22-year-old sailor and Cowes Week 2014 competitor Heather Smith tells us about a day’s racing at Cowes Week

Just seven boats
lined-up for the first Cowes Week regatta when it started in 1826, but from
humble beginnings the world-renowned event now attracts thousands of sailors to
the Isle of Wight to compete against the best sailors of every class.

One of them – 22-year-old
sailor Heather Smith from Southampton – has been sailing dinghies since the age
of six and discovered her love of yachting when she began university four years

This week she’s been competing on behalf of Southampton University Officer Training Corps in an under-25s team and Heather’s team is just one of 20 sponsored to take part in the event. The six crew members have spent many hours out on the water preparing for the week’s races, including seven days intensive training in the run up to the event.

“The crew have done various amounts of training on the boats and playing different roles in the upcoming months, including some Wednesday night racing,” she says.

“As a crew altogether, we have done a weekend and a week leading up to Cowes. This training was tailored to get us gelling as a team and learning racing techniques. During this week we joined in with races held over at Sea View Yacht Club on the Isle of Wight.”

While racing against
other great sailors at Cowes can be challenging, nothing beats the unique
atmosphere that comes with the event, something that attracted the young sailor
to compete.

“The atmosphere
associated with such a renowned sailing event is fantastic. Being able to use
my sailing skills in a new competitive environment in such an excellent sailing
ground is really exciting.”

Preparing for the race ahead

With the majority of their
races kicking off at 11am, Heather and her crew start their day at 8am and
ensure they have a large breakfast so they have enough energy, as well as preparing
their lunch, taking on board with them wraps, fruit, snacks and plenty of

Next they clean the
chart and tide tables from the previous course and “try not to forget the

The crew then leave
their accommodation at 9am and take the chain ferry across to East Cowes Marina
where they rig their Hunter 707 Artificer
ready for the race. The group’s vessel has been competing under the sports boat
fleet in the White group.

The crew only get the
course for their race five minutes before it begins, and with Heather playing
the role of tactician and navigator, she’s responsible for writing down the
route and advising the skipper on how to sail the best course.

Once at the line and
with the noise of the starting gun in their ears, the real work begins as the
crew battle it out against hundreds of other boats to achieve the best position

When the weather is on
their side, high winds provide some exhilarating racing for the crew who aim to
complete the race in a short few hours. However, this year’s racing at Cowes
has provided a mixed bag with both light and heavy wind conditions. Thursday
saw racing called off altogether, as winds conditions were too poor.

Competing against so
many others is one of the best parts of Cowes Week for Heather, as she
explains: “The racing has been really exciting, mostly because our sports boat
class is really varied, which means we’re up against boats that are a lot
faster than us.

“With the weather and
tidal conditions constantly changing as well, it constantly presents new
challenges and forces you to change your tactics.”

“The Solent is one of
the best playgrounds for sailing boats, you get unique tidal situations and you’ve
also got the complications of the main shipping channels going straight through
the area. It’s a bit like an obstacle course really.”

Enjoying some down time
Once the day’s racing
is over, the crew head back into East Cowes Marina and organise the yacht
before stepping ashore. Once on dry land the crew get to enjoy many of the
activities on offer across Cowes, from the legendary parties to some of the
UK’s best restaurants.

“Myself and the team
all eat together in the evening and go out to see what is in Cowes, plus a few
of us have been keeping up with our daily runs.”

“The entertainment in
the evening’s been fantastic, it’s been great to just relax to go listen to all
the live music and sit and have a drink. We’d all really been looking forward
to the Mount Gay Rum Party which takes place on Thursday.” 

After a long day
sailing and partying, the crew will get up again the next day to complete the
fun all over again.

“I think Cowes Week
has got something for everyone, whether you’re on a really big boat in one for
the IRC classes or in the smaller day boat there’s, something for everyone in
terms of racing.”

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