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Issue 319 - SEPT 2012


Dempsey – a lesson in harness efficiency Photo By: JC.

Words Peter Hart | PHOTOS Hart Photography


The Harness, the lines and you are windsurfing’s single most important relationship and, like all relationships, you have to work at them to keep the sailing smooth. Harty suggests that another level of comfort and joy beckons if you’re prepared to experiment.

I was being driven by my friend David from his office in Stockport to his local pub. For some reason he was using his Sat Nav, even though it’s a journey he has done most days of his working life. As the pub hove into view, the automated voice told him to turn right, in the opposite direction, away from the pub. And for some reason that he still can’t explain, despite craving a beer, he obeyed it. Would he have kept going if it had directed him over Beachy Head? It’s a spooky thought. A little while back, a certain sail manufacturer started putting a cross on their sails to mark the centre of effort and as a way to help you set up the lines. All you had to do was line the apex of the 72


harness loop with the cross and perfect balance would be guaranteed – neat idea, except that the crosses were in the wrong place. I pointed this out to a lady, who thanks to this error, had been catapulting all morning. But strangely, although she understood the logic, she wouldn’t adjust them, because ‘it was written.’ This was a major brand – how could they possible be wrong? But wrong they were – by about 3 inches. It is amazing to what extent people will obey clearly ludicrous orders if they come from a believable source.

HAPPY INSTRUCTIONS On the whole, however, rigging and setup instructions are a force for good. Even the best windsurfers are riddled with selfdoubt. We like to be told what works. As we stride to the water we want to feel that some divine, robed figure from a higher

plane has laid their hand on our kit and declared: “Set it up us thus my son and all will be well with the world.” So it is that instructions adorn many of today’s boards and rigs. Best and most comforting of all are those precious words that now sit boldly next to many mast-tracks and fin boxes: ‘recommended setting.’ Oh yes! I was going to put it there anyway but thank you, thank you for reassuring me.

THE FIRST HARNESS EXPERIENCE – THE TREND IS SET. The area where we crave the most reassurance is when using a harness for the first time. Please just give me a harness that fits, set my lines up where they should be and then let me get on the with the apprenticeship in the certain knowledge that if I get hurled around, it’s me that’s at fault, not the set-up. Those first sessions are life-changing.

STARTING OUT – and the continual tweak

Your relationship with the harness and lines is just that, a relationship, which means you have to adapt as you move on. From the earliest stage, learn to feel what’s working rather than rely on a code. Unless you crave violence, you should get a feel for balancing the lines and hooking in and out off the plane in marginal winds. A lower boom and a longer line will allow you to hook-in and sail comfortably standing in front of straps. Moving into planing winds, you need to put the boom up so you can step back toward the straps without squatting and rebalance the lines as the sail’s effort moves back. The message is ‘keep tweaking!’ Photo by Peter Hart ‘Recommended’ – it’s music to the ears of the improving windsurfer, who is crippled by insecurity regarding where to put stuff. But when it comes to setting lines and boom height, take advice but don’t put up with discomfort.

Photos by Peter Hart Light wind exercises like trying to balance the sail holding the loop and hooking with one hand give you a feel for how the line should be a direct chain between your centre of gravity and the effort of the sail. From the first day, understand that it’s OK to adjust them. As soon as you hook in you’re training your hips to take over the main job of power control from the arms. The boom height, line length and position and type of harness all determine exactly which body parts you use to increase and decrease power. That sensation very quickly becomes familiar to the point where even if the set-up is wrong, or at least wrong for you, it feels right. So it better be right.

“Familiarity’ and ‘good’ are sensations that are often confused in windsurfing, especially harness work” Setting someone up for that first session is all about making it feel as leastthreatening as possible. You advise semi-planing winds. They’ll be standing in front of the straps so suggest a lower boom. Longer lines place more room between hips and rig and so ease the terror of being tied to the boom. They also make it easier to hook out. You might set the lines up an inch forward of the balance point so that they don’t power the sail up completely when they hook in. You’d suggest a waist harness as it feels

less constricting and the higher hook makes it easier to hook in and out. That gets people started but that same set-up in proper planing winds can endup making make you slow to plane; you’ll have to crouch to engage the power and the lines won’t be balanced. Making the progression from marginal wind practice to powered-up, hooked-in, fully-planing-in-the-straps you should: * put the boom up a couple of inches. As you step back towards the straps, it effectively becomes lower. * move the lines back a little because the effort in the sail moves back as it powers up. * The line length may be OK but you’d shorten them if you kept hooking out by mistake. A slightly shorter line makes you commit to the harness. And it doesn’t stop there. The message early on is to keep on tweaking your set-up as you improve and take your windsurfing into new areas.

