Bognor sailor has a rough time - but is elated to finish the Fastnet

Gary Watts and his Fastnet crewmates
Gary Watts and his Fastnet crewmates

Bognor yachtsman Gary Watts has told of the sheer thrill of taking part in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race.

Watts, who is the managing director of GWA Cars in Aldwick, admits it was an “epic adventure and one of the toughest things I have ever done”.

He was part of the eight-man crew of Emma Claire, a Grand Soleil 50 yacht, which completed the arduous ocean race in ninety hours at sea.

The Fastnet Race is the famous biennial offshore yacht race organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club, named after the Fastnet Rock, which the race course rounds. This year, the 608 nautical mile race saw almost 400 yachts leave Cowes, Isle of Wight for the Fastnet lighthouse, on the southwest tip of Ireland, before returning via the Isles of Scilly to the finish line in Plymouth.

Watts explained: “All of the crew found the race really hard going. After a smooth start at Cowes, the sea became very rough as we reached Land’s End and even worse as we turned to cross the Celtic Sea. Wind conditions meant we were 'close hauled' on a single tack for the 24 hours, 140-mile crossing. This made the yacht extremely uncomfortable, both above and below deck.

“We reached the Fastnet Rock at midnight on Monday, after 60 hours at sea, with the eerie pulse of the lighthouse breaking the stormy darkness. With the wind then behind us, the journey back to Plymouth was both faster and much more comfortable.

“We were all elated when we reached the finish line in Plymouth around 7am on the Wednesday morning and we celebrated with champagne back at Mountbatten. It was an incredible adventure. Enjoyable is not how any of the crew would describe it, but it was fantastic all the same.

“As well as exhilarating sailing, we also saw an incredible amount of wildlife, with dolphin sightings on virtually every watch – including at Rame Head, just before the finish line. With very clear skies and no light pollution, night sailing also brought sightings of shooting stars and satellites, with the seas brimming with bio luminescence.

“We have worked very hard for the race with and have been preparing all year. I so pleased to have been part of the fantastic crew of Emma Claire. We were the 192nd yacht back, giving us an overall adjusted race result of 263rd.”