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A Roller Reefing System for Dinghies

One day in the early 80s my family, five of us, were sailing our Wayfarer on Ullswater enjoying a sunny but rather windy day. We just had the Genoa up, sailing down wind and having fun. One of the problems of sailing near high ground, however, is the effect the terrain has on the wind strength and direction. On this occasion, we were under control, one might say we were being cautious  with only the smallest sail set, but danger was just ahead. We progressed towards Glenridding from Pooley Bridge with the wind, NE force 4 to 5. As we reach abeam Yew Crag on Gowbarrow Park, which forms a large wall almost down to the shore, the wind direction backed 80 degrees and accelerated to force 5 to 6. Needless to say, the situation changed rapidly from being under powered to over powered, from being on an even keel to being over on our side! The drama did end there without the need to test the buoyancy capability of either our Wayfarer or our life jackets. Other dinghies, less stable than a Wayfarer, would probably have capsized, we only had a difficult situation to deal with, resolved by releasing the jib sheet.

However, once the rush of adrenaline had subsided, the question, "How can I make my sailing safer?" quickly came to mind! I looked into the possibilities of reefing the Genoa but there was nothing available on the market so I decided to try and make my own. To my mind, the problems posed were size, space and the fact that most Wayfarers are kept in dingy parks, all of which make the conventional metal foil used on yachts impractical. "What do you do with a 5 mtr pole when you are not using it?"  However, some form of tube was required to wrap the sail round to make the system function. My idea to solve the problem was to have a tube sufficiently flexible to allow it to remain attached to the sail at all times. I designed a system that successfully reefs the Genoa and generates a stable and good sail shape. As important to me though, was the question what you do with the reefing system when you have finished sailing? The solution is, furl the Genoa, unshackle the halyard from the top swivel, remove the furling drum from the bow and then, because the reefing tube is flexible, roll the whole thing up into two circles and stow it in the sail bag. It is that simple and a joy to use. Rigging is the reverse procedure and stunningly quick!

The first occasion I used my reefing system in anger was again in the Lake District. This time we were sailing on Derwent Water near Keswick with a gentle southerly breeze. As we progressed towards Borrowdale, where the valley sides close down to a funnel, the wind picked up rapidly and we needed to reef. This time, however, there was no problem, we furled the Genoa away completely, reefed the Main Sail and then in our own time, let out enough of the Genoa to give the correct balance, and off we went, upright and in control with properly reefed sails.

The flexibility that a reefing system gives you is not just in shortening sail but also the speed with which you can adapt to improving conditions. By just releasing the furling line and pulling on a jib sheet you have a full Genoa again. No need to change the sails back and forth!

At the Wayfarer Cruising Conference in 2002, I demonstrated my reefing system in public for the first time and I was very pleased with the reception it got.  A problem the more experienced cruising sailors have had to resolve over the years, without the benefit of a practical reefing system, has been how to change the foresails without getting out on the bow. The conventional way of coping with this conundrum has been to have two sails attached at the bow. When the time comes to change sail, the procedure requires releasing the halyard and lowering the sail, unshackling the top of one sail and attaching the other before hoisting the new sail. A very cunning and clever way of avoiding going to the bow in bad weather but there is still the need to carry two if not three sails.

What is the advantage of having a reefing system then?

Primarily, I would say, it is the ability it gives the crew to reduce sail quickly and then balance the Main Sail with the reefed Genoa, depending on whether one or two reefs have been put in the Main Sail.

It allows the Genoa to be reduced to a size the crew feels comfortable with in the prevailing conditions, even down to pocket handkerchief if, heaven forbid, you are sailing in such severe weather.

There is no need to "play" with shackles while changing sails Where there is the possibility of either losing the shackle or worst still, the halyard.

Lastly, you only need to carry one foresail and not a complete set.


Whenever we go sailing probably the weather is the single most significant factor which is going to influence how much fun, excitement, discomfort or anxiety we will have. The forecast will give us an idea what to expect but in many cases, so long as it is not too frightening, we will go out and enjoy the pleasures of sailing in our brilliant Wayfarers and come back home refreshed in spirit ready to take on whatever the world has to throw at us.

Occasionally the world has rather too much to throw at us when we are still out in the boat though! Perhaps the forecast was wrong or we had not appreciated the full effect of how the terrain actually influences the strength and direction of the wind.

Assuming we are not going to be put off by the forecast, let us consider how we can improve the capability of both the boat and ourselves so that we can cope with deteriorating conditions?

By reducing sail area you will dramatically improve boat control as the wind picks up and practicing how you reduce sail area will not only dramatically improve your ability to cope with the changing conditions but make the whole experience more enjoyable.

