Doubled-Ended Reefing System

From “Rigging for Shorthanded Sailing” by John Harries, “Cruising World,” Oct 2005

“Our mainsail-reefing system is simple and very easy to use. Three double-ended pendants lead through the clew cringles, down through sheaves set into each side of the aft boom end, then forward internally before exiting to clutches and a two-speed self-tailing winch on each side of the boom near the mast. This way, we can always reef standing to windward.”

Our reefing system follows Roger Olsen’s setup wherein all reefing lines are on the starboard side of boom and do not pass through the leech reefing cringle. The system works great but as with any reefing system set on one side of the boom, tucking in a second reef from the leeward side of the boat is somewhat of a challenge when the boat is heeled at 15 to 20 degrees and water is splashing over the bulwark. I found this out on our late October trip on the Chesapeake and started to think about safety at sea. Yes, I am considering the double-ended pendant reefing-system and adding a double rope clutch and winch to the port side of the boom. Currently, IDUNA is fitted with a double rope clutch and winch on the starboard side of the boom.

I was wondering if anyone had fitted a “double-ended” reefing lines on their BCC similar to the system described above. I am also interested in other’s thoughts about the double-ended pendant reefing system.

Happy Holidays,


Hi Rod:

I have experienced both of these systems, and, because I normally single hand, I prefer the double pennant system, with one refinement: The winch (Single speed only) is based on the aft edge of the mast, thereby allowing me to reef from Port or Starboard. The only downside to this system is more running parts, and therefore a slight increase in friction.


Uh, maybe I’m missing something, but doesn’t this double pennant system mean that you would have to work both sides of the mast when reefing on a starboard tack? Unless the halyard is led aft, but then you’d have to have help.

With Galatea’s wide side decks and bulwarks, I’ve not found leeward reefing to be a problem. In fact, now that I think about it, I almost prefer it, because I can adjust the main halyard from pretty much the same position as operating the reefing lines. And thanks to another of those Lyle Hess serendipitous design features, I find that I can brace my back against the aft lower stay. Also, if you haven’t left it too long, you can still reef without getting your feet (too) wet.

When we’re on the other tack, I have to leave that braced position and climb up and kneel on the cabin top. It’s still a secure position, but it’s another move, and sometimes a pain when clipped in, which I always am when in a reefing situation.

Tom Unruh
SV Galatea

The double-ended reefing system allows one to reef the mainsail leech from either side of the boom. Granted one still has to reef the luff on the starboard side of the mast, as well as tension the main halyard. On IDUNA this step is always done from the deck. Once the luff is reefed and the halyard tensioned, one has a choice on which side of boat to reef the leech with the double-ended reefing system. Based on my experience reefing the main while wearing warm clothes and foul weather gear during the wet cool weather of late October on the Chesapeake Bay is, working on the weather side of the boom is safer than working on the leeward side.

If I am on the weather side of the boom, I normal stand and brace myself against the boom and mast. When taking a reef on the leeward side, I stand on the deck to take the reef and brace myself against the aft lower shroud. I believe this is not as safe as the weather side. One slip and you may become a USCG statistic. Taking the first reef in the main is not a problem regardless of whether one is working to weather or leeward. By the time, the second reef is needed, seas have picked up and the boat is working more in the seaway. It is at this time, I consider the leeward side not as safe compared to the weather side of the boat.

The other consideration I must factor into “the equation” is, my 1st mate is not as strong or a sure-footed as I am. Neither one of us are tall people. I am 5’ 8 9/16" and my wife is 5’ 4 1/8" tall. These are evening measurements. I can reach the reefing lines on the boom but she would have to extend herself more than I do to take a reef on the leeward side of the boat. My wife is a good sailor but because she is not tall nor as strong as I am, the boat must be setup, such that she can work the boat while I am off watch when voyaging. I am just looking for workable solutions or other’s experience, hence the reason for posting the thread.

I am not an expert nor do I have the experience of a John Cole or Waxwings, Calypso, Galatea, Zygote, etc. to name a few of the more experienced sailors. I am interested to learn about how others take a reef when the weather has picked up enough and a second reef or third reef is warranted.

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year,


Hi Rod and all:
Sailing on Lake Michigan creates a high motivation for staying out of the cold water when reefing. For what it’s worth…I use the stock set up and, like Tom, always reef on the starboard side of the mast. I’m a little taller than Rod (5’ 9 3/32" as measured first thing in the morning after hanging from my bedroom door frame…but that’s another story).
A couple of thoughts…we have a 20 degree rule which means if we are heeling at or near 20 degrees consistently,we reef. This limits the water over the rail concerns and, curiously, usually improves both weather helm and boat speed. If we are in weather that might need something more than one reef, I will have run my jacklines and always hook on to the weather line. Even on port tack, I don’t have trouble reaching everything from the deck. I pull the reefing lines and ease the main halyard at the same time (also leaning against the stays if on port tack). If I just ease the sheet a little, I can pull the reef without too much effort using the boom winch. (I also have a Strong sail track system which reduces drag at the luff considerably). To avoid having to chase the next reefing line from the cabin top, after the first reef is in, I’ll wrap the 2nd reef line around the winch and then to it’s cleat.
We rarely see winds justifying a third reef but the 20 degree rule would still work. I’ll sometimes do it on a fat reach to keep the jib top flying cleanly.
I had a single line reefing system on a little 23’ sloop and hated it. Too much friction in the system. With all the strings needed on a BCC, I would encourage resisting adding any more. You might be able to make good way on your running rigging alone.


