We’ve been through similar developments in the last three years since buying our boat. There are many more experienced than us, but here is a stab at your questions. We also cruise, club race, and family potter.
1. You are right to consider reefing ability a priority. When you get to be more confident and start on longers days out/cruises, this is essential and when learning it lets you get out on days when full rig is OTT. Just be aware that heavy reefing makes upwind sailing less efficient. Dont get too far downtide/downwind!
Slab reefing is the almost universal choice now. The ability to put in either one or two reefs, reducing sail by, say, 900mm to 1m each time, means you can deal with any conditions that still allow you to use the main. I’m rubbish at posting links so search for reefing on this site (not just the forum) and for this:
Also excellent article in the last Wayfarer News by Matt Sharman and Bob Harland I think.
2. Jib furler. We have one. Our system no longer available – search for Bartels reefing. There are two types 1. those that furl, with a flexible luff, not intended for reefing the genoa, just for furling it completely away, and 2. those with a rigid or semi rigid spar up the luff, which do allow infinite adjustment of genoa size.
We have found the latter system to have the big advantages of a, allowing us to quickly roll up the sail when landing, anchoring etc. and b, easily allowing us to always sail with a perfectly balanced rig, reducing the genoa to match the size of the reefed main. If you don’t do this you can have either serious weather helm (you have to constantly heave the tiller towards you because the main is too big for the jib/genoa) or lee helm (constantly having to push the tiller away because the genoa is too big for the reefed main and keeps dragging the bow to leeward).
Our system has the significant disadvantages of not allowing the boat to point quite as high when close hauled. This is because the very front edge of the sail is slid into a 1″ alloy tube “roller reefing spar”. My guess is that this increases turbulence as it presents a blunt edge to the wind. Also you cannot get as much rig tension with this system. The furling drum is just above the bow fitting and this keeps the sail a few inches off the deck allowing air to escape underneath it reducing power. Dropping the mast while afloat is made more complicated. Don’t be put off, just weigh up the considerable pro’s and cons in your circumstances.
Our judgement is that in high winds, balanced rig and reefing flexibility are more important for safety. We lose out a bit in light wind beating.
Our system needs a sail made specially for it (same cost as a standard sail.) I think the furler only systems can use a standard sail. Someone else will know better.
3. Mainsheet getting caught. – position the bracket well outboard, some choose starbd, some port, depending on preference for steering position and engine tiller. Make sure the outboard tiller is out of the way. Check the position of attachment of the mainsheet to the boom. Could it be moved forward a bit? There are ways of setting this up to prevent loops of sheet dangling so much when you gibe – depends whether you have rear or centre mainsheet system. On our centre main system we have the boom end of the sheet tied off to a boom slider a few inched from the boom tip, and the boom block fixed to a seperate slider about 3″ in front of that. This prevents twisting and snagging. We use a simple bridle at the transom rather than a track. this lifts the lower block, reducing the chance of snagging. Many top racers use this bridle arrangement so I’m sure it sails well. Some people use a shockcord to prevent snagging on motors. but I’m not sure how – it’s in the forum somewhere.
4. Masthead buoyancy – definately yes. Inversion takes 3x effort of straight capsize to put right. Also inversion + water shallower than 7metres + tide with wind direction = bent or broken mast.
We have a sail head pocket, but unwilling to pay £40 for a lump of foam, I bought a cut off sheet about 2″ thick and carved my own with a Stanley knife. Displacement of 8.5ltrs compared with 9ltrs of commercial product. I’m happy. It MUST be closed cell foam.I also have a Crewsaver inflatable sausage for use when heavily reefed (the sail pocket is then only part up the mast therefore has less leverage.) Now we are slightly more competent this only comes out in f5/6 with my (lightweight) teenage daughter crewing. There are other floats up to 40 ltrs and the Secumar devices that fire like a lifejacket and need re-arming afterwards.
5. Jib only as an alternative to a reefing system in not a good idea.
Strong winds and jib only upwind – not recommended. I’ve never managed to beat far to windward with genoa only although I must admit the only time I’ve been in the position is when approaching a landing I have dropped the main too soon and had to tack in. The best I could manage was about 75 degrees off the wind with no tide against me. Humiliation in front of the club is good for your character.
There is a lot more to this one. Beating is all about centreboard plus sail drive. If the point of drive is well in front of the board, the boat will try and turn away from the wind, you will have to pull the tiller towards you to prevent this – hard tiller equals brake. (Wish I knew all the right terms.)
Jib only has it’s downwind uses. It’s good for running in high winds when even a double reefed main is too much and a broach/involuntary jibe is likely. Jib only is pretty stable, a bit like front wheel drive, pulling the boat along and not so fast as to bury you in the wave in front. More commonly (for me anyway) it’s a way of reducing speed/power when landing coming downwind onto a slipway, pontoon, etc.
Keep searching this forum, not forgetting the main site. There is more out there.