fastnet 1979 contessa 32

But the weather was so extreme; the waves were of a size, shape and frequency that Ive never seen before.

Matt Sheahans experiences during the 1979 Fastnet Race affected him for the rest of his life and sparked a personal crusade. The resulting ISO 12217-2 (which Urwin calls a gold standard for stability) is now not only used to qualify for RORC offshore races such as the Fastnet, but is used by most British designers to pass the EUs Recreational Craft Directive rules. By the end of the 1979 Fastnet race, 24 boats had been abandoned, five boats had sunk, 136 sailors had been rescued, and 15 sailors killed. Emergency services, naval forces, and civilian vessels from around the west side of the English Channel were summoned to aid what became the largest ever rescue operation in peace-time. The Fastnet disaster prompted the Wolfson Unit at Southampton University to undertake detailed research into the causes of B1 (90) and B2 (full inversion) knockdowns. We have by various means, some directly related to the 1979 Fastnet, improved the design of boats so they are more seaworthy. Young people nowadays turn up with their own lifejacket, which they know fits them and is up to date, whereas before they used to all be provided by the boat. A rare crew joins Ker, who sailed mostly single-handed. Todays sailors would do well not to assume that modern boats could survive any better than those flawed boats of 40 years ago. Fastnet Race 1979: Why was the storm so devastating?

Inside the August 2022 issue of Yachting Monthly: Get ready, This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google, Heavy weather sailing: everything you need to know, Heavy weather sailing: preparing for extreme conditions, are available through Magazines Direct where you, Yachting Monthly August 2022 On Sale 21 July 2022. yacht with a stability range of 150 or more, like a Contessa 32 (pictured), will not remain inverted after capsize, as the wave motion alone is enough to bring it back up. Forecasters were predicting winds of Force 8. These RNLI lifeboats spent 75 hours at sea in 60-knot (110km/h) winds:[21], The Fastnet Race Memorial at Holy Trinity Church, Cowes, Isle of Wight lists 19 fatalities: the 15 above and Olivia Davidson, John Dix, Richard Pendred, and Peter Pickering[23] who were aboard Bucks Fizz, a yacht shadowing the fleet to view the race. Not bad, James Jermain looks at the main keel types, their typical performance and the pros and cons of each. The 1979 Fastnet Race Inquiry looked at weather reporting, safety gear, crew experience and tactics, and search and rescue procedures. Theres little doubt that the advances in safety equipment, clothing and building materials have improved sailors chances of survival in extreme weather conditions. The 1979 Fastnet Race was the 28th Royal Ocean Racing Club's Fastnet Race, a yachting race held generally every two years since 1925 on a 605-mile course from Cowes direct to the Fastnet Rock and then to Plymouth via south of the Isles of Scilly. As the crews licked their wounds and the families mourned their dead in the aftermath of the 1970 Fastnet race, the RYA and the RORC commissioned an inquiry to find out what had gone wrong. Faced with this carnage, the remaining three crew including the owners son, Matt Sheahan, then only 17, who wrote the passage above decided to abandon ship and boarded the liferaft. No discussion of that tragedy is complete without reference to the small but hugely significant part this boat played. Ker refused to carry a liferaft, on the principle that if he got into trouble he would rather rescue himself than drift around waiting for help to come. contessa voilier calypso lifejacket overboard racing classique voiliers The 1979 race started on 11 August. An engineer in the army, he was posted in Kiel after World War II and learned to sail on a fleet of yachts requisitioned by Britain as part of its war reparations. And retire they did, with 207 of the 271-strong fleet taking shelter in ports along the south coast. He also shipped three anchors and fitted an enormous windlass on her foredeck, with vast lengths of anchor chain stored in the focsle, to allow him to anchor the boat in deep water.

