Fools will rule this weekend
One of the island’s most foolish traditions will take place Saturday, and the biggest fool of them all, Chris Powell, couldn’t be more excited. “Oh, I love it,” said Powell, who has been chief fool of the Fools’ Rule Regatta since 1981. “To see the fun that the people have and to be able to laugh at themselves, it’s just great.”
The Fools’ Rules Regatta, now in its 34th year and sponsored by the Jamestown Yacht Club, is one of the more unique sailing events in the world. It has been featured in both Yankee Magazine and National Geographic. For those that haven’t been lucky enough to experience the event, it’s basically a competition to see who can make a vessel out of things that a vessel shouldn’t be made out of, and then attempt to race their homemade ship 1,500 feet along the shore at East Ferry.
At the sound of the cannon, participants will scramble to assemble a feasible boat in two hours using non-marine items. Powell said that boats have been made from everything from ice to Volkswagens. There are five classes, each representing the number of people that will participate in the building and boarding of the “boat.” Class 1 will have one person, the second class two people, and so on. Class 5 can have as many participants as they wish.
“Anything you can imagine, we’ve probably seen people attempt to make something than can sail out of it,” Powell said. “I’ve seen things as small as an upside down doghouse with an umbrella. Little kids have a blast in the first class. I really don’t care how or what they build it out of. As long as they wear a life vest, the vessel is wind powered and they have fun.”
Karl Smith founded the event in 1978, and was the chief fool for the first few years. He pitched the idea to the Taxpayers’ Association of Jamestown as a way to celebrate the island’s tricentennial. Smith, a former president of the University of Rhode Island, planned his family reunion around the regatta each year until his death in 2006 at the age of 89. “About 30 or 40 people would come every single year and would all have dinner the night before and discuss ideas for the regatta.”
Powell said that this year Smith’s son, Ken Newman, is trying to continue the tradition. “He’s trying to reactivate the gang,” Powell said. The regatta honors Smith by awarding the Karl Smith Most Ingenious Design each year. Other accolades include the World Example of Naval Architecture and the Frank Newman Judges’ Award, which is given to the boat and crew with the best historical theme.
Powell said that people in the first year usually have a tough time succeeding with the task at hand. “It takes a few years to figure out how to do it,” he laughed. “Depending on the winds, there will be mass destruction with some of the firstyear boats. A lot of boats don’t stay together and will self destruct.”
Any advice for first-timers? “Basically try to build something that will stay together,” Powell said. “Remember, you have to be able to steer it. It’s not just a downwind course.” Powell added that not all parties are in it to win it. “Not everyone builds for speed,” he said. “Some build for the theme and others build for the character.”
There is no cost for participating in the event or to attend the race and spectate. Powell said there will be official Fools’ Rules Regatta T-shirts and hats for sale, and all proceeds go to local charities after expenses are paid.
“We have been trying to donate money to children-related boating programs,” Powell said. “Organizations like Sail Newport, the Conanicut Island Sailing Foundation and the North Kingstown High School sailing team. Lately we have been focused on giving the money to those organizations.”
The cannon will sound at 9 a.m. on East Ferry town beach to signal the beginning of construction. The first-class race will begin at 11 a.m. Parking during the event is available on the Upper Shoreby Hill Green, thanks to the generosity of the property owners, said Candy Powell, Chris’ wife who is in charge of publicity for the event.
“We make a mess of the beach starting at 9 a.m.,” said Chris Powell, “and when we are done at 2 or 3 p.m., it looks like nobody has even been there. It’s as clean as a whistle.”
The rain date is the following day – Sunday, Aug. 21.