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