In the early 1990s I sailed a plush 50-foot cruising boat across the Atlantic from Cowes, England, to Miami, Florida. The boat was not brand new, but it had been well maintained, or so I thought. Crossing the Bay of Biscay we ran into some snotty weather, and I learned a valuable lesson: Never rely on furling lines. As the storm approached, and before we were able to roll the headsail away and set a storm jib, the partially reefed head-sail completely unrolled itself when the furling line snapped, so that instead of taking off sail, we suddenly had way too much sail up. Our only option was to drop the sail on the fore-deck since without the furling line we could not reef it. With only a small crew it was a big job, but finally the sail was under control. A few days later we stopped in the Azores for a little R&R, and I took the opportunity to ask a number of sailors about their furling lines. To a man (and woman) they admitted to rarely, if ever, changing the furling line as part of their ongoing maintenance, and that only once a line had snapped did it occur to them to replace it with a new one. If you think about it, this is nothing less than absurd. We pack our sails in bags and add UV sunshields along the leech and foot of headsails to protect them from the sun, but we never think about the furling line baking in the tropical heat and slowly rotting. Just as you change the batteries in your smoke detector on your mother-in-law's birthday, so should you change the furling line on your roller-furling units with equal regularity.
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