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Explaining Headsail Reefing

21st May 2021
A Sweden Star 37 showing her X-Drive Carbon sails with double-sided black taffeta. Even though the jib has a luff tape that goes into the headstay foil, this jib can be slab reefed just as easily as those with hanks
A Sweden Star 37 showing her X-Drive Carbon sails with double-sided black taffeta. Even though the jib has a luff tape that goes into the headstay foil, this jib can be slab reefed just as easily as those with hanks

Barry Hayes from UK Sailmakers Ireland explains which slab reefing system is best for various situations.

With an eye towards optimizing the boat for the way you sail it, you can opt for different reefing options. Finding the right combinations can be difficult if you have a standard headsail set up. With only a change out option on the headsail. But there are ways around this as well.

Over the past few months, I got many emails asking about different systems and how they work from the articles posted here in Afloat. But one area I got a lot of questions about was headsail slab reefing and how it works. Can it be done on a current headsail? Yes is the simple answer. But you need to find out what system is going to work best for you.

Here is a short view explaining the different setups and how they work.

following on from these articles which explain other systems:

Many sailors are aware how quickly and efficiently reefing your mainsail will help you get your boat back under control when the wind picks up. Tucking a reef and shaking it quickly can be easy once your boat is set up properly and you have practised. If taking a reef doesn't depower you quite enough, and you don't have a roller reefing genoa, you'll need to change to a smaller headsail, which can be a lengthy and cumbersome task – especially for doublehanded and singlehanded sailors. To help shorthanded sailors reduce headsail area quickly, UK Sailmakers Ireland offers jibs and genoas that can be slab reefed as a way to quickly get the boat back under control

Just like slab reefing a main, when reefing the headsail, you lower the halyard, attach the reef tack, re-tighten the halyard, and then trim the sheet. To simplify your life as the wind gets up, we design these headsails with the reef clew height so that the sails will sheet to the same track position as when un-reefed. Finally, either tie or zip up the unused lower part of the sail and continue to sail.

Roller reefing is a compromise that reduces sail area at the expense of sail shape. The distorted sail shapes created by roller furling are not very aerodynamic – there are wrinkles, the draft moves aft. The luff curve and most of the broad-seamed shape is in the front of the sail, which is removed during roller reefing. On the other hand, with slab reefing, you don't lose the sail's designed shape. During slab reefing, the whole sail is lowered a meter or more and if the sail has horizontal leech battens. They are not affected by the process.

In this photo, you can see a Uni Titanium J 109 Headsail with a reef. This is a Zip foot. Which for a narrow J109 bow is a lot easier to shake the reef in and out with a non-overlapping headsail. We normally make the reef clew and tack with a soft shackle to save time and weightIn the above photos, you can see loft dog Layla with a Uni Titanium J 109 Headsail with a reef. This is a Zip foot. Which for a narrow J109 bow is a lot easier to shake the reef in and out with a non-overlapping headsail. We normally make the reef clew and tack with a soft shackle to save time and weight 

In the catamaran sequence in the video, you can see how a zip reef is easily put the jib on a 24-foot Streaker cat. The sail is dropped, the sheets are moved from the clew to the reef clew, and then the foot is folded up, and the reefed part of the sail is rolled and then zipped away. UK Sailmakers Ireland can build in a zipper system for sails that will stay reefed for long periods of time. Finally, the sail is raised, and the zipped-up section can be seen at the bottom of the sail. To shake the reef, lower the sail, unzip the rolled-up section, re-attach the jib's tack, move the jib sheets and then re-set the sail.

The reefed part is rolled and then zipped away with an integral zipper systemThe reefed part is rolled and then zipped away with an integral zipper system

Hanks are not a requirement for reefable headsail, but it does make it simpler. The last sequence of the video shows a sail with luff tape being reefed on a Sweden Star 37. The sail has a tack take-down line that goes from the reef tack through the tack shackle and then back to a winch in the cockpit. As the halyard is eased, tack line pulls the reef tack to the tack fitting. Once the reef tack is set, the halyard is re-tensioned. Then the sail is sheeted in. you can see how the sail keeps a perfectly smooth, flat aerodynamic shape.

To learn more about reefable jibs and genoas, contact UK Sailmakers Ireland at our numbers below

uksails topper

About the Loft

UK Sailmakers Ireland brings modern professional sailmaking to Irish Sailing.​ Formerly known as McWilliam Sailmakers; the company was started 47 years ago to bring the latest technology to Irish sailors - we continue this mission today.

Under new leadership in 2018; our loft is dedicated to fulfilling the needs of all Irish sailors. ​As sailmakers, we do not just design sails for boats. We design and build sails for your boat. Our extensive and versatile product line allows us to produce sails to suit your requirements and expectations.   

​As a core loft within the UK Sailmakers Group, we are uniquely placed to draw from a worldwide pool of knowledge and experience - these ties have been recently strengthened with the return of Barry Hayes and Claire Morgan from Hong Kong. ​Barry held a key role in our primary production facility on Hong Kong Island for the past fifteen years. With their return comes a renewed focus on technology R&D on Irish waters.  

​With a wide variety of sailing conditions and an impressive pool of talent, the Irish cruiser racing fleet is the ideal testbed for new technologies.​ 

​As with all things in sailing; the secrets will be closely guarded - but for the first time in decades Irish sailors will be at the forefront of sail technology development.​

Although much has changed; some constants remain. The same great sail and customer service we have provided in the past will continue, as does our commitment and passion for growing the sport of sailing all over the country. 

Barry Hayes [email protected]

Contact Information:

UK Sailmakers Ireland

Hoddersfield Mill

Crosshaven

County Cork

P43 EY26

Republic of Ireland

Tel: +353 21 4831505

Fax: +353 21 4831700

Email: [email protected]

Barry Hayes

About The Author

Barry Hayes

Email The Author

Barry Hayes, Director of UK Sails Ireland, managed the main UK Production facility for UK Sails in Hong Kong until last October and has been a sail designer with UK sails for over 15 years.

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