More on sailing in strong & heavy winds

Last month we posted about high wind sailing and reefing the Sage sailboats.  Jerry Montgomery, the designer of the Sage 17 & Sage 15 and a guy of strong opinions, wanted to add this to the discussion –

Jerry and Sage

Jerry Montgomery at the Sage Marine Shop with a Sage 15 deck in the background.

The [Sage 15 and Sage 17] sails way better with a small jib and a reefed main.  All boats of this type should have a storm jib – if the winds looks like it’s going to come up to 25 or so, put up the storm jib; you’ll be amazed at how little it slows the boat down to even in a 15 knot wind (unless you’re in a race!).  You will seldom use [a storm jib], but it’s invaluable when you need it, and you’ll save a lot of wear and tear on the other sails.  Storm jibs don’t cost much.

Once in Mexico I [Jerry] used the storm jib every and all day and had no trouble keeping up with the other boats.   It was blowing 25 and 30 every day.

Heavy weather sailing – wind

A few weeks ago I posted about how quickly and easily the Sage 17, Sage 15 and SageCat mains can be reefed. To continue that theme here I’ll discuss ways to sail efficiently and more comfortably in heavy wind.

The Sages are very capable sailboats being excellent in light AND heavy winds. I have sailed all of the Sage boats in winds above 20 knots with gusts above 25. The highest winds I’ve sailed a Sage were in the mid-30 knot range in a SageCat & Sage 17.


Sage 17 AIR BORN sailing with a single reefed main and storm jib – winds blowing 25-30 knots!

On a Sage 17 the first thing to do is tighten the backstay adjuster. Besides lessening the boat’s heel you will also lessen the weather helm felt at the tiller. The S17 also allows you to depower & reduce the heeling by letting out, to leeward, the mainsheet traveler out to leeward.

Next is to adjust the outhaul on the main (this is true for the S17, Sage 15 and SageCat). By tightening the outhaul the foot of the main is pulled closer to the boom and the sail’s draft is reduced. As the sail has less power the boat heels less. Adjusting the main’s draft is the first thing to do on a Sage 15 sloop and SageCat (catboat).

After making the above adjustments you can also let out the sail. On the S17 & S15 as you let out the main also let out the jib … the two need to be in balance. Be sure to keep sail luffing to a minimum as it greatly shortens the life of the sail.

The Sage 15 is a three-stay rig and doesn’t have a backstay. Don’t be tempted to let the main luff. A little bit in the buffs is OK, and letting the sheet fly free in a strong gust is fine, but don’t allow much more than a quarter of the sail to continually luff. This is why:

As the Sage 15 have no backstay as the main luffs the mast bends forward causing the forestay to sag. This means the headsail balloons out, becoming fuller, and catching more wind. Allowing the sail to luff in a three-stay rig, and this is true for any three stay rig, not just the Sage 15, the boat will heel more! Yes MORE. The main sheet and the leech (aft edge of the main) are the backstay on a three-stay rig. Keep tension on the mainsheet! This is why, versus on the Sage 17, you need to reef sooner once you feel uncomfortable with the amount of heel.

Another thing … with a poorly shaped headsail the boat loses speed, drive (ability to power through the waves, and doesn’t go to weather as well (ie, more leeway).


So, on the S15 reef before you are luffing the main!

cody on the columbia river

SageCat sailing with a single reefed main.

Next, on all the Sages, you need to put in a reef when the boat is still overpowered. In general if you are luffing more a ¼ of the main (or more) in the puffs you should reef. The other ‘sailor’s rule’ is if you think about reefing you have waiting to long.



After putting in a reef the above discussed sail trimming methods still hold true. But if the boat is still uncomfortable the next step depends on the boat sailed –

On a Sage 15 and SageCat the next step is to put in a second reef (all Sage 15s & SageCats come standard with a double reef main).

Video of an SageCat owner reefing his boat –

When sailing a Sage 17 you need to evaluate the headsail v. wind strength. In general the first step is to reef the main. If you have a larger headsail up, like the 150% or 130% genoa, dropping the sail is the best step (all S17s come standard with a jib downhaul so no need for you to go forward). The Sage 17 sails very well under main alone.

For example if sailing a S17 with the 150% genoa and the wind comes up I would reef the main. If still uncomfortable my next step would be to lower the jib and decide if I wish to change the headsail. If sailing a S17 with the lapper or working jib I would tie a second reef in the main before lowering the headsail.

For better overall sailing performance it is better to go to a smaller jib than reefing the main. The example above outlines a compromise if you are out on the water and don’t wish to conduct a headsail change.

On a Sage 17 you can also de-power the headsail by by moving the jib sheet lead blocks aft. This reduce the sail’s draft down low, flattening the foot, and lets the head of the sail twist off a bit.

For others’ perspectives on this here are two recent articles on heavy weather sailing published in the October 2017 issue of Spinsheet magazine –


Following the above you will find your heavy weather sailing a much more enjoyable experience (and maybe even fun!).

