reef the sail(s)

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reef the sail(s)

To reduce the area of one or more sails while they are being used by winding them over a roller or tying them up at particular points. Often specified as "the mainsail," "the jib," etc. There's too much wind to be at full sail—it's dragging the whole boat to one side. I'll keep a steady course while you go and reef the mainsail. We should be fine if we just reef the jib, I think. The captain ordered us to reef the sails in before the storm hit.
See also: reef
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

reef a sail in

to reduce the area of a ship's sail, by folding the sail. The first mate ordered the sailors to reef the sails in. They had to reef in the sails.
See also: reef, sail
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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References in periodicals archive ?
The rule of thumb is to reef before it is needed as it is always easier to reef the sails before rather than during a storm.
Reef - handling sails - going up the mast in all weather to reef the sails. Steer - all the skills of steering, including compasswork, boat handling, and points of sail.
"The cadets were ordered to furl and reef the sails which is standard operational procedure for the night and unfortunately the cadet fell while aloft."