Is Jiffy Reefing the Simplest Method of Reefing the Mainsail?

I unashamedly admit that jiffy reefing, or slab reefing as it's also known, is my choice of mainsail reefing system. Simple, efficient and reliable - the essence of a seaworthy system. With all control lines at the mast one person can pull a reef in on his own.

This isn't just useful for singlehanders; it means that one half of a cruising couple can pull in - or let out - a reef in the main without disturbing the off-watch crew from his/her slumbers.

A common, but in my view daft, alternative arrangement is where the reefing lines are led back to the cockpit, but the halyard and the reef cringles have to be dealt with at the mast - the worst of both worlds.

Alternatively all lines can be lead aft, and all reefing done from the security of the cockpit. The price of this is that there's more friction in the system and a lot more lines in the cockpit.


How to Reef a Mainsail at the Mast

Let's say that you've got your mainsail halyard and reefing lines at the mast. Here's how to put a reef in:~

Before Leaving the Cockpit

  1. Head-up into wind;
  2. Ease kicking strap;
  3. Ease mainsheet.

At the Mast

  1. Take-up on topping lift;
  2. Drop mainsail far enough to enable the cringle to be hooked over the reefing hook (or cowhorn);
  3. Hoist main and secure;
  4. Pull in leech reefing line and secure;
  5. Ease topping lift;
  6. Coil and secure all ropes, then skip smartly back to cockpit;
  7. Get back on course and trim sails. Job done!


A Couple of Jiffy Reefing Tips...

Reefing a sail at the mast - particularly on wet and windy night - isn't everyone's idea of fun, so anything that can be done to make the job easier is worth knowing about:~

  • Mark the main halyard just below the jammer at the point where the cringle can hooked over the cowhorn. Do this for each reef position;
  • Use flying cringles on short lengths of webbing straps. This makes it much easier to hook over the cow horn;
  • Replace standard cowhorns with captive hooks, so the flying cringle can't fall off.


Jiffy Reefing without having to go to the Mast

jiffy reefing tow line system

With this arrangement the mainsail halyard and the topping lift will be brought back to the cockpit through turning blocks at the foot of the mast, and the task of hooking the sail cringles over the reefing hooks on the gooseneck is eliminated.

Two separate reefing lines are used for each reef; one pulls down the leech of the sail and the other pulls down the luff.

So if you've got three sets of reef points in your mainsail, that's six extra lines in the cockpit. Hmmm.

You might want to think about a single line jiffy reefing system...



Stopping the Creep

jiffy reefing, tieing back reefing lines

With the end of the leech reefing line tied in a locking loop around the boom, there's a tendency - particularly with a loose-footed mainsail - for this loop to migrate towards the mast.

This allows a reef to be pulled down without applying any tension to the foot of the sail, resulting in a baggy reefed sail.

Such a sail shape will produce more heeling moment than drive, which is not good.

The solution? Tie the loops back to the end of the boom with a length of cord to hold them in position.



Jiffy Reefing and Lazyjacks

Jiffy Reefing and Lazyjacks are made for each other. 

It's fairly easy to make a set up yourself, but it's even simpler with a complete kit like this one...

Harken Lazy Jack Systems Medium Boat Length 27' to 37'; Boom Min. 10'6''; Max. 16'0''

Harken Lazy Jack Systems

These kits contain everything for installing a simple, variable system. Keep your mainsail under control and on the boom as it's lowered. Works exceptionally well with fully-battened mains, but can also be used with conventional sails. Everything you need to install a simple; adjustable system is included in the kit: pre-swaged wires; blocks; eyestraps; line; a cleat; fasteners and instructions (including how to alter your sail cover for use with lazy jacks). Includes pre-swaged vinyl-coated stainless cable; ball-bearing blocks; eyestraps; line; a cleat; fasteners; and pictorial instructions.



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