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Reefing Gear

From: Canoe Handling
by C. B. VAUX, 1885.

Vaux's book has several very good chapters; this excerpt describes how to rig reefing gear for batwing sails and other battened canoe sail rigs.
[His Figure A shows the standard reefing arrangements with points to tie in and doesn't need to be explained further.]


"Figure B shows an arrangement by which the sail is reefed from the well by means of a line, the end of which is at the clew end of the boom. The sail is lowered till the batten is down on the boom, the line is then pulled in as far as it will come, and the slack wound around the batten and boom together where they project beyond the cloth of the sail at the clew. The sail is hoisted taut and halliard belayed.

"This reefing line has one end made fast at the forward end of the boom; it leads from there (through a ring sewed into the sail half way between boom and batten) through a block attached to the under side of batten at the luff, from here along batten across sail and through a block on middle of batten, down to boom -- through a ring on sail half way between boom and batten, as on luff -- through a block on boom and diagonally across sail through a block on batten at the leach end, leaving a few inches of slack beyond the block when the sail is up.


"At this end is a short stick, or button, as it is called, around the middle of which the line is wound in a groove to prevent slipping, and the end whipped. This button prevents the line end running back through the block. By pulling in this line when the sail is lowered batten to boom, the reef is taken in and the batten and cloth below it are held more or less neatly along the boom.


"Even with reef points a line from batten to block at tack on boom and leading along boom to the clew end enables the skipper to get the forward part of his reef in without getting clear out on deck. The balance of the points can then be easily reached and tied in.


"This Fig. B reef has one weak point. The cloth is not closely tied in along boom and catches the wind; the boom has to be brought amidship in order to reach the reefing line, and this is a difficult position to keep it in with a stiff breeze blowing and the canoe apt to fall off from the wind at any moment.


"The disadvantages of these two reefing gears, A and B, are not very serious with small sails, say from thirty to fifty feet in area. With larger sails they are clumsy and very imperfect, slow in being tied or taken in, and difficult to shake out quickly when more sail could be used to advantage. Many other gears and arrangements have been tried, a number of which are now in use, two of them are illustrated on page 109, Figures C and D. C is the gear invented by Mr. Baden-Powell and now in use on many English and some American canoes. D is a gear largely used in this country for the larger balance lug sails and, slightly modified, on the Mohican settee and the Stoddard sail. It can only be applied to the first reef. C can be arranged for three reefs."


Nautilus Reefing Gear.

"A line is made fast to boom at clew end (Figure C, page 109, at point marked 1); it is run up to the batten, passing through small brass rings sewed on a tape along leach, two or three inches apart; at the batten it runs through a block (2) and then leads to a loop over the block (3) at the middle of the batten.

"Passing through this loop -- which is used only as a guide -- it runs through one of the halves of a sister block (4) (two blocks lashed head to head, or a single block with two sheaves, one at each end, and not alongside each other as in a double block, back through the block under the loop on batten (3) and through rings again down to boom at (5) , where it is made fast permanently.

"Another line starts at (6) the tack end of boom, to which its end is secured; leading through rings on the luff up to a block on the batten (7) through which it passes, leading along the batten through a guide loop over block (8) on batten just aft of the mast, out to the sister block, through which it leads, returning to block on batten (8), through it, down to block at foot of mast (9) and along deck to within easy reach of skipper's hand.


"The reef line when hauled in, the sail being dropped sufficiently, pulls directly on the boom at the tack, taking in the reef there, and indirectly by means of the sister block in the bight of the line running from 1 to 5, brings the boom up to the batten at these points, gathering the sail in neatly along boom, the rings keeping the cloth in close.


"Exactly the same method is employed for a second, and a third reef. The reef gear in this arrangement is entirely on one side of the sail. With this arrangement a jackstay must be used to keep the boom in position when the halliard is cast off to lower the sail. If you like the Baden-Powell reef and put it on your sails, be careful to arrange the spacing so that 8 is a little more than the exact distance between batten and boom from the block at (3); for, in taking in the reef, the sister block (4) moves from 3 toward 8 the distance between 1 and 2 [and] increased by the stretch of the lines. When the lines are wet they are much shorter than when dry.


"This gear can be worked with the sail in any position, and does not require the skipper to get boom inboard, and consequently luff the canoe, to work it. In fact, the reef can be turned in when the canoe is sailing before the wind with the boom clear out at right angles to the keel, and without losing headway at any time. This is a great advantage over the slow and clumsy tying in of the reef points, especially in racing, when every minute's headway lost counts. The blocks used are of English make, and are of boxwood with brass sheaves neatly put in. These blocks can now be had in this country, some of the dealers having imported them. The best cordage, too, for canoe lines is of English make, but it also is now imported."


The Dot Reef.

[DOT was a famous sailing canoe, mentioned in W.P. Stephens' book as well.]

"Three holes are made through the cloth and batten at points 1, 2, 3, Figure D. If the batten is light and a hole would weaken it, a cringle just above the batten through the cloth will do as well. At 4, 5, 6 on boom -- directly under 1, 2, 3 on batten -- thimbles are lashed securely on the under side of the boom, having the hole through them running in the direction of the length of the boom.

