Sailing: Radio days at Cowes Week

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The Independent Online
TURN ON, tune in, go racing is the message from sponsors Skandia Life as they hand out 416 little yellow radios to competitors in Cowes Week, which begins its eight-day festival of sailing today. Of course, there will still be the tradition of flags breaking out their signals and cannons reinforcing them to inform the smaller, mainly dayboat classes, of the courses they are to sail and the countdown to their starts.

This time they must listen to Cowes Week Radio as well for all of that, though for many it will the same as usual, just follow the ones in front. The grown-ups in the bigger keelboats are all expected to have radios, so all their information will be sent by radio, flags only being used for postponements.

There have often been many of those, but this year it at least looks as if that all-important racing fuel, wind, will be available. It was in precious short supply far too many times last year, when one complete day was lost, the opening one, and many smaller classes lost three or four.

There may also be a last-minute rush for oilskins among the 835 entries, about 100 down on last year, but, judging from a High Street boasting one new delicatessen opposite an Island Sailing Club installing extra bedroom capacity and a handful of new restaurants the party will be as strenuously contested as the sailing.

Not knowing whether to be happy or unhappy is Peter Poland, boss of Hunter Boats, who make the popular 707. He is happy because, with 35 entries, they outnumber all the other sportboats, but unhappy, because this year there are less than 50 although the main reason for that is that a couple of dozen of them instead went to Cork Week earlier in July.

"The Cork craic is getting the upper hand," says Poland, indicating, perhaps, that it should be the Cowes Week organisers that should be unhappy. Take out the day boats and the number of entries for Cowes Week is now well below those attracted to south-west Ireland every two years.

Both are also major beer festivals, though Cowes likes to project a more champagne image, but people only have a limited number of weeks they can absent themselves from work. So it will be one of the jobs of incoming regatta organiser Stuart Quarrie to maintain the supremacy of Cowes, bringing in new ideas as well as vital sponsorship money. He works alongside the retiring Dan Bradby at the Cowes Combined Clubs nerve centre this week. Next month he is on his own.

At least Cowes Week also now stands alone, separate from the Rolex Commodores' Cup, which finished two days ago, and separate next year from a reorganised Admiral's Cup, which will also be staged in mid-July.