We’ve used slab reefing on our mains (and mizzens) on all of our boats going back to the 1970s. We’ve looked at in the mast and in the boom systems as they’ve come along and worked out their bugs, but have yet to see anything as fast, reliable, light, or inexpensive as good old slab reefing.
With our own boats under 64 feet, and with those we’ve designed for clients, we’ve typically brought the reefing control lines and halyard back to the cockpit. This does add friction to the system, and a lot of spaghetti to the cockpit, but reduces the need to go forward and that means staying drier!
On all boats we’ve used control lines for both the clew and liff. The luff reef lines allow us to winch the sail down in heavier winds.
On the pointy end we’ve been fans of jib hanks and just changing the sail when required – roller reefed jibs typically look pretty awful. However, on Beowulf we went with a roller furler for the jib as when the jib was on deck and still on the headstay it interfered with visibility from the pilot house. We’ve been sailing now for 35,000 miles with Profurl, and like it very much. It has been reliable – just a few maintenance issues in all this time – and certainly makes getting the jib off the boat easy! OK, we do have some extra windage and weight aloft, but that is a price we are now willing to pay.
BEOWULF is very powerful, and conservatively rigged – so she does not need to be reefed very often. And when we do have to shorten down, we usually put the jib away first (we never roller reef the jib). When we are facing short term wind increases we normally drop the mizzen (after the jib has been put away). This is the approach we used in the one blow we’ve had – a deep S. Pacific winter compression gale which blew at 55 knots (gusting higher) for part of one night.
Actual reefing of the main and/or mizzen has been rare. We normally reef these sails if we expect to be under shortened canvas for long periods of time. In the last five years this has happened only six or seven times.
We now know from experience that the first reefs are rarely used, so we’ve eliminated them on the main and mizzen on our new sails.
Finally, a word on our slab reefing system. Last year we switched to a single line reefing system. We’ve been promising to write an update on this approach and what we think of it. We know it works great now on a lot of smaller boats – Dan and Karen Neri use it for all three reefs on their Aerodyne 38 and love it. It looks cool on paper for bigger boats – but we’ve still not had enough experience with ours to form a definite opinion – and our single reef lines are still stored in the forepeak – just in case we change our minds.