Reefing the sails in preparation for stormy weather

Right after we had finished our weekly project meetings on Friday the 16th our sailing crew went around asking for students that could help them. We all try to use every opportunity to learn even more about sailing on a traditional three-masted-topsail-schooner and therefore there quickly were more than enough people ready to reef our three gaff sails.

Reefing is the process of tying part of the sail down to its boom and thereby minimizing the sail area, so that stormy winds don’t have such a dangerous effect on the ships rigging. We did this a few times already, for example in the North Sea and Bay of Biscay.  And in Havana too, the day after we returned back on the Thor. The first time the fore course was reefed only by the crew, but this time some of us students were allowed to help. To accomplish this, we climbed on its yard and from there reached down to the parallel line of reefpoints, which we pulled up. Then the outer edges were fastened with the help of a ‘taljereep’, which is a rope that functions as a pulley. And after that the extra sail gets hidden and tied up on the yard. For the gaff sails we divided into three groups – schooner, main and mizzen sail. The schooner group was led by Lukas B., one of our watch leaders, the main group by Guilhelm, the bosun, and Lorenz and Tim did the mizzen mostly by themselves.

Depending on which sail we worked on, we either lowered only the gaff, so that the reefpoints were at the height of the boom, or we lowered the peak all the way down and the boom even lower onto the main deck, a manoeuvre which is rarely done and was led by Jaron. The next step is tightening a new foot, which is the bottom edge of every sail. This is done by first fastening a part of the front edge of the sail, the luff, at the height of the reefpoints and then creating a pulley and heaving on it until the foot is tight. The group working on the main sail had some problems in doing so, but nevertheless it was a very fun time and exciting atmosphere for everybody.

Afterwards the only thing left to do was tying up the extra sail with the reefpoints using square knots – not around the boom, which the people on the main sail learned the hard way and then had to do it all over again. The way we did this differed from station to station: While some could do it standing on deck or the deckhouse others had to climb onto the boom in order to reach the reefpoints. Once finished making all the knots we hoisted the sails up again. Jaron also led this manoeuvre and with combined efforts we heaved up the gaff and sheeted out the main sail. The whole process took roughly two hours and therefore also delayed our dinner.