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Issue 320 - OCT 2012



PETER HART Words PETER HART / Photos Hart Photography


DUCKING THE ISSUE Looking to get one in the bag or improve them? Peter Hart describes the intricacies of his favourite transition – the Duck Gybe.




This is one of my favourite old pics. It’s Vazon Bay in Guernsey during the Mistral nationals of September 1982. There had been no wind that summer and Ben Oakley (former Olympic coach) and I had spent hours secretly working on ducks on Speedsailors (boards with wheels). So at a time when ducks were very rare, we stunned our peers with our new and wild trickery. The pic also reveals that despite a degree of success, I still had a lot of work to do. The move challenged that most basic technique rule “never let go of the front hand!” At this stage I hadn’t figured out how to de-power the rig before releasing. The technique was just to let go and then frantically try and pick the sail back up before it hit the water. It looks (and felt) panicky. The early sail (a Ken Black ‘Ho’okipa’) really helped in that it had no foot batten to poke your eye out, and was super flat. On the good side, the board is carving. After this we soon learned to throw the rig rather than just let it go and get the front hand right to the end. The Morris Minor paint job on the bottom of the board brings a nostalgic tear to the eye.

Harty ducking in Guernsey on his Vitamin Sea Morris Minor board, 1982. It was a bit of a scramble but the equivalent of a double loop on today’s freestyle scale. In the duck you have to release the rig straight away. It therefore introduces you to a whole new, wonderful and, at first, tad scary, sensation of doing the rig and foot transition when fully planing.

During a break in the wind as we review performances or tackle a new move, someone will often say: “So what about the Duck Gybe then?” Ah yes, windsurfing’s greatest move. It blends carving and rig flipping like no other. So we go through it on the beach after which, that same person will, inevitably, say “It’s SO much easier! Why have we been wasting our time with that carve step-gybe thingy?”


Their judgement is flawed but they absolutely have a point. Mechanically, the Duck Gybe is a lot more efficient. The rig only has to pass through about 90º compared to 270º in the regular gybe. The rig seems to float back into your hands and you get the power back on more quickly and earlier in the arc. What is there not to prefer?

So the plan is to put forward a…plan and answer such questions as how good do you need to be? What conditions are best for learning? What are the kit limitations? And then suggest a painless progression. IN DEFENCE OF THE CARVE The second part is aimed at those who can do it, sort of, but have to admit it’s The carve gybe lends you the option of neither pretty nor consistent. I’ll point coming out clew first and supporting yourself if the wind drops or you lose bal- out the most common errors; show you ance. You also have more power control how to make it more stylish and offer a few tricks to up the hit rate in a wider options to help you survive under or over-powered gybes. In brief it’s an easier variety of conditions. Let the fun begin. technique with which to survive gybes, and hence it’s the choice of racers. But HOW GOOD? it’s also easier to be defensive and use The Duck Gybe is just a carve gybe with that rig like a safety blanket all the way round. Far from replacing the carve gybe, a different rig flip. In a good duck, the rig goes light because you’ve entered the duck is highly complementary and speedily and caught up to the wind helps you improve it. speed. That’s a clue as to the required standard. You should be doing the sort DE-RUTTED Trying the Duck Gybe can lift you out of the of carve gybe where you embrace the acceleration of bearing away and the ‘bad-carve-gybing’ rut in 2 specific ways. feeling of dropping onto an edge on a 1. Early rig change. The number one cause of not planing out of carve gybes board of 120 litres or less. Deliberately washing of speed in a carve gybe is bad is delaying the rig and foot change. It news but you can get away with it. In the feels safer to wait for the board to stop duck you can’t. before switching.

The deception lies in the fact that they have just tried it on dry land in 5 mph of wind with a 3.5 sq m rig. The challenge of a Duck Gybe lies in speed (both of board and hands), controlled aggression, sweet timing and commitment. It hasn’t ousted the regular carve gybe as people’s ‘go-to’ downwind transition, because it isn’t as versatile. There are situations – e.g. wild winds, marginal winds, churning seas, huge rigs – where it isn’t a smart option. However, when the right moment combines with slick technique, the sensation of dynamic acceleration can only be matched by the ‘Nemesis’ ride at Alton Towers.

