If you could bottle the atmosphere of Cowes Week, you’d be a rich man. There’s nowhere else on planet earth I would rather be than Cowes in the first week of August. It’s the first date perennially entered in a yearly calendar and it’s so good to see it back after the pandemic caused the first cancellation since the World Wars.
The town is teeming with life, the bars are back in business, the amazing restaurant scene is booming, the yacht clubs are heaving and everything seems right in the world. Smiles are everywhere as competitors have come flooding back with entries back up at 2019 levels again and staycationers are being royally entertained with the best viewing gallery in world sailing down on the Green.
The organisers are putting on a heck of a show with the Cowes Combined Clubs running the racing like clockwork – incredible teamwork from a large number behind the scenes whilst Laurence Mead, the new regatta director, is performing miracles, keeping the whole show going much to the gratitude of everyone involved.
And you know what? This regatta feels like a return to the good old days of Cowes Week’s past. What started out as the Cowes Town Regatta, it got a bit lost in the corporate sponsorship world over the past couple of decades. When the sponsor dollars ran dry as the Financial Conduct Authority decided that everyone was having too much fun (the bloody bores), Cowes Week was forced to look inwards, cut costs but deliver the crucial basics of what made this regatta such a juggernaut in the first place.
And in 2021 they are delivering first class, unique Solent racing (some call it ‘orienteering’) and my goodness there’s some serious talent out there. Try winning in the XOD fleet, sadly mourning the gone but never forgotten Simon ‘Fumesey’ Russell, and you’re staring at a lifetime’s project to win the coveted Captain’s Cup.
Or how about a tilt at the title in one of the IRC fleets – well there’s Olympic medallists sailing H-Boats down in IRC 7, professional crews from the Cup scene in the glamour divisions and good luck trying to beat Adam Gosling in ‘Yes!’ his beautiful 2016 built JPK 1080 which will be scooping everything in its sight this week and etching Adam’s name once again on every trophy in the cabinet…winning at Cowes is hard, believe me.
Everywhere you look there’s talent – go to the Daring fleet, the beautiful local Cowes boats that were an Uffa Fox adaption of the Olympic 5.5 Metre class back in the day and you’ll come up against Giles Peckham, probably the finest Corinthian sailor in Britain today and don’t even think about the Dragon fleet…this year Graham Bailey (another who could challenge for the title of being the Corinthian best) is sailing the beautifully renovated Bluebottle, formerly the boat of the sadly departed HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and a wedding present gifted to him by the Island Sailing Club. Bluebottle’s been given the David Heritage treatment – almost certainly the best one design boatbuilder in Britain today – and with the lightning quick Bailey steering is acing the ultra competitive fleet. What a great story. From a dusty museum to winning at Cowes again. Brilliant.
Even in the smallest boats, the two-man Flying 15’s of my local club – the Cowes Corinthian YC – the competition is desperately close. You’ll find local legend and boatbuilder John Corby playing with established names likes Charles Apthorp, Rupert Mander, Mike Dixon and Chris Brittain. It’s incredible – there are just no easy classes at Cowes and it’s great to see. And what about those new Cape 31’s heh? What. A. Boat. One of my Round the Island crew is racing one with the Royal Thames YC and all I hear are good things. Possibly the best £180,000 a man can spend – smiles guaranteed and a place on the cool wall awaits.
Unfortunately this year there’ll be no fireworks or displays from the Red Arrows but it really doesn’t matter. Cowes is dancing to a different beat now post Covid and the return to its roots is both healthy and classy. It’s a regatta for the sailors and the vibe is terrific. Pen it in your diary for 2022, it will just get bigger and better from here on in. And what Cowes serves up is every season in one day – we’ve had scorching heat, light winds, strong winds and rain squalls and we haven’t even made it to Monday yet.
“This blessed plot. This earth. This realm. This England.” Shakespeare may as well have been describing Cowes. It’s a truly blessed place. I can only imagine what an America’s Cup on these waters will be like…utterly spectacular…but bring a brolly.