Measurement controversy in senior one designs is never far away these days, whether it be loose interpretation of a badly written rule or a speed shop modifying boats after they leave the factory.
Classes divide and sometimes competitors a get a ban.
However, it takes a truly special series of events to arrive at the position of the International Etchells Class, where the measurement controversy has not been brought about by a competitor but arises out of a dispute between the International Class Association and the Australian Etchells Class Association.
And when it is over it is likely there will be no International class left to speak off. It is also an object lesson in why class associations should never own the moulds for the boats. The dispute all concerns what is now known as “Mould 11”, from which all Australian built boats since 2011 have been produced.
The mould owned by the Australian Association and was financed by the members through the Association and used by a re-seller who now contracts the construction to a well- respected composite builder and the build quality has improved remarkably with that change.
Moulds 8 and 10 are used by long established builders in Canada and England respectively. For some years there has been questions over the Mould 11 boats meeting several crucial measurement points in the keel area but the issues were generally ones about which reasonable people could differ.
The Australian Association, of course having a vested interest as it owned the mould defended the Mould 11 boats and the measurement certificates issued for those boats. Other groups argued that even if the boats met the measurement points, the Mould 11 boats where a different shape and not an Etchells.
Things really heated up when Mould 11 boats won 7 of the 9 races at the 2019 Worlds in Corpus Christie as well as finishing 1 and 2 by some margin. One side said the rigs were better developed and others saying the hulls were different.
However, those controversies now fall by the wayside. In a letter to all class members on 22 January 2021, International Class Chairman, Andrew Cumming advised that:
What has emerged in the investigation of the history of M11 is that it was not approved by WS at the time it started to produce hulls. To this day, WS has no record of Pacesetter or Innovation Composites building and using a mould other than Mould 9, which was made directly from the same plug used to make the other current Etchells moulds being used by Ontario Yachts in Canada and Heritage Racing in the UK (Moulds 8 and 10 respectively)…..
It has recently been discovered by scans and floatation tests of boats from all three moulds that M11 produces boats which have a longer water line, less rocker, are flatter in the middle and fuller in the ends. The differences are material, far greater than can be explained away by minor variances due to manufacturing tolerances….
M11 was not made directly from the official plug owned by the IECA. It was produced instead by massaging scan data which came from the official plug, obviating the need to ship the plug to Australia. If M11 had been produced by the method approved by the IGC at the time of its manufacture, it would have been (to withing manufacturing tolerances) exactly the same as if it had been made from the official class plug. That it is not represents a deviation from our rules-based one-design ethos. And therein lies the essential problem with M11.
One would think that was end of the story, no legal Mould 11 equals no legal boat. However, on 25 January 2021, Mark Roberts, the Australian Class President responded saying :
The Executive of the Australian Association was shocked and extremely disappointed by IECA Chair, Andrew Cumming’s letter to the members of 22 January 2021….. Insofar as it concerns mould 11, it not only presents a distorted, misleading and biased view of the facts, but is in many material respects grossly wrong…..
Since the very first boat was built from this mould in 2011, every Etchells has correctly measured. The Executive of the Australian Association stands firmly behind the boat owners from mould 11.
We are looking at this objectively and are trying to rise above the unconstructive conspiracy theories that are polluting the issue. We are committed a strong Etchells class and ensuring that there is both a licenced builder and a certified mould in Australia. We will be working with Australian Sailing and World Sailing to ensure this.
However, the later public statement does not meet the earlier assertions.
Mr Roberts does not say that either Mould 11 was made from the registered plug or that it was registered with World Sailing, just that boats have measurement certificates. Mr Cummings stands uncontradicted on these issues. Equally, Mr Roberts says that the Australian class is committed to ensuring that there is a licenced builder in Australia and a certified mould, not that there currently is one.
So, for the moment, Mr Cumming and the International Association seem to be on good ground. This all has a long way to play out and will become a case of who knew what and when.
However, it defies belief that a national association of an international class would spend several hundred thousand dollars of members money to build a plug to make a mould other in accordance with World Sailing requirements and compliance. Someone must be accountable for that otherwise.
Most puzzling is the role of Australian Sailing, which is charged with the management of measurement certificates for International Classes. As the mould number used in construction is recorded, was Australian Sailing recording construction from the unregistered mould or simply recording Mould 9 and not Mould 11.
In any event, it is hard to see the International Association allowing any Mould 11 boats to compete outside Australia anytime soon. Equally, given the experience of “grandfathering” the controversial “Bashford” boats in the mid 1990s, the Australian Association may not enjoy the wide-spread support of Australian owners and crews for such a measure again.
Lastly, for the Australian Association to impose such a solution to save itself is likely to see owners who do not own Mould 11 boats walk away to new emerging one design classes.
There is no happy ending for everyone here!