- a part of a sail that is rolled and tied down to reduce the area exposed to the wind.
—verb (used with object)
- to shorten (sail) by tying in one or more reefs.
"horizontal section of sail," late 14c., from O.N. rif "reef of a sail," probably a transferred use of rif "ridge, rib" (see rib). Cf. Ger. reff, Swed. ref, Norw. riv, Dan. reb, all from the O.N. word. Reefer as a nickname for "midshipman" (1818) is source of the meaning "coat of a nautical cut" (1878).
"Melville's whaleboat, meanwhile, was proving so swift that he had difficulty maintaining his designated position astern of the captain's cutter. Melville tried reefing his sail, and still he kept gaining."
- Hampton Sides, In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette