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1979: Fastnet stories
The Fastnet Challenge Cup is one of the most demanding courses in offshore racing.

Crews in the biennial event are frequently faced with bad weather, but in 1979 the fleet sailed into one of the worst storms ever to hit an ocean yacht race.

Fifteen people died and dozens of boats were lost. On This Day spoke to five of the survivors.


Heath's right-hand man
Owen Parker (front) was the tactician and crew boss on one of the race favourites, Morning Cloud, the yacht owned and skippered by former British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath.

Owen sailed with Sir Edward for 12 years and was the man trusted to take the helm when the hurricane-force winds overtook the race fleet.


Owen Parker (foreground)


Prize winner
Fiona Wylie (standing) has only missed one Fastnet Race since 1971. In 1979 she was on the 32-foot Assent - the smallest boat to round the Fastnet Rock and complete the course.

Their trophy for winning Class V was awarded at a "low-key and sad" prize giving in Plymouth.


Fiona Wylie (standing) with the crew of Assent after the race


Powerless to help
Robin Aisher is an Olympic sailing medallist and experienced offshore racer. In the 1979 Fastnet he was skippering his family yacht, Yeoman XXI.

The crew heard many distress calls on their VHF radio during the night, but were powerless to help in such high winds and mountainous seas. They were forced to abandon the race after their mainsail ripped.


Robin Aisher


Fastnet first-timer
At 17, Mike Broughton was one of the youngest entrants on the Fastnet race. He arrived in Cowes with a tent and camped out until he was invited to join the crew of Hullabaloo the morning of the race.

Mike could not find anywhere to store his tent and so is probably one of the very few people to take one on an offshore yacht race.


Mike Broughton

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A yacht rounds the Fastnet Rock in the 2003 race
The Fastnet Race is held every two years Pic: Carlo Borlenghi/ROLEX


History of the Fastnet race
British yachtsman Weston Martyr was the man who started it all.

He came back from the 1924 Bermuda yacht race enthused by the new sport of ocean racing and resolved to create a similar challenge in British waters.

The result was a tough 618 mile (978 km) course, starting at the Isle of Wight, rounding the Fastnet rock off the coast of south-west Ireland and finishing at Plymouth.

Seven boats lined up at the start of the first race in 1925 - recent competitions for the Fastnet Challenge Cup have frequently attracted more than 200 entrants.

In 1957, the race became the final event in the newly established Admiral's Cup, but in 1999 it was reinstated as a stand-alone event in the racing calendar.

The Fastnet race is organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club and is open to boats of all sizes with both amateur and professional crews.

It is still regarded as one of the toughest contests in the sport.

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