2014-08-21 / Front Page

That sinking feeling

Dozens of makeshift boats race in 37th annual regatta
By Ken Shane


Above, the Jamestown Rocket sails in Saturday’s Fools’ Rules Regatta. Aboard are John, Rebecca, George, 6, and Tess O’Brien, 5, of Lexington, Mass. Right, the captain and his crew bob in the water after capsizing. 
Photos by Andrea von Hohenleiten Above, the Jamestown Rocket sails in Saturday’s Fools’ Rules Regatta. Aboard are John, Rebecca, George, 6, and Tess O’Brien, 5, of Lexington, Mass. Right, the captain and his crew bob in the water after capsizing. Photos by Andrea von Hohenleiten Thirty-two teams of boatbuilders descended on the town beach at East Ferry Saturday to prepare their crafts for the 37th annual Fools’ Rule Regatta. The crews had two hours for construction, and chief fool Chris Powell, resplendent in a blue blazer, yachting cap and mismatching socks, was there with a bullhorn to make sure they stuck to the schedule.

“Good wind, good weather and good fun,” he said.

Some of the competitors were local, while others came as far away as Illinois and California. Their goal was to create a boat that would float; the challenge was to build it entirely on the beach without using manufactured items like dinghies, masts, sails or surfboards. One suggestion, according to the official rules, was to use “your grandma’s petticoat” for the sail.

Mindy Kelley, of Chicago, was on the beach preparing for her 10th regatta.

The craft she was constructing featured a hot air balloon, and was dedicated to saving whales. Kelley called her boat “unique” and “cutting edge,” and said she had spent years in training “for the whales’ sake.” Kelley, who was raised in Newport and whose mother lives in Jamestown, was determined to continue her participation after relocating to the Midwest.

“I come here every year whether my mother likes it or not,” she said.

Portsmouth’s Grant Gibbon, wearing a great big beard that was possibly fake, was participating in his first Fools’ Rules. His beard and boat were inspired by the Tom Hanks’ film “Cast Away,” and he had his own version of Wilson, the volleyball character from the film. Other props included a FedEx package and some coconuts.

Winston Knight of Jamestown was on the beach with his daughter and two grandchildren. Knight said that he normally helps park cars, but this year his grandchildren wanted to participate. He helped build the boat that the children sailed with their mother, Victoria.

“If you have children you know that there is a video game called ‘Minecraft,’” Knight said. “Our boat is based on ‘Minecraft.’ Everything is built of cubes made from milk crates covered with duct tape.”

Ava White, who spends summers in Jamestown, was entering her third regatta with her boyfriend Tim Clancy. The pair wore matching penguin hats to illustrate the theme of their boat.

“We went for a penguin theme this year,” White said. “The boat is an iceberg. Last year we got the costume prize for our conquistadors theme.”

Jamestowner Brian Brazil and his crew were sporting highway patrol hats and badges. The crew has been racing in the regatta for 10 years. This year’s design featured storage buckets that Brazil hoped would float the boat.

“We all have engineering degrees. We did a whole bunch of math to determine that this would work, which guarantees that it’s going to fail.”

Jamestown resident Amina Brown has participated in the regatta many times, along with a large group of friends who are instructors for the Conanicut Island Sailing Foundation. Past themes have included Hawaii, pirates and Mayans. This year’s boat was a conglomeration of pieces left over from previous efforts.

“We’re going to have as many people as we can fit,” Brown said. “We’re in the unlimited class. We’re going for the sink.”

Brown’s crew of 10 ended up with the day’s most coveted prize: the Worst Example of Naval Architecture Award.

Hunt Stookey, of Boston, spends weekends in Jamestown. He was on the beach Saturday with his boat, which sunk in the 2006 edition of Fools’ Rules. The sophisticated outrigger design featured PVC, wire ties, shrink-wrap and balloons. The craft had been in Stookey’s basement since it’s ignominious sinking eight years ago.

“My wife is happy that it’s no longer in the basement,” he said.

Emma Champlin, 9, of Hopkinton, was competing for the first time. Emma’s crew included her brothers, 7-year-old Owen and 11-year-old Ethan. Their boat was an assemblage of pipe and foam that they hoped would float them to victory.

Michael McVeigh, of Attleboro, Mass., was also in his first Fools’ Rules Regatta. He was helping a friend who is a veteran of the event. The team was building a catamaran made from scrap materials that they found at job sites. They relied on McVeigh’s brother Greg for his carpentry skills.

“I’d like to think that I had a lot to do with the design of this craft, but it was their execution that realized it,” McVeigh said. “The win is the only thing we’re about here.”

When all was said and done, hundreds of spectators had joined the builders on the beach. Enough of the boats managed to stay afloat on the windward-leeward course to allow for first-, second- and thirdplace ribbons in three of the five classes.

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