Reefing offers numerous benefits to a hard-pressed yacht and its crew – so set your boat up to make it as easy as possible.
The decision to reef is as much about boat handling as it is about wind strength. So try to take a holistic view of how the whole boat feels and don’t let the numbers on the wind instruments dictate your behaviour.
When sailing upwind, consider the boat’s angle of heel, the sea state and the amount of helm being used to keep the boat on course. Too much of any of these factors is reason enough to reef. Also, bear in mind that reefing early on a long upwind passage often pays and if your mainsail is getting a little bit older, taking the first slab out of the bottom can give a flatter shape.
When sailing downwind or reaching short-handed, be proactive; a manageable boat is essential and reefing on these points of sail will mostly help with boat handling. Listen to the autopilot motor when down below or watch the movement of the helm. If the corrections are frequent and/or large, then it is time to reef.
Under spinnaker in moderate seas it is often a full mainsail that causes handling issues rather than the kite. Sailors tend to drop the spinnaker first then still end up reefing when the boat handling doesn’t change. If using a masthead spinnaker, be sure the top of your mast is supported well enough without the full main. If in doubt, ask a rigger.
Finally consider your overall objectives for the next 24 hours. If you need to make repairs, cook, clean or charge the batteries reefing can make everything easier. When there are only two crew members on board, it is important not to lose sight of the bigger picture – even if the boat can take the extra sail, dropping the pace for a while might be of benefit in the long run.
There is no need to make huge course alterations in order to reef your mainsail. When sailing downwind, head up just enough to lift the back of the main clear from the spreaders. Drop your traveller to its full extent, release the kicker and ease the mainsheet a little. Another tip for reducing the amount you need to alter course is to over-trim your headsail to funnel wind into the back of the main.
Get the autopilot to drive, even if you are both on deck, to speed up the process. However, be aware that suddenly releasing pressure from the mainsail may cause the pilot to veer off course, so switch to compass mode and increase the response rate if necessary.
Before easing the halyard, make sure the reefing lines are fastened far enough back on the boom to provide tension in the new main foot as well as in the leech. If necessary, use a secondary reefing line as a makeshift outhaul.
If you prefer not to leave the cockpit for reefing, a two-line system is fairly simple to rig up. Keep a downhaul line attached to each of the cringles at the front end of the sail and run each one through a block at the foot of the mast and then aft through jammers on the coachroof.
With the wind aft or on the beam get the main clear of the spreaders by over-sheeting the jib to create a backdraft.
Swap your rams’ horns for snap shackles on Dyneema strops to ensure your reefing cringles never stray from the boom.
Whip marks into your main halyard showing how far to drop when hooking on each reef. Luminous or white twine shows up at night.
Use elastic sail ties to tidy the remaining slabs of sail. If the slabs fill with water, the weight will stretch the elastic, draining the sail.