From 8-15 August 2015, sailors from around the world descended on the sleepy town of Cowes on the Isle of Wight for one of the UK sailing calendar's landmark events, Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week.
A veritable maritime festival, involving some white-knuckle racing and no small amount of partying, Cowes Week is a must for anyone interested in sailing. On Liz Earle Ladies' Day, we invited a group of bloggers, journalists and some friends from the sailing community to join us for a day out on the water to celebrate women in sailing. Below are some snippets of what they got up to.
Karen - Mini Travellers
So, we got the Red Jet over to Cowes at 9.45am and hoped that the sun would shine and the wind would blow. It did neither! The sea was like a mill pond and the sky was pretty grey.
There were, however, really good pastries and a decent cup of tea for brunch. We chatted, we stalked other boats, we took pictures of men dressed as women (!) and we chatted some more. Lunch was good. Nick our skipper even found us some beer, and, for me, I spent a day relaxing in some very good company out in the fresh sea air. It was disappointing, yes, that we didn’t get to do any actual racing, but there isn’t a great deal anyone can do about that.
For me I worked out that I do like being out on the sea and don’t get sea sick when the sea is like a millpond, so all it means is that I will have to go back and try again!
Sunsail do courses for all levels of competence and apparently do courses where the whole family can learn together. So, maybe when my girls are older and they want to learn to sail, we can all take a course together. For now I will stick to relaxing on a boat with a beer in hand and soaking up the sun (or maybe just some fresh air).
Monika - Mum on the Brink
As we settled down Nick gave us a briefing. Even though we had some very experienced sailors in our group, Nick assumed we all knew nothing.
He used very simple language to talk us through the boat and its features. It made sailing seem a lot less scary (for, I have to admit, I still feel intimidated by the sailing lingo – I know some in English, some in Hungarian or Dutch, some not at all).
After a late picnic lunch we headed back into the marina. In the afternoon we enjoyed some further Sunsail hospitality and were given an outlet for our competitive side: gutter boat racing. The day was finished at Liz Earle’s reception celebrating women in sailing.
The day brought back to me some of the things I love about sailing:
It’s wonderful to be out on the water and experience the forces of nature – we only had the tides to battle, by they are extraordinary in their own right too
It’s an equal playing field for men and women
Sailing can be exhilarating and relaxing
No two days on the water are the same
There is so much freedom with sailing – you can go wherever the wind and tides take you. Now, I’m looking how we can get the kids out sailing and cruising. Maybe time to charter a boat again?
Rosie - A Rosie Outlook
Unfortunately my visions of lazing on the foredeck in a bikini were hampered by the good old British summer, and instead of blazing sunshine we had clouds and drizzle. Another cruel trick that the weather played on us was the absence of wind.
The intention was to race the other Sunsail yachts in the fleet for the chance to win prizes at a later prize-giving ceremony, but the flat calm seas and lack of a breeze rather dashed these plans.
Instead, we had a brunch of pastries and fruit and were given a tour of the yacht before setting out into the Solent for a very civilised pootle around. We had cups of tea and tried to avoid the incessant mizzly rain, constantly keeping our fingers crossed for a bit of wind and a break in the clouds.
After lunch, we headed back into Cowes for a look at the Parade Village. Cowes itself was also a real hubbub of activity, with lots of popup shops and food places serving the hundreds of people who had descended for Cowes Week. After looking along the Parade, we went to the Sunsail Balcony for a light dinner, a glass of wine and an alternative race with which to inform the prize-giving ceremony.
When the prize-giving was over we changed into our evening attire and took a car to Northwood House for the evening reception. The Ladies’ Day reception included the giving of the prestigious Ladies’ Day trophy, championing women in sailing and recognising the contribution of a woman who has played an integral part in sailing over the previous year. This year the trophy was given to Libby Greenhalgh, Chief Navigator for Team SCA in the recent Volvo Round the World Ocean Race.
It was a totally amazing day and I was thrilled to be invited - I owe a huge thank you to Sunsail. I've now been checking out their yachting holidays as, whilst I think it was pretty awesome sailing around the Solent, I think it would be even more awesome to sail around the Caribbean...
Camilla - Cruising Magazine
I was thrilled to be invited by Sunsail to join them for a day’s racing on one of their corporate yachts, to celebrate Ladies’ Day in Cowes Week. It was August, what could possibly go wrong? The answer was, the wind – there wasn’t any. At all. Racing was off and we only had about 15 minutes in the whole day when we actually sailed, at about 1.5 knots.
Still, it was great to be on any boat, to see some of the extremely amazing yachts in the Solent, and most of all to meet the rest of the Ladies’ Day crew, including Lucy and Chloe from Sunsail, our male (oh dear) skipper and our female first mate. Our very clean and shiny Match First 40, one of Sunsail’s massive fleet of identical yachts, had loads of space in the cockpit for us to appreciate the drizzle hanging over Cowes, enjoy our packed lunches and to get chatting about sailing, blogging and anything else we could think of.
The evening was indeed very glam and it was great to meet some of the women working in the sailing industry, doing everything from promoting training for superyacht skippers to running shesails.com, a website which highlights women’s achievements. For me as a cruising sailor the emphasis on racing was interesting, and all-pervasive – I ended up wondering why anyone gets on a yacht, if not in an attempt to win something. And this despite the fact that the only competitive activity I took part in all day was blowing a model boat down a gutter filled with water.
The reception was sponsored by skincare company Liz Earle which is, like an astonishing number of other businesses, based in the Isle of Wight. It was a treat to get a bag of Liz Earle goodies to take away, and now every time I cleanse and moisturise I’m reminded of my jolly day out with Sunsail.
Emma - Sailing Today
It was a shame that there was no wind and racing was cancelled – I was looking forward to getting out there and giving it our best shot – but it was great to see how everyone took it in their stride.
There’s no predicting the British weather, it seems. Our Ladies’ Day crew and the whole of Cowes did their best to enjoy the atmosphere anyway. We just need to work on our strategy for the gutter boat racing for next time.
In this day and age, it’s a bit of a shame that we feel the need to create a category for women’s sailing, in order to encourage women into the sport. There are great female sailing role models out there – people like Dame Ellen MacArthur and Team SCA – and a recent British Marine survey found that the number of women in the UK involved in boating rose to more than six per cent in 2012-14 to the joint highest level since 2007, so it is something that is on the rise. At the end of the day, though, anything that encourages anyone – female or male – to get out on the water is a good thing in my book. Sailing is a great example of an activity where it really is a level playing field when it comes to gender.
Georgie – Yachts & Yachting
Despite the damp and drizzly weather, we had a very enjoyable day out at Cowes Week, and there was little anyone could do to dampen the enthusiasm of our expert skipper, Nick, and first mate, Pippa, on board our Sunsail First 40.
Had there been wind, we would have undoubtedly had an exciting day of racing amongst the equally matched fleet – one of the largest fleets racing at Cowes Week – and I’m sure our motley crew of experienced and novice sailors would have more than given our rivals a run for their money. But the conditions conspired against us and, with racing cancelled for the day, we returned to Cowes Yacht Haven and the Sunsail corporate hospitality area, where the staff had thoughtfully put on a ‘blow boat race’ championship – so we were able at least to vent our competitive spirit! - before heading to the glamorous and highly enjoyable Ladies’ Day evening reception.
The only shame was that this was VIP invite–only; it would have been lovely to see more women taking part in the regatta able to enjoy this superb celebration of female achievement in sailing. Already looking forward to next year!