Storms during the 1979 Fastnet race wrought havoc on over 300 yachts taking part in the biennial race, resulting in 17 fatalities. Emergancy services and civilian vessels from around the west side of the English Channel were summoned to aid what was the largest rescue operation in peace-time. Those involved included RNAS Culdrose search and rescue helicopters, St Mary’s Lifeboat, a Dutch warship and trawlers from France.


The 605-mile race started on 11 August 1979. By 13 August, winds were reported at Force 6, with gusts of Force 7. Forecasters were predicting winds of Force 8. The leading boat, Kialoa, was on course to break the Fastnet record set eight years earlier. However, the headlines the following day were not about his success.

The disaster and rescue mission

Over 13 - 14 August, 25 of the 306 yachts taking part were sunk or disabled due to high winds and “mountainous seas”. Daily Telegraph (15 August, 1979, p. 1) described the situation, where “Royal Navy ships, RAF Nimrod jets, helicopters, lifeboats, a Dutch warship and other craft picked up 125 yachtsmen whose boats had been caught in force 11 hurricane strength gusts midway between Land’s End and Fastnet.” The effort also included tugs trawlers and tankers. Rescue efforts began after 6:30 am on 14 August, once the winds had dropped to storm Force 9.

Finish line

The winner of the race was the 77-foot SV Condor which gained around 90 minutes on the leader at the Fastnet rock, the SV Kialoa. Jim Kilroy of the Kialoa had broken his ribs and there was damage to the yachts runners. The Condor broke the existing Fastnet record by nearly eight hours (71h25m23s).

Vessels that did not finish

23 vessels were lost or abandoned, the rest retired.

Main source: Daily Telegraph, p. 3, 16 August, 1979.


Craft that assisted the rescue mission

Over 4000 people aided in the rescue efforts. The Royal Navy coordinated efforts with the success of finding around 80 vessels and rescuing 136 crew members. Key contributers to the rescue

Royal Navy

Dutch Navy

Irish Navy