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1000 yachts on the start line of Cowes Week

On One of the amazing feats in world sailing is the annual trick pulled off by race officers at Skandia Life Cowes Week in setting courses for 1,000 yachts which start in sequence but almost always end up racing simultaneously.

This would be difficult anywhere but it could hardly be more tricky than on the Solent where land encroaches on all sides, where shallows and rocks lurk in awkward places and where tide and wind conditions can make a nonsense of even the most carefully laid plans.

Race officers who work on this most demanding aspect of race management during the regatta, rely on years of accumulated experience and systems which have gradually evolved in the light of changing circumstances.

On the platform on the battlements of Cowes Castle this week - the home of the Royal Yacht Squadron - one was struck by the cool and calm atmosphere among the 80-strong race management team made up of officers from the Royal Thames, the Royal London and Royal Southampton Yacht Clubs, as they worked their way through 35 start sequences without any major hitches. The front line teams - the line officers and their assistants, the time keepers, gunnery officers, and boat spotters - make up the staff working outside on the battlements while other groups, including the course setters, work behind them. The aim of the course setters is, within reason, to try to give all classes proper racing with true windward and downwind legs. At the same time they try to ensure that the bigger boats in the so-called Black Group do not head for the same marks as the smaller White Group yachts which are made up of day-boat racing yachts.

The calm atmosphere of the race management team did not reflected of the weather situation on the water. Strong winds up to 40 knots gusting during the week and strong current caused few yachts to ground in shallow water, some other broke masts and three small yachts have been lost - all this luckily without any loss of life.


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