An Up-to-date Wayfarer Sail-Shortening Compendium
May 2009
Uncle Al's note: This comprehensive overview of reefing and other sail-shortening methods is the brain child of Dick Harrington. His brief summary of the possibilities follows, and we have added appendices that provide complte detail and ample illustration.
REDUCING SAIL by Dick Harrington

I am not among the most accomplished dinghy sailors.  On the other hand, I’ve been very lucky to enjoy more than my share of adventuresome cruising on some fantastic waters.  These experiences have taught me a few tricks.  No doubt others will not agree with everything I say, but my intent is to offer a balance of views where appropriate.  Readers seriously considering cruising would be wise to seek other advice as well.
Too conservative?  The summer of 2001 found me participating in a cruise on the Irish Sea in the company of a good friend and fine English gentleman.  The skipper had asked me to join him on a two-boat, four-day adventure crossing the Irish Sea from Scotland to Northern Ireland, and then sailing south along the Belfast coast to Strangford Lough.  There we would join the International Wayfarer Championships and Cruising Rally being hosted by East Down Yacht Club.  While others, including our wives, would cross these normally choppy waters via car ferry, we would be in our 16-foot dinghies.  I was nervous.  Based upon what I had heard about the Irish Sea, I expected tough sailing.
Thus, it was a wondrous relief to sail off the gently sloping, sandy beach at picturesque Port Logan, Scotland, under partly sunny skies, warm temperatures, and a gentle breeze.  Soon, however, my mood changed.  Beset by light and variable winds, we were struggling to keep pace with the other Wayfarer--our progress in making the 19 nm crossing was going painfully slow, raising doubts in our minds.  Meanwhile, the others had to luff sails, waiting for us to catch up.  Frustrated, I began to take notice of a few things. 
Though the skipper is a stout man (he likes to joke about how many “stone” he weighs), his wife is a diminutive lady.  To please the missus they had installed a small ‘mini’ reef in the main.  This remained permanently tied in.  Following some discussion and untying of hard knots, the reef was out.  But there was nothing I could do about the down-sized “cruising” genoa, nor the heavily laden condition of our boat.  We had too much stuff. 
Late in the afternoon we were still three to four miles from our destination, Donaghadee Harbor, on the Belfast coast.  The wind had departed entirely and the tide, having turned foul and running strong, was rapidly carrying us back out to sea toward a dangerously busy shipping lane.  Luckily the skipper had an engine. 
My opinion:  In regions where winds often blow strong, it is not a bad idea to employ a ‘mini’ reef (a small trimming reef) or cruising genoa.  Unfortunately, my friend’s boat was slow, and though he knew it, he was content to be a conservative sailor.  As a result, neither of us was having much fun.  Even when on a cruise, the importance of boat speed should not be underestimated.  Had we been able to keep up with our companions, the need for the engine likely would not have arisen.
When to reef?  I feel I will never need to reef for our usual cruising (or racing) sails of no more than four hours at one go for the following reasons: In overpowering winds (12 to perhaps 25 knots) I can reach or beat comfortably under full sail.  Downwind, I go under jib (genoa) alone as soon as the winds get up enough to make me fear a “death roll” (say 15+ knots while cruising) – in an emergency, I know that I can sail the W upwind under genoa alone but would not want to do so for more than a few hundred meters (too much effort!). In 20 knots or more, I would feel very comfortable using the trysail on all points of sail.”             By Al Schonborn              
My opinion:  I have sailed enough times with Uncle Al to say that he isn’t exaggerating regarding his abilities.  Outstanding sailors of Al’s ability can handle lots of wind without reefing.  Many of us have learned a great deal in this respect from listening to Uncle Al.  However, as Al points out, going without reefing is achievable for limited periods of time, in upwind conditions; downwind is a different story.  Those engaged in the cruising game know there comes a time when even the best need to reef.  Obviously, when and how much is dependent upon the individual skill and comfort levels of skipper and crew.   Recently, for the annual Chesapeake Bay cruise Al has been bringing and using his trysail.  I believe this is not just to please me! 
