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Storm Force 10: BBC remembers Fastnet Race tragedy


Category: South West TV; South TV

Date: 24.09.2004
Printable version


Marking the 25th anniversary of the Fastnet yachting disaster, Storm Force 10 talks to survivors and rescuers involved in the worst catastrophe in 100 years of ocean racing.

 

The programme will be broadcast on Tuesday 28 September 2004 on BBC ONE South West and BBC ONE South at 10.35pm.


On 11 August 1979, 303 yachts, crewed by some 3,000 yachtsmen, left Cowes in the Isle of Wight to begin the 600 mile Fastnet Race.

 

But only 85 of the yachts would cross the finishing line...

 

It was the last race in the Admirals Cup series. Their course would take them west into the Atlantic Ocean, around the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse and back to Plymouth.


The Fastnet Lighthouse - known as the Teardrop of Ireland – is constructed from 4,000 tonnes of Cornish granite. For generations of sailors, this lonely sentinel has been their first or last sight of the Emerald Isle.


What began as a gentle sail in fine weather became the start of a terrifying ordeal, as an unexpected summer storm swept across from America to trap the Fastnet Race fleet in the Western Approaches.

 

The situation rapidly became deadly. Battered by huge seas, 24 crews abandoned their yachts, with five yachts sinking and 15 people losing their lives - among them, the father of Matthew Sheahan, who was then aged 17.


"I remember standing up, looking upwind and seeing someone face down in the water," Matthew remembers.

 

"I knew it was my father, who was by then unconscious... and I knew then there was no way we could get him back."

 

More than 130 yachtsmen were saved in a dramatic combined rescue operation costing more than half a million pounds.

 

Helicopters from RNAS Culdrose and every available lifeboat combed some 20,000 square miles of raging seas in the search for survivors.


Using dramatic news footage from the time and contemporary interviews with survivors, helicopter pilots and lifeboatmen, Storm Force 10 is a powerful reminder of the danger and ferocity of the sea.

 

In the programme, yachtsmen like Joe English - who was sailing on Moonduster that fateful day – attests to the terrifying ordeal.

 

"The waves were as high as multi-storey car parks," Joe remembers.

 

"I will never forget the loom of the light as we rounded the Rock. There was foam and spray; just the sheer noise of the storm was something that will live with me forever."


It's now 25 years since the disaster and earlier this month a special memorial service was held on Cape Clear, an islet within sight of the Fastnet Rock.

 

The names of those who died - and the memories of those who survived - will never be forgotten.

 

 

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Category: South West TV; South TV

Date: 24.09.2004
Printable version

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