It’s plain sailing at classy Cowes Week

Gosport's Alex Thomson onboard his Hugo Boss IMOCA Open 60 race yacht
Gosport's Alex Thomson onboard his Hugo Boss IMOCA Open 60 race yacht
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Land Rover BAR adds to its design team

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It may be starting a little later in the year than usual but Cowes Week shows every sign of being in rude health.

Organisers of the world’s largest sailing regatta put the start date back a week to avoid the strong spring tides earlier this week, which could have been problematic.

The racing, though, kicks off tomorrow, with the event demonstrating its enduring appeal across the whole of the sailing fraternity – from state-of-the-art multi-million-pound speed machines to classic yachts celebrating their centenary year.

And with a slight increase in entries compared to last year, and an enthusiastic sponsor in the shape of Aberdeen Asset Management on board for a three-year deal, the regatta has a spring in its step.

‘Without a sponsor we were not able to move things along as we would have wished,’ said Cowes Week CEO Stuart Quarrie.

‘Aberdeen Asset Management have been a really supportive company and they really want to make a success of the regatta.’

The beauty of Cowes Week has always been that it combines highly-competitive racing on some of the most challenging sailing waters in the world, vibrant and varied off-the-water activities, and some special events to inject the exotic into proceedings.

Once again this year the high-speed Extreme 40 catamarans return to put on a racing series off Cowes Green, while the Artemis Challenge for Open 60s returns in midweek.

Also attracting attention this year will be the veteran XOD class which is celebrating a centenary year in good form having attracted the largest entry of any class at Cowes Week this year.

‘The really interesting thing is that a lot of really good sailors have moved in to the XOD fleet for this year, so it will be interesting to see if the usual winners are still at the top of the class,’ said Quarrie.

‘They are great boats to sail and incredibly tactical as they are relatively slow compared to the tide.’

Quarrie, who has been at the helm of Cowes Week since 1999, says not all the changes to the regatta over the past few years will be obvious to competitors.

While the expansion of shoreside activities from the previously overcrowded Cowes Yacht Haven zone out to Shephards Wharf and Cowes Parade has been widely welcomed, changes to the racing are perhaps less noticeable.

‘The online experience has changed completely and it’s now a big part of the way we communicate with people,’ added Quarrie, referring to the entry system, results service and more beside.

‘We’ve got much better at setting the courses as well – we still get it wrong but we are far better.’

Organisers also have a ships’ pilot ashore, who can talk to the pilots aboard the large vessels that share the Solent, making small changes to movements that produce fewer delayed starts.

‘There’s so much that goes on that the competitors don’t see, none of them earth shattering in themselves, but they all add up to a far smoother operation,’ Quarrie concluded.