Another Major Project Completed: Mainsail Reefing

Sailors are an opinionated bunch, especially about safety.  But one thing that everyone agrees on is that an integral component of any safety plan is being able to reef your mainsail quickly and securely and, in some cases, quite deeply.

Reefing the main simply means making the mainsail area smaller by drawing the sail downward to make a smaller triangle.  The sail is dropped to a predetermined height and secured to the boom, both in the front (next to the mast) and in the back (at the end of the boom).  Over the last year, we’ve made a number of changes to our reefing system that I believe have made us much a safer boat.

Kestrel came with two reef points already installed in the mainsail.  They are heavy duty rings that have been hydraulically pressed and thoroughly strengthened with webbing, and we are very happy with how sturdy they are.  What we didn’t like, though, was Island Packet’s reefing line system that was meant to be easy but paradoxically was a total pain in the butt.

Step One:  Change to Slab Reefing

Island Packet’s reefing approach was to have one line that would pull both the front of the mainsail and the back of the mainsail down together.  This sounds great on paper but never worked properly in real life. The reefing line ran back and forth through the boom through these crazy shuttle car blocks and pulleys that jam and bite at the line.  It was always a goat rodeo trying to reef, and we said goodbye to that.

Last year we had Mack Sails rework our reefing lines to the traditional single line or slab approach.  The virtue is simplicity:  when it’s time to reef, I go to the mast and hook the reef cringle into a tack line.  This secures the luff (the edge of the sail against the mast).  Then I come back to the cockpit and take up the slack on the reef line that is attached to the leech (the trailing edge of the mainsail).  This firmly secures the mainsail in its reefed position.  No muss, no fuss.  It’s made reefing a breeze.

Step Two:  Add a Third Reef Point to the Mainsail

We reef our mainsail quite often, and there have been several storms where we really wanted to bring it down farther than our second reef point would allow.  Earlier this year we had Mark at Inner Banks install a third reef point in the mainsail.  This allows us a lot more flexibility for when the wind really starts howling but we want to have at least a hankie-sized mainsail up.

Step Three:  Add Luminescent Tape to all Reef Points

It’s amazing how hard it is to see things on a sail at night, even with a headlamp.  Add in pitching around while being tethered into the cockpit and trying to see through the dodger windows that reflect light back at you, and confirming whether the aft reef point is secure is crazy hard.

We put into action a tip that we learned when we took Carol Hasse’s sail repair class a few years ago at Port Townsend Sails.  I sewed a strip of Glowfast luminescent tape on each side of the mainsail at each reef point, both fore and aft.  I did the same on the reef marks on our genoa and staysail.  That way, even if my headlamp is swinging pretty wildly, I should be able to see whether the sails are reefed properly.

You can see the strip of Glofast tape underneath the reef cringle.

Step Four:  Add a Third Reef Line and Hardware

We purchased some sexy new line to use as our third reef line because we want to have the third reef point available for use at all times, as opposed to swapping line from another reef point when the weather starts getting hairy.  The Captain installed a cheek block on deck to route the line from the mast to the cockpit and a rope clutch in the cockpit. We already have a spare winch right next to the newly installed clutch, so at least that part was easy.

This is during the cheek block installation on deck. Nothing quite as nerve-wracking as looking at the ceiling of your boat and seeing sunlight coming through!

The point that really took some planning was how to mount two cheek blocks on the boom to continue our slab reefing approach.  The boom isn’t round (no, of course not!), it’s an octagon.  It took mounting the blocks on a starboard pad that had been sanded down at about a 45 degree angle to get the reef line running fair.  This took some doing, but the Captain did a great job.

Here the Captain shapes the starboard pad with a belt sander to give the pad an angled back.

Knock wood, but I think this project is complete.  Rumor has it our new engine is on a red-eye from the UK tonight.  On to the next challenge!

Here’s our mainsail reefed down to the third reef. Just enough, not too much.