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May 20, 2009

Vessella Takes Laser Masters NAs

Conditions at the 2009 Laser Masters North Americans weren’t as breezy as they were here in this photo of the 2007 Laser PCCs on the Bay, but it didn’t faze the Peninsula’s Peter Vessella (right).

© 2009 Paul Kamen

Counting two bullets, a second and nothing south of an eighth, Burlingame’s Peter Vessella took the top spot the 2009 Laser Masters North Americans. Sailing in his final year in the ‘Masters’ group (ages 45-54) the St. Francis YC member won the six-race, one-throwout series — hosted by Carolina YC in Wrightsville Beach, NC, last weekend — on a countback, after finishing tied with four-time Mallory Cup winner Scott Young of Austin, Texas. For Vessella, the regatta was his first Masters NAs win, but with two top-fives in previous Masters Worlds to his name, he’s no stranger to strong finishes in large Laser events.

"I’ve won some Masters regattas, but this is the biggest one," he said. "There were a lot of good sailors there."

Peter Vessella and the hardware that comes with a win at the Laser Masters North Americans.

© 2009 Sharon Boome

While the final tally was close, Vessella’s win didn’t come at the conclusion of a pitched, boat-on-boat, end-game battle for the top spot. Although the 94-boat fleet was scheduled to sail a three-day event, Sunday’s racing was cancelled due to thunderstorms.

"I don’t think anybody realized how close they were," Vessella said. "Everyone figured they’d be racing another day and no one knew who was leading. We were all just trying to do the best we could."

Four of Vessella’s training partners and fellow St. Francis YC members from the Bay also posted strong showings in the final results. Tracy Usher — who also sails with Vessella aboard the latter’s Etchells — finished ninth, two spots clear of the first ‘Apprentice Master’ (ages 35-44). ‘Grand Masters’ Chris Boome and Walt Spevak finished 35th and 48th overall, and fifth and eighth in their age group respectively (ages 55-64). Be sure to check out the June issue Racing Sheet for more on the regatta, Vessella, and the training regimen that keeps him at the top of the game.

Will the Prosecution Cry ‘Uncle’?

As we predicted from the beginning of the Lake County District Attorney’s shameful and misguided prosecution of Bismarck Dinius for the ’06 boating death of Lynn Thornton, their case is crumbling around them like a sandcastle at high tide. As ABC Channel 7’s I-Team investigator Dan Noyes reported last night, the prosecution turned over 110 pages of discovery that they’d had in their offices for months.

Inside was a report from a private eye hired by Sheriff Chief Russell Perdock, the number two man at the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and the man who slammed his high-octane powerboat into the drifting sailboat on which Dinius and Thornton were passengers on the pitch-black night of April 29, 2006. Everyone aboard the sailboat was hurt, but Thornton died a few days later from her injuries. The report includes statements from several witnesses who say the sailboat’s running lights were on. The basis of the prosecution’s case is their contention that the lights were off and that Dinius, having had his hand on the tiller at the time of the accident, was responsible for turning them on.

The prosecution also confirmed that several witnesses have come forward — including Perdock’s ex-wife Donna — contradicting Perdock’s timeline of his evening. He claims he was home until well after 8 p.m. Donna says 6 p.m. He claims he never set foot at the Konocti Harbor’s outdoor bar that night. Several people say they saw him socializing there with a drink in his hand. One man even claims he and Perdock raced their boats shortly before the accident.

And the final blow to the prosecution came when they admitted that the Lake County Sheriff’s Office conveniently lost the recording of Perdock’s 911 call that night. Lost it!

The judge in the case — J. Michael Byrne — ruled that the personnel records of former Sheriff’s Sergeant Jim Beland be entered into evidence, as it’s claimed that he was fired for testifying that he was ordered not to give Perdock a Breathalyzer at the scene. Byrne also expressed concern over the prosecution’s ridiculous claim that they won’t have enough time to investigate the case fully by the June 30 trial date. A hearing will be held on June 12, at which time the prosecution will hopefully, if they finally come to their senses, dismiss the case against Dinius.

While that would be welcome news, Bismarck Dinius’ life is just as quickly crumbling. His family and friends have rallied around him, and hundreds of generous strangers have donated to his defense fund, but, according to Dan Noyes’ final comments in last night’s broadcast, it appears Bismarck has lost his job. He told us in late April that he was worried about just that. All the time spent working on the case and traveling to Lake County from his Carmichael home meant many missed work days. Add this to a mounting pile of legal bills and Dinius is in for another battle after the trial is over.

We know times are tough for everyone right now, but we’re hoping you’ll find it in your heart to donate — even a small amount — to Bismarck’s legal defense fund. If every person who is outraged by this abortion of justice sent just $5 — the price of a coffee drink at Starbucks — Bismarck would have plenty to cover his expenses. Please send your check made out to Bismarck Dinius, with “Bismarck Dinius Defense Fund” in the memo section, to Sierra Central Credit Union, Attn: Brian Foxworthy, Branch Manager, 306 N. Sunrise Ave., Roseville, CA 95661.