It occurred so suddenly that we had no time to fear the consequences, Williams wrote, and as the boat quickly righted, with Fiona and I still tied in our places and only a modest amount of water in the cockpit, we shouted to Alan that all appeared to be well and remarked that we could now reckon a knockdown among our sailing experiences.. But people arent aware., The Contessa 32, Assent, pictured taking part in Cowes Week, was the smallest boat to complete the 1979 Fastnet Race. But how much did it affect the course of boat design, and have the lessons of this deadliest of races really been learned, or is there a danger it could happen all over again? On 13 August it began to intensify rapidly and turn northeastwards, reaching about 200 nautical miles southwest of Ireland.

As Ron Holland puts it: If a fleet of boats racing on the Solent was hit by that Fastnet storm, they would still find it difficult to steer and the result wouldnt be that different. In a few seconds the 10ft-high foaming crest was bearing down on us from behind like an avalanche. Thats ok, its a calculated risk taken by experienced sailors. A half moon had appeared in the clearing sky to light the wild seascape of foaming breakers. Its a gloomy, grey afternoon on the Solent and Im in a camera boat taking pictures of a yacht sailing off Lymington. Polar Bear was abandoned but remained afloat and raced again. Reupholstered, but the sturdy leecloths are the same as 79. So stability might be better, but the handling is getting worse.. The 1979 Fastnet was the trigger that started a greater awareness of safety issues in sailing that exists today, she says. Many of the crews found it too dangerous below decks as their yachts rolled due to insecure equipment, like batteries, becoming flying missiles. Without those restrictions we would have designed boats that were less distorted and faster, but they wouldnt have won races under the IOR rules. And there are signs that designers are producing more seaworthy designs than before. Stowage arrangements on yachts was one of the changes following the 1979 Fastnet Race, after many crews found it too dangerous to be below deck due to insecure equipment. Its a mindset. The report showed the Contessa had a range of stability of 156 compared to just 117 for the Half Tonner, making the latter far more likely to stay inverted. The inquiry found cockpit drainage arrangement in some of the boats was inadequate, and called for a requirement for cockpits to drain within a minimum time. Tregoning, Martin, Acting District Controller, Senior SAR Mission Controller HMCG Lands End. Their approach is cheerful and understated but theres no doubt they know absolutely what they are doing.

Its tricky taking on a boat with such a massive history, but if anyone can give her a new future that respects her past, its the Rogers. But Assent took it all in her stride, at one point taking overall lead against some much bigger IRC boats though her crew fared less well.

[2], The handicap winner was the yacht Tenacious, designed by Sparkman & Stephens, owned and skippered by Ted Turner.

Alastair Buchan and other expert ocean cruisers explain how best to prepare when youve been caught out and end up, Award-winning sailor and expedition leader Bob Shepton regularly sails some of the most storm-swept latitudes in the world. However, provided that the lessons so harshly taught in this race are well learnt we feel that yachts should continue to race over the Fastnet course., Changes brought in after 1979 means boats have to meet the ISO 12217-2 stability standard in order to sail in the Fastnet Race. The result was lightweight boats with wide beams, pinched ends and high freeboards, which in extreme weather had a tendency to roll over and stay over. There is nothing always about a storm at sea except its danger. Happy families: Simon (left) and Kit Rogers (right) with eldest children Hattie and Jonah. It was a wake-up call for the emergency services and triggered a huge push for improved safety equipment.

And one thing that becomes clear from all the first-hand accounts of the 1979 Fastnet Race is that the conditions were beyond anything competitors had encountered before. Credit: David Harding. [7], Over 1314 August, of the 303 yachts that started, 24 were abandoned, of which five were lost and believed to be sunk, due to high winds and severe sea conditions. By then, the boats owner, David Sheahan, was dead, floating face down in the sea to windward, and two of the crew were slumped in the cockpit, also apparently dead. The next morning, they were back down to triple reefed main and a staysail and that afternoon had their second knockdown, which, as the log book records wryly, shifted the beer. [13], Of the 303 starters, only 86 finished. Even more significantly, perhaps, the tragedy prompted a change of attitude, according to former ROCR race director Janet Grosvenor. It was a terrible disaster.

