Cowes Parade to defy the weather

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The Independent Online

It is expected to rain on Cowes Parade tomorrow as the opening day of the annual week-long regatta defies not only the weather gods but the best efforts of assorted bankers to push racing sailboat owners into penury.

Entries are, not unexpectedly, down by about 15 per cent. for an event that goes back over 150 years and no replacement has been found to inject the considerable dollop of sponsorship cash which financial services company Skandia used to hand over.

If you want a house to rent there are lots still available and prices are well down. If you want a table at Murray’s or one of the many other restaurants along the High Street the scramble is less frenetic.

But if you want to win your class, and there are 37 of them for the 887 yachts entered, or raise one of the major trophies, especially the New York Yacht Club Challenge Trophy or the Britannia Cup, there will be no gimmes. The Solent remains as tricky a track as ever.

The event grew to post-war prominence helped by having the royal yacht as the guardship, the royal watchers swelling the crowds which stretch from the starting cannons at the Squadron all along the green. Various runs of affluent years also helped its growth.

Every other year there was the Admiral’s Cup, which brought in three-boat national teams from North and South America, Europe, South Africa and Australasia. Its climax then was the Fastnet Race but, while the Royal Ocean Racing Club is looking for a way to reinvent a flagship event in limbo, the Fastnet, which it also runs, remains strong with 300 yachts entered for what, this year, is the 30th anniversary of the storm-tossed calamity which claimed 15 lives. Cowes Week would, in the right circumstances, welcome the event back.

Joining in this year are nine 40-foot catamarans contesting the third of six regattas which constitute the iShares Cup, which stages its finale in Andalucia in October. For tomorrow, Sunday and Monday a special course is being laid in front of the Green.

On Wednesday a fleet of 10 Open 60s will contest the 50-mile course round the Isle of Wight for the Artemis trophy, and a handful of big boys, including Mike Slade’s Leopard and Carl Kwok’s Beau Geste will strut their stuff as impressively as the uncertain weather will allow.

But the focus remains on club racers joining the jamboree and the biggest class will again be the venerable X One Design three-person day boats. Regatta ceo Stuart Quarrie says that they have had to be smarter, better and cheaper, but is confident he will have an event sponsor for next year. In the meantime he counsels full oilskins at the ready, but with sunscreen in a pocket.