Cowes Week is the oldest and largest sailing regatta in the world and has been a fixture of the summer season since the 1820s. The event is a great mix of competitive sailing and a vibrant social scene and it now attracts up to 1,000 competing boats and about 8,500 competitors ranging from Olympic and world-class professionals to weekend sailors.
Cowes Week is as much fun for anyone spectating as racing and throughout the week there are about 100,000 visitors to the regatta who enjoy nail-biting race finishes and endless parties and pop-ups. If you are into sailing – or just like hobnobbing with the well-heeled yachting crowd – then this northern town in the Isle of Wight is the place to be from August 10 to August 17 this year.
Where’s the best place to spectate?
In the morning, head to the Royal Yacht Squadron line where a cannon boom signifies the start of every race and you can see all the boats jockeying for position to get off the line. Races start all morning from about 10am until about 1pm, so there is plenty to enjoy.
Then in the afternoon head to the green that stretches from Cowes towards Gurnard, where you’ll get a spectacular view of the finishes. Because of the wind direction the yachts usually come in with their spinnakers flying, so you get a whole fleet of beautiful billowing coloured sails coming down the Solent, which is really quite a spectacle and can be quite exciting as they race to the finish.
If you want to get a view from the water, then hop onto a spectator boat which will bring you really close to the action. An hour’s trip costs £12.50 for an adult and £8 for a child.
And what about when you’re not watching the races?
On the shore there are four official venues, which all provide something different. At Georgian Northwood House they have a lawn lounge with a laid-back Eton vibe where you can take part in gin masterclasses or watch an outdoor production of the Wind in the Willows. While at Shepherd’s Wharf and Cowes Yacht Haven the boats come in to the marinas to berth and you can join the sailors at bars, listen to live music and see the racing on large screens. Meanwhile at the waterfront Cowes Parade you can browse pop-up stalls, stop by the food and drink stands and even take part in a family treasure hunt.
Friday 9th August: The Kings Cup
Just ahead of the start of Cowes Week the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will host the inaugural Kings Cup to raise awareness (and funds) for eight of their charities.The Duke and Duchess will go head to head as skippers of individual sailing boats, in an eight boat regatta race. The winning team gets the King’s Cup, a historic trophy first presented by King George V at Cowes’ Royal Yacht Squadron in 1920.
Saturday 10th August: Westerhill rum beach party
To mark the opening of Cowes Week, Westerhill rum are offering discounted jugs of the classic Caribbean cocktail Dark and Stormy at their Cowes Parade beach party. Live music from Derek Sandy and the Reggae Source will get everyone in the mood and if you catch one of the lucky beach balls you’ll get a prize.
Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th: The F50
The SailGP F50 catamaran circuit makes its European debut when it brings six supercharged F50 to race in the Solent on the first Saturday and Sunday of Cowes Week. With racing off Egypt Point between 3pm and 5pm, spectators will have an amazing opportunity to see some of the fastest boats in the world, which are expected to exceed 50 knots.
Tuesday 13th: Slingsby Ladies Day
Don your Breton-striped T-shirt and enjoy Ladies Day (men also welcome). If you come dressed in nautical navy and white you might win one of the many prizes being given away at the Spinnaker Bar.
Friday 16th August: Fly-by and Red Funnel Fireworks
This year Red Funnel is celebrating 50 years of ferrying passengers to and from the mainland by sponsoring the Friday night fireworks. At 7.30pm prepare for the noise of RAF Typhoon as it roars over Cowes and then enjoy the fireworks from any of the waterfront properties.
To see a breakdown of all the races and events visit the website at www.cowesweek.co.uk.
Where to stay
Lots of places get booked up for Cowes Week but the following places still have availability.
Located in Cowes, Pinkmead Estate is a private 24-acre estate on the waterfront that sleeps eight people in four bedrooms. This is a super spot for those visiting for Cowes Week as it offers direct access to Cowes from the private jetty as well as fantastic views of the fireworks. With an outdoor sauna, yoga room, a boat house with kayaks and a dinghy and a pizza oven, it is also a great place to chill out and socialise away from the crowds. A private chef can also be arranged for a bespoke supper club experience.
Half an hour’s drive away in Ventnor the Royal Hotel provides a welcome respite from the Cowes Week craziness. And if you book a four-night stay they’ll throw in a complimentary half-day excursion on the hotel’s luxury 9-metre RIB to watch the sailing. The hotel has luxury period rooms and two AA rosettes for its restaurant as well as an outdoor pool.