seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Commissioning of the LÉ Deirdre (P20)

The Deirdre (P20), an offshore patrol vessel in the Irish Naval Service, is commissioned by Lt. Cdr. Liam Brett on June 19, 1972. The building of LÉ Deirdre marks a milestone in the development of the Naval Service, being the first ship purpose-built in Ireland to patrol in Irish waters. She is named after Deirdre, a tragic heroine from Irish mythology who committed suicide after her lover’s murder.

In 1971, a contract is signed with Verlome Cork Dockyard (VCD) to build an offshore patrol vessel for the Naval Service. Built in 1972, LÉ Deirdre is built as a replacement for the Ton-class minesweepers, and one of the first vessels custom-built for the Irish Naval Service. She has a longer range and is a more seaworthy ship for work in the Atlantic. LÉ Deirdre becomes the prototype for the later Emer-type vessels.

Deirdre undertakes a number of search and rescue operations throughout her career. For example, LÉ Deirdre is one of the vessels involved in the 1979 Fastnet race rescue operations, assisting the crews of two yachts. In 1990, during the rescue of a Spanish trawler crew in Bantry Bay, a member of LÉ Deirdre‘s crew dies and is posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and Spanish Cross of Naval Merit.

By the time of the vessel’s naval decommissioning in early 2001, LÉ Deirdre has travelled approximately 450,000 nautical miles. She is replaced by a Róisín-class patrol vessel.

Deirdre is sold at public auction for IR£190,000 to the English yacht chartering company Seastream International for conversion into the luxury charter yacht Tosca IV for the company’s owner, businessman Christopher Matthews. Speaking on the radio, a Seastream spokesman appears pleased with their bargain as they had been prepared to bid up to IR£500,000. The auction starting price had been IR£60,000.

The conversion in a Polish shipyard is not completed as the English owner is killed while piloting a Eurocopter EC130 helicopter which crashes at Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin after hitting power lines over Lake Wisconsin on August 6, 2004. In 2007 LÉ Deirdre is towed to Brazil for further refit and completion. Substantially complete, she arrives at Jacksonville, Florida in September 2012 for final outfitting as Santa Rita I. However, in August 2014, Santa Rita I is towed to Green Cove Springs, Florida, for breaking.


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The 1979 Fastnet Race

fastnet-race-memorialNineteen people lose their lives during the 1979 Fastnet Race, which begins on August 11, 1979. The race is the 28th Royal Ocean Racing Club‘s Fastnet Race, a yachting race held generally every two years since 1925 on a 605-mile course from Cowes direct to the Fastnet Rock and then to Plymouth via south of the Isles of Scilly. In 1979, it is the climax of the five-race Admiral’s Cup competition, as it has been since 1957.

A worse-than-expected storm on the third day of the race wreaks havoc on over 303 yachts that started the biennial race resulting in 24 yachts being abandoned, of which five are lost and believed to be sunk due to high winds and severe sea conditions. The nineteen fatalities consist of fifteen yachtsmen and four spectators.

Rescue efforts begin after 6:30 AM on August 14, once the winds drop to severe gale Force 9 on the Beaufort scale. Emergency services, naval forces, and civilian vessels from around the west side of the English Channel are summoned to aid what becomes the largest ever rescue operation in peace-time. This involves some 4,000 people, including the entire Irish Naval Service‘s fleet, lifeboats, commercial boats, tugs, trawlers, tankers and helicopters.

The handicap winner is the yacht Tenacious, designed by Sparkman & Stephens, owned and skippered by Ted Turner. The winner on elapsed time in the race is the 77-foot Condor of Bermuda, skippered by Peter Blake, which gains around 90 minutes on the leader at the Fastnet rock, the Kialoa IV, by chancing a spinnaker. Jim Kilroy of the Kialoa IV has broken his ribs and there is damage to the yacht’s runners. Condor of Bermuda breaks the Fastnet record by nearly eight hours (71h 25m 23s).

The disaster results in a major rethink of racing, risks and prevention.

(Pictured: Memorial to those who died in the 1979 Fastnet Race, Lissarnona, Cape Clear Island, Cork, Ireland)