The advantages of reefing – or why your boat goes faster with less

One of the more common sights on our waterways is that of a new skipper, pressing on with full sail as the wind rises – often accompanied by the strained and anxious faces of the crew.

If only they knew – not only is a boat easier to handle and safer with a reef in – it also goes faster.

How is that you say – less sail but higher speed?

It really comes down to the design of the boat.  Yachts are designed with an optimum angle of heel in mind, at which they perform best.  In many cases this is 22.50 (a quarter of a right angle), but it may be a little more or less.  Take the boat beyond this angle and several things occur:

  1. The boat is no longer putting her “optimum” shape, as designed, in the water.  You are trying to drag a sub-optimal shape along through the waves
  2. The sideways resistance reduces – so leeway increases and you increasingly “slip downwind” instead of progressing forward
  3. In most boats the amount of rudder to prevent rounding up increases – and sideways rudder is another term for “brakes”


reefingIf you lean far enough to drag the rails in the water the amount of resistance increases dramatically – and you can hear this in the noise it makes.

This became very obvious to me a few years back when I was bringing a racing boat back from Hobart in early January.  With a big southerly behind us, we kept reducing sail from a full main ( and no.1 headsail) all the way down to 3 reefs and a very small storm jib.  One of the crew – a fairly new sailor – referred to it as “the miracle of reefing” – “every time we reduce sail the boat goes faster”.  If it was that obvious to him, then we all should take notice.

Remember – in strong winds – less really is more.  So reef early, go faster, and enjoy it more.

Yachtmaster & Chrif Sailing Instructor at SailTime  Sailing School

Phil Darling
Yachtmaster & Sailing Instructor
SailTime Australia & SailTime Sailing School

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