Cowes Harbor is a seaport town in the west bank of the River Medina estuary on England’s Isle of Wight. A chain ferry called the Cowes Floating Bridge links East Cowes and West Cowes, although each town is a separate parish. Famous for sailing, the city is home to Cowes Castle and the elite yacht club, the Royal Yacht Squadron. Each year, the world’s oldest regatta, Cowes Week, is held there in early August. In 2006, about 17 thousand people called Cowes Harbor home.
The first mention of what came to be known as Cowes was recorded in 1303, referring to the settlement of Shamblord. Today, a fort survives that once protected the Isle of Wight from French invaders.
King Henry VIII built Cowes Castle there in 1540 to defend England’s coast. Local legend claims that Queen Elizabeth I’s vessel, called the Rat O’Wight, was built at Cowes Harbor in 1589, establishing the community’s long tradition of boat-building. The local link with recreation and sailing, however, was not established until George IV approved a three-day regatta by presenting a cup to commemorate the occasion. The Royal Yacht Squadron organized the first regatta in 1826, and it became a popular four-day event that continues today.
Queen Victoria made a summer home at nearby Osborne, and her wealthy entourage built a few houses in East Cowes to keep her company. She died in the house on the Isle of Wight in 1901. Architect John Nash built the East Cowes Castle in 1798, and he later entertained Prince Albert and other nobles at the castle. He also designed the East Cowes Church where he is buried.
With the Royal Navy nearby at Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight and Cowes Harbor were targets of German bombs during World War II. The shipyard was seriously damaged in 1942, but this was a mixed blessing. The rebuilt shipyard incorporated modern facilities and equipment. The HMS Cavalier was the first warship built there that, with help from the Polish destroyer Blyskawica, defended the port valiantly during the 1942 air raid. The crew was honored for its bravery in a 2002 ceremony.
Cowes Harbor has long been a center for the design and construction of ships and related materials. Early flying boats and sails were made there. The first hovercraft was also tested in Cowes Harbor. This tradition has led to the location of BAE Systems Integrated System Technologies on the site of the old Somerton Aerodrome. The old Saunders-Roe boat factory now makes wind turbines.
Cowes Harbor is the point of entry for the commercial shipping trade of the Isle of Wight, handling about 600 thousand tons of cargo per year. Cargoes include fuel, stone, single aggregate, oil and petroleum, grain, timber, and general cargo. The port can accommodate vessels to 100 meters with up to 5.4 meters draft at the berth at Kingston or the Medina Wharves. Cowes Harbor Commissioners govern the port.
Cowes Harbor is best known for sailing, its regatta, and the Royal Yacht Squadron. The town of East Cowes has a small shopping center, a lovely seafront promenade, and a lively marina. It is the location of Queen Victoria’s famous summer home, Osborne House. It is also the terminus of passenger and car ferry service from Southampton.
The Isle of Wight is a wonderful refuge, offering visitors beautiful pristine scenery and many water-related activities. It’s the perfect escape from the busy modern world.