As the guns of the Royal Yacht Squadron fall silent Mike Kopman steps onto the starting platform to see what all the noise is about

When you hear ‘the gun’ boom to signal the start of another Cowes Week class, you could in fact be hearing any one of the 25 guns lined up in front of the Royal Yacht Squadron at the western end of the Cowes waterfront. Watching the starting procedure gives a wonderful sense of the history and tradition behind Cowes Week.

The guns come from a scaled down miniature frigate, built by King George IV in the 1820’s for Queen Adelaide IX to be moored at Virginia Water. Unfortunately not all of the cannons are original. Over the last forty years four of the guns have been stolen and these have been replaced by replicas. The last theft was by a visiting Canadian Admiral’s Cup team. And you thought that Mount Gay flag you grabbed at Antigua Race Week was impressive. That’s why these days you’ll find the cannons securely chained to the starting platform and watched over by a bank of closed circuit television cameras.

Cowes Combined Clubs’ ‘gunpowder budget’ for the week runs to £6,500. The charges are specially made up for CCC and are designed to make as much noise and smoke as possible with the least amount of ‘blast’.

The cannons are loaded by the yeoman of the Royal Yacht Squadron or his assistant, but disappointingly they are fired electronically by the bridge team. That’s not much fun. What was quite amusing however was the time the loading batton was accidentally left in the cannon and fired through some poor sod’s mainsail.