Electric sail handling systems are not just for maxi yachts. Sam Fortescue looks at how push button sailing is filtering down to the cruising boat market
Sail handling systems: the options for going fully electric
A 70-foot dayboat, you say? It’s a notion that didn’t exist until recently, but Eagle Yachts of the Netherlands wants to build one.
In order to qualify the yacht for its ‘dayboat’ badge, the designers at Eagle have been fastidious about making the rig usable by just one person.
Boom-furling main, electric winches and electric jib furlers can all be activated from the helm at the touch of a button.
Now, most of us would draw the line well before 70ft, even if we could afford the marina berth for it.
But these principles of push-button sailing can be applied to yachts of all sizes.
Indeed, Eagle’s range starts at 38ft and there are plenty of other 30-50-footers that make good use of push buttons, from the Tofinou to Amel.
‘There’s a balance that you have to find,’ says Steven Bloersma of Eagle Yachts.
‘Some people like to feel the tension on the winch. When I have a sea trial, they are not a big fan of automatic winches to begin with, but after one hour of sailing, they start to change their minds and realise it’s actually very easy. With the ease of the push button, you’re more keen to trim the sail, and it also extends your sailing years.’
Whatever your reason for thinking about push-button sailing, there is a range of products out there which make it easy to convert.
Sail handling systems
Somewhere between electric winches and electric anchor windlasses lies the captive winch.
Built by brands including Lewmar, Harken and Muir, these are increasingly found on new boats, where they allow you to control a line that doesn’t need to have its bitter end accessible.
It is an option on all the Eagle Yachts range, for instance, where the mainsheet is led through a frictionless stainless-steel eye in the deck and gets wound onto a drum hidden beneath.
It can also be used for tensioning the vang or even raising a sail.
For finer high-load adjustments like backstays or boomstruts, hydraulics are the power of choice.
On small boats these systems can be manual, but for push-button functionality costs are high.
You’ll need to get hydraulic hose run back below the deck to the cockpit, find space for a hydraulic pump and an oil reservoir, and connect a control panel up to the battery.
Some sailors do undertake this, but it needs to be carefully planned and professionally installed.
The same goes for electric mainsail furling, where best results require a specialist boom or mast and a new sail.
It’s a big, big investment. A far more common push-button upgrade is powered furling for the jib, which can be a relatively simple conversion process.
Harken’s MKIV furler can be electrified in sizes 2 and 3. It is quite a bulky unit and requires a cable to pass through the deck, but it has been well designed, with a manual override and a high reduction worm gear to stop the sails from unrolling under strain.
It may require you to shorten your foil and luff length, however.
Pricing is north of £10,000 for the full electric furling system, while the conversion kit is closer to £3,000.
Selden also offers a conversion kit for its Furlex unit. It says anyone with a 200S, 300S or 400S unit since 1997, or a current model, can convert without making changes to the foil or the sail.
Using Selden’s 42V system that networks with other Selden equipment on board, the motors are compact and the overall profile small compared to some.
The conversion kit costs £2,860, but you’ll also need to buy buttons and perhaps a power supply unit (£593).
France’s Profurl specialises in jib and asymmetric furling systems, with a track record in racing.
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They offer a motorised cruising product too, which can be installed from scratch or added to a manual system as an upgrade.
Its NDE2 model caters for boats from 11-22m-plus in various power ratings.
Helpfully, the Profurl engineers will look at adapting the drive unit to fit whatever manual system you have on board. Germany’s Reckmann produces a line of electric jib furlers suitable for boats from 36-70ft, equivalent to a forestay diameter of 8-16mm.
The EF90 system offers top-notch German engineering and you can choose between a standard aluminium or a carbon profile.
Just as with the winches, the choice of buttons is different across the brands, from somewhat clunky Harken and Lewmar units to much sleeker design from Andersen and Selden.
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