While he was in the army, he attended a university course on mapping and joined a group of volunteers charting the west coast of Canada by horse. It wasnt until the evening of the third day that the 1755 shipping forecast gave the first warning of a possible gale, by which time Assent was well into the Irish Sea, having passed Lands End earlier that afternoon. Assent is just a Contessa 32.

Yet, despite this, racing rules did change. Credit: Carlo Borlenghi. We just took the handicap system as it was and designed boats as fast as possible around that still bearing in mind that if you dont finish you cant win and you need structural integrity to keep sailing.. Even more remarkable, however, was what followed.

His voyage to Greenland in 1987 when Assent became the first yacht to sail into Grise Fjord, 850 miles from the North Pole earned him the RCCs Tilman Medal, and he was awarded the Cruising Club of Americas Blue Water medal. Williams was still stitching a rip in the spinnaker when the 0015 forecast warned of Force 10 storm. The effort also included tugs, trawlers,[9] and tankers. But Ker also had a competitive streak, and a year after buying Assent entered the 1977 Fastnet Race with his son, Alan, as crew. This lead to designers adding all kinds of strange appendages between the stations to increase the waterline length, which in turn meant the hulls became distorted and difficult to steer. Photo: Nic Compton. "[4] By 13 August, winds were reported at Force 6, with gusts of Force 7. Three questionnaires were sent to the skipper and crews of all 303 yachts, and 669 completed questionnaires were fed into a computer for analysis. But never say never. She was bought by the late Willy Ker in 1976 and renamed Assent because, so the story goes, he needed his wifes assent to buy the boat. In due course, competitors were required to complete shorter, qualifying races before they were allowed to race in the Fastnet, and a certain percentage of the crew were expected to have a sea survival certificate.

By 2330, the barometer was falling wildly, the wind was up to Force 9 and Assent was down to triple-reefed main and staysail, according to the ships log. But the minute the boat heels over, its a nightmare to get across. The new approach came to the fore in 2007 when, for the first time in its 82-year history, the start of the race was delayed after the Met Office warned of extreme conditions in the Irish Sea, similar to 1979.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The inquiry recommended that blocking arrangements should be totally secure but openable from above and below decks. Now weve pimped her up with new gear, it felt a bit pathetic if we couldnt even manage a paraffin stove!. Since Kit and Jessie bought Assent, the yacht has indeed been extensively updated. Photo: Nic Compton. These sailing voyages gave him a taste for remote areas that was to stay with him for the rest of his life. Bilge pumps should also discharge overboard and not into the cockpit, unless the cockpit is open-ended. Assent wasnt fitted with VHF radio either, so her crew had no idea of the carnage that was taking place around them.

As ever, suitability of a boat for a specific use is key. I still feel its not really our boat, says Kit. When the 303 boats gathered for the Fastnet Race on 11 August 1979, racing was still governed by the International Offshore Rule (IOR), first introduced in 1969. Despite these concerns, the report made few recommendations for changes in yacht design, apart from suggesting the RORC should consider changing its measurement rules and make it possible to exclude boats whose design parameters may indicate a lack of stability. In Yachting World August 2022 issue we talk to one of the biggest names on the offshore racing scene, Kevin Escoffier and take a look around his brand new foiling, This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google, Fastnet Race 1979: Life and death decision Matthew Sheahans story.

Many rudders failed during the race due to the weakness of the carbon fibre used in the construction. We were designing boats to the IOR rule, so it wasnt just boat design, it was trick design. He said the waves were of a size and frequency he had never seen before. Theres a trend to make cruising boats look like fancy hotel foyers down below, to make them more appealing to the family. In the soul-searching that followed, her seaworthy design was used as the benchmark against which the modern IOR boats were compared and found wanting. The Royal Navy coordinated efforts to find around 80 vessels and rescue 136 crew members.

