Spectator's guide

Jo Grindley points out where to watch the spectacle and join in the fun

Tuesday June 5th 2001, Author: Jo Grindley, Location: United Kingdom

If you're not one of the 5,000 competitors racing on the water, there's no need not to be involved. Here are all the top tips on where to catch all the racing, entertainment and fun of Skandia Life Cowes Week 2001.

The Royal Yacht Squadron is the place to see the start of the first race of the day at 10.25. From that moment on you'll need to put your fingers in your ears as a cannon is fired a cannon every five minutes to start each of the 34 classes. If you hear two cannons, that means at least one of the boats has jumped the start. The last start of the day is for the X-Boats at 12.35. You can expect almost 100 boats on the start line - the biggest fleet of each day.

An exceptional day will be on Tuesday, when three classic and beautiful J-Class Yachts - Velsheda, Endeavour and Shamrock - are expected to race in Cowes Week. Their start will be at 1000.

How can you find out where the boats will be going? Simple: look at the board on the front of the Royal Yacht Squadron. If there's a large green square displayed it means the yachts will start and then head west towards Gurnard and Lymington. You can watch the close-quarter racing by walking west along Cowes Green and the seafront towards Gurnard.

If the tide is against the boats, watch them as they hug the shore to keep out of the adverse current. There will be a few close shaves, if not collisions, shouting and jostling for position. Another hazard is the hidden rocks just off the beach along Cowes seafront. You'll be sure to see a few frustrated faces as some boats hit the rocks and bounce off it they're lucky or get stuck if they're not...

Who has right of way if there is a crash? If a boat is on starboard tack the wind will be blowing over its right hand side. A starboard tack boat has right of way over a port tack boat. The wind blows over the left hand side of a port tack boat, they must keep clear of starboard tack boats. PORT and LEFT have four letters, STARBOARD and RIGHT have more, that's how I remember it!

If there is a red square board displayed on the Royal Yacht Squadron, the boats will start and head east towards East Cowes and Portsmouth. Hop on the chain ferry to East Cowes (it's free to foot passengers) and walk around East Cowes Seafront to watch the fleets sail towards you.

The bigger and faster boats start first, progressively getting smaller and slower until the 20ft X-Boats finally go last. The idea is to give the faster boats longer courses and the smaller boats shorter ones. Ideally all classes will finish at approximately the same time. One of the most spectacular sights of Skandia Life Cowes Week is the hundreds of boats all bunched together, with their brightly coloured spinnakers flying as they head for the finish line at the Royal Yacht Squadron. Generally you can expect the first finishers at about 1500. Time limit is 1800 and anyone who has not finished by then will not be counted. Most boats will be in by 4pm for a well deserved after-race drink at the beer tent in Cowes Yacht Haven.

Why not get out on the water to watch the racing close up? Solent Cruises offer 20-25 minute trips out to watch the racing and around the harbour for just £2.50. The Jenny boats depart regularly from the new temporary pier off Cowes Parade. Just turn up or pre-book your trip by telephoning 01983 564602.

Admittance to Cowes Yacht Haven is free until 6pm. Once inside the area, walk around the new North Basin Walkway. You can watch as the yachts manoeuvre into their berths and pack up for the day or look in amazement as Cowes harbour becomes the M25 in rush hour. The bedlam of hundreds of boats trying to dodge each other and keep out of the way of the ferries is quite a spectacle. This year the marina will have more places to eat and drink than ever before. Drop in and listen to the live music and watch action from the days racing on the big television screen.

Cowes Week will again have its own TV station, The Sailing Channel. Skandia Life Cowes Week is the only sporting event in the UK to be granted a license to broadcast its own television programmes throughout the day. Last year The Sailing Channel was on air for thirteen and a half hours a day. It starts with the 'The Weather Programme', where experts such as Olympic Medallist and local Cowes sailor, Jo Richards, give advice and predictions on the day's racing conditions.

Once racing begins, cameras situated on the top of the Royal Yacht Squadron broadcast live throughout the day, giving you all the start and finish line action. Camera crews are out on the water all day recording the day's events, then at 1600. The Sailing Channel goes live hosted by BBC Grandstand sailing presenter, Richard Simmonds. For the next three hours watch all the action from the day's racing, on-board footage, and interviews with the day's winners, losers and guest stars. Look out for Olympic Gold Medallists Iain Percy and Shirley Robertson who will be on air to give their views on the day's action. Vendee Globe superstar Ellen MacArthur may pop into the studio, and of course there will be the champagne moments of the day: crashes, grounding, broaches, dismasting. No one will get off lightly!

Check the official Cowes Week website www.cowesweek.co.uk for how to tune your television in to The Sailing Channel and for all programming details.

Television is not the only way to keep abreast of the day's events. Cowes Week Radio 106.2 FM is on air throughout the day from 7am. Cowes Radio has been operating for 16 years, bringing on and off the water commentary and entertainment to competitors and spectators alike.

Dick Johnson will again be on the water in the commentary RIB from 1000 for full live coverage. He'll be there to cover all the action on the water, interspersed with weather and tide information, and all the up-to-the-moment information from the Race Officers at the Royal Yacht Squadron Platform.

Cowes Week Radio is a must for spectators to keep up to-date with the day's events, and the competitors will be listening in also to see how their competition is shaping up and if Dick thinks they've jumped the start! Remember to bring along you portable radio.

In the evening if you want to eat in one of Cowes's many restaurants, book early to avoid disappointment. With thousands descending on the small town, space is at a premium in all the pubs and restaurants. My favourites, The Baan Thai, followed by a drink in The Pier View and The Alamo, then for a pint of Pimms head for Cowes Yacht Haven for some live great live entertainment and a bit of dancing to round off the day.

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