The 1979 Fastnet Race was the 28th Royal Ocean Racing Club's Fastnet Race, a yachting race held generally every two years since 1925 on a 605-mile course from Cowes direct to the Fastnet Rock and then to Plymouth via south of the Isles of Scilly. In 1979, it was the climax of the five-race Admiral's Cup competition, as it had been since 1957.
A worse-than-expected storm on the third day of the race wreaked havoc on over 303 yachts that started the biennial race, resulting in 19 fatalities (15 yachtsmen and four spectators). Emergency services, naval forces, and civilian vessels from around the west side of the English Channel were summoned to aid what became the largest ever rescue operation in peace-time. This involved some 4,000 people, including the entire Irish Naval Service's fleet, lifeboats, commercial boats, and helicopters.
The 1979 race started on 11 August. BBC Radio shipping forecast, broadcast at 13:55 that day predicted "south-westerly winds, force four to five increasing to force six to seven for a time." By 13 August, winds were reported at Force 6, with gusts of Force 7. Forecasters were predicting winds of Force 8. The leading boat, Kialoa, trailed closely by Condor of Bermuda, was on course to break the Fastnet record set eight years earlier.
A large depression, known as "low Y", formed over the Atlantic Ocean during the weekend of 11–12 August. On 13 August it began to intensify rapidly and turn northeastwards, reaching about 200 nautical miles southwest of Ireland. By the 14th, the low was centred over Wexford. Land-based weather stations reported gale-force winds, with the strongest winds out to sea over the race area. The Meteorological Office assessed the maximum winds as force 10 on the Beaufort scale; many race competitors believed the winds to have reached force 11. The lowest pressure was 979 hPa.
Disaster and rescue mission
Over 13–14 August, of the 303 yachts that started, 24 were abandoned, of which five were lost and believed to be sunk, due to high winds and severe sea conditions. The Daily Telegraph (15 August 1979, p. 1) described the situation, where "Royal Navy ships, RAF Nimrod jets, helicopters, lifeboats, a Dutch warship Hr MS. Overijssel and other craft picked up 125 yachtsmen whose boats had been caught in force 11 violent storm strength gusts midway between Land's End and Fastnet". The effort also included tugs, trawlers, and tankers. Rescue efforts began after 6:30 am on 14 August, once the winds had dropped to severe gale Force 9.
15 sailors died, at least 75 boats capsized and five sank. Adopting heaving to as a storm tactic proved to be a good preventive of capsize and turtling during the race. Lin Pardey wrote that none of the yachts which hove to were capsized or suffered any serious damage, but the official inquiry makes no such conclusion. One Fastnet participant, John Rousmaniere, wrote that
If there is a fault in this debate, it is that the factions sometimes say that one tactic or piece of gear is always right, regardless of the boat and the conditions. There is nothing always about a storm at sea except its danger.
The coastguard requested support resulting in a Nimrod aircraft from RAF Kinloss being ordered to the scene to act as the Scene of Search Coordinator. As the scale of the disaster became apparent other rescue assets were requested and HMS Broadsword was ordered to the scene taking over as the Scene of Search Coordinator on arrival 17:30 on 14 August.
The handicap winner was the yacht Tenacious, designed by Sparkman & Stephens, owned and skippered by Ted Turner. The winner on elapsed time in the race was the 77-foot SV Condor of Bermuda, skippered by Peter Blake, which gained around 90 minutes on the leader at the Fastnet rock, the SV Kialoa by chancing a spinnaker.[clarification needed] Jim Kilroy of the Kialoa had broken his ribs and there was damage to the yacht's runners. SV Condor of Bermuda broke the Fastnet record by nearly eight hours (71h 25m 23s).
