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“ We were asked to get airborne as
quickly as possible while the OoD phoned
around looking for more crew.
“‘ What race? ’ I innocently asked. I had
no idea that sailing’s most prestigious
yacht race had started the previous
Saturday afternoon from the Isle of Wight.”
Yachtsmen from around the world had
gathered for a week of racing culminating
in the Fastnet Race from Isle of Wight,
rounding the Fastnet Rock off the coast
of Southern Ireland, and back. The race
started in benign conditions. A beautiful
afternoon with very little breeze as the fleet
sailed quietly down the Solent.
The Fastnet was the fifth race of the
Admiral’s Cup series. The Irish team were
leading with 649 points from the USA (635)
and Australia (626). The Aussies would
need some heavier conditions if they were
to have any chance.
After two days the fleet had only made
Land’s End in the light air but on the 150nm
leg to the Fastnet Light all three Australian
yachts, Ragamuf fin, Impetuous and Police Car
were improving even before the storm.
The storm evolved from the Central
American wheat plains then forming as a
large depression known as a ‘Low Y’ over
the Atlantic on the weekend of the 11th
and 12th of August. By the 13th winds
were forecast to reach Force 6 to 8 then
rapidly intensifying, turning NE about
200nm sou’west of Ireland.
Land based weather stations reported
gale force winds over the race area and
the Met office confirmed a barometer of
976hPa low pressure with Force 10 winds.
At this time the Australian Team’s yacht
Impetuous was sailing well approaching the
‘Rock’ south west of the Laverty Banks.
“I thought we were in a good position
as we neared the Rock,” said Impetuous
owner Graeme Lambert.
“Both Ragamuffin and Police Car were
doing well though the sea was wild. We
went around the Fastnet Light with three
reefs in the main and a storm jib. The
boat felt fine and the crew were all well.
We rounded the Light at 0315 hours in
company with the French yacht Jubile VI.
“It was on the Laverty Banks that most
of the fleet got into trouble. The needle on
our wind instrument was jammed hard at
60 knots but I believe it was blowing around
90 knots. Officials reported the wind was
Force 11,” Lambert said.
Meanwhile back at Culdrose, Grayson
and crew were making final preparations
but still unaware of how dire conditions
at sea had become. Airbourne at 0435
Grayson headed to the Scillies. A rough
and bumpy ride under a cloud base of
“By 0540 flying at 700 feet and with
improved radio reception it was like
the whole world had gone stark staring
mad. The sheer volume of chatter was
unbelievable. The coastguard emergency
frequency was complete bedlam as one
yacht after another put out a Mayday.
“ By 0543 Culdrose Base issued
a situation report. The yacht Magic
rudderless; Grimalkin capsized off Land’s
End; Tarantula sinking 100 miles off the
Scillies; Mulligatawny dismasted; flares
sighted by Morning Town ; four men sighted
in a life raft and five yachts ashore on the
“I faced a serious dilemma as I was
very low on fuel. Weighing up all options
I chose to return to Culdrose.”
Moments later he was back in the air
along with two Sea King helicopters and
two Wessex choppers when he heard their
controller reel off another ten yachts in
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