Reefing sails on a sailing catamaran

Reefing sails on a catamaran

We’ve all learned that when the wind picks up you have to reduce sail area to adjust the sails to the weather conditions, but the question that arises in this context is “When should I start reefing?”

Before we could answer this question, it is important to remember that most of the yachts we sail with are not designed for extreme conditions and sailing with high loads requires equipment in excellent condition and great concentration. 

Your crew will also appreciate being cautious and maintaining safety over performance which results in a just a couple of minutes difference when arriving at the destination.

What happens when sailing with a monohull yacht?

When sailing a monohull yacht, the telltale signs are pretty obvious.

As the wind gets stronger, the boat gets more and more tilted and heels over, the rudder pulls strongly to windward, the entire side of the hull touches the water and the heeling angle is so significant that even the most tired skipper will fall off the bed and realise that it is time to reef the sails.

Furthermore, the harder the tilt, the smaller the effective area of ​​the keel and sails becomes and therefore the force exerted on the sails and the rig (which includes the mast, control lines and stays) does not increase significantly.

sailing with a monohull

What happens when you sail on a catamaran?

In most catamarans, the boat sits on the water without tilting even in the strongest winds, with relatively small rudders and the skipper sitting in a protected position high above the water, there are almost no signs indicating the need to reduce sail area.

Everything may look and feel great, the yacht sails relatively fast and there is no significant feeling of discomfort, but in practice the loads on the mast, sails, control lines, the stays and their anchoring points increase significantly when the wind increases. If we don’t take the load off, at some point one of these accessories will have to give up…

The meaning can be relatively minor such as a mainsail or halyard being torn from the load, or serious when one of the stays that hold the mast upright is torn or breaks its anchoring point (such an event may result in a broken mast, torn sails, ropes and cables in the water and potential damage to the crew members or the hull of the boat).

Reefing sail on a sailing catamaran
Photo by Fountain Pajot

At what wind strength should you start reefing sails?

As always with this type of questions, the answer is “it depends”… so let’s start elaborating:

  • The sea state – when sailing in the sea with high and short waves in which the boat slams and bangs from side to side, the jolts exert a short and very violent loads on the rig, so that even if the wind is moderate, these loads can cause serious damage (especially to the various connectors and the anchoring points of the stays ).
  • The angle of sailing relative to the wind – any sailor will tell you that sailing to windward is very different to sailing downwind. 

Due to the apparent wind effect, sailing close hauled exerts more load on the rig than sailing downwind. This will also affect the decision of which sail should be reefed first to keep the sail plan and the boat balanced.

  • The crew’s ability – is there someone who will work on the foredeck in case you need to reef the sail quickly? If not, it is better to reduce the area of ​​the sails earlier (when the sea is relatively calm) and not after the wind increases.
  • The quality of the equipment – new sails, stays that have just been replaced (most insurance companies will require replacement every 7-10 years) and a rig treated with care and love, will allow the boat to hold higher loads without damage. On the other hand, if all the anchoring points suffer from corrosion, some of the tendons of the stays have started to loosen and curl around themselves, every blow of the wind could end in serious and expensive damage.
  • The purpose of the sailing – are you competing in an international sailing championship, sailing for fun among Mediterranean islands or crossing an ocean? Each type of sailing has its own compromises regarding reducing sails.
Reefing sail on a catamaran
Photo by Fountain Pajot

“10 minute rule”

A non-binding rule of thumb (but very effective in making a decision on reefing or shaking a reef from the sails) and this is how it goes:

  • “If you think about reefing, now is the time to do it! Don’t wait another 10 minutes to see what happens”.
  • “If you are already reefed and thinking about shaking a reef from the sail, wait another 10 minutes.”

For us at least, the use of this law has already proven itself at many decision points.

Reefing sail on a sailing catamaran
Photo by Fountain Pajot

How do you do it right?

After the decision on reefing the sails was made, we now need to carry it out…

  • Remember that you should never use excessive force on a yacht! Always work with a slack and loose sail, paying close attention to the condition of the various ropes you are working with.
  • Plan the manoeuvre ahead, prepare all the control lines and brief the team before starting the reefing procedure. This way you will save yourself a lot of frustration and the process will be done smoother and faster.
  • The load on the rudder can tell a lot about the balance of the boat in terms of reefing, a rudder that pulls hard to windward indicates an excess of sail area in the mainsail and vice versa.
  • At night every operation becomes more complex, a common practice is to reduce sails at sunset so as not to be required for unnecessary activity on deck in the dark if the wind picks up during the night.
  • Be attentive to the weather forecast and keep your eyes open. In certain conditions it is better to start in advance with reduced sails.
  • In most boats (and certainly in catamarans) the sail goes up in a fixed rail on the mast, with the tack tied near the boom gooseneck and the clew attached to a rope that leads to the cockpit. In such an arrangement, the reefing process can take less than 5 minutes with a skilled skipper and crew. 
  • Pay attention to working with a loose sail during reefing and take care of the safety of the crew if they are required to leave the cockpit.
  • If the sail rolls with a roller (Jib or Main) it is important to roll it without any tension on the control lines. Furling the sails too tight can lead to a situation where the furling rope ends on the drum but part of the sail is still open.
sailing on catamaran aura 51
Photo by Fountain Pajot

Want to hear more? A.G Yachting specialises in the sale and maintenance of quality motor yachts and sailing catamarans from Fountain Peugeot shipyard. As the formal representative in Israel, we will help you find the model that suits you the best.

Contact us today for advice on purchasing your next yacht.

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