Well, we can't operate the furling gear
of our larger headsail (a high cut yankee jib
, 77 square meters or 830 square feet) even at the dock
, without a winch.
Concerning reefing -- certainly, we follow the old rule
of reducing sail when you first think of it, not when you think you need to, and we are being especially conservative on the new boat until we get a better feel for it. But good planning and early reefing doesn't mean that you get to operate your furling gear
only in calms. Naturally if you're sailing all day on a windy day, you will have to adjust the amount of sail out from time to time, and Mother Nature doesn't allow you to just turn off the wind for five minutes so that you have the luxury to do it in a calm. One amount of sail which is fine for 30 to 35 knots becomes too much when the wind kicks up to 40 to 45 a couple of hours later, which is exactly what happened to us the last time we were out.
We unload the head
sail as much as possible before operating furling gear (at least, before taking sail IN), as I suppose everyone does. That means usually heading off and slacking off the sheet until the sail starts to luff a little. In that configuration, with little tension on the sheet, there's not too much tension on the sail, even in a gale, and so we feel o.k. operating the furling gear like that (albeit with a winch, of course).
Indeed the furling gear works very smoothly and does not seem to be overloaded at all. But the forces are very large -- I can't hold the furling line when the sail is reefed in even a 25 knot
wind, not even close.
Do you guys seriously operate your furling gear by hand only? How does that work? You must be Mr. Universe.