[2] One Fastnet participant, John Rousmaniere, wrote that. She now has new sails (two sets: a Vectron suit for cruising and a carbon suit for racing), a new boom, self-tailing winches, and the running rigging now leads back to the cockpit. Early press reports were often confused. Over 4000 people aided in the rescue efforts. The leading boat, Kialoa, trailed closely by Condor of Bermuda,[5] was on course to break the Fastnet record set eight years earlier. It was and still is the deadliest yacht race in history well ahead of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race which left six people dead. Finally, in 2011, Ker made his last voyage on Assent on a trip to Greenland, still sailing single-handed, despite his 85 years. After climbing up and up each successive sea (reported afterwards to have been 40ft high), we could not help whooping with excitement, and not a little relief, as she crested each summit and slithered down into the next trough..

[10], Fifteen sailors died, at least 75 boats capsized and five sank. Most of his trips were made single-handed, occasionally accompanied by his wife Veronica or some crew he picked up along the way. It was an altogether bad state of affairs yet, speaking 40 years after the 1979 Fastnet Race, designer Ron Holland responsible for dozens of IOR racers, including Grimalkin defends his and his colleagues approach.

Holland experienced the storm first hand, first from the deck of Golden Apple of the Sun and then, when the boats rudder broke off the Isles of Scilly, from the inside of a rescue helicopter. Her fit-out was entirely functional and almost entirely bereft of creature comforts. The new rule encouraged a low centre of gravity by not penalising ballast in the keel. Indeed, the authors seem to go along with the consensus of opinion that it was the severity of the conditions rather than any defect in the design of the boats, which was the main cause of the problem all the while noting that 48% of the fleet had been knocked to horizontal, 33% had gone beyond horizontal, and five boats had spent between 30 seconds and six minutes fully inverted. Theres also a move towards fine bows and over-wide sterns, making boats harder to steer downwind. Rescue efforts began after 6:30 am on 14 August, once the winds had dropped to severe gale Force 9. Assents outstanding performance along with the rest of the Contessa 32 fleet, which all retired safely with no major damage was one of the few positive stories to emerge from the 1979 Fastnet Race. Theres no shouting, no panic. A worse-than-expected storm on the third day of the race wreaked havoc on over 303 yachts that started the biennial race,[1] resulting in 19 fatalities (15 yachtsmen and four spectators). He also refused to fill the boats tank with tap water, which he thought was absolutely disgusting, preferring to collect water straight from glacier streams. Assent was launched in 1972 as hull No 25, and was originally named Tessa of Worth.

Only later did they discover that at least one of the crew left on board was still alive Nick Ward, who went on to tell his tale in his book Left for Dead. As part of their qualifiers for the 2019 Fastnet Race, two weeks earlier Kit and Simon had taken part in the De Guingand Bowl Race, racing 120 miles up to Portsmouth, around the Isle of Wight to Weymouth and back. It concluded: In the 1979 race the sea showed that it can be a deadly enemy and that those who go to sea for pleasure must do so in the full knowledge that they may encounter dangers of the highest order.

Its probably me projecting a bit, but somehow she feels different, because Ive got this narrative running, because I know where shes been and you feel she can handle it, which gives you that bit more confidence. After studying Yacht Design at Southampton University, he worked at Proctor Masts before eventually joining Yachting World as racing editor. I was 11 at the time, staying in a hotel in Plymouth with my mother and brother, waiting for my father to come back. We had never had that before. YM is packed with information to help you get the most from your time on the water.