In a regular carve gybe, you initiate the rig change by releasing the back hand. The clew passes over the nose of the board and the rig change happens towards the end of the gybe on the new broad reach. You start the Duck Gybe by releasing the front hand. The clew passes over the back of the board as the mast swings over the nose and you get to the new side of the boom by ‘ducking’ under the foot of the sail. The key difference is that the rig change happens at the beginning of the gybe, as soon as you bear away on the original tack and is (should be) done and dusted by the time you reach dead downwind.

2. Switch foot. In the duck, you flip the rig before changing the feet, and so power up with your feet in their original positions. To sail ‘switch foot’ you have to twist at the hips, separate upper and lower body and generally loosen up. It’s a lack of flexibility at the hips that block so many regular gybes.

”To attempt a duck, you don’t have to be planing out of regular gybes but you should at least be planing into them with some relish” WHAT KIT? You’ll see people duck gybing 8.5s (for a bet) but booms longer than about 2 metres involve a marathon journey from one side to the other. The best learning size is around 5.5 – 6.0, a little less if you’re on the small side. As for board size, you want one that matches the chosen rig. If you go much bigger than 120 litres (as specified above) there’ll be a board/rig mismatch and you’ll start out of control. Here are some other ways that kit can help or hinder. Sail Shape. The more area there is under the boom, the more chance you have of eating sail. Race sails are the worst and wave sails are the best. Actually, the very best are the original high wind designs of yesteryear that had a straight line from clew to tack and so no foot battens to poke you in the eye. A flatter profile is also easier as it depowers when you release it and makes for a less frantic transition.




The full sequence gives an idea of the timing. It’s like the tack in that in terms of hand and feet movements, you can get away with the odd shuffle, so long as you shuffle quickly. The key to success initially lies in good board speed and slick timing. With good speed, the rig stays dead for longer and you widen your window for error. With a sense of the flow and timing you can then focus on cleaning up the transition, being more precise and reducing the hand movements needed to get from one side to the other (3 is plenty). But always remember the basics – without speed and a smooth arc, nothing good can happen. Board: 103 FSW / Sail: 6.0 Wave Wind: 18 knots (nicely powered) Water: flat = ducking perfection!

High Clew. Shorter people struggle with some designs because the clew is too high for them to reach. Board Glide. Wave boards are great fun to duck as they turn so tightly. But thanks to their extreme rocker, they push water and slow down quickly when you sheet out, demanding a swift and precise rig change. Free-ride boards with straighter rocker lines are faster, glide further, keep their speed up during the sail transition and so are more forgiving for the ducking novice.


Photos Netty Hart At the entry stage it looks like a powered up carve – back hand right back, sail fully sheeted in, board, rig and rider all banking over as one.

grab it right at the end. The rig falls to the inside of the nose. Let it go on an extended arm to create some space. As the new side of the boom presents itself …

Flat water helps in a hundred ways. The board travels much faster relative to the wind so the rig feels lighter in the hands. You can glide through a longer arc, which in turn gives you more time when learning the ropes. After a second of carving and well before downwind, throw the You’ll feel more balanced, confident and happy to commit. rig at the nose with both hands (or just upwind of it), release By contrast, chop makes you defensive the front hand, and as the end of the boom whistles past … and slows you down. The ideal wind strength is the one that allows you to use that 5-6 sq m sail. 18-20 knots is ideal but let’s not get too picky. On the ‘powered up’ scale, you have to be fully planing with enough power that you accelerate as you bear away. You do NOT want to be hanging on. To crack that first one, it’s better to be a little under than over. Some will state their favourite conditions for duck gybing are 35 knots + because their 3.5, with its titchy boom, flips round so easily. But that’s just because they can do it. In gales, the room for error is tiny and the consequences of getting it wrong pull the rig back, throwing the clew over your front are violent. shoulder. Key here is to hold your body position and keep carving. So 20 knots of constant wind are blowing across flat water. You have a 110 free-ride board and a 5.7 rotational. No excuses then.

THE PROGRESSION (PT 1 – Ducks on the Shore) Hurtling around a corner banked over at 20 mph is no place to be learning the intricacies of a new rig change. It’s far wiser to work out and drill the mechanics of the move on dry land in 5 mph. Line the board up just off the wind just to feel how it works. The photo sequence describes the hand moves far better than words can tell. But at this stage, here are 3 areas of focus.

