In this chapter we will cover in detail, complete with photos illustrating each step, how we reef on Morgan’s Cloud and more specifically, how we reef when sailing downwind, which is much easier and safer than rounding up head to wind to reef.
First off, the boat needs to have the right gear:
A really powerful two-speed (on all but the smallest boats) self-tailing winch capable of grinding the reefing pennant in while the sail is full.
A winch with the same capabilities as above for the main halyard.
A simple and quick way to secure the tack of the reef.
A really beefy vang that is capable of holding the boom down and up while reefing. Ours on Morgan’s Cloud is hydraulic, but there are mechanical ones that will do the job. In a pinch, you could even just rig a tackle from the boom center to the toe rail. (Be careful doing this since if you forget it and trim the main sheet it is a sure way to break the boom.) And a topping lift.
Good quality low friction sheaves for the main halyard and reefing pennants.
A full batten main, while not absolutely required, makes reefing easier.
Ball-bearing mainsail track cars. We used to reef off the wind without them, but it’s a lot easier with our current system.
You can click on the photos to enlarge them so you can really see the details of our gear.
Trim the main in enough that it is well clear of the shrouds and spreaders.
Ease the vang just a bit to take some of the load off the leach and to allow for the amount of reef rocker. (Any sailmaker worth his or her salt will have “rocked” each leach reef cringle up a bit to allow for the bunt of the sail and to bring the boom up a bit further from the water as the waves get bigger.) Careful not to ease too much or the upper part of the sail will contact the spreaders.
We reef and handle all halyards at the mast. This results in a lot less friction than leading lines back to the cockpit, less clutter, and you are where you need to be if anything jams. Note the substantial granny bars to lean against. Phyllis is clipping on to one of two safety tethers that we keep permanently attached at the mast, prior to un-clipping from the tether that runs on the jack line.
Phyllis has eased the main halyard only about 18 inches.
If Phyllis had eased the halyard the full amount of the reef, the sail would have bunched up against the lazy jacks and spreaders, jamming everything solid.
Phyllis is now grinding in the reefing pennant the same 18″ that she eased the mail halyard. We have reefing winches on both sides of the boom and the pennants are double ended so that in the case of the 2nd and 3rd reefs, you can always reef standing to windward. However, the first reef is dead ended at the boom end to keep the clutter under control and because some fumble fisted idiot dropped one of the boom sheaves in the ocean when removing it for service. (I look at the silly SOB every morning when I shave.)
Phyllis repeats steps 4 and 6 until the reef tack gets to the boom end and the reef cringle nearly so. She is in no hurry since the sail is not flapping and banging and she is not getting wet, as she would be if we had rounded up.
Here is what things look like half way through the process. Note that the sail is not up against the spreaders or shrouds and is only impinging a bit on the lazy jacks. Note that the vang is holding the boom in position. Without it the boom end would rise as Phyllis ground in the pennant, which would prevent her from keeping enough tension on the leach to stop the sail rubbing against the spreaders and shrouds.
Every so often, Phyllis takes the slack out of the 2nd and 3rd reef pennants so they don’t get jammed in the bunt of the sail.
Nearly done. Phyllis drops the tack ring over the horn at the goose neck. There is one tack ring each side connected together with strong webbing through the reef cringle.
Phyllis grinds the mail halyard tight, and then grinds the last few inches of the pennant in. When I said you need powerful winches for this, I was not kidding. Remember it is now blowing 20 knots true and the sail is fully loaded. Also, when you come to shake out the reef, which we do simply by reversing this procedure, you will need the powerful winch once again.
We have marked the main halyard with black permanent marker at each reef position.
Phyllis has unloaded the first reef from the winch using a clutch and in this photo has loaded up the second reef onto the winch so we are ready to go if the wind pipes up some more. Note that the reefing lines are all different colours and rope types so that it is easy for us to tell them apart. Phyllis adjusts the vang and eases the main sheet back out and we are done. If we are expecting really heavy weather, we put a safety strop through the cringle to take the load if the pennant breaks, and tie the bunt down with sail ties through the reef points and between the boom and the sail. But normally, the bunt just rests in the lazy jacks. And it took you more time to read this than it takes us to do it. I have timed myself at less than three minutes, soup to nuts.
John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.
Nothing on this website or in direct communications received from us, or in our articles in the media, should be construed to mean or imply that offshore voyaging is anything other than potentially hazardous. Dangers such as, but not limited to, extreme weather, cold, ice, lack of help or assistance, gear failure, grounding, and falling overboard could injure or kill you and wreck your boat.
Decisions such as, but not limited to, heading offshore, where you go, and how you equip your boat, are yours and yours alone. The information on this web site is based on what has worked for the authors in the past, but that does not mean it will work for you, or that it is the best, or even a good way for you to do things.