Handicap results all classes (first three in each class)
|Corrected time |
|0||1||Tenacious||SS 61||Ted Turner||93:44:19|
|0||2||Condor of Bermuda||Sp 77||R. Bell||97:57:24|
|0||3||Kialoa||J. B. Kilroy||98:03:40|
|1||1||Red Rock IV||Fr||E. Mandelbaum||98:35:05|
|2||1||Eclipse||PtR39||J. C. Rogers||97:05:27|
|2||2||Jubile VI||Pt 42||H. Hamon||97:40:15|
|2||3||Impetuous||Hd||G. Lambert and J. Crisp||97:53:53|
|3||1||Revolution||Fn 37||J. L. Fabry||97:42:53|
|3||2||Blue Bird||NI 34||A. Gerard||110:48:52|
|3||3||Ceil III||MW 40||W. Turnbull||116:33:18|
|4||1||Black Arrow||UFO 34||Royal Air Force S.A.||110:35:10|
|4||2||Samsara||Fr 33||Madame O. Trans-Van-Dom||110:44:19|
|4||2||Lorelei||SSH36||M. Catherineau||[note 1]|
|4||3||Mahuri||UFO 34||G. M. Lowson||122:03:38|
|5||1||Assent[note 2]||Contessa 32||W. and A. Ker||116:58:55|
- place awarded by Race Committee under rule 12 for loss of time in rescuing crew from yacht Griffin.
- Assent was the only Class 5 yacht to finish
Vessels that did not finish
Of the 303 starters, only 86 finished. There were 194 retirements and 24 abandonments (five of which were "lost believed sunk").
Early press reports were often confused. The Daily Telegraph (16 August 1979, p. 3) reported that 69 yachts did not finish.
- Accanito of France, broken rudder. Towed.
- Allamader. Abandoned.
- Alpha II
- Amanda Kulu
- Andiano Robin
- Ariadne. Abandoned. *
- Autonomy. Towed to Dunmore East.
- Battle Cry
- Billy Bones. Abandoned.
- Blue Dolphin
- Bonaventure of Britain. Abandoned.
- Cabadah Ocean Wave Option
- Callirhaex 3. Abandoned.
- Camargue of Britain. Abandoned.
- Casse Tete
- Charioteer of Britain. Sunk.
- Combat II. Retired to Cork.
- Crazy Horse
- Double O Two
- Fiestina Tertia. Abandoned. *
- Finndabar. Abandoned.
- Gan. Abandoned.
- Golden Apple of Ireland, disabled. Abandoned. Crew rescued by RAF Lynx helicopter.
- Golden Leigh
- Good in Tension A High Tension 36. Two Knockdowns. Retired from race. Sailed to Crosshaven, Cork. Towed within the harbour by Fishing vessel Mona Lisa
- Griffin Abandoned - crew rescued from liferaft by Lorelei
- Grimalkin. Abandoned and subsequently recovered. Read John Rousmaniere's Fastnet, Force 10 and Nick Ward's Left for Dead.
- Gringo. Reported as 'believed sunk'.
- Gunslinger Broken rudder stock
- Hestral. Abandoned. Crew of 6 rescued by Royal Navy helicopter.
- Jan Pott of Germany, Flensburg. Broken mast.
- Kamisado a UFO 34, apart from two knockdowns Kamisado coped effectively with the storm and retired to Plymouth.
- Kestel. Abandoned.
- La Barbarelle
- Little Ella
- Magic of Britain. Sunk.
- Maligawa III. Abandoned.
- Marionette VII
- Morning Cloud of Britain, broken rudder.
- Morning Glory
- Ocean Wave
- Option2 of France, Granville
- Pepsi of England
- Pepsi of Holland
- Pinball Wizard
- Polar Bear of Britain. Sunk. Crew rescued.
- Regardless of Cork, broken rudder. Assisted by LÉ Deirdre (P20). Towed by RNLB Ethel Mary
- Samurai II
- Sandettie, a UFO 34 which was rolled, dismasted and swamped. However Sandettie's crew were able to jury rig emergency rigging and sail to Lands End, where they were towed to Penzance
- Scaramouche. Retired and made own way back to Plymouth. Steve Cross[who?] remarked: "Although we hadn't the satisfaction of being one of the 88 which rounded 'the rock' we were content in knowing that we had brought the boat and ourselves back in one piece."
- Schuttevaer of Holland
- Silver Apple of Howth: lost steering, assisted by LÉ Deirdre (P20), made a jury steering rig, retired to Courtmacsherry under own power.