NOTE: The above discusses only the wind speed component of heavy weather sailing. A second and very important ‘second half’ of high wind sailing is the water’s sea state – the height of and if the waves are breaking. Sea state is actually the greater safety concern when the wind speed increases. I’ll discuss waves in another post. Until then remember – the captain is ultimately responsible for the safety of the boat, passengers and crew. If the captain isn’t sure about ‘going out’ then DON’T!

More on reefing

Reefing is an important skill for all sailors.  Putting in a reef should take less than 30 seconds … not really hard to tuck in a reef in less than 20 seconds and close to 10 on a Sage 17, Sage 15 or SageCat.

On the Sage boats the reefing system that comes standard is well outlined in pictures #1 and #3 in the Cruising World article linked here –

The only difference between the Sage sloops and is the tack reef line is lead to the cockpit  on the SageCat.

Picture #4, far right graphic specifically, shows how you tie up the loose foot sail after being reefed (on the S17 and SageCat I don’t usually ‘clean up’ the sail as the amount hanging below the boom is small).  As shown you don’t tie the foot of the sail around the boom, you tie the sail to itself.

The standard topping lift is controlled differently on the Sage 17.  There is no need for a topping lift if the optional Boomkicker is ordered.

Back in April ’15 I discussed reefing.  For ‘how it is done on a Sage 17’ details here is a link to that post –


– Dave


As Spring has come conversations among sailors has increased.  One topic that has been batted around is reefing.  For those reading that are not sailors reefing is reducing the size of the boats sails in response to the wind speed increasing.  The smaller sail catches less wind and the boat heels less (until the wind increases more and you need to reduce, reef, the sails to an even smaller size).

The above video is of Sage 17 AIR BORN sailing in winds blowing 25+ knots. I have double reefed the main and the headsail is a storm jib.

Reefing is a ‘must know’ skill for the sailor.  Sadly I feel that most folks don’t know how to efficiently, or effectively, reef their boat’s sails.   For a sailboat the size of a Sage 17 (ie, 17′ long) reefing should take less then a minute and optimally less than thirty seconds.  From my recent discussions I have heard again and again many sailors are taking five or more minutes to reef their small pocket cruisers.  This isn’t right.

There are many ways to reef a sail.  The system installed on the Sage 17s, a version of two line slab reefing, is simple and quick.  I can reef a Sage 17 in less than 30 seconds.

The process –

  1. Steer the boat so the wind is blowing about 10 degrees off the starboard bow.
  2. Loose the main sheet, lock the tiller so the boat stays pointed into the wind and go forward.
  3. Sit on the starboard cabin top, as a sailboat’s reefing gear should be on the starboard side of the mast and boom, with legs hanging inside the companionway.
  4. Lower the main using the halyard so the reef tack grommet is about four inches above the gooseneck.
  5. Retie the main halyard to the cleat.
  6. Reach aft long the boom and pull the clew reefing line so the clew grommet is tight to the boom.
  7. On the mast pull the reef tack line and pull the tack grommet tight to the gooseneck
  8. DONE.

Now go aft, grab the tiller, pull in the sails and continue sailing.

To simplify the above into three steps: lower main using halyard, pull clew line and then pull tack line.  Yes, that is all folks.

The arrows point to the clew reefing grommets.

The arrows point to the clew reefing grommets.

Arrows point to the tack reefing grommets.

Arrows point to the tack reefing grommets.

On boats larger than a Sage 17 … like five or more feet larger … reefing can take a bit longer because of the larger sails involved.  Bigger rigs usually use a reefing hook which involves lowering the main to hook the tack grommet and then hauling the main back up a foot or so to tighten the luff.  In higher winds you likely need to use a halyard winch to re-raise the sail.  The other issue on larger boats is you need to get up on the cabin roof to be at the mast. Depending on the setup you may not be able to reach the clew reefing line to pull the aft end of the sail to the boom (on really large boats there may be a winch on the boom to pull in the clew) without returning to the cockpit.  Even so .. reefing a boat in the 20-30 foot range should take no longer than five minutes.

I remember back when I learned to sail.  One class session was spent putting in reefs and taking them out … for two or three hours.  Again and again I, my sister and folks reefed the boat.  After this session the challenge wasn’t reefing; it was learning when to reef – the saying is, ‘if you think you need to reef you have waited to long.’

If you are taking more than 30 – 60 seconds to reef your trailer sailor please evaluate your process and hardware.  Reefing must be quick and easy … because it is quick and easy.

– Dave

PS – one step not noted above is ‘cleaning up the reef’ by tying in the cringle lines.  First, you don’t need to tie in the cringle lines … especially if you only put in a single reef.  Second, the sail hanging below the boom isn’t catching wind (ie, causing the boat to be overpowered).  Third, once you are sailing under reefed main the boat will be more stable and it is much easier to tie in the cringle lines.  Me, I only tie in the cringles when putting in the second, larger, reef as the sail hanging below the main is large and annoying to folks in the cockpit (you can see in the above video I have tied in the second reef cringles).

Cringles are used to tie up the shorted sail so so it is not hanging below the boom.

Cringles are used to tie up the shorted sail so so it is not hanging below the boom.