Buoyant classes at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week
While much of the press coverage around Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week tends to be centred on the biggest boats, or a handful of very big fleets, the experience for most competitors is focussed on the smaller fleets that make up the bulk of the 35-40 classes that race at the event each year.
Many of these fleets are seeing an upturn in numbers, which in turn have helped boost White Group entries by more than 10 per cent since 2012. Much of this growth has been driven by established classes including Dragons (up 23 per cent in 2014), SB20s (up 33 per cent), Etchells (up 50 per cent), J/80s (up 72 per cent) and Flying 15s (up by almost double).
Before the global recession, in addition to the popular XOD class that still shows a healthy entry of 80-plus boats, there was also frequently a trendy design that boosted overall numbers. In the late 1970s this was the J/24, followed by Hunter 707s, Melges 24, and Laser SB3s (now SB20s). However, no class launched in the last decade has, as yet, reached a sufficient size to rival the scale of participation that these classes saw at the height of their heyday, although there are strong signs that will change over the next few seasons. The J/70, for instance, has steadily increased in number since it first appeared at the regatta in 2013. A further 60 boats are anticipated to be delivered to UK owners by the time of next year’s regatta, including a fleet of 12 for the Royal Thames Yacht Club and Royal Yacht Squadron that will be based in Cowes.
Two other new designs that are worth keeping an eye on raced for the first time in the regatta in the handicap Sportsboat class for the first time in 2014. These are the canting keel SK2 and the VX One, both boats that can be bought new for around £20,000. A trio of the latter proved to be exceptionally successful, taking three of the top four places in the class overall last year.
As seen with regattas elsewhere, there’s increased enthusiasm for cruiser classes, which race at the event under the Island Sailing Club’s rating system. The numbers have increased significantly over the past five years at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week – there were only eight entries in 2010, but this had built to 55 in 2014 following a concerted effort by organisers to attract cruisers to the regatta.
Other Black Group (bigger boat) yacht classes with recent gains include the J/111, which raced for the first time in 2012 and had 13 entries last year. As a result, combined J/109 and J/111 entries are now more than 10 per cent higher than the J/109 class achieved five years ago, before the launch of the newer model. Another expanding class, following a low point in 2012, is the venerable Contessa 32 that bounced back to a double-digit fleet in 2014.
In 2014 the Squib class, in which many boats change hands for only £2-5,000 saw its largest turn-out for more than five years, making it the third largest class at the regatta. Even more impressive was that Malcolm Hutchings and Andy Ramsey won the class and an overall Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week victory for the second successive year, beating semi-professional crews and owners with six figure budgets in the process.
Steve Warren-Smith, chairman of the UK owners association, puts the popularity of the class down to a number of factors including affordability, geographic spread, family involvement and youth interest. “Eight of the 31 entries had an under 25 on board at some point during the week, the youngest sailor being 12. In addition, 22 of the entries had family members from other competing Squibs on board, whether children, siblings or partners.
“These statistics speak volumes, and really show what a fantastic and inclusive class the Squib is. Cowes Week is a wonderful and unique event in allowing the minnows to compete with the giants, evenly, and to win, fairly.”
Looking ahead, by mid-January early entries for the 2015 regatta are already showing positive indicators, with numbers up on the same time last year, helped by an upturn in the Sigma 33 entries which is having its class championship during the 2015 regatta.
In addition, with this being a Rolex Fastnet Race year, a larger entry of big boats is on the cards: the last Fastnet year in 2013 saw the biggest collection of big boats taking part in Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week than had been seen for a decade. A further boost to the regatta can be expected as a result of the celebrations marking the Royal Yacht Squadron’s 200th anniversary, which will also draw a larger than usual number of big yachts to the Solent area this summer.
The 2015 Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week takes place from 8-15 August. For more information please visit aamcowesweek.co.uk