Sailing sensation

Cowes Week is one of the longest-running events in UK sporting history and this year's regatta takes place from July 31 to August 7. Claire Pitcher finds out what's in store

Cowes Week attracts around 8,500 participants, from Olympic and world class professionals to weekend sailors. Over 100,000 spectators come to watch the sailing, enjoy the parties and live entertainment, and experience the unique atmosphere. One of the great things about Cowes Week is that much of the racing can be enjoyed from the shore and there are also now a number of fantastic opportunities to go afloat to watch the racing or even have a go yourself.

Fancy racing but don’t have a boat?You don’t need to be a professional sailor to race at Cowes Week. If you have some sailing experience and would like to join the 1,000-boat fleet under cannon fire from the historic and prestigious Royal Yacht Squadron, there are many ways to get involved.The Cowes Week Crew Forum is a great way for sailors to secure a position on one of the competing boats. All you need to do is visit the Cowes Week website to register your details and view some of the available positions.If you have less experience, both Sunsail and Ondeck have their own dedicated classes at Cowes Week and offer places for sailors of any ability on professionally skippered boats. The popular ‘Rock up and Race’ programme run by Ondeck also means that you can turn up on-spec at the regatta and go racing for the day (although booking is recommended).Recognising the increasing trend towards boat charter as a cost-effective way of getting afloat, there are many charter companies that can help you if you have a crew but no boat. Ondeck are the official charter supplier to the event, and details of other available boats are also posted on the Boats Forum on the Cowes Week website.

Watch the actionIf you’d rather just enjoy watching the racing, you can get closer to the action aboard a spectator boat with bookings possible from the Cowes Week website ( Alternatively, you can ‘Rock up and RIB’ with Ondeck and enjoy an exhilarating ride onboard a high speed Rigid Inflatable Powerboat. To book, call 02392 583000 or email  If watching the action whets your appetite and you’d like to have a go at racing after the Cowes Week fleets have finished racing for the day, Laserperformance and Pelican Racing have joined forces to provide racing taster sessions for just �10. Email for more information.

To the extremeA number of additional treats in store for visitors to Cowes Week include the ‘Extreme Sailing Series at Cowes Week’ which builds on the success of 2009 where the Extreme 40 racing was a key attraction, delivering some great racing really close to the shore and providing a great spectacle. Racing will take place off Egypt Point from 3pm from Saturday, July 31, until Monday, August 2 and from 5pm from Tuesday 3 until Thursday, August 5.

Time ashoreThere’s no shortage of things to see and do ashore, and the shore-side programme for Cowes Week this year is set to provide the usual vibrant, festival atmosphere for which the event is so well known. Cowes boasts a host of clothing and lifestyle shops where you can indulge in some retail therapy. As the official clothing partner to the event, Gill will be on hand to kit you out in the new Cowes Week clothing range from their retail unit at Cowes Yacht Haven. You can enjoy a coffee or long lunch at one of the many pubs or restaurants in Cowes, and even a complimentary pampering treat courtesy of Liz Earle Naturally Active Skincare on Cowes Parade.The traditional Cowes Week fireworks display is all set for Friday, August 6, at 9.30pm. Additional funds are required towards the cost of policing the fireworks and the extensive infrastructure needed to ensure the safety of the display, so organisers are asking fireworks fans to make a donation securely via Paypal (details on the Cowes Week website). The sensational Cowes Week Red Arrows display, a regular fixture in recent years, will take place at 7pm on Friday, August 6, thanks to sponsorship by Artemis Investment Management for the second year running. The display will serve as a perfect warm-up to the fireworks.

Getting thereRed Funnel operate a hi-speed ferry service (23 minutes) between Cowes and Southampton giving fast access to the excitement of Cowes Week from Southampton. A dedicated Cowes Week service operates between Lymington and Cowes, courtesy of Blue Funnel.

The UK versus USAThis year Cowes Week plays host to a very special inaugural event; the 1851 Cup. This trophy event is the brainchild of  TEAMORIGIN, the British America’s Cup sailing team who, with the support of their challenging yacht club, the Royal Thames Yacht Club, have invited the America’s Cup holders, BMW ORACLE Racing, to Cowes this summer to compete in a match race tournament. Racing will take place late afternoon off Cowes from Tuesday 3 until Friday 6 August, including a race clockwise around the Island on Thursday, August 5, over the historic original course that saw the birth of the Cup in 1851.

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