Spring has come conversations among sailors has increased. One topic that has been batted around is reefing. For those reading that are not sailors reefing is reducing the size of the boats sails in response to the wind speed increasing. The smaller sail catches less wind and the boat heels less (until the wind increases more and you need to reduce, reef, the sails to an even smaller size).

The above video is of Sage 17 AIR BORN sailing in winds blowing 25+ knots. I have double reefed the main and the headsail is a storm jib.

Reefing is a ‘must know’ skill for the sailor. Sadly I feel that most folks don’t know how to efficiently, or effectively, reef their boat’s sails. For a sailboat the size of a Sage 17 (ie, 17′ long) reefing should take less then a minute and optimally less than thirty seconds. From my recent discussions I have heard again and again many sailors are taking five or more minutes to reef their small pocket cruisers. This isn’t right.

There are many ways to reef a sail. The system installed on the Sage 17s, a version of two line slab reefing, is simple and quick. I can reef a Sage 17 in less than 30 seconds.

The process –

  1. Steer the boat so the wind is blowing about 10 degrees off the starboard bow.
  2. Loose the main sheet, lock the tiller so the boat stays pointed into the wind and go forward.
  3. Sit on the starboard cabin top, as a sailboat’s reefing gear should be on the starboard side of the mast and boom, with legs hanging inside the companionway.
  4. Lower the main using the halyard so the reef tack grommet is about four inches above the gooseneck.
  5. Retie the main halyard to the cleat.
  6. Reach aft long the boom and pull the clew reefing line so the clew grommet is tight to the boom.
  7. On the mast pull the reef tack line and pull the tack grommet tight to the gooseneck
  8. DONE.

Now go aft, grab the tiller, pull in the sails and continue sailing.

To simplify the above into three steps: lower main using halyard, pull clew line and then pull tack line. Yes, that is all folks.

The arrows point to the clew reefing grommets.
Arrows point to the tack reefing grommets.

On boats larger than a Sage 17 … like five or more feet larger … reefing can take a bit longer because of the larger sails involved. Bigger rigs usually use a reefing hook which involves lowering the main to hook the tack grommet and then hauling the main back up a foot or so to tighten the luff. In higher winds you likely need to use a halyard winch to re-raise the sail. The other issue on larger boats is you need to get up on the cabin roof to be at the mast. Depending on the setup you may not be able to reach the clew reefing line to pull the aft end of the sail to the boom (on really large boats there may be a winch on the boom to pull in the clew) without returning to the cockpit. Even so .. reefing a boat in the 20-30 foot range should take no longer than five minutes.

I remember back when I learned to sail. One class session was spent putting in reefs and taking them out … for two or three hours. Again and again I, my sister and folks reefed the boat. After this session the challenge wasn’t reefing; it was learning when to reef – the saying is, ‘if you think you need to reef you have waited to long.’

If you are taking more than 30 – 60 seconds to reef your trailer sailor please evaluate your process and hardware. Reefing must be quick and easy … because it is quick and easy.

– Dave

PS – one step not noted above is ‘cleaning up the reef’ by tying in the cringle lines. First, you don’t need to tie in the cringle lines … especially if you only put in a single reef. Second, the sail hanging below the boom isn’t catching wind (ie, causing the boat to be overpowered). Third, once you are sailing under reefed main the boat will be more stable and it is much easier to tie in the cringle lines. Me, I only tie in the cringles when putting in the second, larger, reef as the sail hanging below the main is large and annoying to folks in the cockpit (you can see in the above video I have tied in the second reef cringles).

Arrows point to the tack reefing grommets.

NOTE: I originally posted this April 2015 on Sage Marine’s BLOG. In a short time the BLOG will be closed – stupidly. I am reposting this information so it is not lost.

3 thoughts on “Reefing

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