Fastnet Tragedy Memorial Service

FastnerNormaAug15 A memorial service was held on Cape Clear Island on August 23rd to honour the memory of those who died both in the race and as spectators.

The ceremony was facilitated by Norma McElligott in her capacity as a Humanist Chaplain.

The sun shone on the harbour as the crowd were reminded of the background to the tragedy.

In 1979 The Fastnet race began in fine weather and high spirits but in the space of forty eight hours the event had turned into every sailors worst imaginable nightmare. A violent force 10 storm swept across the Irish Sea, catching the Sailors and weather forecasters completely unawares.

A freak storm wreaked havoc culminating in the most disastrous episode in the sport’s history. Indeed it has been described as THE deadliest storm in the sport’s history.

The storm wreaked absolute havoc in an era which was still without the modern navigational aids that we take for granted today.

Crews who escaped to the presumed safety of an inflatable raft were horrified to discover that they disintegrated under the force of the waves.

Only 85 boats reached the finishing line in Plymouth, 5 sank and 15 were abandoned.

The Fastnet tragedy prompted an exhaustive inquiry the final paragraph of which read

“The sea showed us that it can be a deadly enemy and those who go to sea for pleasure must do so in full knowledge that they may encounter dangers of the highest order”
Norma McElligott reminded us that “when it comes to it we are challenged as human beings to accept that some things are beyond our control, it is hard to put a meaning to such an event, all we can do is learn from it.

Indeed as a result of the comprehensive investigations afterwards many compulsory safety precautions have been put in place that have since saved lives.

It is indeed fitting that we commemorate such an event today in such as a setting as the beautiful island of Cape Clear, surrounded by the sea reminding us of it’s beauty, it’s vastness and it’s power. As Jimi Hendrix said “Even castles made of sand fall to the ocean.” We are in the midst of a community who are only too aware of the power of the sea and of the sense of loss it has caused them. They too have experienced loss and today remember loved ones who were once part of their island community.”
In 2003 as part of Lifeboat day, the islanders in Cape Clear erected a stone with the names of the 15 competitors who were lost in the race.

Then Guy Pendred, son of Richard Pendred, contacted the committee and reminded them of his father, Richard, who as a spectator was lost also in this tragedy. It was not only competitors who lost their lives but spectators from two boats who were shadowing and watching the race.

The two boats were “Bucks Fizz” with Richard Pendred on board together with crew members Peter Pickering, Olivia Davidson and John Dix. The other boat was “Tempean” from which Denis Benson and David Moore lost their lives.

FastnetRememberanceThe committee arranged for the six names to be added to the memorial stone which was already erected in the harbor.

Guy Pendred was in attendance with his mother Sally, who was widowed in the tragedy. He spoke movingly of his memories at the age of twelve of being told his father, Richard, had died at sea. His brother, Mark, was only eight. He thanked the committee and especially Mary O Driscoll, on behalf of himself and his family, for acknowledging the loss of the life of his father and the other spectators by adding their names to the stone.

He said he had been overwhelmed by the warm hospitality that had been shown to him and to his mother Sally by the islanders.

Anne O Regan spoke of the losses endured by many island families over the years reminding us of the dangers of the sea.

There was a minute’s silence called for to give those present time to reflect on the many lives lost at sea.

Norma McElligott concluded by acknowledging the Trojan work done by the Lifeboat Service in The Fastnet 79 and the Baltimore 15 and indeed in the many other rescue missions that they have been involved in.

The Lifeboat Service has shone a light and given back hope to so many in their darkest hours. It continues to be a beacon of hope especially in coastal communities.


The above article appeared in the Southern Star Newspaper