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  1. ITV Report

Fastnet: 40 years on

This year's race marks the 40th anniversary of the Fastnet disaster. Credit: ITV News

It's 40 years since 15 people died off the coast of Cornwall when a Force 10 storm hit sailors taking part in the 1979 Fastnet Race.

It remains one of the deadliest storms to hit a modern sailing competition - it sparked one of the country's largest peacetime rescue missions, with RNLI members based at Culdrose at the centre of the operation to save lives at sea.

This year's Fastnet Race was the biggest ever with over 3,000 people on 388 yachts. The American vessel Wizard came out on top after crossing the finish line first in Plymouth.

The safety regulations now are strict. Each yacht must carry two VHF radios and a backup storm sail.

The rules changed after the disastrous 1979 Fastnet race, when around 2,500 sailors from around the world set off on 303 yachts from Cowes.

Drone footage of the race. Credit: Rolex

A tremendous amount of lessons have been learnt. Things have changed safety wise.

– David Fowles, Former Royal Navy Chief Aircrewman

The fleet sailed down the English Channel to the end of Cornwall before striking out towards Ireland's southernmost point, Fastnet.

Two days into the race, a violent, Force 10 storm ripped through the fleet. 21 people were killed including 15 Fastnet sailors.

Just 85 yachts finished the race, 5 sunk and 19 were abandoned.

Matthew Sheahan survived the Fastnet race.

The average height of the wave was 40 foot, these were walls of water.

– Matthew Sheahan, Fastnet 1979 Survivor
It was one of the biggest peacetime rescue missions ever seen.

In total, over 130 people were rescued in the aftermath of the storm.

Six Cornish lifeboats launched including Falmouth's.

Alan Barnes was part of the crew:

By the time we got down around Lizard, it was getting dark and we were asked to intercept any boats we could say towards Land's End and find out if they had any survivors on board. [...]

That night was absolutely mountainous.

– Alan Barnes, Former Falmouth RNLI
21 people died at sea on the route - 15 of them were Fastnet sailors. Credit: ITV News

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