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Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week update

Safety initiatives; MOD70s possibly at the Artemis Challenge and hopes of the 'Wimbledon' effect post-Games

Thursday May 24th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

This year Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week has cleverly been moved into mid-August to avoid a clash with the Olympic Games and will start on 11 August, over the final weekend of London 2012.

Organisers, Cowes Week Ltd, are hoping that Cowes Week seguying straight out of the Games will help inspire what is known as the ‘Wimbledon’ effect, where Team GBR’s medal haul down in Weymouth will rally the nation to take to the water.

To help this along, Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week will this year have a ‘Best of British’ theme and on the Friday the event will be attended by several of Britain's hopefully medal touting Olympic sailors. There will also the opportunity for Cowes Week sailors to watch the final medal races on the Sunday live on big screens throughout Cowes, while the official charity of the event, Toe In The Water, will be hosting a ‘Best of British’ crew party on the Friday (17th) where past British Olympic sailors are being invited to attend.

Down to the minutae of the event this year and Cowes Week Ltd CEO Stuart Quarrie says that following the collision last year between a tanker and a competing yacht, they are also focussing on safety in a big way this year. “One of things that came out of that collision, and talking to loads of people since then, is that there are some gaps in knowledge with lots of people who you would have thought would know better or know more,” he says.

As a result, Cowes Week has created a new safety video which can be viewed here and they are publishing a new booklet as one of the publications for the week, principally focussing on how competing yachts should deal with commercial vessels.

“We are working with Associated British Ports on a few other safety initiatives,” Quarrie adds. “Although all the really big ships have a patrol boat going in front of them, if the patrol boat goes off station to deal with someone who is in the way, there isn’t another patrol boat in front. It sounds obvious, but last year was one occasion when that happened. So we will provide two RIBs so that each ship that comes through will have a kind of Presidential travalcade in front of it. We think that will make it safer.”

They are also encouraging more skippers of both black and white group boats to attend a skippers briefing where the safety aspects of racing at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week will once again be covered.

Courses at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week will remain much the same as ever however as an experiment five of the white group classes will be having committee boats start. Quarrie says they are also working with Associated British Ports to reduce the length of the black group start line off the Royal Yacht Squadron. “Instead of being all the way down to Alpha, there will be a buoy laid right in the middle where all the big ships turn with a committee boat to lift it if need be, so that the black group start line rather than being a 1.25 miles long will be 500 m long.”

In terms of competitor numbers Quarrie says that at present they are holding steady with last year and a better gauge will come on 4 June when the ‘early bird’ entry rate comes to an end.

While they are hoping for the ‘Wimbledon’ effect, a potential problem could be that with so much holiday this year through the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games, people may just run out of available days. This could be an issue acknowledges Quarrie, however “I think a lot of people will be watching the Olympics on television rather than being there. It is like going to a football stadium – you can watch it far better on television but you don’t get the ambiance. So we’ll see how it goes.”

In terms of hot boats, some of the UK TP52s are expected to compete, and Quarrie says they are encouraging others to come up from the Med as for once there isn’t a clash with Copa del Rey. “Because this year there is a big enough gap between the Copa del Rey and the start of Cowes Week we know some will be trailered straight up to come and join in. We want to make that bigger. An US TP and an IRC 52 that have said they are coming and they are trying to persuade some of their fellow racers.”

Once again the XOD class will be a giant – 145 boats took part last year and it looks like around 100 will be returning in August.

This year will see the return of the Sportsboat class. This previously existed boats at the time of Sports Boat Rule, but since this has died so these boats have competed in a ‘mixed day boat’ class with one start and the results for each type of boat subsequently split out. “This year we are going back to a Sportsboat Class but under IRC - we’ll see how well it works,” says Quarrie. The class is likely to include 1720s and the modified J/80s (the former RYA match racing boats) the Royal Yacht Squadron and Royal Thames YC now own. Quarrie hopes he can entice some of the French Longtze sportsboat to compete too.

This year, sponsor of the event, Aberdeen Asset Management, has introduced some youth initiatives to encourage under 25s to participate. For the first time for example there will be an Under 25s trophy awarded to the top boat where the skipper and crew are under 25 at the end of the week.

With the Extreme Sailing Series UK event being coaxed away from Cowes to Cardiff this year, Quarrie says that they will revert to having some post-racing exhibition sailing. They hope to get some Extreme 40s over to Cowes for that and some “other exciting boats” are also likely to come.

However we are getting more excited about this year’s Artemis Challenge, taking place on the Thursday (16 August). 2012 being a Vendee Globe year and there being no Rolex Fastnet Race, it is anticipated that the IMOCA 60 turn out for the annual Cowes Week around the island competition may be thin on numbers, so some of the MOD70s are being invited over to complete a lap of the island. This is likely to be a kind of 'team racing' event and it is possible that among the VIPs in their crew will be some of GBR Olympic sailors.



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