- Sophie B
- Tam O'Shanter
- Tarantula of France
- Thunderer RAOC
- Trophy. Abandoned.
- Tiderace IV. Abandoned.
- Wild Goose of Singapore
- Yachtman of Spain
- Mulligatawny (not competing)
Polar Bear was abandoned but remained afloat and raced again. She is berthed in Plymouth.
Craft that assisted the rescue mission
Over 4000 people aided in the rescue efforts. The Royal Navy coordinated efforts to find around 80 vessels and rescue 136 crew members.
Key contributors to the rescue
- Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre, HMCG Lands End, UK
- MRCC Falmouth, UK
- MRCC Shannon, Ireland
- MRSC Brixham, UK
- Cross A, France
- HMS Anglesey, Island class patrol vessel
- HMS Broadsword, frigate (Scene of Search Coordinator)
- HMSTY Dasher, yacht
- HMS Scylla (F71) (Leander class frigate)
- RMAS Rollicker A502, ocean-going salvage tug
- RFA Tidespring, fast fleet tanker of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary
- 15 Royal Navy helicopters from RNAS Culdrose and RNAS Prestwick, including
- Westland Sea Kings, 25 sorties for 110 hrs 45 mins,
- Westland Lynxes 10 sorties for 20 hrs 55 mins and
- Westland Wessexes, 27 sorties for 62 hrs 35 mins
- HNLMS Overijssel, destroyer (race guardship)
- LÉ Deirdre (P20), Deirdre class offshore patrol vessel
- USS Holland (AS-32), submarine tender, Holy Loch, Scotland
- RNLB Guy and Claire Hunter, St Mary's Lifeboat, Isles of Scilly
- Baltimore Lifeboat, County Cork
- RNLB Ethel Mary, Ballycotton, County Cork
- Courtmacsherry, County Cork
- Dunmore East, County Waterford
- Lifeboat Solomon Browne
Royal Air Force
Irish Air Corps
- Beechcraft Kingair maritime patrol
- Alouette helicopter
Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC)
- Morningtown, Rodney Hill's Oyster 39 acted as the RORC escort and radio relay boat and was responsible for relaying the positions of the racing fleet. 
- Paul Baldwin
- Robin Bowyer
- SLt Russell Brown
- David Crisp
- Peter Dorey
- Peter Everson
- Frank Ferris
- William Le Fevre
- John Puxley
- Robert Robie
- David Sheahan
- SLt Charles Steavenson
- Roger Watts
- Gerrit-Jan Williahey (Gerrit-Jan Willering)
- Gerald Winks
The Fastnet Race Memorial at Holy Trinity Church, Cowes, Isle of Wight lists 19 fatalities; the 15 above and Olivia Davidson, John Dix, Richard Pendred and Peter Pickering who were aboard Bucks Fizz, a yacht shadowing the fleet to view the race. Denis Benson and David Moore were lost from Tempean, which was not a competitor. Their names were added to the Fastnet memorial at Cape Clear Island harbour.
- 1979 RORC Fastnet Race Inquiry report p7 table 1.2
- Forbes, Laing & Myatt 1979.
- Paterson, Tony (18 July 2009). "Hell and high water: The Fastnet disaster". The Independent. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
- Siggins 2004, pp. 49.
- "Yachts and boats on Internet Video". Sunzu.com. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
- "Exceptional Weather Events: The Fastnet Disaster" (PDF). Met Éireann. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 May 2012. Retrieved 28 March 2012.
- Knox et al. 2011.
- 1979 RORC Fastnet Race Inquiry report p7 table 1.2
- yachtingworld.com: "Fastnet 79 See a map of the rescue", 12 October 2009
- "Fastnet 79: The Disaster that Changed Sailing (Eye witness accounts)". Yachting World. Archived from the original on 23 December 2015. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
- Rousmaniere 2000.
- Pardey, Lin (2008). Storm Tactics Handbook, 3rd Ed., Modern methods of heaving-to for survival in extreme conditions. Arcata, California: Pardey Books. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-92921-447-1.
