Welcome to the UKWA Home Page Forums Technical Advice: Does reefing deprive you of sail control?

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    So, I had a jaunt out on the river yesterday, and on advice of my crew for the day and some other old hands at the club we put the single available (1m-ish) reef in the mainsail of my W.

    We reefed away about 25% of total sail area/power and used full genoa, with the genoa cars in the standard position.

    We’re on the River Ribble with 3-5kn flood tides coming straight at us along with a F4/5 westerly.

    We set off into wind and tide with those racing (2 Ospreys) and made a good start across the line.

    Progress was difficult and I was pinching a bit as I tried to maintain forward way. We struggled to keep the boat flat. I was hiking flat out but my crew wasn’t amenable to doing likewise to the same extent. We lost the port jib cleat after about a minute which didn’t help matters.

    Mulling it over afterwards I wondered:

    Was reefing the right move?
    Would full sail, but with kicker and cunn hard on have provided more power in the lower part of the sail, while also depowering enough at the top end to keep us from swimming too readily? (As it was we didn’t come near to swimming as I eased the main to gusts. Both Osps capsized, one of them twice, and both ran aground).
    Is all this a moot point without full-on hiking being applied?
    We probably should have had the jib cars a couple of stops aft.

    I’ve only been sailing about a year, and I know the old hands were trying to make things easier for me in tricky conditions, especially at the start of the season. But, I can’t help feeling that a W should handle F5 with full sail and that we sacrificed power we needed to make way against the tide.

    I really enjoyed the sail for it’s, err, excitement, and it was certainly useful experience. I know I’m not going to beat Ospreys in a straight contest but my aim is to get as much out of the W as I can and hopefully do well against the other boats at the club on handicap.

    Thoughts anyone?


    Hi Algol,

    I have this problem quite a lot when we are racing. I think if you want to keep full sails in a F5 then you booth need to hike like mad and flatten the sails as much as poss. I was advised that you need loads of mainsail leach tension – something like a 16:1 kicker!! I think there posts on that one are here..


    You might want to get a jib jib rather than an genoa. I think if you can’t keep the boat reasonably flat and your are spilling all the time then you have too much sail up and your are probably going sideways too much. At least with a jib you might be able to sheet the main properly and sail the correct course.

    BTW – It’s possible to capsize a W with the main flogging and the genoa cleated – It almost happened to me at Falmouth in 2000 – we got a prize for surving that one 😉




    I cruise (although I prefer to do it quickly) so I can’t answer for the racing folk, but in a real F5 I would be reefed.

    But to come to the question – does reefing deprive you of control? I don’t think a single reef should, the boat sails rather well reefed in a good wind. If you are reefed but pinching and spilling wind to survive, then something may well be wrong with the setup. Keith has mentioned genoa size. The other possibility is that the reefed main has a poor shape – if you have a ‘baggy’ reefed main you may have the worst of both worlds.


    Depending on crew experience (yours did not seem very keen) sailing in force 5 with full sails (main and genoa) should be alright. Sailing towards windward may be slow in any event, due to having to allow the sails to spill wind in order to stay upright (a heavy crew leaning out will always help). As you were racing, then using the jib from the outset would be the better option in your situation.

    Do not sail to windward with a reefed main with genoa, as this is an unbalanced sail configuration, which may account for your difficulties. If you need to sail with a reefed mainsail, then use the jib or furling jib / genoa.

    Colin Parkstone

    Were you pinching because the boat was being headed away from the wind or was it that the boat was healed and there was too much water preasure on the leeward side of the boat.

    With the full genoa and reduced main, I would think that the bow would have been pushed away from the wind and given your helm a feeling that it needed to be pushed away from you all the time.

    If that was the case, balance is the key. ease genoa, pull in main !

    When the wind is high i try the tracks back to open the slot and to ease wind through the slot.

    Then if that does not feel right and your easing the main lots to keep level, try the main flat as pos and ease the genoa a couple of inches.

    This opens the slot again and as your not able to keep flat,no need to choke the slot with a main that is eased all the time.

    The other key is to still keep driving the boat. If your eased to keep flat then drive the boat by pointing less but moving forward more!

    Movement forward is better than pointing too high to spill and going nowhere?

    Hope that has some sense too it?

    C P


    @Colin Parkstone wrote:

    Were you pinching because the boat was being headed away from the wind or was it that the boat was healed and there was too much water preasure on the leeward side of the boat.

    Movement forward is better than pointing too high to spill and going nowhere?

    I *think* I was pinching because I wanted movement forward over the ground when the wind (F5) and tide (at least 3kn, poss a bit more) were both against me. It was one of those days where anything less than as hard into the wind as possible probably meant we were going backwards.

    Anyway, looks like F4/5 and westerlies forecast for Sunday again 🙂


    I’m going to add my ten pennyworth! I think you should go for a jib when reefed – not genoa. The crew will find it a LOT easier and the boat will be much better balanced. Or you could perhaps buy a reefing arrangement for the genoa. When you reef the baggiest part of the sail is in the reef. When you cut them you make them flatter as you move higher ie the camber is built in low down so that bagginess should be less pronounced than when unreefed. With two reefs the sail will be really flat but very difficult to sail with a genoa. Robert


    See mast chock string by Algol for possible explanations! Robert


    Most racing dinghies don’t have any system of reefing and sail in stronger winds than that, so it is eminently “do-able”, but there is a bit of an art to it.

    Firstly, you want to move the genoa fairleads back from their normal position, so that easing the sheet a small amount will quickly dump the top of the sail and open the slot. Next you want a flat main so lost of cunningham, mast bend and outhaul.

    Once you’ve got a reasonable setup where the boat feels balanced and you aren’t fighting the helm, try and make a conscious effort to “power” through the gusts. The natural temptation is to pinch into them but it’s a recipe for trouble, as you lose speed and control. Instead try and drive the boat for speed as a gust hits, whilst easing main and genoa enough to keep the boat flat with you both hiking hard. With the boat flat and moving fast you’ll get a nice balanced helm and the boat will be very responsive and controllable.

    The three things you should be trying to achieve are:
    1. Boat flat at all times
    2. Helm central
    3. Sailing lower in the gusts than in the lulls.

    All this being said, if you have can reef and doing so means you go out when with full sail you’d have stayed at home then go for it, but don’t under any circumstances reef the main before changing to a smaller jib. As others have said it puts the boat completely out of balance – when a gust hits dumping the reefed main closes the slot completely so the airflow over the genoa stalls. This leaves you with 100% heeling moment and next to no drive. Meanwhile the boat tries to bear away uncontrollably as the only trimmed sail is at the front of the boat. Horrible.

    If anything you are better off by initially putting a small jib on and sailing with a full main. Then you can ease the main in the gusts without closing the slot, and if the wind pipes up further reefing the main will actually improve the overall balance. Also, with a big main and a small jib you’ll still sail downwind reasonably well – if you reef the main you’ll lose all your power downwind as the genoa doesn’t do much on a broad reach or run.

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