The horror of being the only one left alive on a disabled yacht at the mercy of the cruel sea is brought vividly to life as Nick Ward tells his story of being abandoned by those with whom he had formed the essential which a racing yacht needs - a crew working in partnership.

Sailing is a potentially dangerous sport, offshore racing particularly so. The 1979 Fastnet Race was struck by a killer storm, as a result of which 18 yachtsmen died.

In 'Left for Dead', Ward writes of the 30-foot yacht Grimalkin, from which he was the last man to be rescued after the storm struck the race. The yacht was badly damaged, the skipper injured and lost overboard, the crew disagreed about taking to the liferaft, Ward wanted them to remain with the boat. The yacht rolled several times, broke its mast, Ward was injured, knocked unconscious. When he came to he was alone, his fellow sailors gone. Alongside the yacht he discovered one of them, still connected by his harness and got him aboard, making several attempts to keep him alive, but without success.

What happened aboard Grimalkin raised issues at the time of the Fastnet investigation as to why he was left behind, why the crew abandoned him. They said they thought he was dead.

Ward's story is compelling, but having read it a question remains in my mind. A boat which he describes as well-prepared, with a careful skipper who pre-planned extensively, lacked one component when crisis struck - no clear preparation had apparently been made about what to do when leadership was removed. When that happened, it appears that the crew fabric disintegrated.

Tom MacSweeney, Marine Correspondent, RTÉ

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