Sailing: Competition remains set fair in century of the Laser

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The Independent Online

Chaos on keels and a glorious celebration of life afloat will bring about 9,000 people together today for a 180th-anniversary celebration. But Cowes Week has finally moved firmly into the 21st century. The ancient, in the form of the venerable X boat, designed in 1909, has been shouldered aside as the biggest class by the sporty Laser SB3. The score, ahead of the first races today, was 89 entries to 73.

Run under the Skandia banner for 12 years, this town regatta retains its appeal of being big, of providing competition for everyone, be they Olympic medallist or club duffer, of accommodating everything from a clinker-built classic to a modern carbon fibre war machine, and providing a spectacle for holiday visitors ashore or hospitality guests afloat.

The campaign to spread the event over two weeks instead of one continues, but has so far been cannoned into the long grass, and a town which never could cope with not just the spike in numbers but a spurious reputation for sophistication will come out the other side having welcomed and satisfied a vast concentration of visitors.

Except, of course, for those who have consistently lost races, been penalised for breaking the rules, or have had massive rows with their fellow crew members.

It is an occasion where the stars and medal winners drink alongside those with more ordinary talents. The endless post-mortems on the vagaries of wind and tide which led to their downfall provide a common thread.

There will be many of those. With entries standing at 1,029, only 10 down on last year's record, in the 37 classes scrambling to start a race every day until a week today there are as many potential headaches for competitors as organisers.

What is expected, according to weather guru Chris Tibbs, is an end to the stifling heat, up to 20 knots for the first three days and even some rain.