There is nowhere better to be during a heatwave than out on the Solent in the sunshine. And that’s just where the crews of some 160 classic yachts were last week (23-27 July) racing in the annual Cowes Classics Week. Now in its 11th year, the 2018 edition has been hailed as the best ever.
Not content with just being one of the highlights of the sailing calendar, Cowes Classics Week has grown to become the go-to experience for sailors passionate about racing classic yachts and designs that have stood the test of time.
The five days of racing, which will be back again even bigger and better in 2019, is a spectacle of history - but that’s not the only draw. The regatta is an intensely fought competition between some of the UK’s best known sailors and champions on tight professionally run race courses in well-prepared keelboats. Positions on the leaderboard change daily and there is all to play for amongst the best of the best.
A packed après-sail social programme completes each day with tea and homemade cakes at the host club, the Royal London Yacht Club. That’s been followed by a nightly dinner event, including dancing and even, this year, a trip to the brand new Classic Boat Museum in West Cowes which arranged its official opening to coincide with the visit by the several hundred crews from the Classics fleet.
The Regatta dinner at the Royal London Yacht Club was attended by over 235 sailors. Veteran Race Officer Malcolm McKeag of the Royal Thames Yacht Club commented “The atmosphere and standard of food at the Regatta Dinner was better or as good as anything I have had anywhere in the world.”
Sixteen classes took part in the event all of whom meet the basic criteria for taking part with a boat whose design is 40 years old or more, or must be designed according to the world-recognised Spirit of Tradition. Some have been there from the beginning, like the XODs whose 46-strong turnout this year broke last year’s record, and others, like the Etchells, qualified for the first time this year, and are expected to turn up in even greater numbers next year.
The XODs are one of four competing classes along with the Seaview Mermaid, Solent Sunbeam and Victory to emerge in the early 1900s from the design board of Isle of Wight boatbuilder Alfred Westmacott. The National Swallow was a two-man Olympic class for the 1948 Olympics and the historic Vintage Dragons are newly restored to mint condition. The prestigious Concourse d’Elegance, one of the most highly sought prizes of international classic yachting events, was awarded to the restored 1947 Flying Fifteen Femme Fatale.
The 1937 designed Loch Long fleet came to the Solent, as it does on every alternative year, especially for this event. All of these keelboat classes plus the Darings and Squibs have their own committee boat starts.
The oldest boat taking part was Andrew Hitt’s Spinaway X a wonderfully named Plymouth Hooker. She was built in 1889. Brian Corbett’s beautiful little Herreshoff Half-Rater Winifred was built in 1892, Ossie Stewart’s Thames Rater Dorothy in 1894 and Bob Fisher’s Solent One Design Rosenn in 1896. Many more, amongst them plenty of Victories and XODs, were built around the turn of the century. Three graceful 8 metres Helen, Njord and Athena completed the wonderful scene.
Carrying off the ultimate trophy of the week, the historic 1792 Cup was Lawrence Wride’s Sunmaid V. Lawrence summed up the week for his 1967 One Tonner and for many others. “Perseverance and patience in the tricky conditions seemed to pay off for us,” he said. “We won our class last year and were second the year before so we have been working up to this.”
Leon Clifton who owns Sheba, a 1971 She31, stated, “Cowes Classics Week and the hospitality is second to none and the organisation was fabulous. It was a particularly enjoyable week the relaxed socials and competitive racing was a winning combination.”
All yachts designed before 1979 are invited to join the 12th edition of Cowes Classics Week from Saturday 27 July - Friday 2 August 2019. A further date for your diary is Saturday 25 - Friday 31 July 2020.
“Cowes Classics Week is a regatta conceived and managed by sailors for sailors,” says David Gower, Chairman of Cowes Classics Week and Commodore of the Royal London Yacht Club. “They are here to enjoy the spiritual home of yacht racing and the challenges and joys of the Solent. We look forward to welcoming both new and returning competitors in 2019.”
The beautiful gaffers in action.
The organising team at the Royal London Yacht Club.
The winning yacht Sunmaid V.
John Tremlett's X80 Lass claims a big victory in the XOD fleet.
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