Cowes Week prepares to defy the weather gods

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The Independent Online

It is expected to rain on Cowes Parade today 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 that 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.

Cowes Week 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.

The Fastnet Race, which is run by the Royal Ocean Racing Club, remains strong with 300 yachts entered for what is, this year, the 30th anniversary of the storm-tossed calamity which claimed 15 lives.

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 today, tomorrow and Monday a special course is being laid in front of the Green.

On Wednesday a fleet of ten 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 in and the biggest class will again be the 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.