‘Drunken sailors’ from Kettering prepare for 600-mile yacht race

John Townsend, John Ferguson, Ben Hornsby and Carl Shaw in 2006
John Townsend, John Ferguson, Ben Hornsby and Carl Shaw in 2006

A hardy crew of friends from Kettering are in training for a prestigious 600-mile yacht race which is held every two years.

The group of nine friends will be taking part in the Fastnet race in August.

The event sees more than 300 yachts set off from the Isle of Wight and travel to the south-west coast of Ireland before making a return trip to Plymouth.

John Ferguson, boat captain, said the team will be using a Sigma 38 yacht called Yoda.

He added: “The Fastnet race is a famous event and I compare it to the London Marathon – in that there will be teams at the front of the race who take the event very seriously and others further back who are there just to take part.

“We are not expecting to win or anything like that, but we are looking forward to the event very much.”

John said he and the other crew members took up sailing after a conversation in the Woolcomber Pub in Kettering about 15 years ago.

He added: “We thought it would be a one-off and then we all got the bug and started taking it more seriously.

“In order to qualify for the Fastnet race we have to complete 300 miles of offshore racing.

“We are doing this in May with a race from Cowes to Le Havre, 130 miles, and a race from Cowes to Cowes via the Eddistone Lighthouse, which is another 230 miles.”

John said the criteria for the ability of crews increased in the 1980s after a disastrous 1979 Fastnet event which saw 18 participants killed when yachts capsized or sank under extreme weather conditions.

John added: “All the boats now carry a transponder which means that rescuers can pinpoint exactly where you are if you run into trouble. The transponder also means people can follow the race on the internet more easily.”

Mr Ferguson said his crew are also taking part in a race within the race, as they will be competing against other Sigma 38 yachts in the event.

Apart from captain John, the full crew includes Mark Holt, Peter Rutledge, Ben Hornsby, Bob Saunders, Dave Gibson, Andy Dickson, Dave Barton, and Colin Morsley.

They are also being assisted by Carl Shaw, who will remain on-shore for support.