Cowes Week – Fascinating Facts

Fascinating facts about this famous regatta.

Much missed last year, Cowes Week is going to be back for 2021.  Starting on Saturday 31st July it runs until Friday 23rd July.  Here are some fascinating facts you may not know about this iconic sailing regatta.

starting guns

  • Visitors.  Ranking as the biggest island in the UK, the Isle of Wight has around 141,000 inhabitants.  During Cowes Week this number swells to 240,000 to include spectators, competitors and the additional staff needed to run the various events and entertainment scheduled for the week.
  • Oldest Regatta.  Cowes Week is the oldest regatta in the world.  The first regatta took place in 1826.  Just 7 yachts took part from the Royal Yacht Club (later to become the Royal Yacht Squadron).  The entry fee was £2 and the prize was a gold cup worth £100.  The weekly wage of a labourer in 1826 would have been around 10 shillings.  With 20 shillings to a pound, the entry fee of £2 was a month’s wage.  The gold cup would have been equivalent to 2 year’s salary!  Cowes Week has been running every year with the exception of the first and second world war years and last year due to a rather pernicious virus.
  • Biggest Regatta.  Cowes Regatta is one of the biggest regattas in the world with approximately 90,000 spectators, 8,000 competitors and around 1,000 boats.
  • Location.  The racing takes place in the Solent, an area between the north of the island and the UK mainland.  The Solent is the busiest shipping area in Europe with 1 million commercial movements and 10 million leisure movements per year. Two major ports, that of Southampton and Portsmouth, open into the Solent so there is a constant stream of bulk, container and car carriers, cruise ships, ferries, naval vessels and privately owned watercraft navigating around each other and Bramble Bank.  Just to add to the excitement, Southampton has a double high water so this makes for interesting sailing.
  • Starting Cannons.  The Royal Yacht Squadron has the responsibility of organising Cowes Week from their headquarters in the iconic Cowes Castle.  Walk along The Parade in Cowes and in front of the Castle you will not fail to miss the starting cannons lined up, looking out to sea.  The cannons were given to the Yacht Squadron from a scaled-down miniature frigate which was built by King George IV in the 1820s.   The guns are expected to fire approximately 800 times during the week at the start and finish of each race.  The charges are designed to make as much noise and smoke as possible but with the least amount of ‘blast’.

cowes week

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