If you want to see probably the most eclectic range of classic yachts of the last century alongside all in one place, come to Cowes in July
If you love wooden boats, classic yachts and the history of sailing (is there any yachtsman who doesn’t?), put a date in your diary to visit in early July when the British Classic Yacht Club runs the annual Panerai British Classic Week.
The collection of yachts that take part – 83 of them this year – is a smorgasbord of sailing history and traditional boatbuilding craftsmanship. Wandering round the fleet berthed alongside at Cowes Yacht Haven is like one big, glorious classic boat show. This year’s regatta runs until Saturday, when there is a final parade of sail.
The yachts here range from old gaffers that have seen their centenary come and go to post war cruiser-racers and more modern ocean racers and Admiral’s Cuppers.
Unlike in Antigua or St Tropez, they are not mainly super-smart, burnished and varnished and fettled to within an inch of perfection by expensive boatyardsor professional crew and taken out for some trophy racing.
Most are owner-maintained cruiser racers that represent a breathtaking labour of love – one owner told me he spends “400 hours every year repainting, polishing and varnishing, and that’s without doing anything structural. I spend 15 weekends between New Year and launching doing 30-40 hours solidly.”
Once afloat, these yachts are not simply for show and many are raced rarely. They are as likely to be seen cruising with the family in the West Country or France as racing in the Solent.
The great thing about British Classic Week is that the organisers and participants welcome attention, and make the event very accessible. Each boat displays a laminated card on at the guardwires showing a sailing photo and giving a full account of its design, history, current ownership and sometimes an outline of any major refit.
The owners and crews are (as all boatowners tend to be) only too keen to tell you about their pride and joy. I can’t recommend visiting highly enough. It’s one of my very favourite events, an enthusiast’s perfect day out.
For the crews taking part, either in the racing divisions or the 12 yachts in the growing cruising class that prefer to sail in company to anchorages and have picnics, this is an opportunity to belong, to admire and be admired. One skipper told me how good it is to see the incremental changes and improvements year on year by the same or successive owners.
The regatta and the British Classic Yacht Club have created a focus for classic boats that has done more to attract owners, fund refits and restorations and preserve historic craft than any archival project ever could. It is, quite literally, giving old boats a new purpose and new life.