A sneaky technique for Reefing downwind

Downwind, with and without topping lift

The spinnaker is up, the boat is sailing beautifully but the wind has increased just a little and the full mainsail is starting to make helming a bit too much like hard work. Do you drop the spinnaker so that you can come up to windward to reef or risk carrying on building the biceps of your helm as they struggle with the wheel or tiller.

In the right conditions the method outlined below will allow you to have your cake and eat it as well. Put simply, using this method you will be able to maintain your downwind course whilst at the same time putting in a reef to help settle the boat. This is ideal for trade wind sailors or even for racers who don�t wish to give ground to the rest of the fleet in a longer race.

As well as keeping you heading in the right direction this method also reduces the apparent wind strength and therefore tends to be more comfortable.

This technique will allow you in light to moderate winds to take in a reef without the need to de-rig your pole and come up to windward. The method works equally well with a poled out headsail or a spinnaker.

The process is very straightforward and the steps are as follows:

  1. Place the boat on a stable downwind heading typically with the wind fine on the windward quarter
  2. Release the boom vang
  3. Tension the topping lift, ensuring the boom is elevated a little at the outboard end
  4. Tension the mainsheet, which will centre or blade the mainsail � this will have the effect of scandalising and depowering the mainsail
  5. Lower the main halyard until the reefing cringle is level with the ram�s horn � at the same time bring in the reefing line so that both the luff and leach are reduced in unison
  6. Attach the reefing cringle to the ram�s horn and re-tension the main halyard
  7. Continue to tension the reefing line until the sail is tightly bound to the boom � be aware there may be a need to ease the mainsheet a fraction to allow the sail to be reefed tight to the boom
  8. Ease the mainsheet to allow the mainsail to fall out to leeward
  9. Ease the topping lift
  10. Re-tension the boom vang as necessary
  11. Tidy up the lines
  12. If appropriate rig a preventer

It is important that you have an experienced helm on the job for this manoeuvre and also to ensure that that the boom is secured tightly between topping lift pulling upwards and mainsheet pulling down. This minimizes risk to the crew.

The other really key piece is to ensure that the leech and luff tension is maintained equally as the sail is reefed.

This isn�t a manoeuvre that will work in strong winds and it does require a few sets of hands. However, it is a useful technique that can assist you in maintaining your course whilst reefing. Try it and see how you go!