Slab (Jiffy) Reefing.  This is the most common, easiest and fastest method for reefing.  Most readers are familiar with the basic principles.  There is good “how to do” information (photos and diagrams) contained in The Wayfarer Book.  Space limitations preclude me from including this kind of detail.  A few additional sources are:; Tom Graefe,; Ralph Roberts,; Ton Jaspers,; Ken Jensen
When I feel Blue Mist is starting to become overpowered, meaning she is heeling excessively and wants to round up, I take in a reef.  If I’ve been working hard beating to windward, it is tough giving up the ground resulting from heaving to.  With someone on the helm, or single handed in moderate conditions, a reef can be taken in quickly without heaving to.  Some who are more conservative may not agree with this.  I simply luff both sails, let off the vang, put the tiller on the bungee amidships, and then pull down the reef. 
When reefing, or handling the jib, my routine is to work from the starboard side of the mast.  This is a safe and secure spot when Blue Mist is bouncing around.  I am right-handed; a left-handed person may find port to be better.  I prefer rope halyards cleated at the mast.  Blue Mist has to be brought on starboard tack, preferably a beam reach.  A common practice used by many is to take up as much as possible on the reefing clew line, such that the outboard end of the boom becomes elevated before lowering the main.  Usually this means that the vang has to first be disconnected.  Following this sequence assures that the end of the boom and sail do not hit the water, or more importantly, the head of the helmsman.  If you would rather not disconnect the vang, the mainsail can be eased down in a couple of steps, while keeping an eye on the end of the boom.  It’s a bit riskier but saves time and hassle with the vang—more important if single-handed.  The mainsail should come down easily without undue tugging.  Some skippers use a small line at the tack, similar to the Cunningham, to help pull the sail down.  I’ve found this isn’t necessary, preferring a reefing hook instead.  I don’t think it makes much difference.    
With practice, a reef can be completed (not counting intermediate ties) in about a minute.  Such quickness and ease are comforting and can be an important safety factor.  If things at the time are a little dicey, skip the intermediate ties until later.  Making up these ties requires bringing the boom inboard, which can be less safe and takes more time.  The problem with loose sail hanging beneath the boom is restriction of the helmsman’s vision to leeward; it has no effect on boat handling.  With “quick ties” (see below) it is often possible to catch the first couple of intermediate reefing points without too much trouble.  This will resolve most of the helmsman’s vision problem.   
Intermediate quick ties.  Cruising folks are always coming up with new and better methods.  A recent innovation uses bungees with balls, or Tiger Ties, for doing up the intermediate reefing points.  These are quick and easy to use and work like a charm.  See  You can also contact Ton Jaspers -
One Reef vs. Two? -  Normal Reef vs. Deep?  These are the usual questions that arise.  To my knowledge there are no standards.  Location and number of reefs seems to vary depending upon individual skippers and the whims of sailmakers.  The following are my observations, as well as what I’ve gleaned from the Wayfarer Book and studying photos in the UKWA Wayfarer News.
The most common system, I shall term normal reefing:  first reef running a few inches (maybe 4”-5”) below the first batten; second reef at about an equal distance in height above the first, approximately half way between the first and second battens.  When double-reefed, the main should have its headboard about even with the mast tang (where the stays meet the mast). 
A deep reef runs several inches above the 1st batten; possibly half-way between the normal system’s first and second reefs.  In northern latitudes, where winds tend to be stronger, the added comfort and security of a deep reef can offset the speed penalty posed by the greater sail reduction.  In The Netherlands, where untamed winds blow unobstructed off the North Sea, I learned that even sailing on the canals can be challenging.  My friend, Ton Jaspers, uses one deep reef, without a second reef.  Thus, economics can come into play, too!  The smaller mainsail area resulting from the deep reef, when combined with a full-size genoa, can very well pose a lee helm problem.  Switching to a roll-reefing genoa system (as Ton has), or smaller cruising genoa, would be worth considering. For more details contact Ton Jaspers. 