PS: Rod, if you find yourself some shorter in the evening just reef before noon and you’ll be fine.

Regarding reefing. I own an older Falmouth Cutter with Kenyon mast/boom. This system has internal reef outhauls, one on each side of the boom. Consequently I had to decide which side of the boom would be my first reef side and which the second reef side. I chose the port side for the first reef. In practice I almost always put the first reef in when I raise the mainsail because SFBay has so much wind. In the cases when I haven’t and had to reef under sail I have not noticed a lot of difference to reefing on the port or starboard sides (first or second reefs). Note: There is no winch to assist in pulling the reef clews to the boom in this system. Instead I use the topping lift to raise the aft end of the boom and reduce the tension on the foot of the sail. This significantly reduces the force necessary to pull the reef clews to the boom.

I have sailed several times on a BCC on SFBay and have put in the first reef on that boat while under way. I did not notice that it was any more difficult on the BCC with reefing set up as the BCCs have them and with the set up my Falmouth has. So long as I used the topping lift to raise the boom during the process. It did feel a lot safer on the BCC though, because of the psychological effect of the high bulwarks I am sure.

The biggest problem I see with the BCC reefing set up is that the sail gets folded over into a pile beneath the reef outhaul making it impossible to pull the reef clew down to the boom. A solution to that problem is the “bypass reef”, described about 10 years ago in Wooden Boat magazine. In that system the reef outhaul line is brought up from the boom across the leech of the sail and back through the reef clew and down to the boom on the same side it started from. With this leading of the outhaul line the bunt of the reefed sail will fall smoothly down the opposite side of the boom and you can pull the reef clew very close to the boom. A much neater arrangement than running the reef outhaul in the usual direction through the sail’s reef clew. Much easier on the sail as well.

For owner’s of older FCs like mine, the internal reefing system, with the internal reef outhaul lines coming out the aft end of the boom, one gets the effect of the bypass reef without taking the line across the clew.

This probably doesn’t answer your implied question about reefing in front of a squall. But, hopefully, it gives you some suggestions which will help your first mate out, and also help your sails as well.

ron walton
editor: FC News

A clarification to my previous letter. Regarding putting in a “bypass reef”. For the BCCs with reef outhauls on the starboard side of the boom: the reef outhaul line is tied on the starboard side, leads up to the reef clew and through to the port side of the sail, then back over the sail’s leech and down to the turning block on the starboard side of the boom, and then forward to the rope clutches and winch.

My previous description, upon rereading, was not sufficiently clear. I hope this description is better.

ron walton
editor: FC News

you mean like … (reef2.jpg, about 59 KB )

NO. Your picture illustrates how to tie off the fixed end of the reef outhaul line. It shows the tie off on the port side of the boom. In the bypass reef, the outhaul line would be tied off on the starboard side of the boom, and gets there by passing over the leech of the sail. Thus, when you pull in the reef, the “bunt” of the sail can fall freely down the port side of the boom.

ron walton
editor: FC News

PS. Does the timber hitch have any other names. I am not familiar with that knot.

If you are having trouble reefing from the ‘low’ side when beating all you have to do, of course, is tack first. But off the wind I find it very easy to put a reef in by running down wind.

Our reefing lines are all on the starboard side of the boom to match working with the halyard. To put in a reef down wind:

Haul the main in tight as possible and steer downwind…this should put the boom over the gallows. At the mast the halyard is loosened enough to allow the boom to drop into a notch on the boom and the mainsheet tightened and secured. (This is almost automatic since you have a lot of tension on the mainsheet and when the halyard is slackened the boom pretty much falls into a notch on the gallows.)

Again, at the mast the aft reefing line is tightened as the halyard is slackened, keeping the leech tight. This allows for very little wind effect on the sail and control of the boat is easy with the headsail providing power.

Once the aft reefing line is tight and secured, the forward reefing cringle can be pulled down into position and the halyard tightened…lifting the boom out of the gallows and the sheet paid out…and vang/preventer set.

We have done this while running off in seas I wouldn’t want to be beating into.


Thanks for that - I now understand the bypass reef! I didn’t put enough intellectual effort into comprehending your first explanation. I’ll give the bypass reef a try sometime in the future.

Re the timber hitch: I lifted the graphic from (I think) a US Navy training manual. The only timber hitch I know is an old knot used to lash to a spar or a log, used for example with the latter to fix a line to a firewood log and drag it back to a campsite. I made my reefing line with a bowline and never considered using a timber hitch for the job.