COWES WEEK TRIP II *Where a virgin sailor earns her stripes/ropes*

Today I actually get to experience racing on the Solent in a proper ocean going yacht. We are up at the crack of dawn so that we get to the Ondeck tent in plenty of time before the race. There is little accommodation in Cowes so, if people don’t have a boat to sleep in, they will stay the night in a hotel in Southampton, and then take the Red Funnel ferry (www.redferry.co.uk) to get a across to the Isle of Wight. To say the least, I am excited and nervous in equal measure. I remember swimming, or more accurately being bashed about by enormous waves, in the Pacific Ocean when I was a kid and it knocked my confidence. Watching the yachts race yesterday, and looking as if they might capsize at any moment, did not help my confidence. I found out today that, due to a weight on the bottom of the keel, it is nearly impossible to end up in the drink. Thank goodness!
We have to clamber over the protective wire ‘fences’ of the other yachts before we finally reach our own sleek sailing vessel and get settled in to begin our briefing. Lesson 1: when tacking (changing the direction of the sail) you have to be careful to stay out of the way of the boom. Lesson 2: is how to use a winch and how to wrap the rope around it. There is a screwdriver like contraption for tightening the winch and we are shown how to handle the ropes correctly so as not to get rope burns! Lesson 3: we are shown how to steer using the enormous wheel which is part of the ‘helm’. The helm is the entire steering mechanism which includes the tiller and the rudder.
The lessons were brief for we would learn on the job. After donning our waterproof gear, we unloosen and let out the main sail. We are now ready to roll and gently motor out into the Solent (the expanse of water between the main land and Isle of Wight). It is the first few moments that make the strongest impression: the gently rolling green waves, the vastness of the leaden grey sky and the sheer beauty of all the other yachts with their spinnakers billowing.
There is one more major task, we must get our co-ordinates for the race. All the yachts have now gathered in the starting area and are waiting next to radios to get the lay out for the race. A female voice carefully says 42x then east to 33, west to 25 yellow…and on it went. I was confused as I thought we were getting co-ordinates but it is actually descriptions of buoys!
The race now begins in earnest and it is wonderful being surrounded by all the other yachts. There is enough wind to give us a good start and soon we have our secondary sail up to give us even more speed. Other yachts have ‘spinnakers’ which are enormous billowing secondary sails at the very front of the vessel. Many spinnakers are brightly coloured: lime green, vivid red, striking yellow and multi-coloured as well.

Press trip sponsored by @VisitEngland with thanks to Aberdeen Assets Management.
The Cowes Regatta is the oldest sporting event in UK history starting in 1826. Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week attracts around 1,000 yachts in up to 40 classes, and 8,500 competitors ranging from weekend sailors through to Olympic medallists and World Champions. Find out more at www.aamcowesweek.co.uk

COWES WEEK TRIP *Where a virgin sailor earns her stripes/ropes*

IMG-20120813-00203To be honest, it was only because of the Olympics and watching the sailing events that I even had a clue what it might be like to race in an ocean yacht. Engraved in my mind was the Australian yacht that capsized with one of the sailors being yanked out of the water to safety by her team-mate. But my own ocean yachting experience would be more exciting and energising than I could ever have imagined. It certainly took me out of my comfort zone!
I was in Cowes on a press trip for two days with Visit England to get a flavour for the regatta and dip my toes into a sailing experience. Cowes Week is a corporate affair these days because of the money involved in keeping it afloat (£30m at last reckoning). Thus, Aberdeen Asset Management and Talisker whiskey branding is everywhere, but I don’t think too many really mind. Liz Earle and Gill clothing monikers are pretty conspicuous as well.
In fact it was Aberdeen Asset Management that invited us into their tent by the sea for a scrumptious lunch with colourful salads and burgers, too. They were very welcoming and everyone was geared up for the racing to come in the week ahead. Martin Gilbert, CEO joined our table for a lively chat.
Our first watery adventure was on a RIB (a large Zodiac type craft with odd padded seating that you straddle). After dressing head to toe in water-proof gear, the skipper of our RIB took us out bouncing across the choppy, green water of the Solent. It was great fun, though a bit jarring when we got up to speed as the RIB takes you over the crest of a wave…and then hits back down on the other side of it with a jolt. But seeing the verdant Isle of Wight coastline for the first time from the Solent was a real treat. And the colourful billowing spinnakers on the racing yachts were staggeringly beautiful.
We then had a very informative whiskey tasting at the Talisker tent with an entertaining expert named Colin. The brewery is based in the Isle of Skye and has been around since the 1800s though whiskey brewing originally came from Ireland with the monks in about the 6th century. Talisker is well known for its single malt and, apparently, the charred insides of the American oak barrels are what gives the beverage its golden colour. The brewing flame is fired by peat which has bits of saline, moss, bark and many other natural ingredients indigenous to the Isle of Skye. At 56 proof, it burned my mouth and gums and I coughed and spluttered when I finally took a swallow. But when I coated my mouth with fine chocolate or a strong bleu cheese, it went down a treat. We also tried it sprinkled on fish and chips along with sea salt.
After the tasting was an opportunity to try out an Atlantic ocean rower. Did you know that Atlantic rowers only sleep for 2 hours and then row for 2 hours, and so until they reach their destination. They must row naked because any clothing edges, combined with sun and sea salt in the air, would give the person a terrible rash!
After all was said and done, we were invited to the Royal London Yacht Club for beverages and canapés. I enjoyed spotting Martin’s tartan trousers (well done!). As we lounged outside enjoying the shimmering sunset, it was a lovely end to my first day on the Isle of Wight.

Press trip sponsored by @VisitEngland with thanks to Aberdeen Assets Management.
The Cowes Regatta is the oldest sporting event in UK history starting in 1826. Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week attracts around 1,000 yachts in up to 40 classes, and 8,500 competitors ranging from weekend sailors through to Olympic medallists and World Champions. Find out more at www.aamcowesweek.co.uk

Spirit of Chartwell celebrates Olympiad in London

In two weeks’ time, I will be holidaying on a luxury hotel barge named Panache on the canals of Strasbourg, France, but today I was invited to experience a different sort of barge. You might well remember the Spirit of Chartwell, the vessel used as the Royal Barge for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. When it was decked out with the livery of the monarch, red velvety fabric and gold tassels and emblems, it was a sight to behold. And, I am sure it thrilled the Queen to be part of the Flotilla in such an iconic vessel.
Of course, today we are celebrating other gold symbols – the gold medals of the Olympiad – which are coming fast and furious for Team GB. But it is an exceptional experience to be able to sail down the Thames on a river ship such as the Spirit of Chartwell. The rain clouds eventually cleared so a sunny afternoon ensured we could tick off all the sights along the river: Royal Greenwich, Cutty Sark, Canary Wharf and Limehouse, to name but a few.
Thanks to organisers at Visit England (www.visitengland.com), we also had a gala five course lunch which was quite delicious. The Amuse Bouche appetiser was a sort of mushroom soup that was simply gorgeous. I had the fresh trout (yum!) plus everything was topped off with strawberries and cream for dessert (of course!). Emma, Rebecca, Laura and Mark took very good care of us.
If you ever get the opportunity to try out a journey like this, jump at the chance!