The 1979 Fastnet race was carnage. The biggest ever disaster in yacht racing I've just been reading the book, written by one off the competitors. Some of it hit home.
Dragonfly, Duncan's race boat I served my yacht racing apprenticeship on was 32 foot long, built to the IOR rules that the race boats of the 79 fastnet were using. Dragonfly was built in 1978 as Gaffer, the boats in the horrendous pictures in the book look remarkably like her. The boats that come in for criticism (abeight veiled) are the late 70's lightweight boats, particularly the smaller ones. Exactly like Dragonfly.
The Fastnet was truly horrendous that year. 5 yachts sank, 15 people were killed. Hundreds were rescued by helicopter. It is an excellent book, a sailing book most of interest to those who can follow it. Its a harrowing read, and technical but a real page turner for someone like me. Even 9 days into the Pacific ocean I've only been through 3 books. That one took me less than a day. It has made me wonder greatly what would happen if a similar disaster happened today.
The sheer number of people rescued by chopper is astronomical. I'm pretty certain that the coastguard choppers have been cut many times since 1979. The lifeboats are larger and more modern, but getting from a raft or yacht to a ship of any sort in the conditions described in the Fastnet race are life threatening in its self. One thing that might help is the communications changes. The 79 Fastnet rescues were often hampered by inaccurate position reports and clogged radio frequencies. Modern navigation aids should eliminate that. One would hope. However few (if any) even modern boats would maintain electrical power in the capsizes and knockdowns experienced by the Fastnet fleet. Would the modern rescue services be able to pull that many out? Are modern sailors less hardy? I feel that I'm not as tough as a late 70's offshore sailor. Modern life and modern technology has made us softer I am sure. I'm no longer a racing yacht sailor. In fact just the Genoa drop on Island Kea was hard enough, a job I once did routinely. I've been spoilt by roller furling engines that actually work when you turn the key (unlike Dragonfly's). Modern clothing means that bar the winter series at Chichester YC (where I routinely wear a 3mm wetsuit) I no longer experience the cold as I did in my early sailing days.
Puts the Atlantic force 9 into perspective, it was mild and not really dangerous for a boat like Island Kea. One thing that came out of the book is the successful strategy for dealing with serious storms varies from boat to boat, being able to carry on sailing and to helm well were serious contenders for the most successful boats dealing with the storm. I don't helm much these days, that's what autopilots are for. I do know that I can helm, well, which gives me great confidence.