When reefing the main or lowering a head sail how close to the wind must one head up? Does it require running the engine and an autopilot? without an aitopilot how should a solo sailer hold a course? My wheel doesnt have a brake... should i tie it off with line?
You can lower a headsail on a reach, or close reach. On a broad reach (and maybe a beam reach too), you can't in a fresh breeze, too much pressure. and the wind's blowing the jib away from the forward deck, rather than onto it. But bear off a little more to an "almost run", and now you can again, because it's blanketed by the main. and isn't fighting you any more...
Turning to reefing the main, I think it's best done on a close reach. You hold the boat on course with just the jib, and the main's reefed pretty easily. Any closer to the wind, and it's hard to balance (or even just sail) the boat with jib alone, since the main's all aluff for reefing. Any farther away from the wind, and the main's going to be out too far to be reefed easily.
Yes, you can "cheat" on either of the above by using the engine for propulsion rather than your remaining sail, but it's better practice to do this under sail alone. In a ripping breeze, funny things happen to engines, like prop out of water, or fuel tank debris agitated into the fuel system.
As a potential solo sailor, your autopilot may hold you on course, but the nature of reefing is that you're eliminating a big piece of sail area, either forward, or aft, and not simultaneously. So don't depend on your autopilot to make that kind of adjustment while you're away from the wheel. You may have to make several trips back to the helm during the reefing process to keep her pointed where you want, whether your helm is on autopilot, brake, tied down, or none of the above. Alternative: if you're sailing alone, take the reef in at the dock if you're not positive you can do it alone out on the big blue. If you reef too early, you'll regret it a little, but be around to complain about it. Not necessarily so if the opposite.
Don't count on being able to use your engine in truly snotty conditions, learn to rely on sail.
just my opinion here...