Double reefed.  Sometimes in the UKWA Wayfarer News there are photos taken at UK rallies showing boats double-reefed.  I guess I should be happy I don’t have to sail in the UK too often.  (I don’t really mean that!)  For me, going to the second reef is usually a last resort, a point at which I’m no longer having much fun!  On the other hand, I wouldn’t cruise without having a second reef available.  I’ve had to double-reef during coastal cruises in Maine, but only on a handful of occasions.  Once you are double-reefed, it will likely be wiser to sail under main alone. Never try to fly the genoa as well—the lee helm will be far too dangerous.  I have found that even my small jib will make the boat exhibit lee-helm tendencies.  If you know before setting out that conditions will require a double reef, the trysail is a better choice of sails.  (See Trysail below.)
My opinion.  For the waters I’ve enjoyed cruising in North America, the combination of normal first and second reefs seems to offer the best versatility.  Casual weekend cruisers who occasionally participate in a cruising event, such as a rally, should be able to get by with a single reef.  This is sufficient for the majority of situations encountered and reduces expense.  When having reefing points installed, don’t assume the sailmaker knows what’s best.  I have seen some disappointing mistakes made by sailmakers who may not be familiar with Wayfarer-style cruising. So be clear about what you want.
Roll Reefing.  In August of ’97, while cruising on the North Channel of Lake Huron with four Wayfarers and a CL-16, we awoke one morning to a breezy day that suggested putting in a reef.  However, two of our boats were manned by newcomers and were not equipped for reefing.  On Blue Mist with me was Englishman, David Sleightholm, a very personable and experienced Wayfarer cruiser who had flown over to join our event.  David, a member of the Royal London Mounted Police was a tall, good looking guy, with an impressive physique.  So it was decided he should sail with one of the less experienced skippers.  But David had an even better idea: he would teach us how to install a roll reef.  This was something entirely new to me and I was surprised to find out how easy it was to accomplish.
Before the advent of ball bearing blocks and all that other fancy hi-tech gear, there was roll reefing.  Early fishermen and watermen working their small inshore sailing craft efficiently reduced sail by rolling it around a mast or boom.  A working vessel needed to have a simple rig, for practical as well as economic reasons, and a cockpit that was clear and open.  Mainsail sheeting typically ran aft to the transom.  This in turn permitted the sail to be easily rolled around a boom.
As recently as 1957 Ian Proctor designed the Wayfarer to allow reefing by rolling the main around the boom.  Frank Dye employed boom-end sheeting and roll reefing.  In the film Frank made while crossing the North Sea from Scotland to Norway, there is a sequence showing Frank and Bill Brockbank rolling in a reef.  Wanderer rises and falls in humongous seas--it’s a bit scary!
Roll reefing requires boom end sheeting, with the mainsheet jammer mounted on the transom traveler.  Those of us who’ve grown up with modern center-boom sheeting will find the ‘feel’ of transom sheeting strange at first.  I’ve experienced it—you get used to it.  Another great friend, renowned Norwegian adventurer, Ken Jensen--who has many outstanding sailing exploits to his name, swears by boom-end sheeting and roll reefing.  With the mainsheet jammer on the transom, the cockpit is roomier.  Roll reefing allows customizing the size of a reef to better suit conditions.  Over the years, Ken has devised a few tricks making roll reefing faster and easier to perform.  For details contact Ken Jensen -
W-Trysail.  “The W-trysail is a back-up sail for safer cruising in gale-force winds.  It has been used/tested in earnest during wind velocity of about 18-20 m/sec., but never close-hauled against heavy breaking seas (1 m+).  It can be used on a reach/run together with the jib or genoa, the latter partly furled/rolled for reasons of balance.
