Non-Compliant Club 420s at the North Americans: the Aftermath

While replacement boats were found at the 2019 North Americans last July for those teams with non-compliant Club 420s, no progress has been achieved since to compensate the boat owners for their financial losses. The retailer of the non-compliant boats seems to have shut down his business. Owners of the boats - both private or clubs, are left in limbo. The Club 420 class has been unfortunately of little assistance to the unlucky owners of those boats. The way the Club 420 class dealt with non-compliance can be interestingly contrasted with the way the Laser class dealt in 2015 with non-compliant Lasers.

There was drama last July at the Club 420 North Americans at St Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco. 

Some 16 boats were prohibited from registering because they did not pass measurement. The boats were PS2000 boats built in China by Far East Boats and retailed by Sturgis Boat Works, based in Yarmouth, MA.

The non conforming elements were, according to a July 15 media release by the Club 420 class, a) the use of a resin infusion method and materials that are not class approved; and b) additional structural elements at the bottom of the centerboard trunk.

The Club 420 class concluded that the use of these boats would constitute unfair racing conditions and decided to disapprove the boats for Club 420 class events.

While there were 17 such boats at the North Americans, there were more non-compliant boats involved. The class listed 49 boats that were disapproved because of these irregularities.

The boats had been bought either by clubs or by individuals.

PS2000 reacted to the decertification of the boats on July 19:

« To claim that our decertified boats are the only ones that do not conform to the construction manual is the height of self deception and the rankest of hypocrisy.  If anything, these boats conform more closely to the letter of the construction manual than any others sailing today. Their exclusion lies not in the actual rules of construction but in the clause in the manual that requires builders to notify the secretary of changes and gain approval in advance.  Which we, in fact, failed to do. »

There are other grievances in the PS2000 statement that concludes:

« PS2000 has been asked to follow rules the Class can’t, or won’t, provide or verify.  They’ve decertified boats that conform to the rules as provided, and affirmed boats that clearly do not.  The sailors are the most important stakeholders in this struggle.  We, at PS2000, hope they will speak up and send the Class a message that this kind of double standard can not stand. »

The Club 420 class received on July 14 a request to inspect the boats from another manufacturer - Zim.

The class measurer concluded that:

« With the current information I have, I believe that Zim has not changed their boat design or construction methods relating to the stringers from when the boats were originally designated class legal boats by the Club420 Board of Directors. It is my evaluation that Zim boats as built currently [actively plaqued], are class legal to compete in Club 420 events. »

The Board of the Club 420 class subsequently approved, on July 18, the determination of the Class Measurer.

The Club 420 class, following the decertification of those boats at the North Americans, helped locate boats, and was able to get charter boats for the affected teams.

« Yesterday, after our announcement, 17 boats were located and delivered to St. Francis Yacht Club. One Board member located several available boats, jumped in his car and picked up those boats and delivered them to St. Francis. … This exemplifies the core values and mission of this class of youth sailing. » stated John Morgan, the President of the Club 420 class in the initial July 11 release.

Chartering those boats, some of them far from being race ready, came however at a price. Each affected family had to foot a US$750 bill for chartering a boat. The dealer, Sturgis, refused to take responsibility for compensating boat owners for this expenditure.

Who is responsible for the faulty boats? According to the Club 420 class:

« It is the sole responsibility of the approved builders of Club 420 dinghies to ensure that each boat manufactured and delivered conforms to the Class Rules and Construction Manual. The Association and its Board do not assume any responsibility or liability for non-compliance with Class Rules and the Construction Manual. »

Despite this major problem, and the fact that several teams had to sail charter boats that were not 100% race ready, there was good sailing. The championship was won by former star Optimist sailors Justin and Mitchell Callahan from Miami - see results here. https://theclubspot.com/regatta/R5f7lIQcXD/results

What is the Situation Now?

While the class offered to work with PS2000 and the builder Far East boats to « address the concerns of our membership to ensure positive outcomes … » no tangible steps have unfortunately been taken since the July decertification of those boats.

