It was a mistake and I paid for it. After three weeks at sea by myself I was ready to arrive in port and the fickle, light winds on my last but one day were irritating me because of the prospect having to spend an extra night at sea. And so when the wind did return I kept my full main up too long in an attempt to speed through that last night. Eventually I needed to gibe and as I did so the mainsail ripped neatly from leach to luff about 10 feet up from the foot. There was nothing for it but to drop the sail and continue under genoa alone. It was my mistake and I should have reefed the sail earlier.
That was some years ago now. Just recently I was out on a sea trial with the prospective buyers of a late model Morgan 44. But I was not skipper as the owner insisted on taking his boat out. We had hardly got out into the bay and were still going out between the channel markers when the first ominous sign occurred. The skipper called for the mainsail to be set and promptly headed up into the wind which meant heading out of the marked channel into an area where I knew there to be an underwater obstruction. The main was hauled up and with the strong breeze it flapped and banged until we headed off a little. Then the skipper freed the furling line to the genoa letting it run out so that on a day when the wind was probably blowing 15 knots and gusting to 20 we had full main and genoa set. And then he insisted on sheeting everything hard in so that the vessel was well heeled even before a stronger gust buried the rail and caused not a little anxiety to the prospective buyers. I couldn't understand at first why he had not reefed and initially I put it down to the owners macho attitude until I later saw that despite having all the necessary hardware fitted to the boom there were no reefing lines. Clearly the owner had never reefed the main and I suspect strongly that he didn't know how to.
Sailing is meant to be fun. If you like your boat with the rail in the water and with heavy weather helm then fine but when the wind gets up you will often be able to sail as fast (or faster) with the sails reefed appropriately and the boat will certainly be easier to handle. Its one thing to choose not to reef; another to not know how. Here's a step by step guide to how I reef when there are two of us aboard. Usually I prefer not to use the motor and anyway its good practice to be able to manage without it. I'm assuming the boat has a roller reefing headsail and jiffy reefing points for the mainsail.
Reefing the genoa:
- With the crew at the helm I head the boat up into the wind until on a close reach and set the mainsail accordingly.
- I then ease the genoa sheet and pull in on the roller furling line to reduce the size of the genoa (taking in 3 or 4 rolls is usually enough initially).
- I then cleat off the furling line, sheet in the genoa and set the sail for sailing close on the wind.
With the genoa reefed and set I can then sail the boat using the genoa alone while reefing the main:
- Firstly I ease the main sheet until the main is backing and not drawing at all.
- If I have eased the boom topping lift when setting the sail, I now tighten in on it.
- I now ease the main halyard and pull the mainsail down until I can slip the first reefing cringle over the reefing hook on the gooseneck (sometimes I will need to open the gate in the mast track and take out one or two mast slides to be able to do this).
- With the reefing cringle hooked on I take up the slack in the halyard so that it does not keep falling off!
- I can then pull in the reefing line attached to the first reef cringle on the leach of the sail until it is tight in and pulled down close to the boom. If I have a winch to help then I use it but watch to make sure nothing is caught up as I winch in.
- With the leech point secure I then tension the halyard appropriately for the conditions (with a reef in the wind is clearly blowing some and so it will need to be fairly tight).
- Now is the time to slacken off again on the boom topping lift to allow the sail to take the weight of the boom.
- If I am bay sailing that's about it, but if offshore (when the reef is likely to be in for a while) I usually go ahead and roll up the bag of sail left hanging along the boom. On modern sails with the jiffy reefing cringles the smaller cringles along the reef line are there just to allow the bag of sail to be tidied away. These smaller points are not strong enough to take any strain and so, if tying the sail up with these I make sure the ties are loose so they are not under any strain. If they are taut then in a stronger gust the sail can easily rip!
- Back in the cockpit I then sheet in the mainsail and I'm done.
If you have never reefed before then a little preparation is prudent. Make sure that your reefing lines are run correctly and that everything works as it should. Then practice putting in a reef at the dock. Its not necessary to hoist the main to do this and its not a waste of time either. Often if I'm taking a boat out when the wind is blowing some I will go ahead and put a reef in before I leave so that its all ready when I hoist the mainsail. Its a truism that's its easier to let a reef out than it is to set one.
And one last point. The owner of the Morgan was selling his boat because he rarely used it. Apparently his wife didn't like sailing. Not surprising perhaps when he clearly was not prepared to reef should it have been necessary. If you know what to do when the wind picks up then you will be more relaxed and so will your partner. That way you will both have more fun. Happy reefing!