When the annual day comes for 1,000 boats and 100,000 people to descend on a small town on the Isle of Wight, two words come to mind… Cowes Week.
Cowes Week is the UK’s biggest regatta, and hosts not only a roster of world-class sailing events but a celebratory atmosphere fusing an array of ages and agendas, over eight days. The regatta population ranges from carbon fibre-clad professionals, first-time competitors, to visiting spectators including families and festival goers. The ratio works out around 8,000 competitors to over 90,000 spectators, with the regatta usually running from the second to third week of August. With humble beginnings in 1826, it’s an essential fixture in the annual sports calendar as the hub of performance yacht racing (as well as a great excuse for a good old knees up, in the name of sailing).
First thing’s first – it’s Cowes Week, so watching some of the action should be the first port of call. The waters here have challenging tides and potentially ruthless conditions, and Cowes Week programme of events hold a whopping 350 races over 8 days, divided into 40 different classes.
- Spectator boat trips offer the chance to watch the action up close and personal, either on a boat or high-speed RIB.
- The majority of races start and finish on the Royal Yacht Squadron line, so near here is also an ideal place to watch, but be warned, the race start gun is fired from here also.
- Along the Esplanade, Queen’s Road and Egypt Esplanade are also good places to watch.
- The Green: A panoramic viewing platform overlooking the water.
- If you’re not in ear’s distance of a running commentary, tune into Radio 87.7FM for racing results and updates.
- Ladies Day: Celebrating women in sailing. In racing, the popular dress code revolves around stripes; a pattern synonymous with sailing and prominent in lots of garments designed with the sport in mind.
- Family Day: Sunday games and fun activities for the family
- The racing village: Forget après ski; this is the hub for après sail. And whether you’re a competitor or not, it’s still a great place to get your fix of live entertainment, food stalls, pop-up bars while getting to know fellow yachtsman/yacht enthusiasts.
- Red Arrows: Turning eyes from the sea to the sky, the Red Arrows sometimes do a flyover
- Firework display: Keeping with tradition, the big finale on Friday night sees most of the island turn up to watch this excellent display
- Live music in the marina every night
- The town of Cowes is lined with cobbled streets and has plenty of quality yachting shops, as well as the free Sir Max Aitken Museum. By the water, enjoy a shingly beach, and a bustling esplanade where you can enjoy an ice cream.
There are many accommodation options, including:
- Glamping, camping and caravan sites
- Hotels in Cowes, and 15 minutes further afield, in Newport
- B&Bs, self catering cottages and holiday houses
For competitors looking for sailing instructions on how to enter, along with first-timer guides and race documents, follow the ‘Taking Part’ links on www.cowesweek.co.uk. Also on the site is Cowes Week winners, Cowes Week weather forecasts and Cowes Week accommodation.