The standard W-genoa has an area of 4,27 sq.m, a good size for a W-trysail hoisted on the mast as mainsail and with no foresail, and used in rough conditions, 30kts+, depending upon which way you are heading in relation to wind and waves/breakers.  About eight years ago our Scandinavian Chairman, Poul Ammentorp, had a ‘medium’ genoa made by McNamara, UK, and this was a sail to my liking, so I had the same made for W1348’Maitken’ with a top that could slide into the slot/groove of the mast.  This is now my permanent, ‘ready to go’, W-trysail stowed on a spinnaker boom under the side-decks.”  By Ken Jensen-W1348‘Maitken’
Ken Jensen has spent his life knocking around the marvelous fjords of Norway, as well as the rough waters of the Skagerrak and Kattegat seas.  The fjords are notorious for spawning vicious, unpredictable winds coming off the mountain sides.  To survive such heavy weather situations, he has pioneered the Wayfarer trysail.
Genoa reefing.  The Winter 2008 (issue 114), Wayfarer News, carries an extensive and comprehensive review of two popular European genoa reefing systems.  So if you are thinking of upgrading an existing jib furling system, or purchasing new, this is required reading.  See
A much abbreviated synopsis of the two systems (as I understand it):
  • The Helyar system comes as a kit, the key item being a flexible luff spar.  There appears to be some other associated bits and pieces—not sure what they are. This is designed to adapt to a standard furling drum, such as that sold by Harken.  There are two types of spars.  The first generation slides over an existing genoa luff, straddling the luff wire and sail.  The second generation is an improvement, being more torsionally rigid, resulting in a better set of sail at all sizes.  This second spar, however, fits inside the luff tube (sleeve) of the genoa, thus requiring modification to the sail.    
  • The Bartels system appears to be the Cadillac.  The principal difference between the two is the reefing spar fitted at the luff.  The Bartels consists of a more sophisticated, rigid, two-piece extruded aluminum airfoil shape.  Unlike the Helyar, both the genoa luff rope and the forestay are housed within the spar.  (This appears pretty neat—but see my comments below.)  Other features include a high quality furling drum and a superior top swivel design.  In general, the Bartels’ overall construction seems to be considered a step above anything else.  The genoa needs to have a special size luff rope, designed to fit within the spar.  An existing genoa can be modified, but purchasing a new sail from a sailmaker familiar with the Bartels system might be the wise way to go.  If money is no object, well ...!  (Comment:  In the event of a catastrophic equipment failure it might prove tricky trying to take down the genoa without dropping the mast—one suggestion is to employ the spinnaker halyard as a temporary forestay.  With the Helyar system, with a hard forestay, the genoa can be lowered.)   For more about the Bartels contact Ton Jaspers -       
Editor, Ray Scragg, writes in his introduction: “Why reef?  Once the wind reaches force 4, the rig can be unnecessarily powerful for cruising; we are unlikely to want to be sitting hard out or plane flat out.  The main and genoa will also be inappropriately large for maneuvering safely—tacking and gibing for example.  A backed genoa is notorious for causing a capsize when a sheet gets caught.”  and… “A reefed Wayfarer can often keep up to windward with an unreefed boat.  Only once the windward mark is rounded will the unreefed boat storm away on a plane.  So cruising is about nice, balanced handling and navigation, rather than scary stuff—and there is no doubt about it—a reefed Wayfarer becomes a different animal—still fast-but instilling the feeling of confidence and enjoyment needed to enjoy a passage.”
Ray concludes: “There has been so much development in the more versatile genoa reefing systems recently that I thought it would be good to review them in this issue – I will move on to mainsail reefing in the spring edition.  Genoa reefing development has been mirrored by considerable discussion on the Wayfarer Forum, too.”

I: Slab (a.k.a. Jiffy) Reefing
the Ton Jaspers and the Dick Harrington system
the Bob Harland system  (used with the kind permission of the UKWA W News)
the Matt Sharman system (used with the kind permission of the UKWA W News)

II: Roll Reefing
Ken Jensen sings the praises of roller reefing

III: the Wayfarer trysail
Ken Jensen talks about Uncle Al's favourite method of shortening sail

IV: Reefing the Genoa
Dave Barker explains the Bartels genoa furling/reefing system (used with the kind permission of the UKWA W News)
David Williams explains the Helyar genoa furling/reefing system (used with the kind permission of the UKWA W News)