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The End of a War at The Explorers Club

Kathy Willens/ Associated Press Kathy Willens/ Associated Press

The rancorous feud at New York’s 108-year-old Explorers Club has finally drawn to a close. Yesterday, the board of directors gathered at the club’s Manhattan headquarters and voted to oust controversial president Lorie Karnath in favor of Alan Nichols, a San Francisco-based lawyer and longtime member with seven Explorers Club flag expeditions under his belt. (Nichols once rode a bicycle more than 10,000 miles across the Silk Road in Asia.) Four sitting board directors were also replaced, including former television host Josh Bernstein, who publicly feuded with Karnath in recent months, and who didn't run for re-election. As I noted in the April issue of Outside, Karnath’s tenure had been marked by charges of high-handedness and cronyism. The club had fallen into bitter factional fighting following a mass resignation by the club's Flag and Honors committee in November. Nichols, who served as the club’s ombudsman during Karnath's presidency, facilitated a top-level “feel good” talking session between the organization’s leadership and board of directors in late January and was nominated for the president's seat during yesterday's meeting by another board member. Karnath then lost in an anonymous vote.

"She was up for re-election and the board decided to go with Alan Nichols," says Jeff Blumenfeld, the club's director of communications. According to board member and Forbes journalist Jim Clash, Nichols is "a healer" who will be able to "put the club back together."

The vote followed the Explorers Club’s annual dinner and awards ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, which took place on Saturday. According to one guest in attendance who asked not to be named, Karnath didn't address the public spat, but seemed "a little jangled." When a prestigious medal was awarded to honorary director and staunch Karnath supporter Fred McLaren, one attendee booed and a handful of members stood up and walked to the side of the room in protest. "It wasn't an Occupy Wall Street type of protest," says the guest who was at the dinner. "It was a Waldorf Astoria, men-in-tuxes type of protest." Meanwhile, more than 30 members boycotted the event entirely and staged a “dissidents’ dinner” at a nearby restaurant. Club luminary and Karnath critic Don Walsh, who threatened to run for the presidency in December, didn't attend the either dinner—he was in the Western Pacific with film director James Cameron, who will soon attempt to duplicate Walsh’s 1960 record-setting dive to the Mariana Trench. Following Sunday’s vote several club officials resigned their positions, including treasurer Mark Kassner and honorary director McLaren. According to Clash, "It's a new dawn."

--Damon Tabor

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