The Bookshelf

The 1979 Fastnet Yacht Race disaster re-told

Fastnet lighthouse on a lonely rock in high seas

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.

Newspaper clipping

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.

Cartoon of people watching yacht race

Disaster strikes

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.

Newspaper clipping

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.

newspaper clipping
new york times clipping

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.

Brave rescuers

Historical photo of lifeboat crew

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.

Commemorative book about yacht race made by Kate Horgan Bespoke Books

(Name of boat removed at client’s request)