Sue Pelling interviews Cowes Combined Clubs director Stuart Quarrie.

With 980 boats signed up for this year’s Skandia Cowes Week you might suppose that Stuart Quarrie, the director of the Cowes Combined Clubs (the Skandia Cowes Week organising committee), could be close to boiling point at the start of the regatta. Instead, there’s more chance of finding him sitting in his chic new office in the new Cowes Regatta Centre tidying up the loose ends of what has been a year-long job in co-ordinating the 2004 event.

As far as the racing side of things is concerned, Quarrie’s job includes writing the notice of race, the sailing instructions and the newsletter and getting them out to competitors. He also has to make sure that all racing marks are positioned in the right locations. He said: “My job is to put the infrastructure in place and make sure that everything is there for the race officers to organise the racing. If I’ve done my job properly, a day in the life of Skandia Cowes Week for me is to come to the office in the morning, have a look around and say: ‘that’s perfect’ and go home again.'” But as Quarrie quickly points out: “Of course it’s never quite like that. In fact in reality I’m working from six in the morning to midnight, everyday.”

Quarrie, now in his sixth year at CCC, has seen the event grow and grow but it’s not all been plain sailing. Last year for example, he reckons he experienced his worst personal nightmare. “I ended up on the Monday night with a detached retina and on Tuesday morning was in Southampton hospital having it operated on at 0800. I was back in the office by 1100. That was quite stressful.”

Talking about the more obvious issues such as clashing starts and mark roundings with over 36 class starts on between 12 to 20 courses Quarrie continued: “That occasionally happens but we’ve got really good software now which highlights any clashes.”

According to Quarrie the course setters arrive at the office at 0800 and start working on the courses. He continued: “It can be quite relaxed if there’s a south-westerly Force 4 forecast for the day. In this situation they’ve done all the courses by 0900. But if it’s a sea breeze-type day, with no wind in the morning it’s a totally different story.”

Thankfully the course setters can draw up plans to a certain extent beforehand and there’s a lot of help and guidance to ensure the best possible courses. Quarrie added: “We know for example that a certain class sails at a certain speed. Therefore if it’s a Force 4, we’re looking at say a 12-mile course for particular classes.”

The start sequences, assuming there are no general recalls and postponements, takes two hours, with the first start at 1025. As daunting as this may sound Quarrie says that provisions are in place to make life as easy as possible. “Six of the Black Group boats – the offshore boats – start from a committee boat which reduces the number of classes on the Squadron line. Also, if we’ve had a long postponement, we can split the dayboat classes – the White group – between the Squadron line and the Skandia barge line, which makes the whole process much quicker.”

As if to prove that the Solent will always throw a mean hand to Stuart Quarrie, just as he might be contemplating a nice easy day in the office, the opening day here at Skandia Cowes Week is currently subject to indefinite postponement, while we all wait for the last of the mist to lift and the sea breeze to set in.