"A thimble is a small cylinder of hard wood having a groove around it so a cord run round in the groove will not slip. Instead of a thimble two blocks can be used, one on each side of the boom. Sometimes the boom is made to serve the purpose of one side of the block, the ends of the block being screwed to it and the pin run through the block and sheave and into the boom for its support at one end.

"This is the arrangement used by Mr. Stoddard on his canoe Atlantis. A line is led through the thimble 4, passes up from the boom on the left side of the sail to the batten, through the cringle to the right side of the sail, down the sail again to the boom and back through the same thimble. The line coming down on each side of the sail as it does, passes double through the thimble, entering its forward end and coming out pointing aft.


"Both lines are cut about four inches from the thimble and made fast round a block -- if block is of wood -- or through the eye of the block if of brass. Similar double lines are placed between 2 and 5, 3 and 6; or, more correctly speaking, a line is run through thimble at 6 -- entering its forward end -- carried up the left side of the sail to 3, through the cringle and down the right side of the sail and back through the thimble. Its end is then lashed securely at this point, forming a loop which includes within it the batten at 3, the boom at 6 and the cloth of the sail between 3 and 6.


"This line continues along the boom to the forward end of the thimble at 5. It is left a little slack between 5 and 6. Before entering the thimble it is run through a block (7) which is left free to play along it. Passing through the thimble from fore and aft, it runs up the sail to cringle at 2, through it and down the other side of the sail to aft end of thimble, through it, and about two inches beyond. It is here cut off and the end securely lashed to the main part of the line as before. Thus another loop is formed about batten, boom and cloth between 2 and 5.


"A line secured to block 7 runs forward and through the block on the reef line at 4; from here it runs clear of everything out to point 8 on boom, where its end is made fast. A cleat is lashed to the boom at 8 by which the reef line is secured when the reef is taken in. Now dropping the sail and hauling in on the reef line at 8 brings batten and boom together, and the loops gather the cloth in as well, thus forming a neat and compact reef. The advantage of having the reef line end on the boom is that the reefing gear then in all its parts is entirely on the sail and is not interfered with when the sail is taken off the mast. The objection to it is that the boom has to be brought close enough to the skipper in reefing to allow him to reach the line and cleat at 8, thus necessitating some slight change in the canoe's course. The reef can be turned in or shaken out in thirty seconds, as can also the Baden-Powell. 4 and 5 must be twice the width of the reef apart to allow room to take in all the slack.


"By shifting this rig end for end, 1 and 4 where 3 and 6 now are, and adding a block on boom by the mast and one at the foot of the mast, the reef line can be carried down to and along deck in exactly the same way as the Baden-Powell reef line runs. With a very wide reef it is well to sew on rings through which the lines may pass on both sides of the sail and half way between the points 1 and 4, 2 and 5, 3 and 6. A closer gather of the cloth thus results. This reef is used on the Mohican settee, with plain rings substituted for the thimbles. The second reef is usually arranged with the ordinary reef points and reef line for luff end. This reef is a simpler one to make and fit than the Baden-Powell, and makes a closer reef along the boom, not bunching the cloth up so much.


"The reefing line from the mizzen must come at least as far forward as the tack end of the boom to be within reach when the skipper is sitting on the after cockpit hatch. With the Dot gear two reef points are all that need be used on the mizzen. Three are required for the mainsail. The mizzen reef line should be so arranged that it can be operated at tack end of boom when the sail is used as a mizzen, and at the clew end when the sail is stepped forward and used as a mainsail. This can easily be managed by having it work from a block in the middle of the boom, and lead from this, as the case may be, either forward or aft."


Carrying Sail.

"Always keep your sail area down to a spread that can be easily and safely carried. By reefing you are enabled to do this. A little too much sail needs constant care and watching, perpetual luffing during the puffs, and heels the canoe over way beyond her best sailing position. Therefore proportion the sail to the wind, that you may keep your course all the time and sail steadily. What you lose on your mate, who has too much sail spread, during the lulls, you will gain on him when the puffs come and you can keep full headway on, he having to continually luff and spill the wind out of his sail to keep right side up, thus losing way all the time. Be comfortable and avoid running great risks. You may lose a race now and then, but you will often win, and at the finish be over the line long before the leader during the first half of the race gets his canoe right side up and the water out of her.


"If you ever get caught in a thunder squall, and cannot make a harbor, get in all sail, stow as much below deck as possible, take down the masts, and securely lash masts and sails on deck so they present as little wind surface as possible. Leave no loose end of the sail for the wind to get under, perhaps to raise up and capsize the canoe. Depend on paddle alone, and keep the bow headed into the teeth of the wind, even if you are making sternway. Squalls of any kind usually give warning of their approach, if they are severe enough to do harm. Learn to read the signs of nature, and get in the sail or make a harbor before you get caught in a tight place. Don't attempt to carry sail till the last moment; it may then be too late to even get it in. Acquire judgment, if you are lacking, by constant study."



This is a word which has come into general use contemporaneously with the canoe. Whether it owes its origin to the canoeist perhaps will never be known.

1.0 05/20/98
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