HARNESS OPTIONS To a massive degree, the harness and the set-up determine your stance; whether you stand tall, hunker down; how much pressure you transfer through the legs; the height of your hips and how ready you are to drop into moves; how comfortable you are hooked-in off the plane. It’s not a case of being right or wrong but of understanding how by altering the harness set-up, you effect the way you guide power into the board, especially

if you’re a bit of multi-disciplined multitasker. Perhaps most importantly for recreational sailors, is realising how making the smallest adjustments can cure technique ills like over-sheeting, spin-out, dodgy power control and poor speed. But let’s start by looking at the extremes on the harness set-up scale as employed by those who do it for a living and see which elements you relate to with your own sailing.

A PERSONAL TALE - looking after the body In 2000 I retired from racing. The burden of the years was a factor but it was mainly on account of a damaged knee. Racing is all about getting power from a big sail into the board and that power has to go through the legs. That combined with the shock and vibration of the chop was turning what was left of my cartilage into dust. The future didn’t look rosy since fins and sails were getting ever bigger and more powerful. The racing set-up with seat harness and low hips was all about driving the board. My primary motive after retiring was to develop a stance and set-up, which was easier on the body. Scaling down board and rig size of course helps – but the main difference was the notion idea of letting the board ride, rather than plastering it to the water. Higher boom, longer lines and a waist harness helped me unweight the board and sail with a lot less stress. This was a strategy used by Taty Frans in a recent PWA slalom event. Using more than a square metre and a half less sail, he kept up with the big boys by being light on his feet. It’s just one instance where changing harness set-up completely alters the sensation – in this case, for the better. Ten years later and the knee still bends.




In slalom racing you set up for being powered/over-powered and always on the plane. The boom height and line length are such that you have to unhook before moving forward out of the straps. It’s tiring. For a more cruisy, free-ride feel in non-overpowering winds where top speed isn’t everything, a slightly lower boom, longer lines and waist harness allow you to sail hooked in off the plane, with a little more weight on your feet and not forever on the edge of a catapult.

Photo by John Carter Classic maxed-out Dunkerbeck style - loads of power being driven into the board by a powerful bloke. Trademark, wide harness lines lock him in and he hunkers down in his seat harness to plaster the board to the water. Not a style for those of a nervous disposition.

Photo by Dave White The same size sail and board but in less wind with a set-up which places a lot less stress on an aging body.

WAVES and FREESTYLE – different laws

Waist harness and long lines are currently compulsory for the modern wave and freestyler. There’s not much straight line blasting. You get going and then do something dangerous. In both getting planing with as small a sail as possible is key. The long lines allow you to work and pump the sail hooked in; they allow you to sail comfortably off the plane and above all, they give you the room to try big one-handed aerial manoeuvres.

A typical speed/racing set-up would be. Harness: Seat Boom height. Shoulder up to eye height depending on sail size and width of board. The bigger and wider, the higher it is. Line length. Often adjustable lines from 26-32” When the aim is simply to transmit the most amount of power from rig to board, the seat is the only way to go. It supports you from your centre of gravity allowing you to make the most efficient use of your bodyweight. The feeling as you hook into a speed set-up is that you feel solidly connected. It’s not that you can’t move and trim, but it’s like you’ve immediately hit the accelerator of a Ferrari. The line length is crucial in that it determines the height of your hips and so the angle your feet and legs make contact with the board. To get the most out of the fin, the heels need to drive against the apex of the rail. The adjustable line allows you to change your hip height according to the point-of-sailing and the sheeting angle. In marginal winds, or sailing upwind when the sheeting angle is closed, you shorten the line to hold the hips high. But then as you open the sail on a flying broad reach, you lengthen the line to avoid being pulled over the centre-line. You might describe the line set-up as ‘aggressive’ in that it’s uncomfortable to be hooked in off the plane. It only feels right as you step back into the straps. As for the line position, you want them balanced for powered-up sailing. The effort on big sails shifts back under load, so off-the-plane the lines will feel a little far back. In racing, the harness and set-up are a key factor in maximising speed.