Nearly downwind, as the rig comes back, let the hands fall into their normal sailing positions. Key is to get the front hand in front of the harness line so you can spill wind.



Hold your position to the inside of the turn, sheet in, power out switch foot and change the feet at your leisure.

1. New Front Hand. The key to successful ducks is taking control of the rig on the new tack as soon as possible. You have control on the new tack once the new front hand (the old back hand) takes hold


Duck Gybe and loop have an important element in common. It’s when you get the back hand right back on the boom that things really start to happen. Most move their back hand back before unhooking. The problem is that you can’t move it far enough back without leaning back, over-sheeting and your stance. The trick lies in a double move. Move it back a little way before unhooking, but then as you lean the rig forward to start the gybe (or the loop), you move it back again. The further back it goes, the further forward you can throw the rig and the easier it is to get the front hand to the back of the boom.

Photos Peter Hart - Before you unhook, you move the back hand back as far as you can without upsetting your stance and trim.


Then as you move the rig forward to initiate the duck, move it back again – and we’re talking right back, right up to the alloy.

The issue with the regular carve is that you release the rig and, so take the foot off the accelerator, just as the board is turning through the wind and slowing down. Hence it takes very precise trim and delicate foot moves to keep it planing. But in the duck you release the rig as the board is accelerating, and get power back just as you’re slowing down. In one way the duck compensates for dodgy technique. In another it encourages good habits like doing the rig transition at speed.

practise the real thing as a whole. The glory of the duck is that it’s a continuous blend of flowing elements. So with the basic mechanics in the locker, it’s all about experimenting and trying to get a feel for the rhythm and timing.

‘Bambi after a double espresso,’ ‘an octopus in a washing machine’ are just 2 of the expressions I’ve used to describe less than perfect Duck Gybes” TIMING I‘ve yet to meet anyone who on their first attempt has NOT ducked the sail too late. Conditioning from the standard gybe combined with trepidation persuades everyone to delay and delay. It won’t happen but try and duck the sail about 3 seconds before your instinct tells you to. The happy news is that there are strong technical, physical, audio and visual cues as to good and disastrous timing.

Visual Here’s how it should look. You release the rig just off the wind, the mast drops to about 45º to the inside of the nose and the new side of the boom presents itself. So with that in mind, these are the symptoms of bad timing. Too Late. If you wait until you’ve passed through the wind, the rig blows to the outside of the turn and the new side of Photos Netty Hart In the regular step, you release the rig on the boom never presents itself. the new broad reach just as the board is slowing down. It’s a This is the same moment in the duck, the rig already Too Early. If you release the rig too close great feeling carving out on the heels but it takes fine trim changed and sheeted in. If you stay dynamic, handle that to the wind, it either falls towards the to keep the board planing. power and keep carving, the exit is pure planing joy. tail, forcing you to lean back and sink the tail, or yet more spectacularly, the mast of the boom in front of the harness line which in turn makes you do all the wrong duck, the aim is to place it as far back on smacks the water whereupon the board because then you can open the sail and things. The cure lies in the title - ‘duck.’ the boom as it will go, right by the clew. If screeches to a halt but you don’t. At least spill wind. As soon as you go for the duck, A soon as you release, DON’T throw the it gets that far back, you have time, vision early ducking is a fault on the right side look for that point on the new side, which head back (natural defensive reaction) and space to change the rig. If it doesn’t and can bring joy and laughter to those leads to the next point ... but duck under the foot and look for the reach to the back, you get a mouthful watching. new side of the boom. A simple move of of sail. 2. Orientation & The Duck. One of the head keeps you orientated and helps Audio the spookier elements of the duck is you commit to the rail. THE FIRST TRY A good planing gybe, carve or duck, that when you release the rig, it falls to After the dry land session (or a light should last 4 seconds, 5 at a push with the inside and blocks your vision. For a 3. Front Hand by the Clew. When you wind, big board, small sail water session), big kit. moment you seem to be gybing blind, release the front hand to initiate the there is nothing left to do other than




In a regular carve, you should initiate the rig change (i.e. begin to sheet out to start the sail transition) after just TWO seconds. In the duck you should throw the rig just ONE second after beginning to carve. It’s socially acceptable to give yourself an audio cue. As you lean on the rail, shout “AND ONE! And release”. So long as you remember to carve and are going fast enough, you won’t be far wrong.

