Essential Reefing a Sailboat Tips

Posted by Director of Education on August 29, 2012 under Skipper | Comments are off for this article

A good sailing tip would be to reef your boat early before the wind hits but even more essential reefing tips are embedded in this recent sailing event in Sydney Harbour, Australia.

You can’t visit Sydney with out a sailing trip out on the harbour and Matt Hayes, owner of Sydney by Sail charter company (see is the guy to call to arrange a perfect day out. Sydney harbour is one of those world iconic sailing grounds. It’s not huge, you can easily get around it in a day. You get to sail under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and out past the famous Sydney Opera House then out and around past some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

Here is a slide show of some pis from this time around and some from a visit in 2008 where we discuss the IALA-A system of Atons

Sydney By Sail is a well run Yacht Charter Company located in Darling Harbour downtown Sydney, home of the Sydney International Boat Show. Matt Charters out immaculate condition Hunter Sailboats. Next time you’re there give them a call.

Last weekend we visited Sydney more specifically for the quad nations Rugby match where New Zealand played Australia but since we (myself, sister and brother-in-law) arrived on the Friday before, we had the day to go for a sail. The wind was out of the east at about 10-15 knots and so once we were out from under the harbor bridge we set sails for a nice afternoon – well what we thought would be a nice afternoon. After all, how rough can it get in the harbour?

We turned around at Manly and began heading back. Just then an unusually large gust came ripping out of Middle Harbour and laid us down a bit followed by a good rounding up. As I peered across the water I saw that this wasn’t just a gust but the wind was seriously picking up. My brother in law was helming the boat and was having difficulty controlling the boat heading. It was time to reef with out delay.We sailed all the way up to Manly at the North end of the harbour. The wind was gusting a little and so the boat was laying down a little during the gusts but nothing that we couldn’t handle except for a few round ups that caused my sister to squeal a little.

From before, luckily I knew how the reefing system worked and was able to get her reefing back into the second reefed position pretty quickly. Gusts were now ripping through and we clocked 42 knots that’s nearly 50 miles per hour or 85 km/hr. It’s nothing that a Hunter 33 can’t handle but not under full sail. At these speeds, you run the risk of bringing the rig down. And not to mention scaring the bg’s out of the crew (sister). My Brother in Law was sort of ok – he was laughing uncontrollably which I know he does when he gets very nervous.

Summing this up, had I not been forced to learn the reefing system as we’d raised the sails earlier in the day, we could have been in some pretty decent trouble. What had happened was a reasonably severe cold front had come through unbeknownst to us. Had not checked the weather forecast. Even if we’d known however, I doubt if we would have changed our minds about going out. Who can resist Sydney Harbour. However, we might have been a little more prepared to throw in the reefs earlier. Just after the frontal system appeared, as you might expect a downpour of cold rain came through. Fortunately we’d bought rain jackets for the game the following evening so we had that one covered. As I saw the clouds forming for the rain, I decided that we’d had enough sailing for the day. We switched to engine then lowered and secured the sails.

Thus bringth many lessons from just one day out. As a seasoned sailor you’d think that I would have covered these but I didn’t – I was overwhelmed by the prospect of sailing the harbour. I freely admit my mistakes and admonish myself in front of the world here more so to make the learning real for everyone. If the story was instead just lessons on preparedness I don’t think they would sink in as much for everyone. Next time you head off on a day charter think of me and Sydney.

  • Tip 1: Know how to reef a boat. It’s not an advanced sailing skill. It’s a piece of sailing knowledge you need to know before you ever skipper a boat.
  • Tip 2: Know about all the various types of reefing systems.
  • Tip 3: Know how to reef the specific boat you are going to sail on before you leave the dock. Especially charter boats. It’s so easy to get excited about a new location and be distracted by the navigational issues.
  • Tip 4: Remember the weather. Get a forecast. Yes even if you’re sailing in protected waters.

Refer to my previous post to view basic animations of reefing a sailboat

Reefing a Sailboat – HTML5 Animations

Posted by Director of Education on August 28, 2012 under Skipper | Comments are off for this article

Just posting here some fun animations of reefing the sails.

This animation represents where sails must be lowered. In the case of the headsail, it needs to be replaced with a smaller sail. The higher the number the smaller the sail.

This one represents where the boat is fitted with furling headsail and mainsail

Animations like these are used throughout NauticEd Courses to save thousands of words and reading hours.

