oh my.

Now, I am capable of changing my mind. Bruce and June Clark's Ainia showed me how two things that might have provoked the barest of lip electric winch and in-mast mainsail furling...could in fact be a safety feature at sea in snotty weather. That's not to say it was a sailing have to pay a lot for in-mast furling that exhibits a decent shape...but can that trump the safety of keeping one of a two-person crew in the cockpit instead of wrestling a reef in a part-gale? It's hard to argue, even if one hears of the occasional mechanical failure.  Likewise, our Yankee jib would be a handful without a ProFurl furler, and I expect we'll keep it. The staysail, however? I can't see a reason to alter the status quo. Of course, there are some who continue, like me to be somewhat iconoclastic on this point, like sailmaker Carol Hasse and voyager Lane Finley.

Jib downhaul, diagram courtesy of

In discussion of "to furl or not to furl" with a fellow Viking 33 owner (and Viking 33s, being "big gennie, skinny main" IOR-style sloops, have big enough foresails and foredecks to make one envious of furling setups), I concurred with his view that hank-ons continue to have a place in the cruising sail inventory. I commented that "with a vast J-measurement and skinny main typical of the times, bringing down the hanked-on No. 1 can be a chore, so I am pleased you mentioned the downhaul, the installation of which can be done with Spectra line with a double-braid tail spliced (if required), allowing a "deck douse" by steering head-to-wind and dousing from the mast. Easy and you can get your sailorly thrills going forward on hands and knees to bungee the sail flat to the rail or on the deck if conditions aren't great for folding it down. The downhaul line is a simple and yet rarely seen control line I recomnend I do with the barber-hauler, something else gone the way of the lead line!

"As for our bigger boat, a heavy displacement (16 tonnes) 41-foot steel pilothouse cutter, I feel I have to accept a furler for the Yankee, although I may opt for something other than the current ProFurl, as yours isn't the first alarming story I've heard concerning them, and the idea of a "lockable" furler and a slide-equipped track has great merit in my view.

The New Zealand-made "Reef Rite": a happy medium between hank-on and furling?

"Our staysail on the cutter is hank-on and will remain so. It's the size of the No. 2 (a 120% or about 400 sq. ft/37 sq.m)on the 33 footer, so I am going to keep the "light" one and have a similarly sized one made in heavier cloth, but with a set of reef points about one-third of the way up. As I have driven our steel beast at seven knots in 32 knots of wind with the staysail alone, this seems prudent for offshore...that and a trysail track affixed to the Selden mast."

A reefable, hank-on staysail: Nutty or prudent? (c)
We'll practice and we'll see. Personally, I have to replace one or two hanks per year at a cost of $20 or so...when I can find hanks. I have started to hoard a half-dozen or so; in the size of foresail I have, big 'uns are getting harder to find. But for sheer simplicity, pointing ability and ease of service, there is still much to recommend the old hank-on way of sticking sail to stay.

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