One-sided account of the Fastnet 1979 race


During a Force 10 storm in the Irish Sea in 1979 the Nicholson 30 yacht, Grimalkin competing in the Fastnet Race, was abandoned by three of her crew following innumerable knockdowns and the loss of her skipper David Sheahan overboard witnessed by his teenage son Matt, 17. Matt, Mike Doyle, and Dave Wheeler took to the liferaft and were rescued by helicopter an hour later. Two other crewmen Nick Ward and Gerry Winks, believed to be dead, remained slumped unconscious in the cockpit. Winks did later perish, but Ward was rescued also by helicopter.

Nick Ward has now, 27 years later, written an account of his ordeal: Left for Dead. Unfortunately the tome is a half book. The unwritten half is the account of those who chose the liferaft over the yacht. Had the publisher ensured the book include this trio’s side of the story the reader would discover that Ward would probably have also died without the liferaftees’ insistence the Royal Navy helicopter, now armed with her accurate position, go back out and find Grimalkin.

Unfortunately Ward is assisted in his work by novelist and dramatist Sinead O’Brien whose first venture into non-fiction, Left for Dead is. In trying to create a Touching the Void-style epic the book is, alas, more void than touching. It is a melodramatic and at times contrived narrative. One example: skipper Sheahan is ‘quoted’ as saying ‘Over and out’ to his wife on the VHF. A phrase last heard on the rubber lips of a Thunderbird puppet.