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Cowes Week 2020 Cancelled

Cowes Week panorama

This time last year we would have started to gear up for another Cowes Week. What is a one of the best-known events in the sailing calendar – this year it simply wasn’t possible to run the much-loved regatta.

The Cowes Week team had hoped that it would be possible to hold the regatta this summer for the competitors, sponsors and spectators who come together to make it a success. However, despite the encouraging progress that is being made towards the UK’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that running a large event in early August would have brought many thousands of visitors to the small town of Cowes, and therefore it will not be possible while sufficiently protecting all those involved.

Laurence Mead, Regatta Director, said

“We know that this will be a huge disappointment to many, as indeed it is to the team at Cowes Week. We waited for as long as we realistically could to see how the situation might develop, on the basis that our competitors would want us to run the regatta if it were possible. We appreciate the patience that everybody has shown while we have worked through different scenarios and would like to thank the hundreds of volunteers who have been on stand-by, ready to jump into action if needed.”

All of those competitors that had already entered this year will be invited to enter in 2021 and Cowes Week looks set to be back as the highlight of the UK sailing season on its traditional dates of July 31st to August 7th 2021.

A look back on the history of Cowes Week.

Cowes Week class racing

Cowes Week originated in the 19th century and, with its many traditions, has been part of the British summer social season since then.

The first official regatta was held in 1812, then 14 years later, on August 10th in 1826, the Royal Yacht Squadron formally organised three days of racing in the waters of the Solent.

The event became the Cowes Regatta when King George IV presented a gold cup worth £100 to mark the occasion.

Until World War I, big cutters and raters were raced by gentlemen amateurs employing skippers and crew. In the 1920s and 1930s, there were cruiser handicap classes and local one-designs (although the six to eight and twelve metre classes attracted the most racing interest).

Following World War II, when there was a revival of big yacht racing, ocean racing classes started to dominate. After the first Admiral’s Cup event was held in 1957, two ocean-going races were added to the Cowes schedule.

Cowes Week - Abu Dhabi

They start and finish the regatta, The Channel and the Fastnet. The Fastnet, which rounds the Fastnet rock far out in the Atlantic and can be dangerous, is held in odd-numbered years only.

In the decades following World War II, yachting moved away from its image as a rich man’s sport to one which is enjoyed by many today in modest self-skippered 30 to 40-foot yachts.

Cowes Week today

Cowes Week - mid Solent

The regatta has evolved enormously since 1826, and now between 800 and 1,000 boats in up to forty different handicap, one-design and multihull classes race every day for eight days. It is this complete mixture of classic and ultra-modern designs that gives the regatta its uniqueness.

Several classes that raced more than 50 years ago are still racing today; Dragons, Flying Fifteens, Redwings, Sea View Mermaids, Solent Sunbeams, Swallows, Victories and X-one-designs. New classes are also introduced as they increase in popularity.

Each class is made up using the IRC (International Rating System) which ranks the yachts’ individual measurements. Class Zero has the biggest boats (up to 30 metres long) and Class Seven, the smallest.

Cowes Week - Race start

All the races take place on the Solent – making for some challenging and unusual conditions for the competitors.  The sheltered waters and irregular tides, along with the hundreds of boats can tax even the most skilled sailor.

Cowes Week

The regatta is also a huge social high spot, and still holds the same traditions over 180 years on – with yacht club balls, dinners, cocktail parties and concerts throughout the week.

The highlight of the week’s evening activities is the famous fireworks display.  Held on the final Friday, the spectacle attracts an audience of over 100,000 people who watch the display from the water and both sides of the Solent.

We are keeping our fingers crossed for next year and can’t wait to see all of the yachts and competitors back for Cowes Week 2021.

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