Rough Night and Reefing

Day 166/44

Noon Position: 10 18N 150 04W

Course/Speed: NNW6-7

Wind: E5

Sky: Overcast. High haze to windward; clear to leeward

Cabin Temperature: 88

Water Temperature: 83

Sail: Working sail, single reefs

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 130

Miles this leg: 5,618

Avg. Miles this leg: 125

Miles since departure: 22,723

A night worthy of ridicule, of scorn, of vituperate contumely squared.

I couldn’t see them as there was no visibility, but we must have continued working through squalls after dark. And though it was the greatest good fortune to have wind at all, the wind we got was a torture: back and forth from NE to SE (and even S), from 9 knots to 20 knots every half hour to an hour all night long.

I had a sense things might get interesting given the day we’d had, so I started sleeping right after dinner (8pm). By midnight I gave up sleeping and napped in the pilot house between oscillations. By dawn it–what ever it was–had passed. Winds have been steady and fresh all day. Mo is reaching under single reefs and 7.5 knots is not rare.

Apparently I’ve talked about reefing a fair bit in recent posts, which has given rise to two questions. The first came from my a non-sailor friend who asked why I was still tying knots to reef and hadn’t anything more clever been invented after all these years?

Mo’s headsails are roller furling, I explained, and the main has the standard jiffy reef system, so the only knots being tied are those that occur when the bitter end of the main halyard wraps itself in a loving embrace around my ankle just as I let fly the head of the sail.

Then I was told of this comment on the Figure 8 site from June 5:

Hi Randall,

Just wondering why you are always putting in reefs and then taking them out. Don’t you have any sail controls to flatten out your sails when wind picks up a bit?



Hey Jim,

Short answer: because the wind of late has been stunningly variable. But more to your point…

I presume you are referring primarily to the main. Yes, Mo’s rig has the standard compliment of sail controls. The main track is nice and wide; two block-and-tackle vangs run to each rail; I’ve rigged a Cunningham line through the purpose-built cringle, and there is an outhaul with a measurement strip at the end of the boom.

Of those, the track and the vangs get the most use. Having a vang that runs to each rail, rather than one to the base of the mast, means I not only can control sail shape, I also get much needed boom control devices. At sea, one does not usually have the luxury (or want the luxury) of putting the vessel into the wind to raise, lower, or reef, and having these vangs to act as a counter-pull to the main sheet helps keep things under control. A boom gone wild in a gale at midnight is a fast-pass to disaster.

As regards flattening, my experience on Mo is that that technique really only works at all when I’m sailing close hauled. As I rarely sail above 40 degrees apparent wind, this technique gets little use. The other issue with flattening from my perspective is it tends to de-power the sail, and when close hauled at sea, it seems one is also always bashing into it; so, often, a reefed/powered sail is a better choice (on this boat). For other points of sail, flattening tends to bring *more* of the sail to bear on the wind rather than less.

If I am wanting to buy some time, I’ll usually employ the other tactic; i.e. move the track back towards center, open the head of the sail and let spill that way.

Mo’s suit of sails are made by HOOD and are things of beauty. They’ve been heavily reenforced for the Southern Ocean and were new when I departed San Francisco last October. The main is 465 square feet and weighs as much as I do; it has five full battens with (now) standard roach and lots of extra cloth at the three reef points and extra layers over the reef tacks and clews. As such, she’s a heavy, full-cut sail, and getting her racing flat (i.e. the aft half of the top batten parallel to the boom) is just not in the cards unless I were to re-tune the battens. I’m not much inclined to do so given how rarely we’re close hauled at sea.

Besides which, complain as I (apparently) do, reefing isn’t that hard. It keeps the heel angle lower and often gives me a faster and gentler ride.

Thanks for the question,


3 Comments on “Rough Night and Reefing

  1. Good info about the reefing techniques. Thanks. You mentioned a “vang” on both rails acting like a preventer line. Are you pulling the boom with tackle from either side as appropriate? I’ve never seen that done. Maybe post a pic of the arrangement. Stay safe.

  2. That last photo gives me the creeps Sailing into one of those feels like approaching no mans land!

  3. I second the request for picture of the setup to help us visualize what you’re describing. Thanks for the explanation. These details are great. Randall, you and I spoke briefly, before you departed, about using a prevented line that runs from the aft end of the boom to the bow and back. I wonder if you have tried or considered such a setup?

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