The biggest distinction between ocean crossing and coastal sailing is the lack of help. If something breaks close to shore, there are plenty of people around who can help you. They will tow you back to a marina where an army of skilled labor exists to get you back out there sailing! In the ocean, if something breaks, you better know how to fix it yourself with the supplies you are carrying on board your yacht because no one is coming to help you!
This lack of aid is precisely why you should reef early. If you see a storm coming, don't wait for it to hit you to then start adjusting the sail plan! Reef now and wait for it to pass over. Once it has passed and completely cleared you, then shake out the reefs! This will ensure that you and your gear are exposed to minimal risk during the ocean crossing.
Maddie and I sleep in the V-Berth up in the bow and our third crew member sleeps in the quarter berth. At night, we rotate watches accordingly. Maddie has first watch from 9 to midnight. I have second watch from midnight to 4:30AM and the third crew member has the morning watch from 4:30AM until we all get up. Since we are up in the bow, we hear the sound of the stem cutting through the water, and we can also feel how much we are heeling over. I have frequently poked my head out of the forward hatch to see dark and stormy looking clouds all around us and notice that we are full sail! I assume that the crew member on watch is keeping an eye on them and tracking their movements with the compass. A storm that is not coming at you is not a storm you need to worry about. Then we pick up speed and begin to heel over to an extreme angle and I hear a desperate cry from the helm.
"It's time to reef!"
Yes, it is time to reef, and it was time to reef a long time ago! The two of us run up to the mast and begin taking in the sails while Maddie works the sheets and helm to keep us safe. I quickly tuck in a few reefs in the main while he lowers the jib entirely. After all of this, he will usually say something like, "We reefed at the perfect time" and I don't understand what he is talking about.
Now, he knows how I reef. I track the storms on the horizon and if I find one that is coming at us, get ready to reef. I will also reef if everything looks fine but the temperature just dropped significantly. I will reef at the first hint of anything getting stronger, and the reefing is so easy to do!
The boat is stable, the winds are light and manageable, and I easily tuck in a reef or two in the main without really needing the winch handle. The jib is easy to pull over the deck by tugging on the lazy sheet and releasing the halyard. There is no fuss about it, this is the perfect time to reef!
Once we are reefed, we wait for the storm to strike and when it does, nothing happens! We do not heel, we do not panic, and most of all, we do not risk ourselves or our boat in the process.