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Ron-
"So we just manhandled the rudder against the weather helm and rode the boat on its side." You do realize, that you were driving in second gear with the brakes on? So to speak?
If you can get or run polars for your boat, you might want to check out how much speed you will gain or lose versus the amount of time it takes to reef the main. How you can reef it or what your options are, depend on the rig.
But when the boat is heeled too far (often as little as 15 degrees) it goes SLOWER than a reefed boat standing up. And anytime you need to steer with more than two fingers, your rudder is being used as a speed brake. Again...not the fast way to go.

If you are expecting winds to strengthen, you may need to make sure the reefing lines are rigged before you start, so there's less rigging to do. If you're working with a local loft or have other talent available, ask them to look over rigging options. The folks at Harken (who coincidentally sell reefing gear!) will also be glad to go over it with you, if you tell them details and preferably post some pix.

If you do that here, you might also get more input on how to rig it. But the most important factor with reefing is the same whether you are racing or just putzing around: If you have to ask "Should we reef?" it's already too late. When you first start to *think* the question, that's the time to do it. And it is always easier and faster to do it a little earlier. (And safer with harnesses in use.)

And again, if you have access to polars, you may find that reefing makes your boat faster in as little as 15-18 knots of wind. Sailboat racing, like poker, is just a simple game. (G)
 
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