Faster Mainsail Reefing

On my old yawl, Iolaire, I always used a mainsail reefing method that seemed odd to guests, but was very fast and worked well. After first casting off the mainsheet, we would hoist the end of the boom a full six feet into air—the depth of the reef—with the topping lift...
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On my old yawl, Iolaire, I always used a mainsail reefing method that seemed odd to guests, but was very fast and worked well. After first casting off the mainsheet, we would hoist the end of the boom a full six feet into air—the depth of the reef—with the topping lift. This brought the boom much closer to the clew reef cringle and scandalized the sail, so it didn’t flap around as much. We then slacked the main halyard to a preset reef mark and hauled tight the reef line for the clew. With the boom end raised, this could be quickly done hand over hand. Only the last little bit had to be cranked in with a winch.

Once the reef line was secure, we slacked the topping lift and trimmed the main. Only then did we tension the luff with a reef line run through the tack cringle. If the halyard was not exactly at the reef mark and the luff tension was off, we never busted our guts trying to get it right with the halyard. Rather, we slacked off on the tack line and passed it through a second tack cringle (effectively a cunningham) a foot or so above the first one, which we then tensioned on a winch.


When it came time to shake out the reef, we eased the sheet, topped up the boom two feet, released the tack and clew lines, and hoisted the main. Once the halyard tension was satisfactory, we slacked the topping lift and trimmed the sheet.


This reefing method, described by Steve Dashew here in SAIL back in the 1980s, worked very well on Iolaire because she has no centerline boom vang. It can still be effective on boats with centerline vangs, though it is not as quick. Just ease the sheet, release the vang and top up the boom as much as possible. If the boat has a fixed vang and no topping lift, just blow the vang.


Even if you can’t raise your boom end very much, remember always to use a reefing line on the tack instead of reefing rings that hook onto a horn. Tensioning the luff with a reef line is easier, and you don’t have to worry about the reefing rings shaking off before you’re done.

Photo by Charles J. Doane

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