The Daily Telegraph (16 August 1979, p.3) reported that 69 yachts did not finish. The 1979 Fastnet is not something you want to celebrate, says Kit. He then organised an expedition with a team of dogs to the Northwest Territories, mapping Great Slave Lake, on the edge of the Arctic Circle. His son Alan sailed the boat home, and put her on the market. I personally felt bad afterwards, especially because of those people who died. Assent was entered in Class V, the smallest class, which included 14 other Contessa 32s. The Wolfson Unit also found that a yacht which has a stability range of 127 when fitted with conventional sails drops to an alarming 96 when fitted with in-mast mainsail and roller-furling genoa. As we approached the vertical, crew were thrown against the back of the coachroof or out of the boat altogether. From 1988, the CHS introduced a Safety & Stability Screening (SSS) system, which measured a boats stability and took into account factors such as rig, keel, and engine type.

But wife Jessie was adamant it had to stay.

He has a love/hate relationship with the cooker, which is considerably older than the boat, and has been known to use a gas flamethrower to get it going. Meet the little yacht with a huge heart and history, a famous survivor of the 1979 Fastnet Race. But entering Assent in the race this year seems like a good way of commemorating that tragedy and honouring the people who died in the race., At 0830 Tuesday 14 August 1979, aged 17, five minutes changed my life. Denis Benson and David Moore were lost from Tempean, which was not a competitor.

She is berthed in Plymouth. But of course Grimalkin wasnt the only yacht to have succumbed to the Force 10 winds that ravaged the fleet that year. If it happens again, modern boats are less likely to get into trouble, and if they do get into trouble the safety equipment is much better.

Two hours later, they had their first knockdown, but even this was dismissed with a joke. [] We braced ourselves for the pooping of our lives, but a split second before the onslaught from astern, the bow disappeared as we nosedived into a wall of water in front. Nic Compton sails on Assent, "Theres something special about her, you feel she can handle it" - Kit Rogers. Yet, despite recognising that many people felt designers had gone to extremes which surpass the bounds of common sense in their quest for speed, the section on boat design is relatively short: less than three pages out of a 74-page report. They crossed the finish line at 0142, and were astonished to discover they were not only first in Class V but were the only boat out of a fleet of 75 in the class to finish the race. But the 1979 Fastnet Race was only the start of the Assent legend.

I was sick as dog, but she was great!, On the Solent, with the same spinnaker colours as in 79. The report didnt bother investigating knockdowns to horizontal (so-called B1 knockdowns) because it considered that these have always been a potential danger in cruising and offshore racing yachts in heavy seas, so they regarded them as normal. A split second later and we were hit from astern by the breaking wave and we pitchpoled.. It proved a well-timed intervention. Nic Compton investigates how the UKs worst sailing disaster - the 1979 Fastnet Race - changed the way yachts are designed, The Royal Navy airlifted 74 survivors during three days of rescues. Land-based weather stations reported gale-force winds, with the strongest winds out to sea over the race area.

In 1979, it was the climax of the five-race Admiral's Cup competition, as it had been since 1957. With no anemometer, they didnt know how strong the wind, and were probably happier as a result, according to Williams. Phosphorescence in the spray was streaming over the sail and cabin top, and the wind was screaming through the rigging and life lines like a pack of coyotes, while all the time the little ship continued steadily on her course to windward with a much easier motion following the loss of the jib. The only indication that Assents crew were sailing on the edge that night is a significant gap in the log, with no entries at all from 2330 until 1020, apart from a brief reference to the knockdown, which looks as if it was added later. [8] The Daily Telegraph (15 August 1979, p.1) described the situation, where "Royal Navy ships, RAF Nimrod jets, helicopters, lifeboats, a Dutch warship Hr MS. Overijssel and other craft picked up 125 yachtsmen whose boats had been caught in Force 11 violent storm strength gusts midway between Land's End and Fastnet". On board for the photoshoot are the children and grandchildren of Jeremy Rogers: brothers Kit and Simon and their respective eldest children, Jonah and Hattie. This involved some 4,000 people, including the entire Irish Naval Service's fleet, lifeboats, commercial boats, and helicopters.[2][3]. Another major failing of the rule was that, as it wasnt possible to physically weigh them yet, the boats were weighed theoretically by measuring their shape at a series of stations and calculating the overall shape accordingly. Their names were added to the Fastnet memorial at Cape Clear Island harbour.