Currently, and now apparently for several weeks, the company Sturgis Boat Works is not replying to phone or email queries, and its website is down too. https://sturgisboatworks.com/

We talked to Tim Murphy, from the Peninsula Youth Sailing Foundation out of Redwood City, CA, who bought one of the non-compliant boats in March 2019.

He said the boats were delivered directly from China in late April, without being verified by Sturgis, which provided the stickers from the Club 420 class to put on the boats. The boats were first sailed in May, in the breeze, and that’s when all the problems appeared.

He said there were big leaking problems from the very beginning with those boats, and complained that their construction was terrible.

What appeared to be the key issue is that the hull and the deck had not been properly sealed, because poor manufacturing and insufficient amounts of sealant. There were also leaks at the level of the center board case. Leak tests with air pressure were unsuccessful, because the leaking was so big that no increased air pressure could be achieved in the hull!

There was substantial amounts of water accumulating in the tanks, which took minutes to empty after sailing.

This leak problem affected several of the PS2000 boats, and Sturgis delegated someone to appraise the situation and fix the boats. Some fixing was done, which reduced, but did not end, the leaking.

You can see some pictures below of the building issues with the boats.

Confronted with the building / leak issue, the owners opted to work with Sturgis to fix the issue, as they needed the boats for the racing season of the sailors. They did not request a refund at the time.

But when the boats, in addition to the leaks problem,  were found to be non-compliant to the class rules, the owners requested for Sturgis to take the boats back and for a refund.

Sturgis refused to take the boats back, and the company’s CEO then became totally unresponsive.

Tim Murphy, who is a seasoned 505 sailor, added that the class had been of little help so far, offering no substantive way forward. He believes that the class has its share of responsibilities in what happened, that there was not enough oversight, and that they lacked pro-activeness in remedying the problem. He thinks that the class could mandate boat builders, for being approved, to take some form of liability insurance for such cases.

While the retailer who supplied the non-compliant boats seems to have shut down his business, the Chinese manufacturer Far East Boats also remains silent on the affair. Note that Far East Boats is a major builder in classes such as the Optimist, and may become a major player for building Lasers.

Tim Murphy enquired what would be the price of a replacement hull from another manufacturer - and was quoted an amount around US$8,000, i.e. nearly the price just below US$10,000 he paid for the full boat.

He thinks that the residual value of his non-compliant PS2000 hull is now just around US$1,000. The prejudice he and the other owners suffered is substantial: around US$7,000 per boat, plus the charter fees and additional expenses they had to incur to make the charter boats race ready.

Owners of the C420 boats - both private or clubs, are left in limbo. They will probably have to absorb those substantial losses.

Since then, he bought a second-hand C420, from another brand, that is 7 years old, for around US$7,000, and has not had any issue with that boat.

It must be emphasized that the C420 is the only youth double-handed boat that is widely sailed in the San Francisco area, with regularly 40 boats at local regattas.

There are no active fleets, neither of 29ers nor of International 420s, which are mostly on the East Coast, so the only realistic option for double-handed sailing in the San Francisco area remains the Club 420.

Contrast with the Episode of the Non-Compliant Aussie Lasers

It’s interesting to contrast how the Club 420 and the Laser classes respectively dealt with the situation of non-compliant boats.

As we described here, the Club 420, which isn’t Olympic, and not even international, as only operating in North America, decided to decertify the faulty boats.

This has led to significant consequences as the owners of the affected boats have not been compensated, and are unlikely to be. The boats have lost substantial value, because of their decertification.

Confronted with a comparable non-compliance issue, what did the Laser class do?. It decided to cover-up the issue, without informing neither the class membership nor World Sailing.

Instead of decertifying the non-compliant boats, the Laser class opted for a change to the builders manual - a confidential document - to make the non-compliant boats become compliant.

This is the episode of the « Fast Aussie Lasers » which we covered previously in this blog.

The new LaserPerformance boats - the « Ice Blue Lasers » follow the new building regime of the Laser Builders Manual and are supposed equivalent to the Aussie boats.

There may however remain differences, and the Australian boats, now also retailed as “ILCA Dinghies,” remain perceived as faster by a number of coaches, athletes and parents.

