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).
Going 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.
At 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.
You 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.
You 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.
It 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.
I 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!