Skandia Cowes Week could become a two-week event. Stuart Quarrie explains why to Sue Pelling 29/7/06

With the number of entries at Skandia Cowes Week increasing every year, race organisers are seriously considering some major changes to the running of the event.

Now in its 180th year, and with 1,030 boats on the startline, Skandia Cowes Week is unquestionably the biggest regatta in the world. But according to Stuart Quarrie – Cowes Week Race Director – the size of the event is becoming an issue that needs to be dealt with now to ensure the long-term future of the event.

Chatting about his concerns Quarrie told “In 1994 there were 750 boats, 25 classes and about 3,000 competitors. Last year it was 839 entries, this year we’re up to 38 classes, over 1,000 boats and 8,500 competitors. If it carries on like that, in five year’s time there’s going to be another 1,400 boats and 45 classes. The event is the biggest in the world but one day it will get so big it falls over.

“Because the event is so large we lose a couple of races every year because it is becoming more and more difficult to shorten courses. We’ve tried a number of different methods but it’s getting to the point where we’re unable to do much about it, which is really annoying for the competitors who’ve been out racing all day. That’s one issue. Setting suitable/sensible courses for all 38 classes is also very tricky particularly with so much shipping in the Solent.”

Anyone who has ever been to Cowes Week will know that most services are stretched to the limit. Mooring spaces are at a premium and the allocation works very much on a first-com-first-served basis. Those who are unfortunate enough not to bag a mooring space early find themselves having to commute with their boats from the Hamble or elsewhere on the mainland. Not an ideal scenario but when there is simply no space left at Cowes it’s the only option.

Quarrie continued: “Because there’s just not enough room at Cowes almost 200 boats go elsewhere. But it’s not just the moorings that are being stretched it’s the entire structure of the event. For example there aren’t enough restaurants, places to stay, toilets, bars; it’s totally overwhelmed.”

Crowded Cowes
Clearly Quarrie and the race team at the Cowes Combined Clubs in Cowes have a major concern on their hands but have decided they need positive management to guarantee the event’s future. Quarrie chatting about the options was positive the event will continue to succeed but probably in a different style to the way it’s currently run. “Between now and the end of September we’re opening the doors for feedback – educated feedback. It depends on which compromise competitors are most comfortable with. Once the feedback has been analysed we’ll make our decision based on that.

“There are really only two options; you either limit the number of both boats and classes, or you expand the week to more than a week. If you limit entry and classes then it’s the classes that are more of a problem than entries. You can do a 1,000-boat cap on a first-come-first-served basis and that’s it. Or you can amalgamate classes but that could become very unpopular. Running two separate weeks for keelboats and big boats I don’t think would work either because keelboats have few crews and the bars would be empty and the big boats would continue to take up all the marina berths and the swinging moorings would be empty.

“The way we looked at it, if we did split – and it’s a big if – we think the best way would be to run a classic week and a modern week with a very broad definition of classic. So for example Contessa 32s would be classic, so it’s not classic in that they have to be wood and varnish. “We also have classes like the Farr 40s who’d like to come but only if we set windward/leeward courses. At the moment we cannot do that but if we had a modern week all classes could have that sort of racing if they wished. This way I think both weeks would grow. So just on a personal basis I think that’s the way to go.”

With such major changes in the pipeline we were interested to find out exactly when competitors are likely to see the new format in place. Quarrie concluded: “If the decision was to limit the classes and amalgamate classes we could do that next year. If the decision was to go for two weeks [modern and classic] then 2009 is probably the earliest we could do it.”

Whatever the outcome of the feedback there’s one thing for sure, Skandia Cowes Week as we know it about to change in a major way. To air your view on the future of Skandia Cowes Week log onto and click on the button ‘Cowes Week – the future’ to complete the on-line survey.