What is clear is that all the previous LaserPerformance boats, with their softer foredeck, have been made slower than the new boats, because of the decision to refrain from decertifying the faulty Aussie boats.

In short, the Club 420 class penalized the faulty boats - and unfortunately their innocent owners - while the Laser class penalized the legit boats - and unfortunately also their innocent owners, which constitute in this case the vast majority of the class membership.

With the Club 420 situation, there are no real winners. Everyone lost from that situation.

In the case of the Laser, the supposed « epitome » of one-design sailing, it’s very different, and it will be challenging for the class to regain the credibility it lost from that episode.

In the short term, the way the Club 420 class dealt with the issue certainly hurts, but it may also ensure a better future for the class, as long as it takes proactive measures to reduce the risk for such situation to occur in the future.

As for the Laser, with the anticipated multiplication of builders, a crucial challenge will be to ensure the strict one-design character of the boat and avoid a global arms race for the fastest boat.

PICTURES & VIDEO

Visible leak at the level of joint between hull and deck

Visible leak near center board case.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 11, 2019

Club 420 Association Statement on Non-Conforming Equipment

North Kingston, RI -- The Club 420 Association Class Measurer, in consultation with the Class Board of Directors, has determined that certain boats recently delivered to the United States do not meet the requirements of the Class Builders Construction Manual.

Following a thorough inspection of new Club 420 boats which entered the US from China in 2019 under the brand “PS2000”, it was determined that these boats do not meet the requirements of the Class Builders Construction Manual. The non-conforming elements in violation of Class Rules are:

1. These boats were built using a resin infusion method and materials that are not class approved. Using this infusion method affects durability, boat stiffness, and other issues.

2. These boats have additional structural elements at the bottom of the centerboard trunk alongside the stringer which is expressly not allowed by the Class Builders Construction Manual.

It is a core mission of the Club 420 Association to ensure that the Club 420 sailing dinghy is the product of a strict one-design regimen so that the Club 420s are built to consistent, uniform standards so that racing is fair and that the sailors, not the equipment, determine the outcomes.

It was determined that if these boats were used at the upcoming Club 420 North American Championships, their use would constitute unfair racing conditions. As a result, boats with specific Club 420 plaques, as listed on the class website, were disapproved for Club 420 class events. The Board’s action was intentionally swift in order to initiate and facilitate alternative arrangements for replacement equipment for the affected sailors.

The Club 420 North American Championship is being held at St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco from July 11-13, and 16 boats were prohibited from registering.

Class President John Morgan commented, “This was a really difficult and complex problem to address, but the Board’s decision was the right one. What has pleased me about this unfortunate situation is how the C420 community -- the Builders, the Class, its members and supporters -- have stepped in to ensure those 32 sailors impacted by the situation would be able to compete as planned. Yesterday, after our announcement, 17 boats were located and delivered to St. Francis Yacht Club. One Board member located several available boats, jumped in his car and picked up those boats and delivered them to St. Francis. This is how the class pulled together and made certain that there were race ready boats. It is a great part of a tough story and exemplifies the core values and mission of this class of youth sailing.”

Dan Bornarth, Class Measurer, stated “I truly wish this did not coincide with one of our major annual championships, but we had no choice but to address it head on. One of our cornerstones in the class is the level playing field we have between all the boats, no matter the builder or the age of the boat when well maintained. Allowing a builder to supply a boat that has a clearly perceived performance advantage, as well as not following the builder specifications we command our builder to follow, would have eroded very quickly the integrity of the class. While it is a struggle for some of the sailing families that this ruling has affected, I am extremely impressed with the C420 sailing community, and how they have banded together to rally and find boats for the affected teams to use. This truly is a credit to our class and how they pull together to correct an unfortunate issue that has happened to one of our builders.”

The Class is working with the Builder of the PS2000 to address the concerns of our membership to ensure positive outcomes for all our sailors.

