Low tide will expose a large expanse of the town beach at East Ferry this coming Saturday morning. At 9 a.m., a cannon will be fired. The beach will then begin to resemble a beehive, as small bands of people armed with varied collections of stuff, some of it resembling scrap from a junkyard, begin to construct an odd assortment of sailing vessels.
The pace, which at first appears leisurely, will quicken as the morning progresses. Traffic on Conanicus Avenue will slow as spectators gather to observe the frenzy of activity. The amateur naval architects and marine engineers will strive to have their contraptions ready to launch by 11 a.m. That's when the cannon is fired again, this time to announce the first race of the Fools' Rules Regatta.
Saturday marks the 30th year for the greatest spectacle in build-your-own sailboat racing. Every August people flock to Conanciut Island from all over for this strange and unique event. Strangers may not know much about Jamestown, but they will have probably heard about the Fools' Rules Regatta.
The regatta is famous because it is good, clean, silly fun. Participants must construct their sailing vessels on the beach the morning of the competition. They cannot use any marine (boat) related materials to build their yachts. Anything else is fair game.
For the past 30 years, sailboats have been made from just about every item imaginable. There have been old bathtubs and old poster beds. Tarps, bed sheets, and umbrellas are popular as sails. Scrap lumber, plywood, empty beer kegs, coolers, and water bottles have all found their niche as boat materials. You name it and someone has used it. There is plenty of flotsam and jetsam.
Duct tape is popular. Just about every boat-builder uses at least one roll, if not two or three. In fact, Jamestown Hardware always has extra stock on hand for the August extravaganza. Up the street, Baker's Pharmacy has a ready supply of sunscreen available. Spinnakers, Slice of Heaven and the East Ferry Deli bring in plenty of cold bottled water and other chilled refreshments to keep the sailors and spectators hydrated.
The most impressive part of the boat-building process is the imagination and creativity involved. Each year we see some truly amazing vessels.
The inspiration is great on the sand, but once the boat is built, the true test comes: will it float and for how long?
Those who were once boat-builders quickly morph into intrepid sailors as they drag, pull and carry their new boats to the starting line. The sailors then race their contraptions on a down-wind course, pitting their wits and skills against other sailors who are crewing vessels of similar size.
The crowd shouts encouragement to their favorites.
At the finish line, the winners are eligible for fame and fortune.
It has been estimated that as many as 1,000 people gather at the East Ferry town beach for the annual regatta, although no one has ever really bothered to count noses. Suffice to say, the beach and seawall are usually packed.
The Fools' Rules Regatta is a cherished Jamestown tradition. Islanders and non-islanders plan their summers around it. Don't miss the Fools' Rules Regatta this Saturday. We predict another 30 years of foolish fun just ahead.