The NauticEd Skipper Course is one of the world’s best beginner to intermediate day skipper courses available.

Check out the NauticEd Day Skipper Sailing Course now.

Moving the car forward under tension

Posted by Grant Headifen on January 6, 2009 under Skipper | Be the First to Comment

Moving the jib sheet car forward when the jib sheet is under tension presents a bit of a problem and many times you’ll just wait until you tack to the other side to move it. Or more dangerously, you can release the tension a little then put your foot on the jibsheet forward of the car to get the tension off the car so that you can move it.  But what if you’re on a long take or there is just too much tension to hold down the sheet with your foot? Well here’s a little tip I learned from the guys at BVI Yacht Charters.  Take the lazy sheet over to the leeward side and cleat it off tight to the mid cleat. Now you can release the tension of the working sheet while the lazy sheet holds the sail mostly in place. Move the car – tension up the working sheet and then release the lazy sheet. How about that?

Want to learn exactly where the car should be located for best jib sail performance? Take the NauticEd online SailTrim class!

Reef un reef reef unreef

Posted by Grant Headifen on January 3, 2009 under Skipper | Be the First to Comment

When you’re racing you need to get the most out of your rig and that’s exactly what we had to do in the Austin Yacht Club Red Eye January 1st Race event. While one weather channel was predicting 6-8 knots another was saying 15-20. In the last sailing blog I’d mentioned that we were going light wind sailing – not true. Biggest gust was to 25 knots and mostly the wind was around 17 knots. That’s reefing time. Ahh that’s for the weak at heart might say some – but reefing increases your performance.

Reefing reduces the size of the sail. When reefing a roller furling sail the sail is rolled up a little. The first reefing point for a roller furler is about 15%. Thus is the foot of your sail is 12 ft long then roll the sail up about 18 inches.

They way that the sails performance is increased is it helps the wind stay attached to the lee side of the sail. Slow moving air can bend around the curve of the sail and stay attached. Fast moving air has more momentum and can not stay attached. Thus it swirls off creating turbulence in its wake which vastly upsets the balance of low pressure on the lee side of the sail and high pressure on the windward side. The art of sailing is all about the even flow of wind over the sail and allowing this turbulence to happen is one way to loose a race.
The image below is taken from Module 7 of the Skipper course and from the Sail Trim Clinic. It shows wind swirling inefficiently off the sails.

The other part to reefing is that the height of the center of force acting on the sail is reduced. This reduces the heeling force. IE the boat tips over less. Most boat hulls operate with the least amount of drag either flat or slightly tilted. Tilting over too far will increase the hull drag in the water. With high winds and an unreefed rig, you’re certainly going to be tipped over beyond the most efficient point.

So reef that sail.

Downwind is a slightly different story. As long as it is safe – ie the winds aren’t too high – you can let the reef out to capture more wind against the sail area. Remember the apparent wind against the sail going downwind is reduced because your speed subtracts from the true wind speed when going down wind. However you have to be a wee bit cautious with this. At one point we needed to steer up wind a little to miss a shoal, a gust came through at the exact same time and also a boat flying a spinnaker came past us. Our boat began to round up into the wind but also into the other boat. To save the day we let all the sails fly so that the rudder could overpower any turning effect the sails had against us. This allowed us to turn back down wind with out loosing much of our speed or heading.

About 2 hundred yards short of the mark on the down wind leg I had the crew re-reef the main sail so that we were prepared to come back up onto a close haul for the next upwind leg. Always make sure you do this is plenty of time. Being 50 yards early is better than being past the mark and still messing with the reefing where you’ll loose valuable time.

We had two downwind legs and 3 upwind legs so we had to reef – unreef – reef – unreef – then reef again. Good practise for the crew and the barking captain – right? Wrong Captains never bark!

In our sailboat race on new years day, we elected to reef the main sail about 25% (2 reefing points) to reduce the rounding up effect. See last blog on rounding up. But we left the head sail fully out. The reason for not reefing the head sail was because a reefed roller furling head sail never really behaves efficiently due to the disturbance on the sail created by a bunched luff. IE the rolled sail on the leading edge doesn’t allow for smooth wind flow over the sail. Also the sail shape is always not quite how you want it. Even tho you move the cars forward, the shape is never how you’d want it. But if the wind conditions had gotten any worse then we’d be forced to reef the head sail as well.

Admittedly we didn’t do too well in the race but at least we all did our best and had a great start to the new year.