2018-08-16 / News

New chief fool is ready to take helm at regatta

BY TIM RIEL

For 37 consecutive years, Mount Hope Avenue’s Chris Powell ran the Fools’ Rule Regatta like “a well-oiled machine,” attracting hundreds of spectators annually to the summer spectacle.

The regatta, which has been billed by Newport Life as the best sailboat race on Narragansett Bay, was featured in Yankee Magazine and National Geographic during Powell’s reign. It also gained praise from “America’s Got Talent” magician Mat Franco, a Johnston native who said it’s one of his five favorite things about summer in Rhode Island.

Powell, however, hung up his iconic blue blazer following the 2017 event.

“You want to quit while you’re having fun,” he said.

Now it’s Greg Hunter’s job to continue that legacy.

This Saturday at East Ferry, Hunter will oversee the 41st edition of the wacky boat race, marking the first time since 1981 Powell will not be chief fool.

“He has the perfect personality,” Powell, 72, said about his successor. “He’s easygoing. He’s funny.”

Hunter, 56, lives in Sudbury, Mass., but has been visiting Jamestown since the 1970s. He bought his summer home on Plymouth Road in 2002.

“I love the simplicity of Jamestown,” Hunter said. “I love being able to walk to my neighbor’s house and open the fridge without asking. Or borrow a tool. Everybody’s friendly.”

Hunter, an insurance broker, is no stranger to Narragansett Bay. When he moved to town his fleet consisted of a Sunfish, but has since expanded with a powerboat, a 30-foot Pearson and a 420.

He first raced in the regatta with his two brothers in the early 1990s. Since then, his crew has rotated between friends and family. A desk at his Shoreby Hill home tells his storied history as a fool, from a blue ribbon to the award for the worst example of naval architecture.

For smooth sailing during the transition, Powell gave Hunter three pages of directions.

“There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel,” Powell said.

Hunter has been busy checking the list, which includes securing state permits to sending press releases to local newspapers. He applauded Chris and Candy Powell for their methodical attention to details.

“I got to give them a lot of credit,” Hunter said. “They are so organized. It’s not that any single thing is hard, but it’s finding the time to do all the tasks that is difficult.”

That list included a trip to the police station, where Hunter was met with surprise. He was talking to a police officer at the front desk about traffic details for the event, assuming the regatta was a household name.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the officer said.

For the few people on Conanicut Island not familiar with the regatta, like the rookie cop, the unique sailboat race burdens teams with building vessels using equipment ill-suited for the job. No marine items can be used, which has led teams to use picnic tables, tarps, water jugs, garbage bags, dog houses and even a Volkswagen during the one-hour construction period.

There are five classes that coincide with the number of crew onboard, and sailors in each fleet race their makeshift boats 500 yards in a few feet of water. Winning teams are celebrated as much as the boats that sink at the starting line.

Hunter and his predecessor met for coffee Wednesday to discuss last-minute logistics. While Powell has traded his blue blazer for an event T-shirt, he will lend his expertise for the knotty obstacles, like parking. But when the cannon blasts at 9 a.m., signaling for boatbuilders to begin construction, the bullhorn will not be in his hands.

“I’ll fade into the woodwork,” Powell said. “It’s his regatta now. I’m sure I’ll be a little melancholy. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do or where I’m going to be, but I don’t want to be in the limelight.”

While Hunter is committed to the tradition of mismatching green and red socks, he is adding a personal twist to his attire. With only a couple days remaining before his maiden voyage, Hunter is making sure he has all the time in the world to be a fool worthy of Powell.

“I told everybody at work not to call me,” he said. “Unless it’s a dire emergency, I’m not answering calls from work. I’m too excited.”

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