Although Ker consented to the sale and was delighted when Kit and Jessie asked to buy her, it must have been like losing a limb for him. The disaster resulted in a major rethink of racing, risks and prevention. Then, the skipper starts gesticulating, making big belly signs. After suffering a heart attack during the trip, however, he was finally persuaded to hang up his sailing boots and return to the UK by plane. Two years later, Assent was back, this time with Alan at the helm and a bunch of his friends, all in their early twenties, as crew. Kers exploits didnt pass without notice, and in 1983 he was invited to join the Royal Cruising Club (RCC), an extremely select organisation whose alumni include the likes of Bill Tilman, Miles and Beryl Smeeton and Francis Chichester. The design and construction of main companionways was the most serious defect affecting watertight integrity.

If the wave height is 60% or more than the length of the boat, then capsize is almost inevitable, therefore, smaller yachts are more liable to be capsized than bigger ones.

Contrary to popular belief, Assent was not strengthened in any way for such extreme sailing and had just the standard Contessa lay up. After the race, Ker carried on racing, usually with Alan as crew, competing again in the double-handed Round Britain Race (1978 and 1985), three times in the Three Peaks Race, and once in the Transatlantic Race to Newport race (1986).

There are 650 of them out there which all came out of the same mould and are pretty much identical. Lin Pardey wrote that none of the yachts which hove to were capsized or suffered any serious damage,[12] but the official inquiry makes no such conclusion. [2][6] The lowest pressure was 979 hPa. Ker fitted forward facing sonar, to detect icebergs, and an SSB radio fitted with a printer to print out Weatherfaxes.

Assent soon acquired cult status, and barely a report on the race failed to mention the plucky little racer/cruiser, which succeeded where much grander designs failed.

We are living in a more health and safety conscious world these days.. Rescue helicopters went back in the days after the disaster to check every boat for survivors, including Grimalkin. Im convinced that even a Colin Archer would have rolled over in those conditions.. With climate change creating extreme weather, it could happen again.. A few minutes later all is revealed as the crew break out a spinnaker that inflates into blue and white stripes. But by the time you add in mast-furling, furling staysails, and all the other bits of kit on the mast, the centre of gravity starts to creep up and you have a problem again. In was only the next morning, when they saw rescue helicopters all about us and came across the dismasted yacht Sandettie II, that they began to get an inkling that all was not well. The truth is that boat design is always going to be a compromise between speed and safety and that no boat is guaranteed to survive all weather conditions. Willy Ker sailing Assent off Anvers Island on the Antarctic Peninsula. 2:12), "Hell and high water: The Fastnet disaster", "Exceptional Weather Events: The Fastnet Disaster", "Fastnet 79 See a map of the rescue", "Fastnet 79: The Disaster that Changed Sailing (Eye witness accounts)", "Fastnet 1979 - Condor of Bermuda - Chris Windley - The Deadliest Yacht Race", "Reliving the ill-fated Fastnet", "UFO News: The place for sailors and everyone else interested in the UFO 34", "Cowes: Holy Trinity Church Fastnet Race Memorial", "Cowes Week 2009: Kieron Kennedy admits he was 'lucky to survive' 1979 Fastnet Race", "Non-Convective High Winds Associated with Extratropical Cyclones", "Racing a performance Dazcat catamaran in the Rolex Fastnet Fastnet Race 1979 Yacht Grimalkin", "The 1979 Fastnet Race Storm YouTube", List of lifeboat disasters in Britain and Ireland, Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), Independent lifeboats in Britain and Ireland,, All articles with specifically marked weasel-worded phrases, Articles with specifically marked weasel-worded phrases from July 2019, Articles with unsourced statements from July 2019, Articles with unsourced statements from March 2018, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 3.0, Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre, HMCG Lands End, UK, Gerrit-Jan Williahey (Gerrit-Jan Willering).