- Ward 2008, pp. 264–273.
- 1979 Fastnet Race Results & Season Point Winners, Royal Ocean Racing Club
- 1979 RORC Fastnet Race Inquiry report p7 table 1.2
- thespec.com: "Reliving the ill-fated Fastnet" Archived 24 November 2018 at the Wayback Machine, 12 May 2007
- "The day we fought for our lives". Dorset Echo. 14 August 2004. Retrieved 19 May 2019.
- "UFO News: The place for sailors and everyone else interested in the UFO 34". UFONEWS. Retrieved 19 May 2019.
- Siggins 2004, pp. 50.
- Corin & Farr 1983, pp. 120.
- "Cowes : Holy Trinity Church – Fastnet Race Memorial". Memorials & Monuments on the Isle of Wight. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
- "Fastnet Tragedy Memorial Service". Extract from Southern Star newspaper. Humainst Association of Ireland. Archived from the original on 6 January 2017. Retrieved 12 May 2017.
- Laven, Kate (4 August 2009). "Cowes Week 2009: Kieron Kennedy admits he was 'lucky to survive' 1979 Fastnet Race". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
- Tregoning, Martin, Acting District Controller, Senior SAR Mission Controller HMCG Lands End.
- Corin, John; Farr, Grahame (1983). Penlee Lifeboat. Penzance: Penlee & Penzance Branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. pp. 120. ISBN 0-9508611-0-3.
- Fairchild, Tony (14 August 1979) Kiaola heads for Fastnet record The Daily Telegraph, p. 26
- Fairchild, Tony (15 August 1979) Killer wind gives Condor record The Daily Telegraph, p. 29
- Fairchild, Tony (16 August 1979) Fastnet may be limited to fewer Yachts The Daily Telegraph, p. 3.
- Forbes, Sir Hugh; Laing, Sir Maurice; Myatt, Lt. Col. James (1979). "1979 Fastnet Race Inquiry" (PDF). Royal Yachting Association, Royal Ocean Racing Club. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
- Knox, John A.; Frye, John D.; Durkee, Joshua D.; Fuhrmann, Christopher M. (1 February 2011). "Non-Convective High Winds Associated with Extratropical Cyclones" (PDF). Geography Compass. 5 (2): 63–89. doi:10.1111/j.1749-8198.2010.00395.x. Retrieved 28 March 2012.
- Rais, Guy and Bramwell, Christopher (15 August 1979) 10 die in yacht race havoc The Daily Telegraph, p. 1 & 32.
- Rousmaniere, John (1980). Fastnet, Force 10: The Deadliest Storm in the History of Modern Sailing (Paperback). New York: W. W. Norton & Company (17 April 2000). p. 304. ISBN 978-0393308655.
- Rousmaniere, John (January 2000). "Revisiting Lessons from the Fastnet". SailNet.com. Retrieved 25 November 2013.
- Roy, Amit (17 August 1979). "Last of the Fastnet race yachts found". The Daily Telegraph.
- Siggins, Lorna (2004). "4". Mayday! Mayday! Heroic Air-Sea Rescues in Irish Waters. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan. pp. 51–52. ISBN 0-7171-3529-2.
- Ward, Nick (2008). Left for Dead: The Untold Story of the Tragic 1979 Fastnet Race. A & C Black. ISBN 978-0-7136-8936-5.
- Wettern, Desmond (20 August 1979) Fastnet race rescue operation involved 4,000 people The Daily Telegraph, p. 2.
- Mayers, Adams (2007). Beyond Endurance: 300 Boats, 600 Miles, and One Deadly Storm. McClelland & Stewart.
- Rousmaniere, John. Fastnet, Force 10.
- Ward, Nick. Left for Dead: The Untold Story of the Tragic 1979 Fastnet Race.
- "1979: Freak storm hits yacht race". BBC News. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
- "Fastnet 79". yachtingworld.com. Archived from the original on 23 April 2015. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
- pjwellsify (28 September 2012). "The Fastnet Yacht Race Tragedy of 1979" (Video). YouTube. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
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