New Reefing System

This is something I have wanted to do for some time. I began to comment on reefing a Mirror dinghy sail and saw the ideas of Mr David Sumner who lives in southern England and is very serious about his Mirror cruising. When taking a boat out for more than a couple of hours, there are precautions to take, especially having a proper anchor, oars and, above all, the possibility of shortening sail. That is of course on top of the usual safety equipment like VHF, mobile phone, life jacket and suitable clothing like a wet or dry suit, flares, signalling mirror, bailer or bilge pump, fog horn, etc. Thus, if we are hit by bad weather, we have a much better chance of surviving and keeping the boat intact for the next outing.

My first reefing system was something like that of the young Australian in the other article. He uses a single line. I thought this would be great, because of the principle of Occam’s Razor – the simpler it is, the more reliable it will be. The problem is that tightening both the tack and the clew of the reefing line together will cause friction and wear to the sail. His system is fine for him, because his boat has a bermudian rig. A gunter rig, such as the Mirror has, needs a device to keep the yard (gaff) close to the mast. I devised a sliding strap, but it made it difficult to hoist the yard because of friction. There was another difficulty – the impossibility of dropping the mainsail altogether in a big blow and getting the boat to the shore by rowing or waiting out the storm at anchor (or sea anchor).

Some time ago, I discovered this video of David Sumner’s boat, already in my previous article on reefing.

I then contacted him, and he has sent me drawings, which I will not reproduce here. He is a member of the Dinghy Cruising Association in England and frequently posts to Openboat. If you join this e-mail list, Mr Sumner’s drawings can be found in the files section.

I did the job today with my boat rigged up in the back yard. My new system is based very closely on Mr Sumner’s. The second halyard is identical and runs from a pulley shackled to the top of the mast. The clew reefing line is the same, and the tack reefing line runs from the mast and not the boom, reflecting the cunningham line for the normal rig.

Now for photos. To avoid confusion, the explanations of all the photos are above the photos they describe.

In the first photo, I have followed Mr Sumner’s advice and dispensed with the standard Mirror whipping of the luff to the mast. It is not necessary. However, I have included a tack strap to keep the tack close to the mast. My outhaul is the blue rope using a pulley system and running to a the starboard cleat at the foot of the mast. The yellow rope is the tack reefing line. The cunningham runs to the port cleat at the bottom of the mast. I have distanced the jib halyard from everything to avoid confusion. The reefing halyard is red and runs to a clam cleat in the centre of the mast (main halyard on the starboard mast cleat and the jib halyard to the port mast cleat).

normal-port1This is the normal rig from the port side. The reefing halyard  runs up to its point on the yard. The yard is hauled up as far as it will go on the normal main halyard.

normal-port2Going round to the starboard side, the clew reefing line is seen in a clamcleat on the boom. The tack reefing line (yellow) runs from its point of attachment on the mast, through the tack and back down to the cleat which you cannot see on this photo.

normal-sbd1At the top of the mast, starboard side, the reef halyard pulley is clearly seen, as are the two fixing points on the yard. The other pulley forward of the mast is for the jib halyard. I wanted the reef halyard in blue rope, but the ship chandler didn’t have enough, so I had to buy my 5 mm rope in red. There’s no confusion, because the two halyards are in different places.

normal-sbd2You then release the main halyard and the boom drops, unless you use topping lifts that hold the boom up when there is no tension on the leech of the sail. You then haul up the yard by the reef halyard as far as it will go, then cleat the halyard.

boom-droppedHere is the yard on the reef halyard.

reefed-sbdYou then pull in the clew and tack reefing lines, and you get this. The mainsheet isn’t on. This is my back yard and not the beach! You can still see my blue outhaul line inspired by the Laser system, so the foot of the sail can be adjusted at sea as can the cunningham. But neither are in use when the sail is reefed.

sail-reefedIt now suffices to tie up the sail using reef knots. This is where the name of this knot came from – left over right and right over left. The sail is reefed, and this operation is possible at sea. It is advisable to anticipate bad weather. To quote Shakespeare: Better three hours too soon than a minute too late. Well, perhaps not three hours, but at least in plenty of time before it really starts to blow.

reefed-portI have also adopted Mr Sumner’s jib dropping system. You release the halyard and pull the top of the jib down using a fine rope that passes through a pulley fixed to the foredeck. When the jib is down, you just tie it into a bundle with the “down-haul” cord. You then sail with the reefed mainsail alone – just get the tacks right so as not to get “in irons”. If that does happen, you push on the boom and push the tiller the other way. You then get a beam wind and then you “re-boot” the boat by pumping the mainsail to get beyond the initial inertia.

