FIVE sailors have staged an emotional reunion in Weymouth - 25 years after surviving a killer storm during the 1979 Fastnet Race.

Along with the now-deceased skipper Mike Green, the hardy quintet sailed their way out of one of the most vicious tempests ever to have hit the British Isles.

It struck a large fleet of small yachts half way across the Irish Sea, with the hurricane-force winds leaving 17 sailors dead, hundreds injured and dozens of boats sunk or damaged.

Reuniting for the first time since the terrifying ordeal were Weymouth residents Kenny Roebuck, Nick Massey and Eddie Horton, together with their crewmates Clive Vaughan and Dave Rider who are now based outside the borough.

They gathered at Weymouth Sailing Club, overlooking the harbour from where they first departed in August 1979 for the race, on the 34-foot yacht Kamisado.

Owner and skipper Mike Green, the much-admired former Bridport garage owner and offshore sailor, died of a heart attack in 1991.

The classic 608-mile Fastnet Race - which runs from Cowes to the Fastnet Rock on the south-west coast of Ireland and back to Plymouth - has been raced by professionals and amateurs since 1925.

On Saturday, August 11, 1979, a fleet of 303 boats set off in good weather from the Isle of Wight, with winds forecast to increase from the south-west.

Mike's crew of five had experience but no VHF radio, few lifejackets and limited access to weather forecasts - like the majority of yachts taking part.

Kenny, who was second in command, said the weather was fine until Lands End.

He said: "The wind steadily increased as we rounded Lands End, and we were really making good progress.

"But then the wind jumped rapidly, and we went from racing along with a spinnaker to having no sails in just three hours.

The 56-year-old, who lives in Kirtleton Avenue, said: "I remember hearing Clive calling out for help to reduce sail, and as the wind strengthened he gradually called out the different reefs.

"It was 'we need to put a reef in', then 'let's go for a second reef' followed by 'we need a third reef' and finally 'storm jib!' By 1am on August 14 we were under bare poles."

Kamisado and her crew were in the grip of one of the fiercest storms ever to hit a race fleet.

The expected depression had deepened far beyond predictions, and was to bottom out at 928mb - which remains one of the lowest pressures ever recorded in the British Isles.

Conditions were exacerbated by the Labadie Bank, a shoal halfway across the Irish Sea which acted as a speed hump for the massive waves piling in from the south-west.

The shallows threw up a shorter, much more violent sea than normal.

By the time the storm hit, the faster and bigger boats were on their way back from the Fastnet Rock and sailing away from danger.

But the bulk of the race fleet - made up of smaller boats with inexperienced crews - were still heading north-west to the lighthouse and passing the bank.

As winds topped 60 knots, skipper Mike Green took all the sails down and ran off before the wind.

Despite towing extra-long warps to slow her down and keep the stern facing the chasing waves, Kamisado was still making four knots.

It was without doubt this exemplary seamanship that saved them.

Before them lay the relatively vast expanse of the St Georges Channel, giving them ample space to ride out the storm.

This the crew did for the next eight hours, unanimously described by the five as the longest they have ever experienced.

Northern Irishman Clive Vaughan was thrown into the sea with Mike during the first of two near-disastrous knock-downs.

The pair were saved by their lifelines, attached to a strongpoint in the cockpit.

An inquiry after the race found that several lines had snapped on other boats, washing the people they held away to their deaths.

Clive, 49, recalled: "A wave picked the boat up and threw us on our side. It then broke over the boat as the mast was horizontal and held us on our side.

"It was a slow process, and the boat came back up almost gracefully. As it did we were both flipped back in the boat.

"After that we battened everything down, and screamed at those below to keep the hatch shut."

Describing the size of the waves, former Royal Navy engineer Clive, who lives in Gosport, said: "I remember looking up to see the masthead light of another boat - seconds later I was staring down at it from the top of a two-storey wave.

"I've never seen seas like it before or since."

Taxi-driver Eddie Horton, now 67, said he should not really have been on board.

He said: "Nick Massey and I replaced two other regular crew at the last minute.

"I remember down below when Nick got up once to be sick. As he did, the metal cooker came off its gimbals and buried itself where he had been sleeping.

"The seas were incredible - the wind swung round during the night and the effect on the waves was like a washing machine," he said.

Nick Massey, then a sprightly 17-year-old, was a 'spare-man' for the older sailors on board, jumping into action when different watches needed help.

He said the gravity of the experience only fully hit him several weeks after he got back.

Now an RNLI lifeboatman in Weymouth, he said: "I was quite badly ill about two weeks after getting home - I am pretty sure it was something to do with a delayed reaction."

By 9am on Tuesday, August 14, Kamisado had been blown 50 miles to the north-east, but the crew were able to set sail back for Lands End.

Crew Dave Rider said at the time, without knowing the carnage that had taken place, he had still wanted to complete the course.

The formal naval engineer spent much of the night trying to secure below decks.

He said: "In a way it was more dangerous down below, with everything, food and batteries, flying everywhere."

They arrived in Plymouth early on the Wednesday morning, finally able to let terrified relatives know they were alive.

Far from scaring any of the sailors off the water, the experience tempered them all and acted as a springboard for more sailing.

Clive Vaughan is now chief instructor with the UK's biggest sea school, Sunsail.

Kenny Roebuck runs Weymouth Yacht Charters, the resort's only charter business, and has logged around 40,000 miles at sea.

Nick and Dave own their own boats and 67-year-old Eddie is still a valued member of a regatta-winning crew.

Kamisado, the boat which coped so effectively with the storm, succumbed to the sea two years after surviving the storm.

She sank in Portland Harbour after breaking from her mooring.

Like her owner, she was greatly mourned.

THE Curator of Cape Clear Island Museum in County Cork, four miles from the Rock, is appealing for memorabilia about the storm.

Dr Eamon Lankford has arranged a programme of events throughout the summer in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the yachting tragedy, to be kicked off by the unveiling of a new memorial by the admiral of the Royal Ocean Racing Club John P Bourke.

Anyone wanting to contribute should contact: Dr. amon Lankford, director of Cape Clear Museum & Archive, c/o An tras, 13 Dyke Parade, Cork, Ireland. Tel 00 353 21 4274110 or email: