Most sails with reefing cringles also have smaller grommets across the width of the sail at the same level as the reef points. After reefing, you can secure the loose part of the sail to the boom by passing a sail tie through the grommets and tying it off around the boom, as shown here.
It’s not coincidence that the best knot used here to tie the reef in place is called a reefing knot.
Some sailors prefer not to tie off the reefed main at these smaller grommets because of the risk of forgetting them later when you shake out (remove) the reef. If you loosened the reefing line and started raising the mainsail back up without first removing these ties, the mainsail may rip.
To shake Out a Reef
To remove the reef and raise the mainsail back up, simply reverse the basic reefing steps:
- Turn the boat toward the wind and ease the mainsheet to reduce pressure on the sail.
- While slowly easing the reefing line, pull in the halyard to raise the mainsail back up.
- When the sail is fully up, secure the halyard and the reefing line, go back on course, and trim the sail.
Other Reefing Systems
With larger cruising sailboats, manufacturers are increasingly offering in-boom and in-mast reefing/furling systems for mainsails. Such systems essentially involve a roller inside the boom or mast with an electric motor that rolls up the sail to reduce its size (reefing) or to stow the sail away after sailing. While such systems certainly add convenience when they’re adjusted and everything is working well, many experienced sailors still prefer slab reefing, which doesn’t depend on an electrical system, multiple moving parts, and a fine-tuned rig.
Slab reefing does require some practice, and careful installation of the basic system, but once the line is rigged, it’s always ready for use and comes close to being foolproof according to the KISS principle (“Keep it simple, stupid!”).
Remember to monitor changes in the wind so that you can reef early when it's easy rather than late when it's difficult or dangerous. You can learn to read the wind or use an inexpensive handheld wind meter.
Read about how to use the traveler and other sail adjustments for strong winds.