Photo by Peter Hart Long lines and the freestyler – it’s about having the greatest freedom to work the sail when hooked-in.



Photo by JC A beautiful still of John Skye mid onehanded backloop. Only by using very long lines can he drop back over the tail and turn the front shoulder away to control the rotation.

It couldn’t be more different. Harness: waist Boom height: shoulder (just under or over). Some go way above that but I don’t know why. Line Length. 30-32” In waves and freestyle, the riders are rarely over-powered. They sail fast but the role of the waist harness is to give the arms a rest between stunts, to help early planing and allow for one-handed hooked-in moves all without hindering agility. - Off the plane. The long line set up allows you to sail comfortably off the plane in the harness with the feet out of the straps. A lot of wave sailing is done off the plane. On the classic light wind ‘float and ride’ days you want to be comfortable as you ‘bog’ or ‘schlog’ out.

SEAT and WAIST – both have their place.

It’s not a case of which is better – they both work - but which is appropriate for what you want to do? If you’re agonising over the decision (or are just in agony), these are questions to ponder. * Fashion. Are you using a waist harness because it feels better or looks better? The majority line themselves up with the wavy end of the windy market because it’s youthful and sexy – not necessarily the best reason. * Fit . This is not ‘anti-waist’ propaganda but I’ve never met anyone who could not get comfortable in a seat harness; but plenty who suffer horribly in a waist harness. * Do you have a waist? If so, where is it? More ‘fattist’ nonsense here but waist harnesses were not built with the fuller figure in mind. If you have no discernible waist, you will struggle. A good test is to note the start and finish points of your waist harness before and after a session. If they are more than a couple of inches apart, it’s not only uncomfortable but potentially injurious. When the harness ends up resting under your armpits with the hook at throat height, it offers no support to the lower back. * Your gender. In general, ladies, your waists are narrower and higher. A lot of waist designs, therefore, crush your ribs and prevent that most essential of acts – breathing. Your higher waists mean you don’t engage all your bodyweight when you hook in. Many women’s lives have been transformed by moving from a waist to a seat. * ‘Strong like bull.’ If you’re a big bloke who likes to sit and go fast but has the subtlety and agility of a drunken elephant, experimenting with a waist harness can encourage you to stand taller and feel the feeling.

Photo by Peter Hart Typically, the hookheight difference between seat and waist is about 3 inches – obviously you need to adjust your boom height and line length accordingly. There are no absolute answers. However, here are a few of the common issues and problems and how altering the harness set-up can help.


Photo by Peter Hart Blokes who have spent a life in a seat harness sitting on loads of power can often benefit from a move to a waist harness. It encourages them to stand up and sail with the weight on toes and heels and be more sensitive to board trim. - Early planing. Wave and freestyle boards have titchy fins that offer hardly any low speed lift. The early planing technique therefore, is to hook in, then bear right away. The long line allows you to extend the rig forward and upright for maximum drive as you step back. Upwind. The technique to going upwind with a multi-fin board or any board with a small fin, is to depress the windward edge. The long lines naturally put you in that position. Moves and manoeuvrability. Hooked-in, one-handed jumps and rotations are a key part of competitive wave-sailing. In the one-handed backloop for example, the trademark move of many, the super-long lines allows them to drop right back over the tail, turn the front shoulder away from the mast, point to the sea, which looks

Photo by Peter Hart Certain shapes and styles just suit a seat harness, especially those with shorter levers and a low centre of gravity. And you don’t have to squat. Former windsurf photographer Jon Nicolson looking really quite upright and relaxed.

cool and helps the rotation. But no, the set up is not particularly comfortable for blasting along in a straight line - but in the wave and freestyle arenas, you shouldn’t be doing much of that.

To summarise Think of those two extremes like this. The racer is like the dinghy sailor on a trapeze. It’s about hiking out, committing weight to the harness, resisting power. The wave and freestyler are like surfers – standing over the middle of the board and driving it through turns with both legs.

