Cowes tradition returns amid signs of evolution

Sportsboatworld.com competes in the SB20 class at last year's Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week Picture: Rick Tomlinson
Sportsboatworld.com competes in the SB20 class at last year's Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week Picture: Rick Tomlinson
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A tradition dating back to 1826 has reasserted itself at Cowes Week.

After last year moving to a later date to avoid the Olympics, the world’s largest annual sailing regatta is now back in its traditional early August slot between Glorious Goodwood and the Glorious Twelfth – the first day of the grouse shooting season.

If it is actually no longer a fixed point on the social scene for royalty or even grouse shooters, Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week – to give it its full title – is a sailing festival and spectacle with its own unique appeal.

It may not offer the purist, high-intensity windward-leeward racing beloved by some, but it has maintained its special place in the sailing calendar – surviving a fall in overall numbers from its heyday and a two-year hiatus without a title sponsor.

One of the secrets of Cowes Week’s enduring success has been its ability and willingness to evolve in response to feedback from customers – the sailors who take part, or who would like to.

A major innovation this year is the introduction of two races a day in the SB20 and J/70 sportsboat fleets.

Jerry Hill, director of Sportsboatworld who is racing in the 31-strong SB20 class, said: ‘In general, the SB20 fleet felt they were not getting enough races or sailing.

‘This format allows our sailors to get eight races in for four days, and they either have the option of getting back to work for Wednesday or carrying on with the more traditional race format for the rest of the week.’

J70 sailor Ian Atkins added: ‘The new, condensed four-day format offering two shorter races each day, but including the unique experience of both starting and finishing on the Squadron line, is a tremendous step forward.

‘Is bound to increase the popularity of Cowes Week in years to come.’

At the other end of the sailing spectrum, but no less innovative, Cowes Week organisers are putting on a new race format on the final Saturday (August 10) for cruisers who want a taste of racing action.

Stuart Quarrie, in his final year as Cowes Week Limited CEO, said: ‘The plan is to keep it relaxed with a late start, a simple course and a condensed set of sailing instructions.

‘Before launching the idea we canvassed opinion on the concept and had an overwhelmingly positive response.

‘We hope that those who give one day a go this year may come back and spend a bit more time with us in future years.’

Quarrie, 63, has headed-up Cowes Week for 16 years and will focus on racing issues when he becomes director of sailing for next year.

Unsurprisingly, he’s an enthusiast.

‘I honestly believe Cowes Week is the best regatta in the world,’ he said.