Cowes Seafront; Spectators View The Start of the Fastnet.
Walking along Cowes seafront on the Isle of Wight, the morning after the official end of Cowes week made me feel just a little disconsolate. Contactors and builders were already dismantling the stalls. marquees and the large stage that had helped create the unique atmosphere that had prevailed throughout the town. It reminded me of that depressing feeling when, as a child, I watched the Christmas tree and decorations being taken down.
Cowes week is primarily a week of yacht racing with a rich history that stretches back to 1826 but in reality it is so much more. The whole town positively salivates in anticipation of a full week's partying and unlike some other UK holiday destinations where visitors are sneeringly referred to as grockles, there is no resentment of visitors here who are described simply and affectionately as 'mainlanders' or 'yachties.'
Cowes week officially began on Saturday the 8th of August but in reality early visitors and locals began their partying two days earlier in the cavernous Yacht Haven where local groups, including popular Cowes band Duveaux, tested the stage sound systems. Also put to the test was the huge tented bar and a number of the varied food outlets that would, in the days ahead, serve tens of thousands.
By Friday evening, the town, always vibrant at weekends, began to throb with music not just from the Yacht Haven stage but the bands that were performing in many of the welcoming pubs stationed along the quirky Cowes High Street.
Saturday saw the High Street thronged with visitors much to the delight of local businesses while others found their way to the sea front where visitors stalls, offering a variety of wares, co-existed with further food outlets, a large stage and screen which showed close up views of the yacht races taking place out on the Solent.
The best place to view the days racing is the gently sloping Princes Green which runs parallel to the shingle beach and for those puzzled by the mysteries of yacht racing, an informative often amusing 'test match special' type commentary is provided by Cowes Radio through loudspeakers strung along the length of the green.
The days of the Royal Yacht Britannia anchored just off Cowes during Cowes week may have gone forever but royalty still visits the town on a regular basis usually dining at one of the exclusive yacht clubs dotted at or close to the shoreline.
Part of the social events during Cowes week revolves around those splendid clubs that host nightly events where distinguished, well spoken gentlemen resplendent in blazers with their smartly dressed wives mingle with those more youthful 'yachties' fortunate enough to either be members themselves or have been lucky enough to secure tickets.
The main partying action however, involving locals, yachties and holidaymakers, takes place along and around the High Street. One of the last hits of the Drifters was "Every Night's A Saturday Night' and it sums up Cowes week. Restaurants are packed while good natured crowds spill out from the pubs into the streets. Thousands congregate in the Yacht Haven for the abundant free entertainment while hundreds of others can be found enjoying live music, food and drink on the sea front.
What perhaps makes Cowes Week unique is the generosity of spirit that prevails. There is a complete absence of gangs of drunks looking to do battle while, despite the savage cuts being imposed, Hampshire police are still able to provide foot patrols up and down the thronged areas. Their benevolent, smiling presence enables them to nip any problems of drunkenness in the bud and, considering the vast quantities of alcohol imbibed over the week, the virtual absence of what police would term disorder is remarkable.
I somehow contrived to miss the Red Arrows display on the Thursday which I thought would be postponed because of the rainy weather but caught the acrobatics of the forbidding RAF Typhoon on the Friday. Also given a miss by yours truly was a ride on the huge big wheel erected in the grounds of Northwood Park just for Cowes week and which gave spectacular views across the island and the Solent. Why did I give it a miss? On the basis of 'if it can go wrong it will' and I didn't fancy being stuck at the top for hours. In fact the big wheel had a trouble free week as has always been the case over the years.
Friday evening saw thousands descend on the sea front to witness the magnificent end of regatta fireworks display which is the prelude to the biggest party night of the week. DJ'ing in the Union pub is my own small way of saying thank you to a venue that made me so welcome when I first arrived back on the Island after a gap of several decades. It was a great night there as indeed it was at numerous other venues throughout the town.
Further sailing took place on the Saturday but we also witnessed the beginning of an exodus from the town as some yachts headed across the Solent while others trod the well worn path to the Red Jet in order to make the rapid 25 minute trip to the mainland.
Saturday night was still a party night however and I'll fast forward to my other favourite venue, namely the Rum Bar. It was just after midnight and most of the partygoers who had earlier been dancing in the venue had left leaving behind an exhausted but jubilant staff.
The normally vivacious and ever popular bar manager, Hannah, sat on her bar stool barely able to keep her eyes open after her day on day exertions. Sitting close by, Paul, the co-manager of the nearby Union Inn and Globe pubs, echoed the views of probably every other bar owner and manager in Cowes when he vowed to go to his bed and not emerge until four o'clock Sunday afternoon.
For those lingering in Cowes, Sunday morning saw a bonus with the start of the world famous Fastnet yacht race. There was however little that was fast about the start due to the absence of any meaningful breeze. Larger yachts desperately strove just to get moving and when they did, crept along at walking pace. For those of us amongst the watching crowds with simple 'point and shoot' digital cameras the absence of these remarkable craft scything through the water at a rate of knots at least meant that we were able to take some reasonable photos.
By the evening Cowes was returning to its usual summer holiday state. There were still tourists in the appreciably quieter restaurants while the bank machines evoked images of Greece in that they had completely run out of money.
At the Union Inn, Simon was able to take a break from serving the scattering of thirsty customers to show us images of his prospective purchase namely that of a quite splendid looking Chrysler car, doubtless funded in part by the long hours worked over the previous ten days.
At the same time seated at the bar, Cowes legendary barman Jules, having earlier finished his shift, embarked on what has become a traditional weekly acrimonious but hugely amusing game of crib with his long standing crib adversary.
Cowes was indeed back to normal.