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REEFING….Does your boat have the ability to reef?

The ability to reef any cruising boat is very much essential, and Wayfarers are no exception to this rule. Boat performance and more importantly, the safety of the crew (and boat) can all be put at risk should you find yourself caught out with no means to shorten sail. Most cruising mains are made with two slab reefing points which give a very quick and easy way to reduce sail area but more often than not you will find the need to also reduce the foresail size in order to balance the boat again. Traditionally this was achieved by carrying a set of foresails but anyone who has stretched out across the foredeck with the wind howling and waves washing across will know that on the Wayfarer it is not a job for the faint hearted! Rob Helyar’s Second Generation Reefing System changes all that and with a simple pull (or release) of the drum reefing line any size of workable sail can be set (provided the sail is not old and horribly stretched). Don’t be tempted to think that your standard furling system, with only the wire up the luff of the genoa, will do the same job….it does not work!

On numerous days during Taronga’s adventures around the UK, Tony and I have repeatedly put in and shaken out reefs to match the conditions. Most of the way down the North Sea we have met quite squally weather and apart from the odd time when we have ‘pushed’ it with too much sail up, generally we have been able sail relatively comfortably and safely. When the land only shows as a grey smudge on a murky horizon you certainly appreciate this.

Taronga has been fitted for the past 5 years with the original Helyar reefing system which has proved itself again and again. Some might have noticed that I have the luff tensioning below the drum thereby raising the foot of the genoa. I adopted this system initially when cruising with lots of children to keep as much clutter out of the cockpit as possible and also to improve forward vision but as Rob points out, apart from the obvious loss of drive efficiency, a small amount of twist in the tackle below the drum will have a detrimental effect on the set of a reefed sail above. If I can find the time I must try and change it back to the highfield lever with the drum fixed again to the stemhead fitting.

We do still carry a spare jib and storm jib, the latter of which is lashed to the foredeck, complete with attached sheets, ready for quick deployment by way of the spinnaker halyard, should the genoa and reefing system fail. The jib I have modified with the addition of a few mast slot sliders and can now double up as a trysail , but to date, thankfully, has seen no action!
I have also added a third slab reef to the main which we have used surprisingly often. I know a few people have asked why this is necessary and I guess it is the combination of a quite often lumpy sea and diminishing hiking strength during long, long days (not to mention the wind!) that make the resulting ‘handkerchief’ sail so useful.

As with all things, do practice with whatever system you have, be it slab or roller on the main, roller reefing or sail changing on the headsail. The chances are that if you haven’t, when it does come down to the real thing a line will be wrongly threaded, a cleat for the thin reefing line too worn to hold the power of the sail etc etc ….. and things will go from bad to worse. As a guide, a slick reefing of the main should take around 15 to 20 seconds, allowing extra to tidy up the sail with reefing bungees should conditions allow….and if you own a foresail reefing system the crew has it done before the helm has finished asking for it! When you come to the real thing, reef early. Don’t wait and see. It is far easier to shake out a reef than struggle to put one in in a rapidly rising wind.

As a final note….the second generation reefing system is quite an improvement on the first with the flexible furling spar being far more torsionally rigid, resulting in a better set of sail at all sizes. It is not, however, a straight swop between the two as the spar on the later model fits inside the luff of the genoa rather than externally straddling the luff wire and sail. Don’t throw away your old sail though as it is simply a matter of adding a new luff tube which most sail makers should be more than happy to do. Perhaps I should put my money where my mouth is and get in there first!

Safe sailing!

David Williams
‘Taronga’ W9735

Telephone Number 01993 702 608

Email Address

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