THE FREE-RIDE COMPROMISE Most people are doing a bit of both. They want to go fast but they also want to control carved turns.

The ability to keep going as the pressure drops is useful in a number of situations. It wins races and allows you to keep your speed up as make your way through the gusty wind that blows over breaking waves. Yes, it is a technique issue but, some setups make it all too easy to over-sheet, which is the biggest killer of speed. Try placing the lines an inch forward. It places you in touch with your back hand, so that when you run into the lull, you are more sensitive to the drop in pressure and can just open the palm and push the boom away. With the lines back and all your weight committed to closing the sail, it’s all too easy to fall outboard and oversheet, which is death to planing speed.

Line tales Whoever thought a simple piece of rope would be the target of fashion, but it has. My default line length for waves and general sailing has been 30 inches for some time. I was down at the local beach when this quite annoying city bloke I know who has more toys than Hamley’s, comes up and says “still on 30s are we Harty? That’s a bit old school! Me and all the boys are now on 32s.” And off he sailed with his backside scraping the water, his shoulders so extended they were dislocating, looking every inch the picture of discomfort and inefficiency. Before following a trend, it’s just as well to understand what it’s all about.


SELF DIAGNOSIS – feeling for perfection

If ultimate comfort eludes you, just go and out and feel. Where is the sail pulling from? Which part of the body is taking the strain? Then keep moving things around until you feel a symmetry. When I’m testing sails and set-ups I use a mono-line (just one attachment) as it makes me super sensitive to what’s going on.

The mono line (could be achieved just by putting the harness ends close together) makes you especially sensitive to where the sail’s pulling from and allows maximum freedom for sheeting in and out.

When you get it right across the wind, look down and you should see the harness hook directly between the feet so there’s an equal load on both arms and both legs – and actually, very little load on the arms at all.

THE LONG and SHORT of it.

What do we mean by the terms ‘long’ and ‘short?’ By today’s standards you’d say that for a big person: 32 is very long / 30 is averagely long 28 is short / 26 is very short For a smaller person, knock 2 inches of those measurements. The feeling of long and short, of course, is also governed by boom height.

AS YOU HOOK IN, YOU FEEL NUMB TO WHAT’S GOING ON. On the plane you should avoid too much rig movement but you should still be able to move and trim, especially in waves. If you really can’t sheet in and out, your lines are too short, and/or your boom too high. The other thing to adjust is the width of your lines. The further they are apart, the more locked you are (good in some speed situations). By bringing heads closer together, you free up the rig and can sheet in and out through a much wider angle. That in turn that helps you pump in the harness and helps cure over-sheeting.

LOTS OF SPIN-OUT. People imagine spin-out is caused by too much back foot pressure. But generally it’s not the amount of pressure but the nature of it. Shock loads, like when you hoof the fin coming down from a jump, or hitting chop, or just sheeting in and out violently, are the ones to avoid. Any aspect of your set-up that unbalances you can be a reason for spin-out. But these are the common culprits.

Photo by Peter Hart The difference between line length for big and small people isn’t that great. Harty’s missus, Annette, a mere 5’ 4” very happy on 28” lines.



Unbalanced lines. If you’re having to use a lot of front or back arm pressure to sheetin, you won’t maintain a steady angle and the board will be driven by wild pulses of power. Lines too long. With the legs almost parallel with the water, you exert too much sideways pressure on the fin.

Lines too short (especially off wind) take too much of the weight off your feet, pull you over the centre-line and stop you driving the board down. As the board skips, it traps air and away she goes.

Can’t go upwind There’s a myth regarding upwind sailing that you have to sheet in as hard as you can and drive all that power against the fin. It’s much more subtle than that. As you sheet in, the effort in the sail moves forward and bears you away. Lines which are too far back force you to sheet in hard and hence kill your upwind performance. The way to scream upwind is to be fully powered and just slightly sheeted out. The effort of the sail then moves back and up, lifts you onto the fin and drives you upwind. Hence the best cure is to centre the lines or move them slightly forward of the balance point. Long lines can also be an upwind killer. The hips drop too low as you close the sail. You then tend to oversheet, drop onto the heels and push in the windward edge. That’s OK for multi-fin boards but not good if you have a big single fin setup where you want the board to ride flat or with the windward edge up.

