Foolish affair dedicated to longtime race organizer
It has been 36 years since Karl Smith organized the first Fools’ Rules Regatta in Jamestown. On Saturday, hundreds of people will descend on the town beach at East Ferry to construct wildly innovative watercraft in the hope they will stay afloat long enough to complete the course and perhaps even take home a ribbon.
Regrettably, this year’s regatta will have an important piece missing:
Dr. Bob Kinder. The longtime member of the race committee passed away late last month at the age of 84. Just before his death, he told lead organizer Chris Powell he planned to attend this year’s regatta just as he always had. For three decades Kinder patrolled the beach for rules infractions and helped organize the boats by spray-painting numbers on their sails.
Powell said Kinder will be greatly missed.
“Bob was a faithful Fools’ Rules committee person for many, many years,” said Powell, who has been chief fool for more than 30 years. “He was one of the stalwarts.”
“I’ll be out there in my walker or wheelchair pretty soon,” he quipped.
When the first gun sounds at 9 a.m., it will signal the beginning of the boat building. Competitors will have two hours to construct a watercraft made of items that are ill equipped for the task. The rules call for the boats to be constructed of nonmarine-related materials. Items like sails, rudders and paddles are strictly verboten. The goal is for boats to be seaworthy – at least temporarily.
“Other than that, you can make them out of anything,” Powell said. “And people have made them out of anything and everything.”
After the two-hour construction period, the finished (or in some cases unfinished) boats will be divided into five classes. The classes depend on the number of crew members aboard, ranging from solo excursions to an unlimited number of crew. Each class lines up for a separate start, and the straightaway course is approximately 500 yards long, running the length of the town beach, downwind. At least that’s the plan.
Powell has seen a lot of craziness during his time as chief fool, but his favorite moments usually come from watching the children who participate. Powell said kids are likely to use all kinds of things to construct their boats, including upside down dog houses, sandboxes, beach balls and plastic swimming pools.
“Whatever a kid can dream up to use for flotation, they come up with it,” Powell said. “I’ve seen all kinds of stuff.”
Among other items people have placed their dreams of glory on were a Volkswagen turned upside down, hay bales, tables, beds, kitchen sinks, IV bags, bathtubs and a boat molded in the sand from liquid foam.
All the items are then asked to float for the length of five football fields.
“You name it,” Powell said, “it’s been tried. But every year somebody comes up with something new we haven’t seen before. It’s pretty remarkable.”
And then there was the block of ice. It was about 4 feet wide, 7 feet long, and 2 feet thick. Unfortunately, the wind changed that day, and the starting line had to be moved to the opposite end of the course. It’s not hard to imagine what happened. By the time the skipper pushed his ice-block boat to the other end of the beach, it had melted in the August heat.
Anyone can sail in the regatta. There are preregistration forms scattered around town, and people are also welcome to show up on Saturday morning. There will be a registration table under the flag at East Ferry Memorial Square.
The possibility of last-minute entrants leaves organizers uncertain in terms of number of boats, but usually there are 20 to 30 competing, although that number has risen to 40 in some years. Participants can practice constructing their boats prior to the regatta, but the vessels must be taken apart and rebuilt on race day.
Since the seaworthiness of many of the boats is questionable, there will be plenty of help on hand should a boat capsize or sink. Jamestown Harbormaster Sam Paterson will patrol the area, and two other rescue boats will be in the water. Their efforts will be aided by the fact that most of the race is run in water no more than 5 feet deep.
“We plan it according to the tide, so it is coming in during boat construction,” Powell said. “During the race we have the maximum amount of water and least amount of beach.”
Last year the regatta made history – it was the first time weather delayed the race. It had to be postponed until Sunday. Storms and high winds were predicted, so organizers decided to spread the word around town of the delay. The regatta went off without a hitch and with a full field the next day.
The Jamestown Yacht Club sponsors the event. T-shirt sales, with a new design every year, are used to defray the costs associated with the event. Any money left after expenses is donated to youthrelated sailing programs. First-, second- and third-place ribbons are presented in each class. There are also ribbons for most ingenious design, best theme and the coveted worst example of naval architecture.
“If you want to have a really good time for free and laugh your head off at people making fools of themselves,” Powell said, “don’t miss the Fools’ Rules Regatta.”