Weather beats boats


In the wake of the Sydney-to-Hobart yachting disaster this week that claimed six lives despite brave rescue efforts that saved more than 50 yachtsmen, it is worth remembering the tragedy that happened in Irish waters 20 years ago next August.

The 1979 Fastnet Race in the Irish Sea, described this week by former British Prime Minister Edward Heath as "the worst experience of my life", remains yachting's worst tragedy - 15 sailors died. On Saturday August 11th, 1979, 335 yachts set out from Cowes on the Isle of Wight in near-perfect conditions for the Fastnet Rock off the southern Irish coast. The idea was to round the rock before heading back to Plymouth, a total distance of 605 miles.

But the forecasters had underestimated the weather. By the Monday hurricane force winds had turned the waves into mountains of water. Twenty-three yachts were sunk or abandoned and 114 sailors had to be rescued as the fleet was devastated.

There were similarities between the two disasters, as in both cases the problems arose from the weather turning suddenly and unexpectedly worse. Despite the cutting-edge technology that is used in the design and building of these boats and the expertise on board, such rare occurrences simply underpin the fact that the unsinkable yacht simply doesn't exist.