The Fastnet is one of the world’s most famous, or infamous, ocean yacht races. It was inaugurated in 1925 by the British sailor Weston Martyr and takes place every two years in the month of August.
The course starts in Cowes on the Isle of Wight and heads west down the English Channel, past Lands End and across the Celtic Sea to round the Fastnet Rock off the coast of Ireland. Returning along roughtly the same route, the yachts will pass south of the the Isles of Scilly before finishing at Plymouth.
The modern race will always be associated with a terrible storm that struck the fleet in 1979 resulting in the deaths of fifteen sailors. Three other brave souls also lost their lives, members of the team of 4,000 who were deployed in the largest ever peace time rescue operation, launched to save the stricken fleet. Bruichladdich MD from 2000-2012, Mark Reynier, is now the owner of ‘Eclipse’, a 39 foot yacht designed by Doug Petersen for the Fastnet of that year. Eclipse, also a British Admiral’s Cup boat alongside Ted Heath’s Morning Cloud, won her class in that most dreadful race. It must have been the most bittersweet of moments.
Another infamous incident was to follow in 1985 when the keel sheared off the new 78 foot maxi-yacht ‘Drum’. On-board at the time was the boat’s co-owner, Simon Le Bon, vocalist and front man for Duran Duran, then one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Le Bon was trapped under the hull with five other crew members for an uncomfortable 20 minutes before being rescued by the Royal Navy. Happily, no-one was hurt. Drum is still a regular sight on the Firth of Clyde today, now owned by motor dealer Arnold Clark.