As we’ve seen over the past few days, the early North American racing season is certainly not without controversy. The latest rules saga concerns J/105 Class President Joerg Esdorn’s 105 "Kinscem" (Hungarian for ‘my treasure’) who were allegedly caught adjusting their headstay between races in violation of Class Rule 7.4 during the AYC Spring Series last weekend in Rye, NY.
Joerg won the overall event, but after being informed after the awards ceremony by ‘Gumption’ skipper Kevin Grainger that they were seen adjusting their headstay, they withdrew from Saturday’s races. On the surface, it may appear Esdorn was ‘doing the right thing,’ much like we reported J/30 skipper Bob Putnam doing during the Annapolis NOOD after learning that changing mainsails was a rules violation – but there are some differences in the stories that paint Esdorn in a far different light than the well-respected Putnam.
It’s one thing when a typical one-design racer violates a rule, and when informed, he withdraws. But Esdorn is far more than a class racer – he’s the President of the largest big-boat one-design class in the country, and claiming ignorance of an important performance rule doesn’t pass the smell test. When that Class President was not only involved with discussion, debate, and approval of the Rule just 14 months ago, the claim is laughable. Even more surprising is that Esdorn is an attorney – someone that should easily understand and remember such a simple rule. Finally, credible witnesses report that Kinscem sailed off into the distance twice on Saturday and dropped their jib for a while – first after tuning against other boats before racing, and then in between two races, and other witnesses have alleged that this ‘disappearing act’ has happened at other events over the past year, when Kinscem has had a record of top finishes. This could all be coincidence – sometimes shy crew can’t piss with an audience – but it also might be that Kinscem was looking for a quiet place to do something they knew was wrong.
If Esdorn was so clueless that he didn’t know headstay adjustment was a clear violation of Class Rules in place since February 2009, there is little reason for anyone to have confidence in his leadership of this prominent class. Kinscem also should probably RAF from every regatta they’ve competed in since that date, since only a fool would ignore changing rake if they think it permissable, and presumably, Kinscem’s been doing just that.
The J/105 Class President may be guilty of a level of ignorance that someone in his position should simply never be allowed, or he may be guilty of something far worse; either way, he has some serious explaining to do. There has been a call for US sailors to stop behaving like lawyers for some time, and our self-policing sport requires a level of honesty that most competitive sports could never comprehend. Unfortunately, the only way for the rules to be effective is for those who refuse to conduct themselves honestly to be exposed, and for those who act ethically to be praised; we’ll continue to that whenever we have the opportunity.
Much Ado About Nothing?
Joerg Esdorn has just responded to our request with his explanation of the circumstances. Kudos to him for the clear response, and we’ll let you decide if the Class President should be taken at his word – keep in mind that this story would not be here if it weren’t for a number of J/105 owners and class members that have major grudges against Esdorn for various reasons over the years, and that all of them refused to be quoted for this story, claiming that they were afraid of retribution of some kind.
On Saturday after the first or second race (we don’t remember which), we wanted to adjust the headstay which we had lengthened at the mooring earlier that day. We discussed whether that was permissible under the class rules and wanted to check, but found we only had the pre-change rules on the boat. We saw class rule 7.9, which prohibits adjustments of the standing rigging "while racing". Rule 7.4 in our version specified a min and max length of the headstay. My tactician asked me what the change had been to rule 7.4 and I could only recall that 7.4 was deleted and that there was some prohibition on when to do it. We assumed – obviously wrongly – that the limitation was you couldn’t do it while racing – in other words, that 7.9 would apply to changing the headstay, which, after all, is part of the standing rigging.
We were doing the adjustment with the jib down and three people and the toolbox on the bow right next to the pin, by the way, in plain view of everyone waiting for the next race. Would be pretty stupid if we were intending to cheat, wouldn’t you think? While we were doing the adjustment, a competitor circled us twice and observed what we were doing. They asked "do you have a problem with your forestay?" I responded: "no, everything is ok." The owner of this boat came up to my tactician after the prize giving on Sunday – after he had previously told me and the entire group "nice racing, guys" – and asked why we had the jib down and if my tactician was familiar with the prohibition on making adjustments on the water. He then told my tactician to enjoy the trophy. I would have appreciated if that owner had pointed out that we were about to violate a rule when he saw us making the adjustment. I do not know why he didn’t and neither does any of my crew. As soon as we confirmed the rule, we contacted the PRO and withdrew from all the races that we thought could have been affected.
Now to my involvement with the rules change. As you may know, I was chairman of the TC from 2001 through 2008, drafting all the rules, rules interpretations etc etc. I was also fleet captain for many years. I knew the rules in and out. I spent several hundred hours each year on J105 business. The rule in question was drafted and pushed to adoption by my successor, Walt Nuschke, when my involvement with the class was much diminished. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know this rule by heart, but it’s true.