Fastnet Rock is legendary to anyone with an interest in the sea or sailing. It’s the southernmost point of Ireland lying way out in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of County Cork.
My birthday was looming and after seeing Fastnet from Mizen Head we took the plunge and booked ourselves on a day trip to the Rock and Cape Clear Island. It’s a fitting way to spend my birthday.
The boat leaves from the little town of Schull and we arrived early enough to watch the local sailing school readying their boats for launch.
We were delighted to find our tour boat was half empty.
It took about 45 minutes to get to our first stop, Cape Clear Island, where we picked up additional tourists. We were now at capacity and headed for the Rock.
A lighthouse was first built on Fastnet after an American sailing packet was lost on a nearby island in thick fog in 1847. By 1854 the new lighthouse was signaling to ships at sea.
The original brick and cast iron structure proved to be too weak to withstand the ferocious gales common in these parts, despite attempts to shore up the base. By 1891 the powers that be also concluded that the signal from the lighthouse was too weak to signal ships arriving from across the Atlantic, and in 1899 construction of a new tower was begun. The stronger structure was built from dovetailed blocks of granite and entered into service in 1904. The beacon has a range of 27 nautical miles.
Here’s a little tech background for non-sailors. Every lighthouse has a unique sequence, described in abbreviated form on a nautical chart. It’s possible to be in range of more than one lighthouse at a time, so it’s important to know the pattern you’re seeing in the distance to be sure of which beacon it is. Here are some examples of lighthouse characteristics.
As a sailor I can tell you there’s nothing more reassuring when approaching a landfall as spying a signal exactly as described on the nautical chart, assuring you that you are where you think you are.
All of that aside, our first closeup view of Fastnet took our breath away.
We circled the Rock in both directions, giving everyone ample opportunity to get the money shots. It’s beautiful from every angle. And I promise you every one of these photos has had significant horizon correction; while it was an unusually calm day on the ocean, taking photos from the deck of a boat pitching in the Atlantic swell while dodging other tourists is no easy task.
Fastnet Light is the rounding mark for the legendary Fastnet Race, one of the three classic offshore yacht races, along with Sydney-Hobart and Newport-Bermuda, all about 625 nautical miles.
The 1979 race was hit with an unexpectedly severe storm that wreaked havoc on the 303 participating yachts and called in thousands of rescuers and emergency services. It was the single largest maritime rescue operation in peacetime. Nineteen people died, 75 boats capsized, five were lost and believed sunk.
There are plenty of videos about the event. Here’s a link to one of them.
When the captain decided we’d exhausted the photo possibilities he turned the boat back toward Cape Clear Island where we’ll have a couple of hours to explore an idyllic outpost of County Cork.
Not far from the harbor lies a memorial to the nineteen souls lost in the 1979 Fastnet Race. (More names in the side, for those counting.)
Beautiful Cape Clear Island swallowed up our fellow boat passengers and we spent a pleasant few hours exploring the country roads to the other side.
And then it was time for the return trip to the mainland. Escape Velocity’s absentminded navigator forgot to bring the tracker so if you’ve been following along on our track link, here’s the missing bit courtesy of Google maps.
We’ve had a delicious run of good weather but now it’s about to end.