Cowes and Its Magic Week of Yacht Racing

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Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week is perhaps the best known yachting event in the world – raced at by royals and commoners, amateurs and professional global sailing stars, big boats and small. Sailors gather there from all over the UK – and further afield, world yachtie centres included.


cowes week, raced by boats big and small – photo: rick tomlinson


art sails before the revered royal yacht squadron – photo: rick tomlinson


vintage canons fire the start – photo: rick tomlinson

Cowes is the home of the revered Royal Yacht Squadron, the most elite collection of rich British yachtsmen – and it is the big gun, in both senses, of Cowes Week. Its vintage cannons fire the starts to races – and the stately building hosts the big human guns – visiting kings and queens, plus lesser sailing mortals.


princess anne – photo: lloyd images


zara phillips and mike tindall – photo: rick tomlinson


pippa middleton – photo: getty images

Yet the vast majority of the 10,000 odd Cowes Week competitors, plus thousands more spectators and visitors, make it great fun and socially very far from a snob do.


x one design class – photo: rick tomlinson


first 40.7 class – photo: rick tomlinson


rs elite class – photo: rick tomlinson


artemis class – photo: rick tomlinson


cowes saturday racing – photo: rick tomlinson


all sizes of boats race at cowes – photo: rick tomlinson

Each Cowes Week race morning, up to 1,500 boats flood out from the narrow River Medina which splits the quaint town of Cowes, East and West. They race in the beautiful Solent, a 25 mile long “water” between England mainland to the north, the charismatic, relaxed Isle of Wight to the south. At the west end of the Solent are the Needles, stone pillars of history guarding the entrance to Britain’s most sacred sailing waters.


cowes week is for all – photo: rick tomlinson

Cowes Week is far from elite, sacred, snooty – rather sailing and social at its best. For all, rich or poor, aged, youngies. The “yacht haven” is home to many racing boats and the drinking, social, music and dancing centre for nights of fun.


sailing in cowes is a year-round activity – photo: rick tomlinson

It’s every year in August – but Cowes and Solent sailing and racing (including motor boats too) is a year-round activity keeping this unique town alive non-stop.

If you have any interest in the water and boats, you should go there. Its accessible only from the mainland of England by waterborne transport, boat or ferries, fast and slow.

Yet its history, and heritage of sail – stretching back to 19th century days of the America’s Cup, the most famous trophy ever raced for between the two nations – make it accessible for all.

Paul Thomas started boating at age 11… on the Norfolk Broads. More than half a century on, he’s raced and cruised worldwide and now holidays with waterborne wife and family in the Solent – on a power boat!  A former Fleet Street journalist, he edited Anglia Afloat, the East Coast boating magazine, for many years and still contributes words and pictures. 

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