About the Club 420 Association - The Club 420 Association was established in 1980 to promote, foster, encourage and sponsor one-design sailing for youth sailors. The Association annually sponsors a North American Championship, US and Canadian National Championships as well as regional and team racing championships across North America while promoting the class to all ability and experience levels of youth sailing. For more information visit www.club420.org

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Club 420 Association July 18 Statement on Non-Conforming Equipment

It is a core mission of the Club 420 Association to ensure that the Club 420 sailing dinghy is the product of a strict one-design regimen and that the Club 420s are built to consistent, uniform standards in order to ensure that racing is fair to all participants, and that the sailors, not the equipment, determine the outcomes.  The goals of this core mission are incorporated in each contract with each approved builder of a Club 420 sailing dinghy to ensure compliance with and adherence to the Class Rules and Class Construction Manual then in effect.

Here is a description in detail of the conformity issue: https://club420.org/news/article/club-420-association-guidance

On Sunday July 14, 2019 the Class Measurer received a request to inspect Zim boats for ongoing compliance with the Class Rules and Class Construction Manual.  Following a thorough inspection pursuant to Section B of the Class Rules and of the applicable Class Construction Manual, the Class Measurer determined that the boats in question do meet the requirements of the Class Rules and Class Construction Manual.

The Class Measurer’s determination is as follows:

“Based on my review of this specific situation, and evaluating what was presented to the BOD for evaluation, I looked back historically to see what has possibly changed over the years. The main baseline I have to go on is the measurement performed on August 21, 2018 in Portsmouth, R.I. The three builders provided what everyone present accepted as class legal boats. We did an evaluation of all the boats, weighed and laser targeted each of the three boats. We all also looked through each boat presented and everyone was given the opportunity to bring issues up to the class measurer and Executive Director at that time. We did not inspect the inside of the tanks, as it was never brought up as a concern at that time. It was generally accepted by all attending on that date, that the boats currently being produced by class builders were class legal. During this boat measurement and evaluation there was no discussion regarding current internal boat structure. Although other aspects of the boats construction and manufacturing were discussed by the group.

Looking at the information I have been able to review to date, including the overall history of the class and how the boats have been built, as they relate to the Builders Manual and the spirit of maintaining a one design class. With the current information I have, I believe that Zim has not changed their boat design or construction methods relating to the stringers from when the boats were originally designated class legal boats by the Club420 Board of Directors. It is my evaluation that Zim boats as built currently [actively plaqued], are class legal to compete in Club 420 events.”

After further investigation and careful consideration by the Board of Directors pursuant to Section VII of the Association Bylaws, the Board on July 18, 2019, approved the determination of the Class Measurer.

Additionally, subsequent to its July 11, 2019, action, the Class Measurer has inspected boats with Plaque 8579 and Plaque 8580 and has recommended to the Board of Directors that they do not meet the requirements of the Class Rules and the Class Construction Manual.  The non-conforming elements in violation of class rules are:

1. The boats affected are built using a resin infusion method and materials that are not class approved.  Using this infusion method affects the durability, boat stiffness, weight and a host of other issues.

2. The boats affected have additional pieces at the bottom of the centerboard trunk alongside the stringer which is expressly not allowed by the Class Builders Construction Manual.

Subsequent to the initial on-site decision on July 9, 2019, action, the Class Measurer reviewed additional information relative to boat with Plaque 8585 and has recommended to the Board of Directors that this boat does not meet the requirements of the Class Rules and Class Construction Manual.  The non-conforming elements in violation of Class Rules and Class Construction Manual are:

1. The boat affected is built using a resin infusion method and materials that are not class approved.  Using this infusion method affects the durability, boat stiffness, weight and a host of other issues.

This determination is prospective only, and does not affect the eligibility of Plaque 8585 prior to July 19, 2019.

The Class Measurer continues to have the authority at any time to inspect and/or reinspect a Club 420 sailing dinghy to ensure compliance with Class Rules and the Class Construction Manual.

It is the sole responsibility of the approved builders of Club 420 dinghies to ensure that each boat manufactured and delivered conforms to the Class Rules and Class Construction Manual. The Association and its Board do not assume any responsibility or liability for non-compliance with Class Rules and the Construction Manual.  All actions taken by the Class Measurer and the Board will continue to be solely in support of those documents and for the integrity of the Club 420 one-design sailing dinghy and the Class Association.

