These days there are usually 35 race starts a day and over 1000 boats taking
part. Some things haven't changed though, there are still balls, dinners and of
Guide to Cowes Week
As someone who grew up in East Cowes, and has attended Cowes Week pretty much
every year since I can remember (and according to my parents, before then!), I
thought I would write an article covering how to get there, and what you can
expect at this year's event. This year sees the event celebrates its 180th
Anniversary, and has come a long way since the first year where the competitors
numbered 7, and the prize was a 'Gold Cup of the value of ?100'.
For those of you unaware, Cowes Week takes place in Cowes (or West Cowes, if you're a local) on the Isle of Wight. The Isle of Wight, for those unaware, is that small lump at the bottom of the map of the UK, it's amazing how many people I've met that don't know where it is, and confuse it with the Isle of Mann! The answer to the next question that I'm usually asked is "No, you don't need a passport".
Obviously being an Island, you're somewhat limited in your choices of traveling there. Although there is a heliport open in Cowes during Skandia Cowes Week, you're more than likely to catch the ferry there.
Leaving from Southampton, you have two choices, a fast passenger boat, called the Red Jet will take you into the thick of it, as the terminal is just off the main high street in Cowes, and is next to the Yacht Haven, where most of the evening entertainment takes place.
If you're taking your car with you, then you can get the car ferry which comes into East Cowes. From there you have two choices to get to Cowes, either follow the signs for the Chain Ferry (in the past I've spent almost an hour sitting in a car during Cowes Week queuing to get on), I'm not sure on the exact cost these days for a car, but I think ir's about ?1.50. This by the way is the most expensive piece of water to cross anywhere - at low tide, the crossing can take less than a minute - during Skandia Cowes Week it can take nearly 5. A better option is to follow the signs for Newport, and then Cowes, this will take you about 30 minutes.
It takes about an hour on the car ferry or 20 minutes on the Red Jet, but if you travel during Cowes Week you get a great view of the racing, so why hurry. Prices and timetable details can be found on the Red Funnel website
Wightlink run ferry services from Portsmouth and Lymington, with car ferries running on both routes, and a fast passenger service from Portsmouth. These crossings are quicker than Red Funnel, with the longest (Portsmouth - Fishbourne) only taking 35 minutes, but prices though are higher.
The Portsmoth passenger ferry comes in at Ryde Pier head, and you can then you can either ride an old tube train to the bottom (or even as far as Sandown) or walk - it will take you less than 10 mins. At the bottom of the pier you will the find bus station, and if you're heading for Cowes, you have 2 choices, either catch a bus directly there, or to East Cowes and catch the chain ferry across to Cowes. To be honest, there isn't much in it, the bus to Cowes will take longer, as it goes via Newport, but during Cowes Week the chain ferry is usually delayed by yachts trying to get past to get into or out the marinas.
The Portsmouth car ferry comes into Fishbourne, which is closer to Cowes than Ryde, but I don't recommend it for foot passengers as it's pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and a 20 minute walk to the nearest bus stop.
From Lymington you will come into Yarmouth, and this year there's a 'Skandia Cowes Week Direct Express Bus Service' from Yarmouth Bus Station into Cowes. The service is scheduled to coincide with the ferry, so you shouldn't have to wait too long.
For details of ferry time tables, and prices, visit Wightlink's website
Island Roads are Different
If you are driving, there's something you need to know 'Island roads are different', as the road signs say. What this means is that they're narrower than the ones you're probably used to driving on, and there are likely to be pot holes in the more countrified parts.
A word of warning, if you're only planning a day trip, I recommend not taking your car with you, there is limited parking in Cowes and most of the area will be pedestrianised, so you're better off as a foot passenger. If on the other hand you are spending longer, take the car, the bus service will drive you mad, and you'll be able to do some exploring.
First and foremost, Skandia Cowes Week is about racing, over the 8 days, over 1000 yachts in 30 different classes will compete. The first race starts around 10.25, and the best place to watch the action from the shore is near the Royal Yacht Squadron, or towards Egypt Point. For the majority of the races, the start line is opposite the Royal Yacht Squadron and each race is started by cannon.