Then you get the hell out of it!

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4 Responses to New Reefing System

  1. Juan de la Fuente says:

    Thanks Anthony for all this detailed explanations.

    Sure I’ll try to adapt these clever solutions on my own mirror rigged Tabur.


  2. Juan de la Fuente says:

    Hi Anthony, I am still waiting to get hold of all the bits and pieces I need to start my mirror rigged Tabur 320 project, but am already going thru the whole construction in my mind and I keep stumbling on a couple of problems.

    First thing is the gaff spar, which whatever way I look into it seems to be a weak spot, and from what I am reading around, almost everybody has had splitting up problems. I am not surprised as the gluing of two pieces + the weakness the luff channel represents for the slim cross section, + the fact that you need special tools to build that piece… makes me think that perhaps I would rather have the sail laced around the spar. That way the spar would be much more resistant, while modifying the sail by simply adapting holes along the luff seems a much simpler affair.

    The luff channel in the spar seems to have all technical disadvantages but none of the advantages of a full length Bermudian rig, which is so easy to handle and reef.

    So, I can’t think of any disadvantage about lacing the gaff instead. A simple 1 cm indent along the gaff rather than a sliding channel should be enough to bring the luff tight against the gaff and avoid it swivelling or twisting away from the central position, and would harmonise it with the lacing around the mast below the gaff to obtain a nice sail shape.

    I don’t imagine the lacing entangling with blocks or shrouds up or down because when the gaff is brought up or down I guess it is away from the mast until the last moment when the halyard is tensed. I am trying to imagine all this because I actually have no experience handling a gunter.

    Do you think I may be missing a point somewhere in this?

    The other thing is bothering me is the fact that the mirror jib has such foot length that it probably forces it to rub against the shrouds, cannot be trimmed very close to the wind on an upwind course, and the large overlap continues to give me the feeling that tacking will be troublesome at times. This is because the mast in the Mirror is further away from the front end of the boat than the Tabur, thus I get the feeling the jib size doesn’t quite match this arrangement.

    But yet, you haven’t mentioned this problem in your sailing experience with this rig and you are the only one experienced here.

    Anyway, at the moment I’m having to wait before I get hands on the project. But as the saying goes in carpentry…measure twice, cut once.

    Best wishes from Barcelona,


    • I have no problem with the gaff with stainless steel screws to hold it together. Lacing the sail to the gaff is the old way of doing it. See

      Here is an interesting forum discussion on gunter rigs.

      The advantage of the gunter rig is taking the boat under a bridge on a river and for transport. To reef the sail, you have to have two halyards as on the classical gaff rig. You have to make holes and grommets (eyes) in the luff of the sail. If you use this method, you can have a round section gaff which is better looking.

      I imagine no problem with the pulleys. You have two halyard pulleys and the fittings for the topping lifts if you use them (they prevent the boom from dropping as you release the halyard to reef the sail or to drop it completely. With a gunter rig, the gaff must be pulled up tight against the mast whether is normal or reefed position, and you will have the same shape of sail as with the Bermudian rig. Unless this is so, you will not be able to set the sail properly.

      For your question on the jib, I am tempted to try a very short bowsprit to create the same distance between the mast and the bow of the boat as a Mirror. But, be careful about the balance of the boat. With my present arrangement, I still have a light weather helm. If you have lee helm, if you fall out of the boat, it will sail downwind away from you. The alternative is a smaller jib. With my present arrangement, it seems to work like the genoa of a large boat, and the jib sheet is outside the shrouds. Even when close hauled, the jib does not touch the shrouds, but takes some of the wind out of the mainsail. Trimming is quite difficult.

  3. Dave Lunn says:

    Hi there, nice blog and nice to see another fellow Christian sailor. I’m working on modifying my Mirror for sailing on the south coast of the UK, David Sumners cruising ground. Do you have an email address for him, and do you still have the reefing system drawings he sent you? Knowing the layout of the blocks could save me a lot of time in trial and a lot of error. Thanks. David

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