Ask anyone entered into the Fastnet and they’ll probably tell you an inspiring story of what motivated them to join, and how they came about securing their spot. Our reasons for wanting to take part are likely very similar; it’s a unique opportunity to compete in one of the world’s greatest offshore sailing races, it’s a test of mental and physical strength, it’s the ultimate sailing challenge, an unparalleled way to learn how to become a ‘proper’ sailor (and how to overcome seasickness). That’s probably, however where the similarities in our stories ends.
I first learnt about the Fastnet from my father. A keen sailor, he was a last minute substitute set to join a crew racing in the infamous Fastnet race of 1979. Waving his goodbyes to my mother and me (I was 11 months old at the time) he left our home in Croydon and headed off to Hamble marina with his racing comrades. In the days that followed the yacht was prepared and the time came to cast off the lines and head out to the startline. Just as they were about to clear the harbour wall, one of the crew noticed a man shouting and waving frantically from the shore. Who was that guy? Donning the binoculars they quickly realised it was the original crew member. Clearly having had a change of heart (I never did find out if my mother paid him!!) and wanting to take part he’d raced to the end of the wall, bag in hand, hoping to catch them before they left. Whilst disappointed (and probably also a bit relieved!!) my father and the crew returned back to the Hamble to make the switch. Thankfully crew and boat managed to survive the horrendous storms which hit that year and returned safe, sound, if a little shaken to Portsmouth some 6 days later.
Until then, unconsciously really, we’d simply assumed the race was for professional sailors and hadn’t given any thought to the fact it’d be possible for us to take part. We’d been following the incredibly sad and unfortunate demise of the Cheeki Rafiki and wanted to find out more about what happened (and to find out how we could try to avoid something similar happening to us). We were reading through the accident report and towards the end there was mention of a ‘Fastnet Campaign’. I’ve read a number of books about Mount Everest expeditions (why…well doing that really is my absolute worst nightmare so I’m fascinated by people who actually want to do it!) and they mention ‘Everest Campaigns’ where “anyone” can sign up to join an expedition. That got me wondering whether the same was true for the Fastnet. A quick Google search revealed that indeed it was – joy!!!
Filled with excitement on my discovery, I immediately went bounding over to Tom to ask what he thought of us signing up. “Isn’t that the race your Dad almost took part in, the one where…..”. Me: “Well, yes, but….”. You can imagine how the conversation went from there. Anyway, Tom agreed to think about it. Not holding out much hope I started researching how we could join in, and made a list of all the companies offering places. I had a good feeling about the Equinox Sailing team so got in touch with Simon. We had a long chat and by the time I put the phone down I was even more excited.
Hmmm, now, still to convince Tom. I was conscious of the fact that for the past few days (alright, more like weeks) I’d being going on and on and on about the race and starting to sound like a stuck record. When I got home that night I decided not to mention it, he’d talk when he was ready. He asked about my call with Simon so I shared what we’d chatted about. Trying to sound neutral, I asked whether he’d given it any more thought. That’s when he said……….yes! Woo hoo! The very next day I was back on the phone to Simon confirming our places. That very same day Tom was on YouTube watching “The Fastnet Yacht Race Tragedy of 1979” but thankfully it didn’t change his mind!
So, that’s our story. I’m pretty sure it’s not the typical story you’ll hear if you ask the next person, but at least (I think!) we going into this with our eyes open (gulp!). Famous last words.