IT IS the oldest sailing regatta in the world and one of the largest sporting events in the UK. But even the world-famous Cowes Week couldn’t weather the credit crunch and this year’s event went ahead with no title sponsor for the first time in 15 years.

For 14 great years the event was backed by Southampton investment giant Skandia, but in 2007 came the news that the following year it would pull the plug on funding.

A two-year campaign to find a successor was launched – but the timing was bad. Just as Cowes Week and Skandia prepared to part ways, the dreaded credit crunch took its grip on the country and any potential backers quickly put their money back in their pockets.

Organisers were faced with running the regatta with no sponsor for the first time since the Isle of Wight Council subsidised it in 1994.

However sponsorship is a relatively new introduction to Cowes Week, which first took place in 1826 when a group of rich yacht owners answered an advert in a national newspaper seeking competitors for a new race to be held on the Isle of Wight.

Cuts were made and the event went on – and regatta bosses have hailed it a huge success.

Stuart Quarrie, CEO of Cowes Week Limited, said: “Everything has been very positive about this year’s event, there were no downs, only ups.

“We are absolutely delighted with entry numbers this year. Last year we had 985 boats competing and this year we had 893, so we’re down about ten per cent, but that is really very good. Other major regattas around the world have struggled to get numbers anywhere near that.

“On top of that around half of the boats missing from this year can be accounted for by reasons other than the credit crunch.”

Despite its roots in sailing, Cowes Week is now so much more, with a constant programme of entertainments covering an everexpanding area of the town. Around 100,000 visitors are expected each year during the regatta – and predictions are for the same numbers this year.

“We don’t know exact numbers just yet, but my gut feeling is there will have been just as many visitors to Cowes Week this year as there have been in previous years,” Mr Quarrie said.

“The first three days felt a bit quieter in the town, but I think that’s because so many people were at Egypt Point watching the iShares Cup so the viewing was spread across a wider than normal area.

“I think we will find that there will have been as many if not more visitors than last year, especially for the fireworks. Yes, we had to cut the budget this year, and there might still need to be more tightening of the belt, but all the cuts have been kept on the inside so nothing has changed for the competitors and visitors.”

Mr Quarrie added that the famous Cowes Week carnival atmosphere had not been dampened by cutbacks or the heavy downpours that swept through the town on several nights.

“This year’s event has been an incredibly friendly regatta, possibly more so than normal,” he said.

“The atmosphere really hasn’t changed, it’s the same as it ever was.

“There were a few rainy evenings which meant it wasn’t as pleasant for people to drink their Pimm’s but it hasn’t dampened anyone’s spirits.

“On Thursday night the Commodore of the Royal Southern Yacht Club came across for a cocktail party but instead of the dress code being dinner jackets and dresses there were about 130 people with umbrellas and oilskins.”

So after a week’s break, the search begins again for a sponsor to take on the Cowes Week reins.

And according to Mr Quarrie, several have already been lined up. “This year has been an opportunity to showcase the event to potential sponsors and there have been several we have shown around,”

he said. “They were very impressed with the organisation and the sheer size of Cowes Week.

“In the ensuing weeks and months we will be having more in-depth talks with them and we are reasonably confident we will have a new sponsor for next year.

“However if we haven’t there is a back-up plan and it will be business as usual for Cowes Week, continuing next year as a world class regatta.”