On this day in history : 14th August 1979 – A freak storm hits the Fastnet Race…. A total of 19 lives are lost, 15 of which are crew and 4 of those involved in the rescue operation….

Memorial to those who died in the 1979 Fastnet Race, Cape Clear Island, Cork, Ireland – Image credit : Fanny Schertzer – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

303 yachts with some 2,000 crew had set off on the 605 mile race from Cowes on the Isle of Wight in fine weather on the 11th of August…. Their route was to take them along the south coast of England, across the Irish Sea and then to finish in Plymouth….

Only 85 out of the 303 boats reached the finishing line…. Tragedy was to strike in the Irish Sea; a violent storm with Force 10 winds and 50ft waves, lasting over a period of 20 hours, sank, capsized and turned over yachts…. 24 boats were abandoned and at least 75 either capsized or sank….

The rescue operation began at 6.30am on the 14th of August, once the gales had dropped to Force 9…. Emergency services, naval forces and civilian vessels, manned by some 4,000 people, took part – it was to be the biggest rescue operation during peace time….

The disaster resulted in a major rethink of yacht racing – as to its risks and the prevention of future catastrophes….

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