When heading out on an ocean voyage, safety becomes paramount and a lot of preparation will be taken to ensure that the boat is in tip top order. Extra safety gear, such as flares, life rafts, EPIRBS, and the such are considered vital pieces of equipment to carry on board while crossing oceans. Most everyone thinks about what to add to their yacht to improve safety, and sadly only few think about what to remove to improve safety.
Roller furling is a wonderful invention that allows the captain to sail short handed. Working a single line, the furler line, a single sailor is able to set as well as retrieve a massive 180% genoa without ever leaving the cockpit. Roller furling also makes it very easy to get out sailing quicker, as there are no sails to hank on. Best of all, when you arrive at port, it is very quick and easy to put away the sails as the headsail will simply furl up on the headstay in a neat and concise package.
All of these facets make roller furling a wonderful feature on a coastal cruiser, but coastal cruising is far from ocean cruising. Out in the ocean, there is no safe harbor to run to as a storm approaches. If gear fails, there are no repair facilities nearby. No, you are alone in a huge ocean and need to be completely self sufficient and storm ready.
The most dangerous thing to have during a storm is too much sail up. If your furler jams as a storm approaches, you could find yourself in a horrible predicament! This huge massive sail now needs to come down but your gear is failing you when you need it most! If the sail is partially furled when it jams, you will be unable to lower the sail by releasing the halyard since the luff will be tight against the foil.
If you do manage to get the sail to come down, you will now have to deal with a massive sail that is being blown around on the deck with no attachment to the luff. Being how furling headsails tend to be massive, this will further complicate the situation. To add fuel to the fire that is raging out of control at this point, you must also contend with the fact that you are out of practice at removing, flaking, and stowing your headsail being how you never need to do it. In the midst of a storm is not the ideal time to practice something you are rusty at!
Just because your furler is working well as the storm approaches and you can safely and successfully roll up your sail doesn't mean you are safe as the storm rages on. A furled sail will only remain that way as long as the furling line is present and made fast. Should the furling line slip off its cleat, or worse, chafe through and break, the entire sail will come out at the worst possible time.
A rapidly unfurled sail in a storm will quickly overpower your yacht and pull you along violently at the mercy of the winds. Worse yet, the flogging sail will quickly destroy everything involved due to the repeated forceful cyclic loads. The flogging sail will quickly destroy the sail as the leech beats back and forth in the wind, meanwhile, the headstay which holds the sail will also be abused. The repeated loads will stress and strain the headstay and its fittings. If any of the numerous parts of the headstay fail, the entire mast can come crashing down onto the deck in a violent de-masting.
Headstays are more likely to fail inside of a roller furler because the furler itself constantly impacts the headstay, leading to work hardening of the metals involved. Secondly, the furler covers the entire headstay assembly, making it hard to inspect. Being out of sight, also puts it out of mind. If a cotter pin were missing, no one would know. The force of a flogging headsail will take swift advantage of any weaknesses and bring your mast crashing down in the storm.
While this may sound like furlers are a horrible thing to have on a sailboat, and that ocean sailing is dangerous, this is far from the truth. Furlers are wonderful contraptions for coastal cruisers and day sailors. They make headsail management a breeze and are very convenient. Ocean sailing is not dangerous if you have the right equipment, and one of the best setups for a headsail on an ocean voyaging yacht is a hank on headsail.
Hank on sails are attached to the bare stay, allowing you ease of inspection. They are raised and lowered with a halyard, so in a horrible blow, they can always be dropped in a hurry and lashed onto the deck. When they are lowered, they offer less air resistance up high as compared to a bulky furled sail. Lastly, if the sail is tied down onto the deck, or even better, removed from the stay entirely, it will not present any risk of bursting into the wind during a gale.
A hank on sail does what you want it to do. When you want to set it, you raise it up. When you need to reduce sail area, it will come down. They are reliable and trustworthy sails on an ocean yacht, but they are a lot more work and require you to go forward to the headstay while out at sea. This necessitates extra care to make all the crew members safe during foredeck work, but at the same time, provides the reliability needed to keep everyone safe and ensure you arrive at your next shore.