Cowes Week, UK - 2001

How To Sail It

Cowes is known for its strong winds – 25-35 Knots, strong currents, lots of boats on the race course (1,000 yachts and 8,000 competitors) and sometimes cold/rainy weather. Put you off? Hope not – this is one of the most invigorating regattas we have done. The challenge of being “game on” for the entire day can be very satisfying.

Handling the conditions is the key to success here. This is where the English sailors with local knowledge and experience have an advantage. Good crew work in the blustery conditions to hoist, drop and fly a kite (in possibly 32 knots of wind) without too many round ups is the key here. Practice in windy conditions to improve the responsiveness prior to the event is highly recommended. The boats that did well had good crew work to avoid trouble. Good skills on the kite trimming and the helm are critical to avoid round ups which can quickly send you to the back of the fleet. Also practice in kite recovery with blown sheets/guy or wrap around the forestay would be an advantage. Remember to blanket the kite behind the main downwind to shake a wrap rather than heading up. With a forestay wrap try gibing then un-wrapping the kite as the wind will help it unwind in the proper direction.

Crew fitness will also help with the heavy grinding work needed and just staying energized in the cold conditions.

The Solent is flat water but the currents can be a big factor in deciding your place. Mark roundings and starts in up to 4-5Knots current is the biggest challenge. If you miss a mark because the current pulled you down below it, it can be really tough to get back especially is tacks are needed among on coming boats where on port you have no rights. This can put you many places back. Make sure someone focuses on how far you need to over-stand the mark to clear it. Be aware that you will be sharing the marks in some instances with some big boats that move very fast. Avoid collisions.

Starting in adverse or favoring current can be very difficult to time so you will need to get there early and practice. When the motor goes off you want to be in the right spot because the current will move you very quickly. One trick when starting in adverse current is start above the line and come down with speed to the line then turn the boat and carry that momentum across the line. This is obviously dangerous as you have minimal rights when coming down. But we managed to sneak inside of the other starting boats and win the start as we were better able to control our approach to the line with speed; the other boats were all late. You can be lucky!

Finally expect to break things. Carry spare sheets, halyards etc.