Ask Sail: Not Quite Ready to Reef

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01b Ready to Reef Suggested crop

Q: I race on a small lake in the Midwest, and most afternoons the wind picks up and is fairly steady, but because of the hills around the lake we often get squalls that come through. They don’t last long enough to justify taking a reef, so I was wondering what is the best way to keep from being overpowered.

— Joe Tapper, Horicon, WI

BRIAN HANCOCK REPLIES

It depends on your deck layout. In fact, there are two things that you can do to keep from being overpowered. First, you need to twist off the leech on the headsail, which lets some wind spill out the top of the sail. With the improvement of deck hardware, many sailors have installed a tackle that enables them to easily move the lead position, which they use to ease the car aft a few inches to induce twist. Then, after the squall has passed, it’s easy to move the car back to its original position. If you don’t have a tackle system and have to pull a pin to move the car, it’s a bit more of a challenge. However, you can always move the car on the windward side, so that when you tack the lead will be where you want it to be.

The other thing you can do is depower the main, your most important sail. The best way to do this is to ease the traveler to leeward. Don’t ease the sheet. In contrast to when you depowered your headsail, you want the leech of the main to stand straight. Remember, it’s the back of the mainsail that works with your keel to provide lift. If you simply ease the sheet, the sail will twist open and depower, but you will also lose lift and won’t be sailing as close to the wind as before. If you don’t have a traveler, you can control the tension on the leech with your vang, which will hold the boom down and keep tension on the leech even after the sheet has been eased.

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