Imagine 1000 big and modern yachts, 8000 sailors and hundreds of sailing events, all crowded around an island off the south coast of England. The Isle of Wight usually has around 140,000 people living there permanently, but for a week in the beginning of August, it gets flooded with sailing enthusiasts in non-slip shoes and big sunglasses, all talking about sheets, ropes and sails until they couldn't possibly drink any more rum. Sailing festivals all around the world are normally combinations of all-night partying on yachts (worse ways to do it) and then all day sailing events on the cold but invigorating seas around the southern coastal areas. Luckily this event, and the similar Dartmouth Regatta, are held in August to maximize the possibility of a warm and dry time for all.
Cowes Week is essentially a huge international sailing festival, with 40 race starts every day, and more than 1000 boats coming along to take part and be part of this renowned gathering of sailing lovers. I think that at least half of the visitors come for the non-sailing based activities, and the land-based part of the event is just as celebrated and looked-forward to as the wet part is. The very first race to ever take place under the Cowes Week banner was all the way back on Thursday the 10th August 1826, when King George IV gave a gold cup to a race winner. In the next 200 years this event has swelled and grown constantly, and now if you visit Cowes harbour during the week, you’ll be amazed by the level of technology and enjoyment and fun.
One of the most interesting parts of the event is that it’s not just for sailing lovers, but also aims to bring more people into the sport/hobby. There are hundreds of sailing schools that attend the event and put on displays and taster sessions, and really more than a sailing competition, it’s a gathering of like-minded people, drinking rum and talking about boats. In the link below you can see a first-timers guide to the festival.
That being said, the racing portion of the event should not be overlooked, and is of major importance to many people. With races often begun by the firing of a cannon, and the races and results televised and broadcast, if you want to, you can treat yacht racing as seriously as any other sport. I’ve also added a link to a spectator guide below, so you can check out all the day events if you’re not sailing. You don’t need to own a boat to get out on the water, and one of the best ways to see the racing is from one of the ‘spectator boats’, that you pay around £12 for a day for an adult and £8 for a child. From these stable and steady spectator boats you can get incredible views as they follow the races around the bay and the Solent river.
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