Better Boat Handling – Gybing – by Mike Senior

3, Boat heal and pole snapEd: Top tips from Mike Senior, who has won so many Championship events, including most recently the 2018 GP14 World Championship! This article was originally published in the Autumn 2012 edition of Mainsail, which can be read in full here 

Better Boat Handling – I am a big believer that the quickest way to improve your race results is to have better boat handling. If your boat handling is top class, race tactics all of a sudden become a lot easier as you will find yourself in positions on the race course with a lot more confidence than if your boat handling wasn’t as good. In this article I share my process for gybing.


  • Boat speed. It is extremely important when it is breezy to aim to gybe when you are at maximum speed. The majority of capsizes happen because the boat is travelling too slow into the gybe which means the rig becomes loaded with power and becomes difficult to gybe.
  • Centreboard. Having the centreboard set correctly can make the difference between a decent gybe and a really bad one. Too little board in light airs will mean the boat struggles to find grip in the exit of the gybe, whereas too much board in heavy airs increases the risk of a broach in the exit of your gybe.
  • Heel. Heel is very important throughout the whole gybe process. If you don’t heel the boat correctly at the right times you will end up using too much rudder to counteract what the boat is naturally trying to do and therefore create drag which will increase the capsize risk.
  • Sheet transition. The most common mistake I see in relation to the kite flying throughout a gybe is when the crew pulls the kite round to follow the wind direction. I am not saying pulling the kite round is wrong. However, if you pull the kite round directly from the pole you create an arm full of slack between the old guy and block. This is the main reason why a kite starts to flap mid gybe as the helm has to first remove this slack to stop the kite from flapping.
  • Gybe exit. Most people’s initial thought on the gybe exit is to flatten the boat as quick as possible with as much force as possible. In lighter breezes this is the wrong thing to do as you will create a lot of disturbance over your sail plan and increase the risk of the kite collapsing.