Because you’re trying to reach to the back end of the boom, a common problem is that of throwing the head back and hence dropping onto the back foot and stalling the tail. If the symptoms persist, help yourself stay balanced and forward by focusing on the big toe of the front foot. Press on it as you carve and throw the rig. Then, think about the head. Look to the inside as you duck (not back at the clew), and, so important, look out of the turn as you sheet in again. At the exit, it’s all too easy to get carried away, heave on the back hand and stall. Remember you’re powering up very broad to the wind so leave the sail open and sheet in gradually as you carve upwind.

Photo Annette Hart As you throw the rig, keep pressure on the front toe so stop you falling back. With a good throw, the clew will come to you.


When you pull the rig back to reach the new side, pull the clew the rig over your front shoulder, NOT towards your head. Even with superb technique, you can’t reach the front of the boom unless …


In all moves, there’s an old formula, which states that the closer your teeth are to the boom, the more trouble you’re in. People snog the rig endlessly in the duck because it involves a lot of handy work and somehow it feels safer if you hang on at all times. But to get a clean one, especially with a big sail, you have to let go for a short second. In a classy duck, there are 2 release and catch moments – one as you throw the rig forward, and the other as you pull it back. This is an unusual feeling that is best drilled in the safety of your back yard.

One of the main issues with the duck is that the rig change occupies your every thought to the point where you forget the basics, the most basic of which is to carve the board. What’s so important to a sweet carve gybe and even more crucial to a Duck Gybe is the entry of the arc. If you make it smooth and gradual, you accelerate evenly, the power builds gradually and you buy more time to do the duck. The worst approach is to hoof the tail so you squirt from beam reach to run in the space of a yard. The more suddenly you kick off the wind, the more violent the build of power, which in a ducking context, is disastrous. Don’t be side-tracked by the duck. Keep a constant pressure on the rail all the way round, especially during the transition.

STEP 2 MAKING IT BETTER ‘Bambi after a double espresso,’ ‘an octopus in a washing machine’ are just 2 of the expressions I’ve used to describe less than perfect Duck Gybes. When the aim is merely to tick the box, people resort to all manner of desperate measures. If your Duck Gybe feels, rushed, frantic, dangerous then you’re doing it with the wrong kit or at the wrong moment or are just doing it … wrong. Like all moves, the first one should be the beginning of the journey rather than the end. It’s a move, which that lends itself to endless experimentation, variation and polishing. Here to finish are a list of ways to hone, polish and extend your window of success.

Power Control.

You completely let go! As in the carve, it’s all too tempting to go chasing the rig and fall off balance. But don’t, hold your position and let the rig fall into your hands.



Photo Peter Hart The glorious ending, head looking out of the turn, body committed inside and forward and, so important, the sail open. Only sheet in as you carve upwind.

The toppest of the top tips relating to rig transitions is: “don’t release a powered-up sail.” If you do, you have to be prepared for a very sudden change in trim and balance. It’s far better to depower the rig, balance it and then let go. That’s the key to a smooth duck. The way to depower a sail is to either sheet out or over-sheet. You can do both just before ducking. Sheet Out. In marginal winds, ease out the back hand to the point where the sail almost balances itself. Then throw it to windward (i.e. upwind of the nose).


Ducking mishaps are many and varied although most result from poor timing and misplaced hands. In all the following shots note how thanks to the front hand NOT getting far enough back, the victim is forced into a worryingly intimate relationship with the foot of the sail.

Photos Peter Hart Hanging on! Crossing the hands over to start the duck is bad news. You end up too close to the boom, The timing is a bit late here can’t get the front hand back (and the front hand is too far far enough and have to lean forward on the boom)... back to get out of the way.

Over-Sheet. This is my favourite. You make the duck part of a lay-down gybe so you have to be powered up. With the hand way back on the boom, you drop the rig right down and over-sheet. With very little area exposed to the wind, the rig just stays there as you launch it forward and back.

which means he catches the sail on a run, which in turn pulls him out of shape, overpowers him and stops him Ducking too early. He releases carving out. The next frame the rig across the wind so it was messy. drops towards the tail...