JUST … UNCOMFORTABLE You’re not in agony but somehow you know it could be better. First let me stress that most harness comfort issues are down to a badly set sail. For example, if you don’t have enough downhaul, it traps the wind and feels like a tractor, heavy in the hands and un-direct. The effort shifts as the sail loads up so the lines never feel balanced wherever you put them. But let’s assume the rig IS properly tensioned. It’s a harness set-up problem. So where do you start? First understand that you shouldn’t have to make unnatural squatting movements to power up the harness, nor twist or contort to resist the power. If you do, the lines are the wrong length and/or the boom the wrong height. Test your set-up across the wind because on a beam reach everything is (should be) symmetrical. Strapped-up and hookedin, look down (only for a moment now) and you should see the harness hook directly between your feet and your arms equidistant from the harness ends. That means you have equal pressure in both feet and arms. If your back arm and back foot are over-loaded, move the lines towards the aching limbs and try lowering the boom and inch. Vice versa if the front hand arm and leg are loaded. Play with the height of your stance. If the boom height and lines are good, then as you stand upright, your arms will be parallel with the water and the line coming away from your harness at right angles.


Of all the skills that help the intermediate to the next level, for me one stands out. It’s early planing – and above all, early planing with small gear; and using the least energy possible. It’s all about set-up. Your bodyweight through the harness is the best way of sheeting in. So borrowing a little from the wave set-up, the line should be long enough to allow you hook in with the front foot on the mastfoot. You should feel a little suspended with your weight mostly on the boom and then get comfortable as you step back.

If your line and your arms are more vertical, the boom could be too high. If you’re keen to work at this, invest in some adjustable lines. They make you aware just how much hip height and leg angle effect board trim. It’s a bit of a trend and many get used to long lines, even on big free-ride gear, because it feels a bit safer. But when you get going, if you crank the lines in an inch, you can suddenly free up the fin at which point the board rails up a little and takes off. You can honestly reduce the wetted surface just by lifting the hips.


Photo by Annette Hart In front of the straps you should just be able to hook-in.

Suspended in the harness with your bodyweight closing the sail, the board naturally wants to take off.

LESSONS from the TOP.

It’s only right that after his astonishing silver medal at Weymouth, we should feature Nick Dempsey, the UK’s most technical sailor. The pic below is a study of symmetry and efficiency. Upper body and mast are at the same angles. The line comes out at exactly 90º to his body so the load is spread perfectly through his seat harness. And the lines are just the right length so the feet make the ideal contact with the rail of the board. In a free-ride arena with a waist harness, you seek the same feeling.

Nick Dempsey - the angle of the seat harness is such that he can use a high boom but still have the lines coming out at 90º to the body.

You can achieve the same symmetry in the waist harness by lowering the boom and standing tall.

Harness discomfort can be mental. I was testing slalom kit last week. The only mode that stuff understands is maxed-out all the time – high boom, seat harness etc. It’s fun but can be a bit frantic especially if that’s your only set-up. But big kit can be mellow. I’ve just come back from a cruise around the estuary on an 8.5 no cam sail and a 141 detuned slalom/free-ride design. I wanted a cruisy time so I wore the waist harness, shortened the lines a little and lowered the boom. It meant I could hook in easily and sail comfortably off the plane. With the waist harness you naturally stand taller with more weight on your feet, so it all feels less edgy, less racey - but still fast. Harty is off on his ‘endless winter’ wave clinic tour of Scotland and Ireland – but that won’t stop him scribbling away in the dark hours at the back of the pub. In the next issue he shines light on that most glorious of moves – the duck gybe. His courses have been a sell-out this year but check-out places for the best show in town on


Placing the lines is all about feel. You feel which limb is overloaded and then move the line towards it.

Line too far back (it’s over the back foot), both front Line too far forward the back has to move down arm and front leg load up. This is catapult territory. the boom to sheet it. 78


Just right. Harness hook between the feet and the feeling that hands are redundant.


The Harness, the lines and you are windsurfing’s single most important relationship and, like all relationships, you have to work at them to...