So how do we reduce sail area?

Main Sail Slab Reefing

Reefing the Main Sail has two benefits

  1. It reduces sail area.
  2. The resulting smaller sail is lower reducing the tipping effect.

What is required?

  1. Two rows of Reefing Eyes across the sail which can be added retrospectively to a sail in good condition or put in when the sail is made. Rough cost about £45/row
  2. The reefing lines, cleats and blocks to make it work simply and effectively.  Rough cost about £80

Reducing the area of the fore-sail

There are two possibilities

  1. Changing the sail while under way
  2. Using a Genoa Reefing system

Changing the sail while under way

The traditional way of reducing the power of the fore-sail is to change the genoa for a jib and if that is still too big to change down again to a storm jib.

On the face of it this may sound a tricky manoeuvre but with planning it can be achieved without much fuss. If the spinnaker halyard is used as a second fore-sail halyard it is possible to have two sails rigged with one deployed while the other is rolled and stowed along the side of the fore-deck. When the need arises to use the other sail, lower one and hoist the other. Such an arrangement removes the need to swap halyard shackles if using just the normal jib halyard. A snap shackle can be used to swap the jib sheets from one sail to the other.


  1. A simple set up, no lines, furling gear or cleat.
  2. A fixed, known sail area.
  3. No possibility of having a line jam on the furling drum.


  1. Have to purchase at least two sails, possibly three.
  2. Inconvenience of have sail rolled on the fore-deck, especially if it is the Genoa.
  3. The complexity of rigging more than one sail

Using a Genoa Reefing system

Genoa reefing systems have been used on yachts for about for a hundred years but it is only recently that a practical design has been developed specifically for dinghies. The two types of boat are used is very different ways. Yachts generally stay in the water, the masts, the reefing foil or spar, and sails stay in place all year round. Dinghies are normally kept in dinghy parks, the sails and gear are taken home and the mast is raised and lowered for tailing to new cruising grounds or when passing under bridges.

The mobility of the Wayfarer makes the conventional delicate aluminium foil impractical for a number of reasons. To overcome these inherent problems a new concept of using a flexible plastic spar attached to the luff of the sail and not the fore-stay has evolved.

When the genoa is rigged and the luff and spar are pulled straight, using one of the normal tensioning devices, the system behaves just as it would on a yacht. The bottom of the spar is rotated using a conventional furling drum which turns the spar along its length rolling the sail away until the desired area is left.

On completion of sailing, with the genoa furled and all the gear, top and bottom, still attached to the sail, detach the drum from the bow and slide it into a long narrow sail bag. The halyard is lowered until the furled sail is in the bag and all that is left to do is unshackle the top. Being a flexible spar the bag can be rolled along its length into a circle and easily transported without fear of doing any damage.


  1. Only one fore-sail is necessary and can be quickly and simply adjusted to any size to balance either one or two reefs in the Main Sail.
  2.  Conditions not only get worse they occasionally even get better again, so it is nice to have a genoa rather than just a jib to use in light airs.
  3. Rigging and removing the genoa with the reefing system is quick and simple.


1. The possibility of having the furling line jam on the drum. This can be avoided by maintaining a small amount tension on the line when the sail is being deployed which will keep a tidy, tight winding on the drum.
2. The cost of purchasing the furling gear and spar. Many cruising Wayfarers will already have the furling equipment, and often that gear will be just what is necessary. That leaves just the need to purchase the spar.
3. The Mk1 spar has the tendency to unwind a turn or two at the top in gusty conditions. This is not harmful to the sail or the spar and is probably an indication that not quite enough sail has been reefed. The simple solution is to put a couple more turns in. The Mk2 spar has been developed to overcome this problem as well as bring other refinements Genoa Reefing.

And Finally

The information above is there to help you make your own decisions about whether or not you need any reefing equipment and to let you know what is available. However, one of the best ways of finding out about reefing and cruising in general is to attend the Wayfarer Cruising Conference where there is expert advice available in a friendly if sometime climatically chilly environment.

Charity sale for Sail4Cancer

A Cruising Genoa with a built in Mk2 Flexible Luff Spar Reefing System

A Cruising Genoa specially made by Jeckells as the prototype for the Mk2 Flexible Luff Spar Reefing System plus a complete kit to set up the reefing system is available and all the proceeds will be given to The Wayfarer Association’s chosen charity Sail4Cancer.

The sail has a slightly higher cut foot to improve forward visibility but performed extremely well when tested against a full cut genoa. The jib sheets are of 6mm Marlow Ropes Excel Marston.

The kit comprises:

Telephone Number 01993 702 608

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