Yachts & Yachting|March 2020

The world’s biggest regatta is currently minus a title sponsor. It’s Kate Johnson’s job to find one. How’s that going? asks ROB PEAKE

The young girl who enjoyed sailing her Mirror from a beach hut at Calshot in the school holidays, watching in delight as Cowes Week thundered past every August, never imagined that one day she’d have a key role in running the regatta herself.

Kate Johnson’s job as Cowes Week’s Commercial and Marketing Director doesn’t allow her much time to look across the water and remember those early days afloat, but having known and loved the regatta all of her life certainly does no harm as she pitches to potential sponsors of Cowes Weeks to come.

“As children we spent many happy summers messing around in boats on the Solent,” she says, “and since then I have done Cowes Week many times. I remember winning our class a couple of times. It was during the Skandia days and we were given a huge race winner’s flag. Both times we were over the moon – it was cause for much celebration, and wearing of the flag.”

As we meet today, in the lobby of a London hotel, Johnson is between appointments and admits that with six months to go before the first gun fires off the Squadron, her diary is “very busy”. The hunt is on for the right partner, or partners, of the world’s biggest regatta after Lendy went into administration in late May 2019, less than three months before the event. The regatta went ahead as planned and despite galeforce winds throwing an additional spanner in the works, those who took part enjoyed great sailing and there was widespread praise for Regatta Director Laurence Mead, who had joined Johnson and Technical Director Andrew Rayner on the Cowes Week Executive Team in 2018.

But great sailing or not, all regattas have costs. Before Lendy, Skandia was title sponsor for 14 years, and Aberdeen Asset Management for six, both periods remembered fondly by tens of thousands of sailors. In 2020 the world is a different place, but Johnson is realistic. “Over the past couple of years we have been working hard to diversify revenue streams and ensure the regatta is no longer as dependent on a single title sponsor, as it perhaps has been in the past,” she says. “This should mean that even in times of not having a title sponsor, the regatta is able to carry on as normal, with little or no effect on the overall experience, either on the water or on the shore.”

Of the Lendy bombshell, she says: “We were well-prepared and tried to deliver a regatta of the expected high standard. We hope this was felt by competitors. It did involve some hard work behind the scenes.”


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March 2020