When do you reef?

In the Bristol Channel Cutter, when do you reef?
What type of conditions and wind force?


Lima 33

On Zygote, we reef from aft for’ard (reef the mainsail first, reef the mainsail second, furl the jib top, douse the staysail and replace with the storm staysail).

We shake out reefs from forward aft

Z’s mainsail has two reefs and uses the slab or Jiffy reefing system, but without reefing point lines. Instead of a 3rd reef in the main, we douse the main and hoist the trysail. Z’s staysail and storm jib use hanks. Her jib topsail and genoa are roller reefed (and we only fly one at a time, usually the jib top).

The general rules are:
• to reef as soon as you think about it; and
• to shake out the reef 20 minutes after you think it is no longer needed.

When we think of reefing, we check the helm and heel:

• If the heel is 25° or greater (water over the bulwarks) and the tiller is 6 – 10° off centre, take a reef in the main (ie generally with the wind abaft the beam); or
• If the heel is 25°, but the tiller is centred (ie less than 6° off-centre) reef the jib and if conditions worsen get ready to drop the staysail and change to the storm jib (ie generally when close-hauled or on a close reach).

You’ll note that I’ve avoided any attempt to talk about “when” other than 'when you think about it". We don’t heel by the clock or any timepiece.

And it’s not just about the conditions currently experienced.

Our aim is to avoid downflooding, including avoiding sustaining a heel angle of greater than 35 degrees.

For example, we’ve been sailing and noted the black of line squalls (squall lines likely to impair the progress of a “ship of the line”). That makes us think of reefing, even though we might only have been experiencing 20 knots when we saw the line squall approaching. It’s a lot easier to confront a line squall (or three, as on one memorable day) under storm jib and trysail than to do the deck work with 40 knots, driven rain, and 35 degrees of heel.

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