MOBILE HANDS (and orthodontics avoidance)

A thin scar on my upper lip stands as a brutal reminder of my first duck attempt (Bray Lake, near Windsor, April 1981). If you leave your back hand in the middle of the boom and just let go, the mast falls away but the clew end of the boom Boss the Rig (get ACTIVE!) swings up and clocks you in the teeth. In a good one, you hold your carving posi- That only has to happen once for you tion and the rig moves around you. to start every duck by standing up and In a bad one, it dominates you. It pulls throwing your head back out of the way. you out of shape and you go chasing it. Not the posture of a man in control. The passive ducker lets the front hand It’s the hands, which are at fault. Here are go, gets pulled off balance as the mast three hand/arm related tips. crashes downwind, bends at the waist, straightens the legs and then with a flurry 1. Back Hand Back. In every gybe you of hand shuffles, tries to pull the rug back move the back hand back to help you up before it hits the water. sheet in. In the Duck Gybe you move it The ACTIVE ducker doesn’t just let it go twice, Once just before you unhook; you but launches it forwards, catches the then move it back yet further as you lean boom as the clew whistles past his nose. the rig forward to duck. The further back Then he doesn’t reach for the new side; you place the back hand, the easier it is to instead he hurls the rig back so it comes throw the rig forward. to him. 2. Don’t Cross the Hands. Some manuals suggest you cross the front hand over the back hand to reach the back of the boom. Try NOT to do this as it gets you moving back. Instead throw the rig forward with both hands; then open the grip of the front hand and let the boom slip through it until you reach the clew. With the hand right at the end, you have all time and space.

“In all moves, there’s an old formula, which states that the closer your teeth are to the boom, the more trouble you’re in” 84


3 Release & Catch. You can’t hold onto both sides of the boom at the same time. Well you can, but you end up wearing it. On long booms especially people tend to work their way to the new side in a series of shuffles. Sometimes it works but it’s rarely pretty. Remember too that if you touch the

new side of the boom behind the harness lines, you’ll power the sail and risk having it ripped from your grasp. The duck is a release and catch manoeuvre. When you pull the rig back and reach for the new side, you should release it completely for a second; that way you can reach directly to the front of the boom.

GET DYNAMIC – Slash and Duck The way we cracked the first ducks, was to scream off on a broad reach in a moderate wind, flatten the board off while the rig was light, duck, and then carve out - average turning circle – 2 miles. The best ducks are the ones where you, board and rig tilt over and duck all in one movement. If you carve hard it is virtually impossible to duck too early because the board just catches up with the falling rig. The danger area in the duck is broad reach to broad reach. If you linger there with an upright rig, you are looking at a trip over the handlebars. By carving hard, you pass through the death zone in a second.

HAMMERING THE BASICS You don’t have to be told you’ve done a good duck, you know it immediately. You had a sense of flow but above all you had time AND space. In the Duck Gybe, you create space by being calmly aggressive. So if the next session, you take heed of the following tips, you can leave the gum shield at home. 1. Act like it’s a normal carve. If you’re not leaning forward with weight on the boom as you start the duck, the nose will fly in the air as soon as you start the duck.

and forces him to lean back out of the way and weight the tail.

2. Think ‘smooth even curve.’ if you flatten the board off downwind, you WILL get hauled off your feet. 3. Stay committed to the inside. Make yourself the centre of the circle. If you let yourself rock over the centre-line, you will get hauled to the outside as you power up the rig. 4. Make space. At all times, the more distance you put between your body and boom, the more happy the occasion. That means getting the front hand right to the back of the boom; and then, most importantly, letting the rig fall away on a straight front arm. That then gives you the scope to pull it back up. 5. FEEL FOR THE RHYTHM. A bit Zen-like this, but feel for the rhythm. “Whoosh, boom boom, whoosh!” (The ‘whooshes’ are the acceleration bits and the ‘booms’ are the rig change.) 6. Remember to duck and you’ll always have your own teeth

Fresh from his ‘Endless Winter’ clinic tour of Ireland and Scotland, Peter will be back with tales for the aspiring wave sailor. In the meantime check out his website for his clinic details or join him on Facebook on ‘Peter Hart Masterclass.’


Looking to get one in the bag or improve them? Peter Hart describes the intricacies of his favourite transition – the Duck Gybe.

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