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Old 10-06-2013
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New twist on age old question: when to reef?

Does your decision on when to reef your mainsail depend on what headsail you are using?

Background: I have an old IOR racer-cruiser with LOTS of different headsails and a small mainsail. If I'm using my 130 or 150 and the wind gets to be in the upper teens I put a reef in my main.

The other week I went out in 20-25 knot winds. I hanked on my 100 and planned NOT to reef the mainsail. Everything went fine. But there were a couple gusts which caused me to let the main sheet out to avoid excessve heel and weatherhelm. Great day sailing - maximum speed 6.2 knots on a LWL 20 ft boat!

In retrospect I have begun to wonder if the conditions dictating when to reef the main are independent of the headsail. I had always assumed that if you were using a smaller headsail you wouldn't "need" to reef as much especially with such a small mainsail to begin with.... But I got to thinking weatherhelm (if not heeling) may be the same regardless of headsail area (unless the headsail is so massive that it's center of effort is aft of the keel).

Anyhow, sorry for the blathering on and on. Interested in what people have to say.
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Re: New twist on age old question: when to reef?

The two are definitely connected. I will reef our 135 genny before I bother reefing the main. Although, I may also ease the main a bit to luff it in nasty gusts or to wait out a puff. Once the genny gets to the mast, the main is next and the weather helm makes it obvious.
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Re: New twist on age old question: when to reef?

Thanks. I don't have furling headsails... So when I reef while underway, I hope that will avoid me having to go up and change the headsail.
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Re: New twist on age old question: when to reef?

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Originally Posted by matthewwhill View Post
Thanks. I don't have furling headsails... So when I reef while underway, I hope that will avoid me having to go up and change the headsail.
When I had hank on sails, I chose the headsail based on the average winds I expected to encounter for that day. Which was often a 110. If the winds were much lighter than expected it was much easier to go forward and hank on a larger head sail...... than to try to take one down in " Reefing" conditions. Especially if you're single handing.

If I felt the need to reef with the 110 up, the 1st reef was taken in the mainsail.
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Re: New twist on age old question: when to reef?

By the time you ask the question, "When should we reef?", the answer is usually something on the order of, "Ten or fifteen minutes ago!"
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Re: New twist on age old question: when to reef?

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Originally Posted by matthewwhill View Post
Thanks. I don't have furling headsails... So when I reef while underway, I hope that will avoid me having to go up and change the headsail.
I was only answering your question about whether reefing the main and jib were "independent". They are not. Once you've reefed the headsail, whether by furling or hanking a smaller sail, the main will drive more weather helm. Different for each set up, but the principal is the sameon all sloops.
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Re: New twist on age old question: when to reef?

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Originally Posted by SlowButSteady View Post
By the time you ask the question, "When should we reef?", the answer is usually something on the order of, "Ten or fifteen minutes ago!"
That^, and of course reefing is all about managing sail area.. with less headsail you'll need less main a little bit later. One feature of boats of this era is that the bulk of the sailpower is in the headsail, is some extreme cases the main was little more than a trim tab and so on its own doesn't provide much drive. This makes headsail selection much more critical.

The final criteria, specific to your question, would be how best to balance the helm - which combo feels lightest on the tiller?

We owned a 40 foot boat that fell into that category, though it didn't really have the 'sliver' main that some had. (16 J vs 14.5 E) - and we sailed in an area with predominantly heavier wind - 15-20 typical in summer. We always used the blade jib and reefed the main as prudent. If we ventured afield into light areas we may have used a larger headsail but anything over 10 knots true we were able to move fine with the jib, unless downwind - but then the kite went up anyway.
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Re: New twist on age old question: when to reef?

When we pull the anchor, our rig is usually set up for the worst conditions we expect to encounter that day. That may mean ghosting out of the anchorage at 1.5 to 3 knots until we reach the end of the the island, but we don't have to reef when we hit the normal 25 knots expected in the channel.
Regarding your question, I believe it really depends on your particular boat. For me it's more a question of balance and ease of handling than safety or breakage. If you are struggling to keep your boat on course or heeling so far that you could paint your keel, perhaps reefing the main would be simpler than changing head sails, perhaps not? I don't know your boat.
Before roller furling, I had a Yankee and a 150 on side by side head stays and I would drop the gene for the Yankee, before I'd reef the main, but again, I was crossing oceans, not day sailing, and I wanted to be able to sleep comfortably. I'd think you could pretty much put up with anything for a few hours?
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Re: New twist on age old question: when to reef?

They are not independent. The amount of force on the sails hence heeling is proportional to the sail area.
The balance on the helm is a function of the centre of effort of the sails versus the centre of lateral resistance (which doesn't change)
Reefing the main and not reducing the foresail will if the boat was previously balanced give a greater proportion of the power forward and lee helm.That is undesirable as a slight tendency to weather helm is a safety feature in gusts, whereas lee helm will tend to increase heeling.
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Re: New twist on age old question: when to reef?

Reefing the main will also lower the center of effort more than partially rolling up a headsail. So reefing the main can reduce heeling much more dramatically than furling the headsail, albeit at the potential expense of helm balance (as stated earlier). But, since weather helm tends to become a problem in many boats as they become over canvased, reefing the main is often the best first move (it sure seems to be on my boat), then rolling up a bit of headsail if you still feel the need to reduce sail.
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