Things ain't what they used to be: COWES WEEK

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The Independent Online

How it was

The peak of the sailing season, where Britain's best boaters thrash it out on the Solent, watched by, according to the Cowes website: "British and foreign royalty, the nobility, the rich and the famous." On Saturday night, the prestigious Royal Yacht Squadron club hosts a ball, where yachting types sip pink gins in their admiralty blazers.

How it is

Skandia Cowes Week, as sponsors now require it to be called, has well and truly sold out, with many races entered by teams on away days from City accountancy firms.

"The whole thing now revolves around a marquee the size of a large aircraft hangar, which is basically full of drunken middle-managers," says a shocked recent visitor. "Real yachting fans don't get a look in. It's become completely corporatised."

Michelle Warner, a spokesperson for Cowes Week, insists that the event has not sold out: "People tend to hire boats more than own them, and the charter boats are often sponsored, which makes them look corporate. But they're not. The nice thing about the event is that there's something for everyone."

Vital statistics

More than 1,000 competing yachts and 8,500 competitors take part, while 100,000 people will gather shore-side. Many will watch the racing, but 50,000 come mainly to witness the fireworks display on the last night.

Corporate charters of yachts in the race cost £1,800 and include a crewed Sunsail yacht and meals. The posh Royal Yacht Squadron, and its ball, is open only to members and their guests.