When waves reach as high as boats, retiring starts to make sense

Olympic champion shares Cowes Week diary with City A.M.

THE nerve centre of Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week was my destination yesterday, specifically the Platform of the Royal Yacht Squadron, which was clearly the place to hang out. The race officers set the day's courses from here and, with 34 different starts, there is great skill involved in avoiding collisions and congestion. Helpfully, a computer programme takes into account current weather conditions and predicts a course and finish time.

Adding some glamour to the occasion, HRH The Princess Royal popped in to meet everyone. She was in Cowes for a few days and her job for the morning was starting the Centennial XOD race. The weather wasn't ideal; it was a gusty 25 knots with waves as high as boats. Rain came down and visibility wasn't great; the Aberdeen sponsored XOD class looked like specs in the distance.

I had been offered the opportunity to helm the Class Captain, William Norris’s boat, as he was hosting Princess Anne, but watching them in the conditions I was fairly glad I wasn't out there. I’m sure it would have been a buzz but positioning his pride and joy in a winning place, with the waves as big as they were would have been terrifying. It’s times like these that retirement from sailing always makes sense!

The XODs were starting downwind so with 10 seconds to go their colourful but small spinnakers were hoisted and they blasted off down towards Portsmouth. Two of the sailors clearly hadn't read the memo though – as Royalty was starting the race the offence for starting early was a stint in the Tower. Two of the boats were over early, but out of 145 this was fairly good going.

For me it was a day to be fully Aberdeen'ed – I am part of their corporate hospitality programme for the latter half of Aberdeen Cowes Week. In the afternoon I was part of a satisfying prize-giving for the Dragons in the Aberdeen marquee. It was for a new trophy, the Bluebottle Cup, presented to the Dragon boat leading overall on day five. It was won by the Baileys in Aimee who had 10-year-old William Heritage on board. He proudly told me he’s been on the foredeck gybing the pole for every gybe – he is certainly one to watch in the future!

It was disappointing for the Extreme 40s who were cancelled yesterday afternoon due to excessive wind. There is nothing more frustrating than being stuck inshore watching everyone else sailing in perfect conditions. I guess that's the problem with boats that are so close to the edge – you often can’t sail when it looks perfect as it just isn’t safe.

Tonight will be one of the most famous nights in Cowes, the fireworks. I for one love fireworks and Cowes Week always does them so well; with the celebrations starting tonight there is really only the prize giving to look forward to tomorrow.