Mailport: February 2012
No Conflict of Interest
I’m writing to object to the editorial in the December 2011 issue in which you warned your readers of a conflict of interest among the panel of four authors of the US Sailing WingNuts report.
The sport of sailing gains enormous benefit from the fact that [West Marine Vice President] Chuck Hawley, who has vast professional experience in the field of recreational safety at sea, is willing to volunteer his time to US Sailing. Chuck’s long employment at West Marine is well known and clearly stated in the US Sailing report, so there was no hidden conflict. The “so long as you can read between the lines” comment in the article implied that Chuck’s actions were in conflict-of-interest, yet your article contained zero evidence of any conduct on Chuck’s part that was in conflict with the interests of offshore sailors. Practical Sailor should return to its roots of writing about facts and not innuendo. If we in the sport of sailing are not able to take advantage of the individuals with the most experience, then we will be far worse off for it. Instead, let’s continue to involve those with the most experience, and let’s continue to make sure that the basis for their extensive experience is fully disclosed (as was Chuck’s).
US Sailing Safety at Sea
Practical Sailor Editor Darrell Nicholson responds: I fully appreciate the work the volunteers put into this report. My initial comment referred to inconsistencies, omissions, and misrepresentations in the US Sailing reports that could lead to the wrong assumptions if one did not “read between the lines.” In the table that John Rousmaniere mentions, only one product is positively identified, and at least one is misidentified, and the entries for five key pieces of equipment are simply blank. If investigators had spoken with more than two of the six survivors, the report could have presented a clearer picture of the safety equipment and how it performed. We will address all three reports in greater detail in an article next month. Chuck Hawley is an avid sailor, and his concern for safety is well known. However, in my opinion, he should have recused himself as soon as he became aware that West Marine’s gear was involved in the inquiry. He would have made an excellent consultant, but he was not the best choice for committee chair, in my view. If US Sailing is to assign key decision-making roles to people who may have a personal or professional interest in the outcome of these reports, they should not be labeled as “independent.” This will only erode people’s confidence in the process.
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