“Talking Sailing” From My Archives. 1979 Fastnet: Lost in A Quest for More Speed

Safe at Plymouth – Mr Edward Heath unwinds with a beer after bringing his yacht Morning Cloud home through the storm.

By Richard Crockett

Yesterday I covered the initial reaction and shock to the 1979 Fastnet “disaster”. Today the nitty-gritty of just what happened, how large a scale the rescue was, plus reactions from crew.

The question that always gets asked when these incidents occur is “why was the race not stopped?” – or why did the organisers not foresee the conditions?”

It’s always a difficult one to answer as in terms of the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS) the onus to start rests with the skipper of the yacht. Plus it is not easy once a race has started, and sometimes impossible, to contact each yacht individually to inform them that the race is cancelled. And while conditions are rough and tough, there are those who can soldier on despite the atrocities around them. Our local South African team fro Port Elizabeth did just that.

A bruised and shaken Ted Heath, the former UK Prime Minister said: “’It was very frightening – the sort of thing you would never want to experience again. We were fighting massive seas. It was the worst experience I have ever had.”

Mr Heath said his yacht ‘Morning Cloud’ had been knocked down by the wind. ‘In those conditions,’ he went on ‘we kept the minimum of crew on the deck. We had four. They were heavily strapped in but they were flung against the pulpit, the rail around the stern.’

In a different newspaper report he was quoted as saying: “my worst hours”.

It was thanks to swift action by the RNLI, the helicopter pilots and many volunteers that more lives were not lost.

This is what the newspaper reports had to say:

“Death Race Safety Row”. READ IT HERE:  1979 08 16 – Vaughan Giles Fastnet – 001881 – OCR

“Lost in A Quest for More Speed”. READ IT HERE:  1979 08 16 – Vaughan Giles Fastnet – 001882 – stitched – OCR

“After the Tragedy, the Questions”. READ IT HERE:  1979 08 16 – Vaughan Giles Fastnet – 001883 – OCR

“The Heroes of 706 Squadron”. READ IT HERE:  1979 08 16 – Vaughan Giles Fastnet – 001884 – OCR

“Ted: My Worst Hours”. READ IT HERE:  1979 08 16 – Vaughan Giles Fastnet – 001885-1 – stitched – OCR

“Grief and Gallantry”. READ IT HERE:  1979 08 16 – Vaughan Giles Fastnet – 001886 & 001888 – OCR – combined

“This Special Breed”. READ IT HERE:  1979 08 16 – Vaughan Giles Fastnet – 001887

“Safety Rules to Be Re-examined in Wake of Tragedy”. READ IT HERE:  1979 08 16 – Vaughan Giles Fastnet – 001890- stitched – OCR

“Counting the Cost and Their Blessings”. READ IT HERE:  1979 08 16 – Vaughan Giles Fastnet – 001891 – stitched – _Redacted – OCR

“Search in A Storm”. READ IT HERE:  1979 08 16 – Vaughan Giles Fastnet – 001892 – stitched – OCR

“Gosport Yacht Survives Fury”. READ IT HERE:  1979 08 16 – Vaughan Giles Fastnet – 001894 – stitched – OCR

“Heath: it Was Very Frightening”. READ IT HERE:  1979 08 16 – Vaughan Giles Fastnet – 001911 – stiched – OCR

The only race now is for survival. At the open deck-hatch of his stricken yacht, skipper Arthur Moss clings on as the angry sea crowds in.
Already seven of the ‘Camargue’s’ crew have been airlifted to safety. Only the skipper remains.
But soon after this picture was taken, even he finally had to abandon the 34ft. ocean racer and was taken off by helicopter.
Later he said : ‘It was not so much the wind as the mountainous seas that finished us.
‘The boat turned turtle a couple of times and then righted itself. ‘I never thought I would see a steering wheel complete with a man attached, soar into the sea. Thank God for our life ropes.’
The ‘Camargue’, like her crew had an instinct for survival. Last night the yacht was found by a French trawler and towed in.