West Marine Responds to Swivel Failure

In Friday’s ‘Lectronic Latitude, we shared John and Gilly Foy’s story of how the Kong anchor swivel on their 55-lb Delta anchor failed, causing their Alameda- and Banderas Bay-based Catalina 42 Destiny to drag. Luckily, they were able to set their secondary anchor before any damage occurred, but it scared the living daylights out of them.

The story also caught the attention of West Marine CEO Geoff Eisenberg:

"We read the article about the Kong swivel that apparently failed and I thought you’d be interested in what we’re doing. First, an email alert went out on Saturday morning to our key Associates who manage anchoring products, our Product Development Team, and our Quality Assurance Team.

"The first question was whether anyone had seen, heard, received any data that could point to other cases of Kong swivels failing. The answer was ‘no’. (Note: if the answer had been ‘yes’ or even ‘maybe’, we would have instituted what we call a ‘Quarantine’. The inventory in all 342 stores and our two Distribution Centers would have been immediately pulled from the shelves and not allowed to be sold while we investigated.) As of this moment, we have not quarantined the swivels, though we certainly will if we find reason to.

"On Monday morning, our teams met and concluded the following:

  • We simply don’t have knowledge of product failures with the Kong swivels. (Over the past two seasons, we have sold approximately 3,350 of these swivels in three sizes. We have had a normal number returned for size and applicability reasons, but not for failures.)
  • We can’t tell from the picture in ‘Lectronic whether there was a product failure, design error, or operator error. As you probably know, this product is designed in a particular way. There is a drive screw that holds the swivel together. That feature is an excellent one on the one hand, as it makes it easy to install, but on the other hand it absolutely adds risk. If the screw is allowed to loosen, the swivel of course comes apart. Note: I am certainly not attributing the swivel failure to operator error, but it is one of the possibilities that we need to investigate.
  • It sure appears that either the screw came loose, or the non-pictured portion of the product failed. From the image you showed, the remaining piece of the swivel appears to be in good shape, with the edge appearing to be smooth, which would point towards the screw coming loose. But maybe we just can’t tell.

"So here’s what we at West Marine are doing:

  • We searched our West Advantage database and found the name and email address of Mrs. Foy, the customer.
  • We’ll try today to get in touch with her and ask to get the remaining swivel piece returned to us so we can inspect/test it.
  • We have a product testing lab here in our Watsonville Support Center. We will pull some swivels from our shelves later today and break them in our machines. We’ll figure out whether they perform to spec. Assuming we get permission from Mrs. Foy, we’ll do the same with the piece we get back from her.

"I should point out that, while the current evidence doesn’t suggest it, we must take the approach that this could simply be the first of multiple problems. Just because we have not seen defects in the past does not mean there aren’t any, or won’t be any. We cannot assume anything! Once we get as much information as we can, we’ll decide what to do next.

"This is a really big deal to us. As you would imagine, the last thing we want to do is sell bad products. Kong has been an excellent manufacturer. I personally found them while at the Genoa Boat Show in the early ’80s and we’ve been doing business with them ever since. They are certainly nowhere near being the cheapest, but they’ve had the best combination of quality and value we’ve been able to find. That being said, we’d drop their products in a minute if we found them to be poor quality, inconsistent, etc.

"We approach this with total transparency. Our people are empowered to find out the truth and act accordingly. They don’t have to worry that they will be ‘in trouble’ if there is a problem with a product. We simply want to know the truth. If there’s a problem, we’ll solve it. If we’re carrying something we shouldn’t, we’ll drop it. If the manufacturer did something wrong, we’ll for sure make them fix it. Too often, people and companies are out to ‘CYA’ (as in covering their proverbial asses). I am very confident we will not do that.

The Kong anchor swivel must be maintained and checked regularly so the screw holding the whole contraption together doesn’t come undone.

©2009 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

"It’s a tough call as to whether we should sell anchor swivels that require proper use and routine inspection. Our history with these products indicates very good quality of manufacturing, but that doesn’t address the design characteristics. I assure you that the financial rewards for selling the Kong swivels are immaterial. Of course we profit from selling them, but of the 50,000 products we regularly offer, these three are basically insignificant. We carry them because we’ve been under the impression they are good products. If we find that is not the case, no amount of sales would alter the decision to drop them. I only mention this in case there are any who might suspect that capitalism could overshadow good judgment in this (or any other!) case.

"It is certainly true that we could easily stop selling the Kong design because of its requirement that the screw remains tight. It would certainly be less risky. On the other hand, thousands of customers have successfully used the product for many years. We sell all kinds of products that, if improperly handled, will lead to problems. I suppose what I’m really saying is that we want to do the right thing, but at this point, don’t yet know what the right thing is!"

We don’t know about you, but we find this kind of quick action and response refreshing in today’s, as Eisenberg put it, ‘Cover Your Ass’ business climate. If you’ve had first-hand experience with a Kong swivel failure, shoot us an email with the details.

Last Wednesday Lake County Deputy D.A. John Langan asked Judge J. Michael Byrne to delay the felony vehicular manslaughter trial of Bismarck Dinius, which was to start today.
This is what Profligate looks like sailing downwind, not what she looks like on a Baja Bash.