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Statement from PS2000

July 19 2019

As many of you know, there are ongoing serious concerns with the C420.  Here at PS2000, we have been, so far, silent on the issue of decertification of some of our boats immediately prior to the North American Championships, in San Francisco, CA.  While incurring many tens of thousands of dollars in damages and an unimaginable amount of stress on our staff, we have felt that it would be best for the C420 Class, and C420 sailors generally, to acquiesce to the mandates of the Class while they found a way to roll back these rash and unjustified actions with the least embarrassment and permanent damage to the health of the Class.

Throughout this affair, the C420 Class has presented itself as a paragon of one design integrity.  And although this has always been the intent of the board, it is simply not true, has never been true.  To claim that our decertified boats are the only ones that do not conform to the construction manual is the height of self deception and the rankest of hypocrisy.   If anything, these boats conform more closely to the letter of the construction manual than any others sailing today.  Their exclusion lies not in the actual rules of construction but in the clause in the manual that requires builders to notify the secretary of changes and gain approval in advance.  Which we, in fact, failed to do.  And, in fact, no builder has ever informed the class of a change in lamination, materials or methods.  Ever.  The Class is wholly unaware of the materials, lamination schedules, construction methods and tools used by any of the builders.  There has never been an independent certification of materials or methods.  Ever.  This despite the undeniable fact that construction of the boats has always been in a process of change and improvement for all the builders, throughout the life of the Class.

PS2000 has been, by far, the most open, cooperative and transparent of the 3 builders.  We have been, likely, a cautionary tale for the other builders.  When we built a new set of molds, we reported it to the class and had to go through a lengthy, but utterly fictional certification process.  By contrast, our competitor is building boats out of at least 3 sets of molds on 2 continents and has never informed the class of an increasing number of tools being used.  Another has changed builders at least 3 times and never informed the class.  All this is obvious and widely known but goes unquestioned.

Let’s consider the issue of changes more fully.  Because of the “inform and approve” clause of the construction manual, no changes are legal, even if within the rules, if not specifically reported and approved.  Talk to any long serving maintenance staff at a club that utilizes the C420 and they will verify that the boats have most certainly undergone changes in lamination techniques and materials over the years.  Ignoring the myriad of ways the boats can, and have, been altered that can’t be easily detected after the construction process is finished, there are some that can.  In a single example, for years the rigs were perfectly interchangeable between the 3 existing builders and the past builders, regardless of spar or boat supplier.  As we saw at NA’s when we were swapping new masts onto other builder’s boats, the masts are no longer interchangeable.  Why wasn’t this an obvious red flag?  It’s clear that one builder has altered the boat in some way so that, once interchangeable, the rigs must now be specific to that builder.  We don’t point this out because we wish to see those hundreds of boats made illegal, we point it out because in the course of a single regatta, one during which boats owned by a third of the fleet were being tossed out, it was at least as obvious, indeed far more obvious, that another builder had altered their boat and it went entirely unquestioned and unaddressed.  To have righteous indignation that one change has been made and then to willfully ignore another seems, to us, patently unfair and, frankly, inexcusable.

There is a clear pattern of the Class enforcing some of the rules, some of the time and only for some builders.  They are in possession of clear proof that boats being built for at least the last 5 years include internal stringers that are specifically banned in the construction manual.  So, within a matter of days, the board has voted to ban a large number of PS2000 boats because they have been built with methods not actually banned by class rules and then also voted to allow boats that are clearly built with expressly banned structural additions.  More than this, the Class President and the Measurer have refused repeated requests to verify that the construction manual provided to PS2000 is the same document being used to make these decisions.

PS2000 has been asked to follow rules the Class can’t, or won’t, provide or verify.  They’ve decertified boats that conform to the rules as provided, and affirmed boats that clearly do not.  The sailors are the most important stakeholders in this struggle.  We, at PS2000, hope they will speak up and send the Class a message that this kind of double standard can not stand.
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