August 15th, 1979
FROM THE ARCHIVES:Fifteen men died in the fierce storm that hit the Fastnet yacht race in 1979. This lead story reported what was happening as the rescue efforts continued in mountainous seas.
TEN YACHTSMEN have died in the Fastnet Race disaster, the Royal Ocean Racing Club which organises the race announced last night. None of the dead is thought to be Irish.
Late last night, the RORC said that 49 were injured and another 14 were reported missing. At the last count, 21 boats were believed to have sunk and 97 survivors had been plucked from the stormy waters by helicopters and rescue vessels.
This morning the rescue operation will be resumed, with Air Corps and Royal Air Force helicopters and planes scanning the 8,500 square miles of ocean for battered survivors of the storm which broke early yesterday morning. Naval Service and Royal Navy vessels will be again helping lifeboats from Irish and British ports to assist the stricken vessels towards refuge.
The massive rescue operation was launched after scores of “Mayday” calls for help were put out by the yachts which the storm was “throwing up and down like corks in the bath when you splash”, according to one survivor.
“I can smile about it now,” one of the English survivors who reached Crosshaven, Co Cork, said. “But I never thought I would see a steering wheel complete with a man attached soar into the sea as the whole thing had broken off. Thank God for our life ropes – an awful lot of us owe our lives to them.” Throughout yesterday the death toll rose steadily as the search continued. Seven bodies found just before darkness fell brought the toll to nine – earlier two bodies were picked up by a Dutch frigate and later a yachtsman rescued by helicopter died in hospital in Cornwall.
The three Irish yachts which had been leading the Admirals Cup – the Fastnet race from Cowes to Fastnet and back to Plymouth is the final leg in the Admirals Cup series of races – all were damaged by the storm. The three yachts, Regardless, Golden Apple of the Sun and Innishanier, were all forced to drop out of the race and lost the chance of winning the coveted Admirals Cup for Ireland for the first time.
[...] The Force 10 winds blew up around midnight yesterday and within hours the fleet was in serious trouble. Mr Arthur Moss from the British yacht the Camargue explained: “It was not so much the winds that finished us; but the mountainous seas. The boat turned turtle a couple of times and then righted itself again – I think it was sheer wave power which did it. The waves were simply enormous.” The rescue workers were lavishly praised by the skipper of Regardless, Mr Ken Rohan, who said the Baltimore lifeboat crew was “simply heroic”. [...] A RN spokesman at Culdrose said he had never known such a “savage and continuous search.” The helicopter pilots and winchmen were hampered by the fact they could not pick up casualties from the yacht decks because of the violently swaying masts and rigging.