Rupert Holmes shares his top tips for an enjoyable – and successful – Cowes Week
1. Be organised
There’s always a lot happening during Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week, both onshore and afloat. This means it’s easy to lose sight of some of the most important factors in terms of setting the boat up in advance of the event, or being fully ready for each day on the water.
If you don’t have a really good understanding of the weather situation, especially on days during which a sea breeze is likely to set in, your results are likely to suffer. Similarly, in addition to carrying the best tidal data you can get on board, for a good result you need to study the tidal situation – both streams and heights – in advance,
2. Read the SIs
A surprising proportion of the fleet at all sailing events clearly don’t read – and digest – the Sailing Instructions properly. Ideally two people on each boat should know them backwards and should get together, maybe over a beer or two, in advance of the regatta to check for any gaps in their knowledge.
Be warned that doesn’t apply only to those who are relatively new to the event. There are also countless examples of old hands that have missed out on an overall podium place in their class through avoidable errors.
3. Get the course right
There’s always a lot going on before the start, when you also need to record the course. The SMS service that delivers the course to a mobile phone on each boat is a great help here – make sure you subscribe to it. However, even then it’s still possible to make errors when transcribing the course to a laminated chart or to a GPS set. The best way to guard against this is to work out a system involving at least two people in which the course can be checked and double checked. That way, any navigational error becomes a shared responsibility.
Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week is always a spectacular event, with lots going on, so make sure you’re having plenty of fun. Indeed, if you’re not enjoying the racing, you may not even be sailing as fast as you should be.
5. Practice starts
The fixed start lines used for much of the racing at Cowes Week are very different to what we normally do. As well as not being aligned to the wind direction, there are also the strong tides – including eddies – to contend with. Therefore if it’s at all possible, it’s well worth practicing starts before the event starts. Similarly, it’s worth keeping an eye on who does best in the start before yours – but make sure you stay far enough back from the line to have no chance of interfering with their start.
6. Don’t focus too closely
Some events that are sailed on windward/leeward courses in areas with minimal tides and steady breezes will strongly reward those who predominately focus inwards on maximising boatspeed and steering efficiently. However, the Solent is a complex place in which to sail, with potentially rapidly changing wind patterns, a large amount of commercial shipping and complex tides. This makes it vital to see the big picture, and to keep updating it as elements change.
You should be repeatedly scanning the horizon for big wind changes, converging fleets and for shipping coming in or out of Southampton Water. If there is going to be a problem you should be able to spot it at least 15 minutes ahead of time, which gives the opportunity to position yourself to minimise any time lost.
7. Stay afloat
This may sound obvious, but the number of boats that hit the bottom during the regatta can be surprising. Granted, when beating against the tide close to the northern shore there are plenty of places with soft mud that will pose no problem. However, there are also plenty of rocky areas, particularly close to the island shore.
8. Pace yourself
In the party atmosphere of Cowes Week it’s all too easy to get carried away, especially the evening after getting a really good result. With eight days of racing it’s a long regatta, and there’s a lot going on ashore as well after racing, so it’s easy to find you’re flagging by midweek if you’re not careful. The best strategy is to maintain a steady pace, fuelled by good food and plenty of sleep each day. Ideally you should aim to be just as alert on the racecourse on the final day as you were on the first.
9. Learn from your mistakes
This is perhaps the most important of all – the old adage that the boat that makes the fewest mistakes is the one that will win is just as true now as it was three decades ago. And the best way to eliminate mistakes is to identify and learn from each one that you make.
10. Never give up
This is perhaps more apt for Cowes Week than for any other event. There are plenty of examples in which it’s just as possible to gain dozens of places as it is to slip back by the same number. This is particularly true if the leg to the finish involves a beat against the tide past the fickle and gusty winds off Norris, or during the transition period during which a sea breeze is setting in.
There's still time to enter your boat in Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week. Late entries can be accepted right up until 1700 on the day before each race. For those entering for the first time there's more information here:
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