Sport & Style – Cowes week, the definitive guide

Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta April 2003. Velsheda Photo ©Rick Tomlinson

Cowes Week has been going since 1826. 1826! That’s one hell of a long time. If you’ve never been: shame on you. But it’s not too late. This year Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week will take place from 3rd – 10th August. We present everything you need to know to not be mistaken for a novice.

The facts

  • Cowes week is the biggest sailing regatta in the world. It’s also the oldest: Henley didn’t start until 1839.
  • There are 8,500 competitors and over 100,000 spectators.
  • The value of the Gold Cup which was given as first prize in the inaugural Cowes race in 1826 was £100.


  • DON’T get too drunk. No one likes that pissed guy who falls into the water at the finishing line. 
  • DO bring binoculars. There’s no need to shove anyone else out of the way when you can see perfectly well yourself with this simple piece of kit.
  • DON’T bring dogs or babies on the Friday night. That’s when the big firework display is and you don’t want anyone getting jumpy.
  • DO bring an umberella and wellies. This may be the Isle of Wight but it’s still English weather.
  • DON’T go on board anyone’s boat unless you have been invited.
  • DO take your shoes off on board.


Just as (we hope) you’d never say ‘dogs’ when referring to hunting (it’s ‘hounds’), there are plenty of sailing terms you need to know to work your way around at Cowes Week without looking like a newby. We all know about Port (left) and Starboard (right) but here’s a short glossary to the other most useful words.

  • Walty = inclined to lean or tip over
  • Windward = the direction the wind is currently blowing
  • Leeward = the opposite direction than the wind is currently blowing
  • Tacking = zig-zaging a boat in an upwind direction
  • Astern = behind the boat
  • Head = a boat’s loo

What to wear

With Cowes Week, the main thing to remember is always the weather. Don’t wear anything so precious that you’d be devastated if it got rain on it – unsealed suede shoes are out. This is an outdoor event so, while you should always look smart, don’t be flashy.

Of course a smart pair of trousers will never look bad, nor will a crisp light-blue shirt and a classic double-breasted blazer. But it’s the accessories that can help you to stand out from the crowd. Here is our pick of three of the best.


Ray-Ban sunglasses, £125,


Shoes Boat shoes, £109.99,


Turnbul & Asser pocket square, £50, from

For more information about Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week, visit

Further Reading