Cowes Week's use of two-way radio

Richard Lambley discovers the roles radio plays in managing one of southern England’s most popular summer sailing events

Above the seafront terrace of the Royal Yacht Squadron’s clubhouse in Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, a vast canvas awning shields the bustle beneath from the sun. Behind the battlements powerful binoculars scan the waters of the Solent, and a flurry of instructions breaks out as event officials prepare to start the next race.

“Ten,” announces a voice, reaching the final moments of a lengthy countdown. “Five, four, three, two, one” – and the hush is shattered as a gunshot rings out with a puff of smoke. The race is on.

This is Cowes Week regatta, one of England’s largest annual outdoor gatherings. Supported jointly by the island’s sailing clubs, it attracts yachts and crews from around the world for eight days of challenging racing. More than 800 boats, divided into 40 classes, take part each year, crewed by some 8,000 sailors who range from amateurs to Olympic champions. Around 100,000 visitors come to watch and revel in a festival atmosphere that mixes sport with entertainment, cocktail parties, receptions, live music, exhibitions and special attractions such as an RAF flying display. Often royalty is present: Prince Philip, a former commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron and now its admiral, toured Cowes on the Wednesday of this year’s meeting.

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