Join Date: May 2002
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Re: Reefing Downwind
Logically you have to ask, how can a sailor delay reefing his sails until the conditions have reached survival proportions, and until the waves are so high that they will create a lull in the troughs? It's a little far fetched to think that anyone would not take action until he had run out of options, and his only recourse was to tuck in a reef while sailing downwind.
A more realistic scenario would be that the mainsail is already single or double reefed, in survival conditions, and you want to tuck in another reef. The procedure suggested by the instructor would be a lot more workable in that scenario.
But, that having been said, if that's the scenario that the instructors posed, then that's the scenario that you have to consider.
You can't turn to windward because you'll likely be rolled by the following wave. Your only recourse is to tuck in a reef downwind.
If that's your only recourse, then that's what you have to do. You can't logically say it can't be done, because you don't know what you're capable of doing until you try it when you're scared and desperate, and doing nothing is not an acceptable alternative. You just have to figure out a way to do it.
The only suggestion I would add to what has already been said is that I would probably start the engine, and have it instantly available to use, in case I needed it to keep the boat properly oriented to the waves. The danger in that situation is that the boat will lose boatspeed at the bottom of the trough, and turn sideways to the seas, and be rolled over by the next wave. If the engine is running, you can use it to try to keep the stern to the waves in the trough.
The better recourse, of course, is to reef as the conditions deteriorate. Sail handling always becomes more difficult as the conditions worsen.