Within a few months of appearing at The Earl's Court Boat Show in 1971, Contessas were racing and winning on The Solent. Then, just five years later, for the first time in nigh on twenty years, The Cowes Combined Clubs awarded the class its own start at Cowes Week 1976. This was due to the efforts of early Contessa luminaries like David Cox and Torben Nielsen. To gain this prestigious recognition so soon in any boat's history was a fantastic achievement. To this day, Contessas race in considerable numbers in Cowes Week, on The Solent, across the UK and Europe ( hello Holland and Belgium ! ) and over longer distances, notably The Azores and Back ( AZAB ) and of course The Fastnet.
No potted race history of the Contessa, however modest, can avoid mention of Fastnet 79. Contessa Assent, helmed by Alan Ker, was part of the Fastnet fleet hit by a vicious storm. She got through, despite being knocked over, and was the smallest boat to complete the race. Many craft, and thirteen lives, were lost. The safe passage of Assent, in such extreme conditions (before the modern safety gear, radio and accurate weather forecasts taken for granted nowadays), is the ultimate tribute to build-quality, strength, and stability.
Most racing, thankfully, is relatively incident free. The competitive 'edge', and high skill level across the fleet is balanced by friendliness and fair-play. It does not exclude relative novices. The newcomers soon learn, and often find themselves challenging the well-practiced 'old salt' elite for silverware within a few years. They also learn that a Contessa race fleet tends to party as hard as it races.
Last updated 13:38 on 21 November 2023