Top yacht designer still haunted by Fastnet tragedy

IRELAND’S most famous yacht designer has told how he is still haunted by his memories of narrowly cheating death in the 1979 Fastnet disaster.

Kinsale-based Ron Holland, who took part in the race in which 15 men perished after a violent storm wreaked havoc on the 306 yachts taking part, admits he still reflects on how lucky he is to be alive.

The 63-year-old, who lost six of his own pals to the sea on that fateful August day, said he will pause to remember those who were lost tonight at a presentation show in Kinsale about a yacht he designed which competed in that same race.

Father-of-four Ron, originally from New Zealand, said: “I still recall that race as if it was yesterday. I have been sailing all my life, but that day we got caught up in the most horrendous weather I have ever seen.

“Looking back, we should have never started the race, but back then weather forecasting wasn’t what it is today. And once out at sea, yachtsmen didn’t have the technology to communicate for help like they do today.

“I remember a horrendous storm coming in from the Atlantic. It was so bad that some of the smaller boats rolled around like ping-pong balls.

“Of course most boats didn’t get to finish the race and ended up in Dublin and Wales and all over the place. But I didn’t realise how bad the situation was until after I was rescued. At one point we lost our rudder and were drifting towards the Scilly Isles, but we were winched to safety by a rescue helicopter.

“It was only when we got into the helicopter that we became aware of the full extent of the catastrophe. The pilot told us about the disaster that was unfolding beneath us and told us that we were very lucky to be alive.

“I often think of the people that were lost that day. I knew half a dozen of them well. A couple of years ago a 30th anniversary service was held in Cowes in the UK, where the race started. It was a very special day.”

Although Ron is rightly recognised as one of the world’s best yacht designers, he admits that even he would find it impossible to build a craft that would withstand weather as terrible as that which occurred during the Fastnet race 31 years ago.

“I think something like Fastnet could happen again,” he told The Irish Examiner. “You could design the best boat in the world, but you couldn’t design one strong enough to withstand a storm like that. Nature is so awesome, you can’t compete with it.”

The legacy of one of Ron’s most famous craft, the imp, will be celebrated tonight at a special event in Kinsale Yacht Club.


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