If you’ve ever visited the Isle of Wight, you’ll know that the small yet perfectly formed island off the south coast of the UK offers almost solely an abundance of sleepy villages and oldy-worldy pubs, interspaced with blue flag beaches and a dedicated family orientated atmosphere. Certainly, it is no one’s first choice for a schedule of crazy nightlife, fantastic entertainment, bustling markets featuring some of the world’s biggest brand names, and some of the world’s most exciting sporting action! However, one week a year the island comes into its own, and plays host to the awesome competition slash festival that is Cowes Week, fabulously representing what the ‘Diamond Isle’ is best known for: sailing.
It all began way back in 1826, and apart from interruptions by the two world wars, the event has continued to grow and expand in both size and popularity ever since, eventually morphing into the extravaganza it is today. Taking its name from the town of Cowes where it is based, Cowes Week is renowned the world over, with competitors coming from far and wide to try their luck and get in on the action.
The obvious lifeblood of Cowes Week is the racing itself, and with over a thousand yachts competing in an array of up to forty races per day, there is plenty of excitement on the water. Even if you know absolutely nothing about sailing, just the view of hundreds of vibrantly coloured spinnakers cutting through the horizon is a sight that simply has to be seen. The races are hosted on the strait separating the Isle of Wight from the mainland, known as the Solent. With its complex tidal pattern, it is this stretch of water which contributes primarily to the speed, exhilaration and thrill of the races.
But the Cowes Week of today has developed into so much more than simply a contest dedicated to the appreciation of yachting, and instead is more creative of a festival atmosphere, playing host to over 100,000 visitors.
Onshore, the timetable more than rivals its offshore counterpart. The main street along the coast known as The Parade, is home to the huge Sail for Gold bar, which by day is a relaxing base to sip a cocktail, relax and watch the racing; by night it comes alive with bands and radio DJs providing entertainment for all ages. The Parade itself is home to a plethora of different stands and pop up shops, including famous clothing brands such as Jack Wills and Crew Clothing, as well as sumptious food stalls offering tasters of their produce for one and all.
The staple entertainment venue for the week is Cowes Yacht Haven, one of the many marinas situated around Cowes town. With an extensive live music line up each night of the nine day long regatta, the Haven never ceases to be at the heart of the hustle and bustle both day and night. With a giant red Pimms bus ready to serve as many pitchers as humanly possible, more takeaway stands than you can shake a prawn cracker at, and yet again another huge bar serving up Dark n’ Stormy’s like there’s no tomorrow (a lethal combination of dark rum and ginger beer with lime for those of you not acquainted with Cowes Week’s most popular beverage!), the marina contributes even further to the festival feel, and is definitely the place to hit when visiting.
The other marina situated in Cowes, Shepard’s Wharf, is home to the Infernos Nightclub, as well as hosting the famous Mount Gay Red Cap party paying homage to one of Cowes Week’s official sponsors.
A highlight for the younger age groups for Cowes Week 2011 was a brand new development, and came in the form of London superclub Mahiki setting up a pop up nightclub within a huge marquee. Bringing the best of the capital’s cocktails, decor and DJ’s, it was a chance
for the normally nightlife starved island youngsters and visiting crews alike to let loose. An appearance by the cast of Made In Chelsea cemented the venue’s status as unmissable. This year, an alternative was offered in the Banyan Beach Bar, a tiki themed tent with a 1,000 capacity dance floor and dedicated VIP area, which played host to Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie and his friends. With the stunning venue offering exotic drinks (the most lethal being cunningly concealed within whole coconuts!) and DJ sets played well into the small hours, the club certainly succeeded in bringing a slice of city life to the quiet seaside resort.
The last Friday night of Cowes Week is renowned for its fantastic fireworks display, with thousands descending on the beachfront, jostling to get a glimpse of the spectacular finale. With the pyrotechnics lasting half an hour, followed by yet another opportunity to frequent the array of bars and clubs on offer, the penultimate evening of the celebrations is certainly not one to miss!
Cowes Week is a staple part of the Isle of Wight’s culture and succeeds only in adding to its attraction. Bringing locals and visitors together in an explosion of colour and excitement, this established and much loved event will forever be a part of the Island’s identity, and something everybody should experience at least once!