Single Line Jiffy Reefing Made Easy

If you don’t know it already, the ability to reef your mainsail is an important sailing skill. Your reefing rigging plays an important part in that. You can do it with just a few short lengths of line, but it will be more time consuming and difficult than it needs to be and not very safe to do during the sailing conditions when you’re most likely to need to reef. Having your reefing lines in place and ready to use at any time increases your ability to reef smoothly and efficiently (in a jiffy) when that time comes.

Reefing systems for trailerable sailboats typically come in two types: single-line and double-line. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages. A single-line system has fewer lines to attend to and you don’t have to move from one to the other so it can be faster, but it doesn’t draw the sail down equally at both ends of the boom at the same time. You reef each side of the mainsail separately with a double-line system, but it can take longer. Some people prefer the basic approach of double-line reefing, others prefer the simplicity of a single-line. If you take the time to fully understand both types, you can choose which system is best for you.

This post describes a single-line system similar to the kit sold by a certain Catalina parts dealership. The main difference is that this system doesn’t use a hook in the luff cringle (grommet). A hook can accidentally fall out and it can chafe the mainsail. In this design, the line runs from one side of the boom to the other through the grommet on a serpentine course from the end of the boom forward through the mainsail, down the mast, and aft to the cockpit.

Walking the line, turn by turn

My 33′ x 1/4″ New England Ropes Sta Set reefing line starts at the aft end of the boom where it is fixed to an eye strap. In this example, it starts on the starboard side, but either side will work. Just start on the same side as where you want the line to end at the cockpit. The line goes up and through the aft cringle in the mainsail, then back down to the opposite (port) end of the boom where it turns forward through a cheek block. When reefed, the line will pull this cringle downward and aft.

The line continues forward through three evenly spaced eye straps in the boom that hold it up out of the way when it’s slack. For an annotated picture of where the eye strap and cheek block are mounted on the end of my boom relative to the other rigging, see the last pictures in Mainsail outhaul solution.

Mainsail leach cringle reefed. Note the slab of mainsail hanging below the boom.

At the forward end of the boom (port side, in this case), the line turns up through another cheek block on the boom and passes through the forward mainsail cringle back to the starboard side.

Jiffy reefing line passing through the mainsail luff cringle

Now back on the starboard side of the mainsail, the line runs down the side of the mast to a fairlead mounted on the mast slightly below the boom. In the following picture, the fairlead is mounted horizontally on the mast. I later rotated it to about 30 degrees to reduce friction on the line when it’s reefed.

Jiffy reefing line leading down the mast through a fairlead to the deck (boom lowered for clarity)

When reefed, the line will pull the forward cringle straight down to the boom.

Mainsail luff cringle reefed (boom raised for clarity). Note the slab of loose mainsail and the sail slug that has slid down through the mast gates.

Below the fairlead, the line continues to the mast step where it turns through a block toward a deck organizer and ends at a cleat at the cockpit.

Putting it to work

Opponents of single-line reefing will point out that a single-line system can’t pull both reef points of the sail evenly. The luff cringle will pull tight while the leach cringle is just starting to pull down. That is because the end of the line nearest to the leach cringle doesn’t move. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t still work.

When you begin to suspect that the wind may pick up beyond what you or your boat are comfortable with, it’s time to reef the mainsail. If you have a single-line system, it’s easy to do and equally easy to undo, so do it early to be on the safe side. You can shake the reef out later if it turns out that you don’t need it. But if you fail to reef when you should, you could wind up regretting it.

First point the boat straight into the wind. This takes the tension out of the mainsail so that you can give your full attention to reefing it faster and tighter.  If you have a boom vang and it is tightened, slack it off. Assuming you also have your main halyard led aft to the cockpit, simultaneously ease the halyard to lower the mainsail while you pull on the standing end of the reefing line. To keep the first mainsail slugs from falling out of the mast, you need to install either gates in the mast to close the slot opening or a jack line in the mainsail so that they can be held above the opening with a sail stop.

The boom should stay in position and the mainsail should stay relatively flat while the slack in the mainsail is taken up by the reefing line. Continue until the luff cringle is as low as it will go, then cleat off the halyard. At this point, the mainsail is about half reefed. The leach is only partly reefed but the line will be tight.

Now since the boom is centered over the cockpit because you’re pointing into the wind, you can simply reach up to the boom and grab the reefing line forward of the cheek block on the end of the boom. Pull the line toward the mast with one hand while you simultaneously pull the standing end of the reefing line with your other hand. Continue hauling the reefing line until the leach cringle is as low as it will go. It should only take a few pulls and then you can cleat off the reefing line. Now the mainsail is fully reefed. All that remains is to reset the boom vang, if necessary, and to roll up and tie the slab of loose mainsail onto the boom. You should have short lengths of line called gaskets or bunt lines already tied into the middle reef points for this. Tie them with a slip knot so that you can easily untie them.

When it comes time to release (shake out) the reef, you basically point back into the wind and reverse the process. First, untie the reef gaskets. Uncleat both the main halyard and the reefing line and then ease out the reefing line while you hoist the head of the mainsail back to full height. The leach cringle won’t need any help coming loose. Cleat off the halyard and you’re done.

Reliability update

It’s been a couple of years since I rigged this setup and it’s worked well until just recently. I had the mainsail reefed for 25-30 mph winds when a stronger gust hit us. The sailboat heeled over for a second, then BANG! and the reefing line went slack.  The force on the dead end of the reefing line was more than the rivets could take that held the eye strap to the boom and they sheared off completely as you can see below.

Broken rivets that used to hold an eye strap similar to the one shown

In hindsight, the angle of the reefing line to the eye strap wasn’t optimal and it apparently caused enough leverage on the ends of the eye strap to pry the heads off the rivets.

To make a better angle on the eye strap and to transfer more of the force to pulling the sail downward and less force pulling aft, I mounted a new eye strap parallel to the boom (instead of perpendicular as before) about a foot forward and also moved the cheek block forward.

New position of the cheek block and eye strap (on opposite side of the boom)
New position of the cheek block and eye strap (on opposite side of the boom). Note the empty mounting holes in the old position at the end of the boom.

I also used stainless steel tapping screws this time instead of rivets. This required moving the outhaul and topping lift cleats aft, but the new arrangement works better all around than before. If you’re setting up a jiffy reefing line for the first time, I recommend you use locations like this instead of my original arrangement.

The Bottom Line

Suggested price: $107.03
$tingy Sailor cost: $40.54
Savings: $66.49


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Chuck says:

    Great job – and explanation! Thanks!

  2. Howard Miller says:

    Where did you get your cheek blocks? The cheapest I can find add up to more than your total cost for the project. Can you send me a list of suppliers? I like what you did. Great job and just what I need.

    1. Hi, Howard

      I bought the cheek blocks for this project from Nautos USA. I describe them and my other favorite suppliers in The 6 Best Sources for Sailboat Parts and Supplies.

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