Reefing a sprit sail has long been difficult compared to other rigs. The sprit needs to intersect the sail’s peak at an angle which means the snotter must be fastened to the mast at a certain distance below the throat of the sail. As you lower the sail to put in a reef, the snotter must drop the same distance as the throat to maintain this angle. Otherwise the angle becomes more and more acute which leads to excess tension in the head of the sail and less upwards lift on the peak.

Traditionally, the snotter could be attached to the mast in the correct place with a rolling hitch and slid down the mast during reefing. But today’s synthetic lines and varnished masts tend to let the snotter slide down, so often a thumb cleat is used to fix its position. Unfortunately, this cleat tends to foul on the sail’s lacing or robands as you try to lower the sail.

To solve this, I hang the snotter turning block from a Dyneema pendant tied to the main halyard. The turning block is on a toggling mast traveler to keep it close to the mast and so I can easily remove it if need be. There is nothing on the mast to foul the robands, so when I lower the main halyard the sprit comes with it maintaining the proper angle up at the peak.

This pendant and mast traveler system works well if the snotter is cleated off to the sprit itself, but there’s a slight complication if it’s cleated to the mast or led aft to the helmsman. As the sail is lowered, slack from the snotter goes from the cleated side of the turning block to the heel of the sprit side and thus the sprit drops faster than the sail and can end up hitting the deck. To solve this, I make a few wraps around the heel of the sprit topped with a half hitch temporarily as I position the main sail. Then I slide the knot off the heel of the sprit and tension the snotter again.

Getting reefing going on my boat is long overdue, but it’s taken me a while to figure out these details of the sprit rig. Anyway, here’s how I got slab reefing going for the 2021 season.

I added a pair of cleats up near the boom jaws and a pair of fairleads along the boom to keep the line from dangling down too much.

I’ve decided the thumb cleat on the mast for the snotter has to go if I want to get reefing working well. So I planed it off and rigged up a “snotter pendant” that Gary and I talked about a while back on the Woodenboat Forum. This is a 1/4″ piece of Dyneema that runs from the main halyard down to a toggling mast traveler. In this picture it’s tied onto the mast traveler at the back, but that causes the traveler to pinch the mast and make it hard to raise. I later attached it just behind the block and it works much better.

Here’s how the outhaul works. I also tie a reef line around the boom to keep the clew down.

I’m pretty pleased with how fast the sail comes down now. No more fiddling around with the snotter block halfway up the mast or sorting out robands that catch on the thumb cleat. Without slacking the peak pendant, the sprit hangs over the bow 28 inches since it’s still attached to the peak of the sail.

A minor issue, but the stopper knots for the toggling robands can get jammed up together when raising the sail after reefing.

I set out to fix reefing a sprit rig since nobody else seems to have done it in the last 500 years. I thought my snotter pendant would solve all the issues, but I didn’t take into account where the slack in the snotter would go as you lower the main halyard. Lowering the sail 1′ causes the sprit to drop ~2′ so I found I needed to keep tensioning the snotter as I lowered the main halyard which is awkward.

To solve that problem I first tie off the snotter to the heel of the sprit with a few wraps and a half hitch. The tail is completely loose as it goes to the hole in the mast partner and turns aft to the cleat on the centerboard case. The little cleat on the sprit that holds the peak pennant comes in handy as a jam cleat to keep the snotter from sliding up the sprit.

With the snotter tied off to the sprit, I can move the sail wherever I like with the main halyard and everything moves together. After it’s in place, the half hitch slides off pretty easily and I cleat the tail back at the centerboard case. Need more headroom? Not a problem!

On my overnight trip to Tangier Island I rigged up the sail with a reef since it was blowing pretty good. I’m not sure how hard, but it would have involved lots of hiking with full sail.

I’m almost ashamed of how long it took me to get reefing set up… it really changes the feel of the boat. What would have been a puckering ride turned into a pleasant sail with big waves and all I had to think about was following the compass. Imagine the luxury of not needing to luff the main and hiking hard at the right moment to keep from going over!

To start the reefing process I back the jib and heave to.

Next I took out the reef and tied the snotter off temporarily to the end of the sprit. When I raise the sail to the top of the mast, the sprit comes with it since I’ve got the snotter block tied to a pendant from the main halyard. After the sail is up I can properly tension the snotter and cleat it off back on the centerboard case. I do need to tie the nettles into the grommets so everything is ready to go.

And off again with full sail. I’ve found my slab reefing lines tend to work themselves loose from the cleats on the boom since there’s very little tension, so I made two loops of bungee cord to keep them on the cleats. I’m thinking maybe I’ll just tie bowlines around the boom between the cleats and dispense with the bungee cords.


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