March 5, 2013

The fourteen-dollar reef

PERHAPS THE QUESTION most asked by newcomers to sailing is: “When is it time to reef?”

The best answer was given by Thomas Fleming Day in his book On Yachts and Yacht Handling, published in 1901. Day was then the renowned editor of one of America’s most successful yachting magazines, The Rudder.

So, when is it time to reef?

“It is always time to reef when you think it is,” declared Day. “The moment you would feel easier and your boat handle better by having less sail spread, is the time to shorten down. Never mind what anybody else is doing or what anybody else tells you. It is your boat, not some other boat that is worrying you; and you yourself, and not some other person, who is in charge.

“Never carry sail for the sake of carrying it; the ignorant may praise your recklessness and pluck, but the experienced man will call you either a lubber or a fool.

“Never let the action of another guide you in this particular, unless the action agrees with your own judgment. It is very common for young sailors to reef or not reef as they see some other man, and consequently to carry sail much to the risk of their vessel and lives.

“You must remember that these remarks of mine have nothing to do with racing. In racing, a man cannot reef when he wants to, but when he can; therefore, he frequently carries sail when he would give a good slice of his daily income to have it off, and often keeps in his reefs when he would like to shake them out, but does not for the same reason. Then, again, in racing, boats are always in company, and if an accident happens someone is close aboard to give assistance; but in cruising this is not so, and many a life has been lost for want of a reef in time.

“When I was young and fresh I had an idea that if anyone could carry sail on a boat I could do the same. One day I had a lesson that made me think, and partially cured me of the habit.

“I went with a clever old boatman across the Sound to bring home a new cat. We each took a crew, and, to return, he sailed the new boat, and I the one we had come over in. Halfway across it came on to blow very hard, and it was all I could do to keep my boat on her feet. My crew wanted me to stop and reef, but as the new boat kept on I insisted upon following her, being afraid that the old man would laugh at me. In plain talk, I was afraid of being thought a coward, and for this I jeopardized my own and the lives of the other boys.

“When at last, after a struggle and half full of water, we reached port, the old man met me with a torrent of invectives, calling me a fool and several other hard names for not reefing.

“’But you didn’t reef,” I protested. ‘Reef!’ he exclaimed. ‘No, for I couldn’t; but I’d have given fourteen dollars if I could have got that sail down. Do you think I was carrying whole sail for fun?’ It seems that the halliards, being new, had jammed, and they could not get the sail down, so had to lug it. This taught me a lesson, one that I have never forgotten; and oftentimes when I see a man struggling along under too much sail, I wonder if he, like the old boatman, wouldn’t give fourteen dollars if he could get that sail down.”

 Today’s Thought
We accomplish more by prudence than  by force.
— Tacitus, Annals

A friend who spotted an attractive woman at a party went up to introduce himself. “Gentlemen prefer blondes,” he said.
The woman blushed. “I have a confession to make,” she told him, “I’m not really a blonde.”
“That’s wonderful,” he said. “I also have a confession to make. I’m not really a gentleman.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Aaron Headly said...

I have made a practice of buying copies of the books you mention on this blog, and have been glad to have done so.

Blog readers: A reprinted version of this book is available from If you've already read all of the books Mr. Vigor has written, you might as well start in the on the books he reads.

jrraines said...

not a comment on this column but something you might be interested in and hopefully will write enough about that I will understand it. I'm guessing it has to do with navigation by polarized light.