The Fastnet Race is about to face the biggest test of seamanship and preparation since 1979


Records could be broken on this Fastnet Race, provided the handful of maxis get to the Fastnet Rock before Wednesday morning – and then hold together. But the rest of the 300-strong race fleet is about to face the biggest test of seamanship and preparation in almost 30 years.

Weather forecasts are converging to show that a severe gale will hit the majority of the fleet on the way to the Rock on Wednesday. According to weather expert Mike Broughton (pictured above), this will produce extremely rough and potentially destructive conditions similar to those encountered by the 1979 race fleet.

Broughton is one of the few competitors this year to have experienced the 1979 Fastnet storm, and he confesses to feeling fearful about what lies ahead. One of Britain’s most experienced offshore navigators, the former Navy pilot is sailing two-handed with Dee Caffari in her Open 60 Aviva. He believes the race committee should consider shortening the course to round Wolf Rock.

“There seem to be two parts to me,” he explains. “There is a very windy bit when we get to Start Point and Land’s End, where we get an extremely active double front coming through on Tuesday morning with a full gale from the south-west.

“But the big front will be on Wednesday at about 1000.

“A north-westerly is going to build across the Irish Sea on mid-morning on Wednesday, and that is the bit that I find more alarming, frankly. I see about 45-50 knots plus on it.

“This will create a cross sea and a cruel sea. The wave train from the south-west will then shift into the north-west, which is what happened in the 1979 race: it went from south-west to north-west and got very windy.

“In 1979 I was a third of the way across the Irish Sea, which is probably about where we will be again this time.”

When I ask him if he has fears about what the fleet faces, Broughton is candid. “Yes, I do actually. I very rarely ever have fears about yacht racing but beating into that after the sea changes with two or three different wave trains? yes, I do. The sea state is the big issue.

“Those north-westerlies will be typical polar maritime: very gusty and coming from near Iceland. There will be a long fetch and the sea will build up. It will be bloody horrible. And modern racing boats are pretty lively creatures.”

“We are going to get a real bashing and I think that it is going to be hideous.”

1 comment:Surely deliberately setting out into such conditions indicates a lack of “seamanship”?John Tetlow