The Duke is now into its fifth evolution, and for 2012 has been worked extensively to reduce swing weight for extra manoeuvrability. Its remit remains pretty broad – everything from flat water freestyle to full-on wave performance. The Duke sits in the North wave range as the power wave sail alongside the Ice (all-round wave) and Ego (concept wave).
ON THE BEACH
To improve handling and minimise ‘swing weight’ North have put the Duke on a diet, claiming to have reduced its weight by 10%. By our reckoning the weight has been dropped by 0.3kg, which is a decent saving indeed and now puts the Duke in the same weight range as most of the other ‘main’ brands, while still featuring North’s 5-year warranty.
The Duke is a great looking product with a pretty funky design and all the attention to detail that we have come to expect from North. The visual trim system (VTS) is the best in the business and works a treat. The recommended harness line position (printed on the sail) also works well.
The Duke sports the longest boom (179cm) and second longest luff (to the Naish Force). It sets on the recommended RDM 430cm mast (but also SDM if you need it) with a fairly flat batten profile, but a decent amount of fullness set forward in the sail.
There is reasonable tuning versatility, which allows it to be set with less downhaul and more outhaul for a gruntier feel, or more downhaul and less outhaul for a lighter feel. There is also a dual option clew height, which offers more tuning versatility. Once powered up we preferred to set the sail nearer to maximum downhaul, using the upper clew eyelet (to stabilise the sail) and moderate outhaul. We did find that to get the most bottom end it was best to set the downhaul nearer to minimum, but once powered the sail was more balanced and lighter in the hands with the ‘max’ downhaul setting.
Sizes: 4.7, 5.0, 5.4, 5.9, 6.4, 6.9
Tested on: Platinum 100% RD M 430cm
Size tested: 5.4m
ON THE WATER
The two most noticeable changes from last year are a lighter feel in the hands and a more balanced / neutral pull point. Previously we found the Duke was very forward pulling to get going, but then once powered it held the power on the back hand. Now the pull is much more neutral. There is still an element of forward pull when not planing (which is nice), then the power stays nicely balanced and neutral once up to speed. Even our light weight Clones were happy using this sail well powered up.
The sail has quite a lot of spring to it, putting its power delivery amongst the softest here and making it quite a forgiving sail to use.
With minimum downhaul setting the Duke certainly has plenty of raw power. However, to keep the nice light and balanced feel it definitely needed to be downhauled nearer to max as the wind increased.
The longer boom and balanced pull position does give the Duke a more locked-in feel than the Ice and makes it quite applicable to high wind, flat water use. Nevertheless, the lighter feel and reduced back hand pressure at the top end makes the Duke feel a lot more agile than last year’s version. It also gives the sail a very good top end.
The Duke was nice for riding, pulling from a good position to drive the board through the turns and with quite a soft, progressive power delivery. For jumping, the balanced lighter feel and moderate sail stiffness made the Duke great fun for all types of manoeuvre.
In gusty conditions we did find that the Duke could drop off the plane a bit quicker than some of the others, and lacked a tiny bit of feel. To help with this it’s important to get enough batten tension into the lower battens to help push some shape and extra drive into the sail.
The Duke offers two clew eyelet options, and we actually preferred the top eyelet this year. Despite the fact it should tighten the leech and give more power, it actually seemed to stabilise the power a bit better in the top eyelet, and for all-round performance we felt it worked best in this position.
The 2012 North Duke is in our opinion a nice improvement from 2011, feeling lighter in the hands and more balanced. It still has plenty of power (particularly if you are prepared to tune to get it), but also a much better top end than previously, especially for lighter riders. It also feels a lot more ‘playful’ this year, making it great for manoeuvres and waveriding.