The name John Podmajersky was forever registered into the annals of sailing douchebaggery after the Chicago developer sued the Chicago Yacht Club to get his name on a trophy, and his cancer-battling long time crew for a million bucks. That long and sordid story is long over and “Pod” is back to quietly enjoying sailboat racing, but he’ll always be remembered for bringing lawyers and the courts somewhere they never, ever should have been allowed: Into a disagreement between two sailors over amateur sailboat racing.
We understand that the America’s Cup will end up in court every few years; it’s a mega-million dollar business with jobs, team survival, and sponsor dollars, and huge fragile and unbalanced egos at stake, and sometimes only a judge can force someone to do the right thing. But outside of the AC, litigation in sailing is rare enough – and distasteful enough – to stop and take note. And, when appropriate, to register your disapproval.
We’ve seen some a handful of nasty lawsuits over the years (at SA, we are living the nightmare of one right now), but most are basic injury claims and most disappear to the black hole of insurance company settlements with a confidentiality clause – as it should be. But every now and again, someone pops up with a big, nasty lawsuit that not only makes the plaintiff look like a world-class a-hole, it makes all sailors look just a little more litigious, a little more petty, and a little more like the upper-crust, Thurston P. Howell III dickheads that most of the population already thinks we are.
The Next Podmajersky?
Let’s say you’re a part of a big local one-design class; the Chief Measurer, in fact. Now, imagine you show up to the Class’s biggest annual event – the North Americans – and you win it. Other teams complain that the boat doesn’t appear to be one-design, and in fact when the boat is finally hauled (just after the protest deadline passes), the keel doesn’t look at all like the other keels. Cellphones pop out, pictures get sent around, and everyone knows this shit ain’t Kosher.
Fast forward to the annual meeting a few months later, when ‘Champ’ admits that he profiled the keel before the NAs, but has since returned it to Class spec. When the new Chief Measurer gets aboard to inspect as required when a keel alteration has been made, he finds a lot of things no one has seen on these boats before:
-Perpendicular ribs attached to main bulkhead
-Gussets attached to ribs and deck at main bulkhead
-Longitudinal “ring” frames connecting main and forward bulkhead
-Extra layers of glass connecting deck skin, gussets, and main bulkhead.
-V-berth bunk panels taped and bonded to main bulkhead, hull, and v-berth bulkhead
These are certainly all great ideas to stiffen your handicap boat, but this is the ultra-competitive Tartan 10 Class in the Great Lakes, where more than 30 of them race against each other on a regular basis. As you’d expect, the Class pulls “Champ’s” measurement certificate and tells him he’ll need to bring the boat back into one-design spec in order to race. So what does the former Class Measurer do?
He sues. Not just the Class, but he goes after the measurer, the board, and some other folks – personally – just for good measure. He asks for an injunction requiring the Class to reinstate his boat. He asks for a ruling that they violated an unwritten contract. And most incredibly outrageous of all, he claims he suffered “emotional distress” at the hands of the big, mean TTen Class – and he wants them to pay.
If there’s an appeal with US Sailing or an attempt to resolve it with any other body, we can’t find it. There’s no record of him ever bringing his boat into full compliance. All we have are a few measurement rulings on the Class site and a lawsuit filed by one of Michigan’s top law firms that, frankly, you have to see to believe. Download the entire 81-page, 4-exhibit Complaint here, and the Class’s response here.
What’s In A Name?
If you haven’t figured it out by now, we’ll give you another hint: The two plaintiffs – they are co-owners of the T-10 in question – apparently went from racing to ‘cruising’, winning the overall Cruising Division in their Beneteau 42 Mostly Harmless during last week’s Bayview Mac.