The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing—Convenience and Reliability

Part 1

The tragedy on the CNB 66 Escape, in which Volker-Karl Frank and Annamarie Auer-Frank were fatally injured while attempting to shorten sail in a gale with in-boom roller reefing, got me motivated to take a deep dive into the benefits and drawbacks of each of the three primary options for mainsail handling.

Before writing, I:

  • Read through many comments from owners of both automated systems and slab reefing.
  • Interviewed my friend Hans who has owned and done challenging ocean passages with all three systems.
  • Went out with Hans on his Far 56 Pilothouse Cutter for a demo of his in-boom system and produced a video.
  • Had a very interesting email exchange with John Kretschmer, (John-K) who has slab reefing on his beloved Quetzal, but has done a trans-Pacific (California to Hawaii) and five East Coast to Caribbean voyages with in-boom systems, and even made some illustrative videos for Forespar/Leisurefurl in the past.
  • Over the years, talked to many other owners of all three systems.

I also have personal experience with both automated systems, albeit limited, and, of course, some 50 years of using slab reefing offshore while racing and cruising on all kinds of different boats, ranging in size from a Sea Sprite 23 up to our previous boat, a McCurdy and Rhodes 56.

Rank By Criteria

Analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of each system turns out to be surprisingly complicated, so to simplify things let’s use the following criteria to rank each system on a scale from one to five, with five being the best in that criterion:

  • Convenient to use
  • Low physical demands
  • Low skill required to use
  • High reliability
  • Easy to repair
  • Fault tolerant
  • Good sailing performance
  • Reasonable cost
  • Low risk and safe to use

Personal Needs and Wants

Of course, the problem with any scoring system like this is that we all have different needs and wants. For example, I might put safety first, another person cost, and a third person performance—all are valid ways to look at this, as long as we are realistic about the downsides of each option.

So I have also created a spreadsheet where each of us can weight the above criteria, much as I did with anchor selection.

To make this weighting easier, I have included my thoughts on factors that affect weighting at the end of each criterion.

I also assumed that each system is best-in-class designed, engineered and installed, since it’s stupid to reject a system and buy a different one just because the incumbent was a poor example of its type.

The whole idea here is for each of us to come up with the system that’s best for us, rather than turning this into the bullshit of “mine is best” so typical on forums and YouTube.

Let’s do it:

More Articles From Online Book: Sail Handling and Rigging Made Easy:

  1. Six Reasons To Leave The Cockpit Often
  2. Don’t Forget About The Sails
  3. Your Mainsail Is Your Friend
  4. Hoisting the Mainsail Made Easy—Simplicity in Action
  5. Reefs: How Many and How Deep
  6. Reefing Made Easy
  7. Reefing From The Cockpit 2.0—Thinking Things Through
  8. Reefing Questions and Answers
  9. A Dangerous Myth about Reefing
  10. Mainsail Handling Made Easy with Lazyjacks
  11. Topping Lift Tips and a Hack
  12. 12 Reasons The Cutter Is A Great Offshore Voyaging Rig
  13. Cutter Rig—Should You Buy or Convert?
  14. Cutter Rig—Optimizing and/or Converting
  15. Cruising Rigs—Sloop, Cutter, or Solent?
  16. Sailboat Deck Layouts
  17. The Case For Roller-Furling Headsails
  18. UV Protection For Roller Furling Sails
  19. In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing—Convenience and Reliability
  20. In-Mast, In-Boom, or Slab Reefing —Performance, Cost and Safety
  21. The Case For Hank On Headsails
  22. Making Life Easier—Roller Reefing/Furling
  23. Making Life Easier—Storm Jib
  24. Gennaker Furlers Come Of Age
  25. Swept-Back Spreaders—We Just Don’t Get It!
  26. Q&A: Staysail Stay: Roller Furling And Fixed Vs Hanks And Removable
  27. Rigid Vangs
  28. Rigging a Proper Preventer, Part 1
  29. Rigging a Proper Preventer—Part 2
  30. Amidships “Preventers”—A Bad Idea That Can Kill
  31. Keeping The Boom Under Control—Boom Brakes
  32. Downwind Sailing, Tips and Tricks
  33. Downwind Sailing—Poling Out The Jib
  34. Setting and Striking a Spinnaker Made Easy and Safe
  35. Ten Tips To Fix Weather Helm
  36. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 1
  37. Running Rigging Recommendations—Part 2
  38. Two Dangerous Rigging Mistakes
  39. Rig Tuning, Part 1—Preparation
  40. Rig Tuning, Part 2—Understanding Rake and Bend
  41. Rig Tuning, Part 3—6 Steps to a Great Tune
  42. Rig Tuning, Part 4—Mast Blocking, Stay Tension, and Spreaders
  43. Rig Tuning, Part 5—Sailing Tune
  44. 12 Great Rigging Hacks
  45. 9 Tips To Make Unstepping a Sailboat Mast Easier
  46. Cruising Sailboat Spar Inspection
  47. Cruising Sailboat Standing Rigging Inspection
  48. Cruising Sailboat Running Rigging Inspection
  49. Cruising Sailboat Rig Wiring and Lighting Inspection
  50. Download Cruising Sailboat Rig Checklist