The 1979 Fastnet Yacht Race disaster re-told
Last weekend saw the start of the epic 2019 Fastnet Race. Yachts from around the world set off to race 1,126 km from Cowes in England, circling the famous Fastnet lighthouse off West Cork’s coast before arriving back in Portsmouth.
In 1979, over 300 boats started the same race, with the Irish yacht crews tipped to win. They began the race in high spirits, not suspecting the terror which would strike, 40 years ago to the day.
A client asked to make a book using news clippings and photos of the 1979 race. There were lots to choose from, including this cartoon from Business and Finance magazine showing the giddy atmosphere around the Irish hopefuls.
Tragically, disaster struck the race. Beginning on August 13th, a Force 10 gale and 40-foot high waves battered many of the smaller boats in the race for 20 hours as they rounded the Fastnet, with fatal consequences.
The loss was unprecedented. Fifteen sailors and three rescuers died, five boats sank, and at least 75 boats flipped upside down. The story went around the world.
The history of the Fastnet race disaster is a testament to the bravery of the lifeboat crews who saved so many lives during those terrifying hours. Irish and English crews pulled 136 sailors to safety, operating in lethal conditions. I was happy to include in the book this historical photo of the Baltimore lifeboat crew, taken the day after the storm struck.
To add to the client’s newspaper clippings and personal photographs, I found unseen archival photos of the race and searched international news databases for more stories. I also tracked down testimonies from sailors who survived the race. Forty years later, their words are still chilling.
The finished book tells the story.
(Name of boat removed at client’s request)