For a better view of the action, you're better off on the water, and this year the Cowes Combined Clubs have arranged for a 'Jenny' boat to take spectators out. The boats will be leaving from the new Trinity Landing on the Parade, at approximately 10.30am, midday and 1.30pm each day during Cowes Week. Tickets are ?10 for adults and ?8 for children, and the trip lasts an hour. You can either complete the booking form on the Skandia Cowes Week website and fax it to the CCC office before 10pm the night before you want to go, or book onsite. Make sure you arrive 10 minutes before your trip with your booking number, and if its wet or rough, bring waterproofs.
The majority of you aren't likely to know what a 'Jenny Boat' is, so I'll
explain. They're small white sight seeing boats that you may have seen around
the Solent. The reason they are called 'Jenny Boats' is because the owner of
Solent Cruises, the company that runs them, named them after his wife, so all
their names start with Jenny. As I spent a summer working for them many years
ago, I'll give them a shameless plug and say that the Firework Cruise they do
for the Cowes Week Fireworks, is well worth doing if you want the best view of
For those who don't want to venture onto the water (and to be honest it's like a zoo, so I don't blame you!), there's plenty to do ashore, with live entertainment pretty well everywhere you look. Apart from all the balls, dinners and cocktail parties that take place in the yacht clubs around Cowes, the main hubs of activity are Cowes Yacht Haven, and the relative new comers, Shepherd Wharf and the Parade Village.
Cowes Yacht Haven
Anyone who has been to Cowes Week will have been to the Yacht Haven (and some of us still know it as Ancasta Marina). During Skandia Cowes Week, this marina is transformed into a mini festival site, with numerous stalls, a wide selection of food, a live music stage and a beer tent. During the day entry is free, and it's well worth a visit to wander around and take a look at some of the yachts that are visiting, and of course to enjoy a drink and hear some live music. After 6pm, you'll need to buy a ticket to get in, and they have some well known covers bands (FABBA, Killer Queen and Absolute Madness) and Chas and Dave - I'll let you decide if you think that's an incentive or not!
Anyone taking part in Cowes Week is likely to be heading for Shepherds Wharf, which once again this year will be home to the Peppermint Pier, featuring a Crew Bar, Infernos Night Club, a Trade Village, and the Pier Bar. The Crew Bar will be open every day at 7am for breakfast, and then remain open until 2am. The night club will free entry before 10pm if you have a Crew Pass, and this year features an outdoor chill out area and VIP/Cocktail bar. With water on 3 sides, the Pier Bar will be a good place to unwind and look out across the River Medina and Solent. Access to the site will be restricted in the early evening to Crew Pass holders only.
On the Parade will be the Parade Village, offering a bar and BBQ where you can sit and relax looking out across the Solent, and telling yourself how glad that you aren't out in that melee, and watching the near misses as the Red Jet comes into Cowes. If you're feeling adventurous, you can also sign up here for a free introductory session with 'Try Sailing', which once again this year is sponsored by Skandia. There will also be street entertainment, live music, wine tasting and art exhibitions. The Parade is also the best view point for the Friday night fireworks, so make sure you get here early if you're planning on watching them.
Official Charity Day
This year the official charity for Skandia Cowes Week is the Ellen MacArthur Trust, which takes young people recovering from cancer, leukaemia, and other serious illnesses, sailing to help them regain their confidence. There are a number of special events planned, including a now sold out ball, which will be attended by Dame Ellen MacArthur and double gold medalist Shirley Robertson OBE. At 6pm there will be a Stars of Sailing Charity Fleet Race, which will feature celebrity sailors sailing with members of the public that have won a place.
This year for the first time ever, Skandia Cowes Week is hosting a Ladies Day on the Thursday to celebrate Women in Sailing - around a third of last year's competitors of Skandia Cowes Week were women. During the day a foot spotter will be on patrol around Cowes for the Timberland Fancy Feet Competition. If you have the most fancy feet on the day, then you'll win a pair of Timberland shoes. There will also be a fashion show in the Cowes Yacht Haven between 4pm and 5pm. On the water will take place the Ladies Day Trophy, which is planned to be annual occurrence.
See You There
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There's certainly plenty to see and do at this year's event, so it's well worth a visit, I'll certainly be going back.