Appendices -- Useful Supplemental Information

Reefs and Reefing

The language and practice of reefing are often misunderstood. Below is an attempt to elucidate, which can be ignored by old salts, but may straighten out a thing or two for newcomers to the world of small-craft sails.

REEFING is to reduce the area of a sail by tying up a portion of it -- the BUNT. The whole affair, comprising LUFF and LEECH REEF GROMMETS, the PENDANTS rove through them, and the POINTS across the sail for tying up the BUNT, is called a REEF. Alternatively: a ROW, or SET, or LINE of REEF POINTS. If you want a sail with a single reef, please do not ask for “one reef point.”

Luff and leech reef GROMMETS are the spur grommets, hand-sewn rings, or hydraulic rings set in reinforced (patched) areas at each end of the reef.
They become the new tack and clew grommets when the sail is reefed. A century ago, the same job was done by CRINGLES, made of a single strand of rope spliced into the bolt rope, or made into a grommet through hand-worked holes in the sail. Although technically incorrect, “cringle” is still often used interchangeably with “grommet.”

Reef PENDANTS are the lines that haul down and secure the luff and leech reef grommets. In very small boats, where it is easy to reach both ends of the boom without crawling out on deck or leaning over the transom, the pendants might be made up as in the illustration (lifted from Jan Adkins’ “The Craft of Sail”). In larger boats it is usual and prudent to have the reef pendants led through blocks to cleats where they can be accessed without exposing the crew to hazard. (See article on sailmaker's reef pendant fairleads on this page.) Winches and jam cleats might come into play. If the pendants are not rove off and ready for use when it pipes up and it’s time to reef, you’ll be sorry. Too many small-boat sailors trust to being able to take a reef “on the beach.”

The LUFF GROMMET for each reef should arrive near the original tack of the sail when pulled down with the pendant, and be held there against upward and rearward pull.

The LEECH GROMMET should be pulled down and aft by its pendant, so the cheek blocks for the leech pendant are placed to act as both downhaul and outhaul.

Reef POINTS are light lines or cord middled and stopper-knotted in small spur grommets set in (usually) diamond-shaped patches spaced at intervals (about 15 - 20” on small sails) across the line of the reef. Their purpose is to tie up the BUNT -- the portion of the sail below the reef. A century ago they were called nettles, or earlier, knittles. Both terms are still sometimes used, but amount to an affectation. The REEF KNOT (otherwise known as square knot or double overhand knot), sometimes slipped, is the standard way to join the points around the bunt. Points should hang down both sides of the sail equally, to facilitate reefing on both tacks. Points higher up in the sail, in the second or third reefs, are longer as needed to easily encircle the bigger bunt. The points are set slightly below the line established by the luff and leech grommets -- to insure the heavy strain comes on the latter, not the points. Points should NOT be tied around the boom, but should pass between the foot of the sail and the boom. This keeps the bunt a little higher, and therefore less likely to obscure vision. It also minimizes the chance of tearing out a point if one is tied tighter than its neighbors -- the foot tabling or boltrope provides a cushion, where the boom would not. If the foot is in a slotted boom, you have no choice, of course. In traditional vertical cut sails with narrow panels, grommets for points are sometimes put in where the cloth is doubled at the seams, eliminating the need for diamond patches. Racing sailors often leave out the points altogether, instead passing a lacing line ‘round and ‘round through the spur grommets to tie up the bunt -- the theory being that the sail will be faster without all those reef points dangling there to interfere with smooth airflow.

REEF BANDS offer an alternative to separate patches for points. A narrow strip of sailcloth is sewn clear across the sail from the luff to leach, and the grommets for points are spaced along it. The strip can be doubled back on itself in a “Z” at the wanted intervals, making a strong place for the spur grommets. Reef bands can be sewn on by rolling the sail into a scroll to pass through the sewing machine. In large sails, where getting the middle of the sail into the sewing machine is difficult or impossible, this is the preferred alternative. In full-batten sails, the lower batten pockets can double as reef bands. Luff and leech grommets and the reef-point grommets are put in immediately under the batten, which helps keep the foot of the reefed sail stretched and makes for a particularly tidy reef. Reef bands and batten pockets have to be put on “slack,” with the sail somewhat stretched, to avoid the sail being “gathered.”

REEFS are usually drawn to reduce the sail area by something between 15% and 25% each. And old rule of thumb for Bermudan sails was to put the first reef up one fifth the length of the luff. Reefs are not drawn parallel to the foot of the sail when there is a boom -- they should be higher by several inches at the leech than at the luff. This is to ensure that the boom will, if anything, be topped up a little higher with each reef -- for safety. The longer and heavier the boom, the more the reef should be tipped up. All but a very few well-informed designers draw their reefs parallel to the boom -- it is the job of the sailmaker to correct that when making the sail. In boomless sails, like jibs and some sprits‘ls or lugs‘ls, the reef must be drawn so the reefed sail will still sheet properly to the original sheet lead. The exact line of the reef is determined with a simple bit of geometry. It will not be parallel to the foot, but will slope up aft.

SLAB REEFING is just another name for reefing as described above -- sometimes applied to a big-boat/racing variant in which the bunt is not tied up at all, a technique not suitable to small craft where the untethered bunt would obscure vision.

JIFFY REEFING is another variant, with special reference to the system in which the pendants are kept rove through or spliced into the grommets and led through blocks to cleats handy to the helm -- a sensible arrangement especially for single-handed small craft.

Sailmakers occasionally see damage associated with reefing. Failure to untie one of the points before raising the sail, or accidentally tying in a point from a reef higher up, can result in a torn out grommet or patch. To prevent damage caused by the leech pendant crushing the clew of the sail, there’s an alternative way of reeving it -- see the article “The Bypass Reef” elsewhere on this page.

Return to Listings