Internationally renowned Cowes-Torquay powerboat race confined to Western Solent

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Despite agreement from all local harbour authorities this year’s Cowes-Torquay-Cowes offshore powerboat race on August 27 will not be reverting to its traditional start line off the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes. The Royal Yachting Association has refused to support the request on grounds of safety.

The return to its roots follows the outstanding success in 2010 when retired Royal Navy Lt Commander, Rob Andrews, took over the running of the event as Officer of the Day. His approach was in true navy tradition with safety uppermost in all race departments under his control. Together with Richard Salaman – a professional coastguard and long time safety officer with a host of successful events under his belt including the 2008 Round Britain race and current event Safety Officer for the annual Cowes Week regatta – the efficient running of the 2010 Cowes-Torquay-Cowes race impressed all professionals involved.

The previous Cowes start, which required a dedicated buoyed chute marking the starting run, has not been allowed following an accident further down the Solent some years ago. Instead, the fleet was escorted at 30 knots by the local Red Jet catamaran ferry to a starting point in the western Solent. The race also finished in the same area taking the excitement and additional business income from visiting spectators away from Cowes itself which has supported the event since its inception in 1961.

Satisfied with the 2010 organisation the Cowes harbourmaster gave his permission for the organising British Powerboat Racing Club (BPRC) to turn back the clock. The event could once again start and finish off Cowes. The only stipulation being the starting chute must be reintroduced with a minimum of 20 safety boats (ten each side) warning off non-involved pleasure boats when racing boats were passing through.

It was not easy finding 20 volunteers but sufficient craft were eventually found. They were also found for other patrolling areas along the course stipulated by the RYA albeit some virtually in open sea of Portland Bill and Torbay, both easily moved further offshore using laid marks.

The racing course, risk factor and a layout pin pointing the location of all safety boats along the chute were submitted to the powerboat department of the RYA only to be turned down; one of the reasons being that the actual names and crew experience of positioned safety boats had not been shown on the course layout. This is nigh impossible as boats and crews can easily withdraw and be replaced at the last minute.

The recent collision between an incoming tanker and a racing sailing yacht in the Solent during the current Cowes Week highlights the danger facing pleasure boating in this area. While there has never been a racing powerboat accident of this type in the Solent during the 50 years running of the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes, there appears little condemnation of sailing in the same area.