1979 Fastnet Race

Coordinates: 50°33′00″N 6°58′16″W / 50.550°N 6.971°W / 50.550; -6.971
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50°33′00″N 6°58′16″W / 50.550°N 6.971°W / 50.550; -6.971

Memorial to those who died in the 1979 Fastnet Race, Lissarnona, Cape Clear Island, Cork, Ireland

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 the 303 yachts that started the biennial race,[1] 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.[2][3]


The 1979 race started on 11 August. The 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."[4] 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,[5] was on course to break the Fastnet record set eight years earlier.

Meteorological history[edit]

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.[2][6] The lowest pressure was 979 hPa.[7]

Disaster and rescue mission[edit]

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.[1] The Daily Telegraph (15 August 1979, p. 1) described the situation, where "Royal Navy ships, RAF Nimrod jets, helicopters, lifeboats, a Dutch warship HNLMS 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,[8] and tankers. Rescue efforts began after 6:30 am on 14 August, once the winds had dropped to severe gale Force 9.[9]

Fifteen sailors died, at least 75 boats capsized and five sank.[10] 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,[11] but the official inquiry makes no such conclusion.[2] 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 disaster resulted in a major rethink of racing, risks and prevention.[2][10]

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 at 17:30 on 14 August.[2]

Finishing yachts[edit]

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, the SV Kialoa, after rounding the Fastnet rock, by the calculated risk of setting a spinnaker sail in the high wind conditions.[12] 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 37m 23s).[12]

Handicap results all classes (first three in each class)[edit]

Class Position Yacht Designer/Type/LOA
(yacht type)
(sailed by)
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
1 2 Acadia Fr B. Keenan 99:17:53
1 3 Gregal M. Peche 99:52:39
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



  1. ^ place awarded by Race Committee under rule 12 for loss of time in rescuing crew from yacht Griffin.
  2. ^ Assent was the only Class 5 yacht to finish

Vessels that did not finish[edit]

Of the 303 starters, only 86 finished. There were 194 retirements and 24 abandonments (five of which were "lost believed sunk").[1]

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
  • Angustura
  • Animal
  • Ariadne. Abandoned. *
  • Arkadina
  • Asteries
  • Autonomy. Towed to Dunmore East.
  • Ballydonna
  • 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.
  • Corker
  • Crazy Horse
  • Détente
  • Double O Two
  • Enia
  • Evergreen[15]
  • Farthing
  • Fiestina Tertia. Abandoned. *
  • Finndabar. Abandoned.
  • Gan. Abandoned.
  • Gekko
  • 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[16]
  • 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.
  • Hoodlum
  • Impetuous
  • Innovation
  • Jan Pott of Germany, Flensburg. Broken mast.
  • Juggernaut
  • Kamisado a UFO 34, apart from two knockdowns Kamisado coped effectively with the storm and retired to Plymouth.[17]
  • Kestel. Abandoned.
  • Korsar
  • La Barbarelle
  • Little Ella
  • Magic of Britain. Sunk.
  • Maligawa III. Abandoned.
  • Marionette VII
  • Mexxanini

Mordicus Belgique won 1981

  • Morning Glory
  • Mulligatawny
  • Mutine
  • Pachena
  • Pegasus
  • Ocean Wave
  • Option2 of France, Granville
  • Pepsi of Scotland. Broken rudder stock. Retired no steerage. Several knockdowns. No communications. After 24 hrs towed by a French Trawler into Kinsale.
  • Pepsi of Holland
  • Pinball Wizard
  • Polar Bear of Britain. Sunk. Crew rescued.
  • Polyhymnia. Retired and made own way back to Plymouth.
  • 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[18]
  • Scaldis
  • 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."[citation needed]
  • 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.
  • Sinndkabar
  • Skat
  • Sophia
  • Sophie B
  • Tam O'Shanter
  • Tarantula of France
  • Thunderer RAOC
  • Trophy. Abandoned.
  • Tiderace IV. Abandoned.
  • Wild Goose of Singapore
  • Yachtman of Spain
  • Zap


  • Mulligatawny (not competing)

Polar Bear was abandoned but remained afloat and raced again. She is berthed in Plymouth.

Craft that assisted the rescue mission[edit]

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[edit]

  • Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre, HMCG Lands End, UK
  • MRCC Falmouth, UK
  • MRCC Shannon, Ireland
  • MRSC Brixham, UK
  • Cross A, France
Royal Navy[edit]
Royal Netherlands Navy[edit]
Irish Naval Service[edit]
United States Navy[edit]

These RNLI lifeboats spent 75 hours at sea in 60-knot (110 km/h) winds:[19]

Royal Air Force[edit]
Irish Air Corps[edit]
  • Beechcraft Kingair maritime patrol
  • Alouette helicopter
Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC)[edit]
  • 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.[10]

Yachtsmen killed[edit]

  • 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[21] 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.[22][23]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c 1979 RORC Fastnet Race Inquiry report p7 table 1.2
  2. ^ a b c d e Forbes, Laing & Myatt 1979.
  3. ^ Paterson, Tony (18 July 2009). "Hell and high water: The Fastnet disaster". The Independent. Archived from the original on 1 May 2022. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  4. ^ Siggins 2004, pp. 49.
  5. ^ "Yachts and boats on Internet Video". Sunzu.com. Archived from the original on 22 July 2023. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  6. ^ "Exceptional Weather Events: The Fastnet Disaster" (PDF). Met Éireann. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 May 2012. Retrieved 28 March 2012.
  7. ^ Knox et al. 2011.
  8. ^ yachtingworld.com: "Fastnet 79 See a map of the rescue", 12 October 2009
  9. ^ "Fastnet 79: The Disaster that Changed Sailing (Eye witness accounts)". Yachting World. Archived from the original on 23 December 2015. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
  10. ^ a b c Rousmaniere 2000.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ a b Windley, Chris. "Fastnet 1979 - Condor of Bermuda - Chris Windley - The Deadliest Yacht Race". Archived from the original on 3 August 2016. Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  13. ^ Ward 2008, pp. 264–273.
  14. ^ 1979 Fastnet Race Results & Season Point Winners, Royal Ocean Racing Club
  15. ^ thespec.com: "Reliving the ill-fated Fastnet" Archived 24 November 2018 at the Wayback Machine, 12 May 2007
  16. ^ Personal
  17. ^ "The day we fought for our lives". Dorset Echo. 14 August 2004. Archived from the original on 23 February 2018. Retrieved 19 May 2019.
  18. ^ "UFO News: The place for sailors and everyone else interested in the UFO 34". UFONEWS. Archived from the original on 23 March 2018. Retrieved 19 May 2019.
  19. ^ Siggins 2004, pp. 50.
  20. ^ Corin & Farr 1983, pp. 120.
  21. ^ "Cowes : Holy Trinity Church – Fastnet Race Memorial". Memorials & Monuments on the Isle of Wight. Archived from the original on 17 April 2015. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  22. ^ "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.
  23. ^ Laven, Kate (4 August 2009). "Cowes Week 2009: Kieron Kennedy admits he was 'lucky to survive' 1979 Fastnet Race". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 17 April 2015. Retrieved 16 April 2015.


Further reading[edit]

  • 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.

External links[edit]