West TV; South
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
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
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
"The waves were as high as multi-storey car parks,"
"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
The names of those who died - and the memories of those
who survived - will never be forgotten.