John O'Donnell

John O'Donnell, Barrister, Poet and Author


RTÉ Radio 1  : Saturday August 10th  2019, @1:00pm

Documentary On One: Back To The Rock

August 2019 sees the 40th anniversary of one of the greatest yacht racing disasters, the Fastnet Yacht Race 1979 , which took the lives of more than 20 people.

Fastnet Yacht Race 1979

The Fastnet is one of the most famous yacht races in the world – and one of the most dangerous. Starting from Cowes in the Isle of Wight, the race heads west around the Fastnet Rock off the west Cork coast where the boats turn back east, finishing in Plymouth. 605 miles long, the race has always prided itself on welcoming virtually all-comers: from the ocean-going professionals crewing the slick racing machine to the weekend-sailors, family and friends aboard the sturdy little cruiser.

Fastnet Yacht Race 1979But in August 1979 the race was struck by a massive Atlantic that had not been forecast. Many of the more than 300 boats boats were dis-masted or abandoned; some boats sank. By the end of the race, twenty-one people were dead. Forty years later John O’Donnell, who as a teenager sailed in the 1979 Fastnet aboard the yacht “Sundowner,” remembers the storm and talks to sailors, including those on one of the top Irish boats in the race, Golden Apple of the Sun, owned by the late politician and businessman Hugh Coveney. John hears from lighthouse-keepers and weather experts as he tries to find out what happened.

The Documentary On One: Back To The Rock is a gripping and evocative adventure story, told from a unique perspective. A story of hurricane winds and waves the size of houses, it is also a story of fear and courage, survival and disaster, and the power and allure of the sea.

Produced by: John O’Donnell and Tim Desmond.

“Back to the Rock,” the documentary about the 1979 Fastnet Yacht Race disaster co-produced by John O’Donnell and Tim Desmond for RTE Radio One’s “The Doc On One” series is now available as a podcast: